Marybeth Miceli is the president and founder of Miceli Infrastructure Consulting, LLC and the cofounder of We-NDT Marketing Network, and currently works full time with Metal Fatigue Solutions. As a materials science engineer, Miceli has worked in many areas of NDT, including structural health monitoring and infrastructure. She is an ASNT Fellow, has been the recipient of numerous ASNT awards, and has served on the Board of Directors, the Section Operations Council, and the Technical and Education Council Infrastructure Committee.
Q. How did you begin your career in NDT?
A. The day before I started undergrad at Johns Hopkins, I read an article about nondestructive evaluation (NDE) of infrastructure. I had entered school as a civil engineer, wanting to build bridges, but after reading the article by Dr. Robert Green, I knew I wanted to evaluate the bridges and make sure they were safe. During my second week of school I went to Green’s office and said I’d like to work for him. His administrative assistant said he really only had materials science engineers work for him. So I changed my major and went back a few weeks later and asked again. I think my persistence (or Jersey Girl pushiness) got me the job. I started working with Green (head of the former Center for NDE [CNDE] there), Dr. James W. Wagner (who was the department head at the time), and Dr. Boro Djordjevic my freshman year, and I worked in their labs on various NDE/NDT projects throughout my four years at Hopkins. Between my junior and senior years, I interned at the Federal Highway Administration’s new NDE Validation Center with Glenn Washer, who was completing his Ph.D. at Hopkins at the time.
Q. Can you tell us about your certification and training?
A. The majority of my work is in the field of structural and condition monitoring, as well as consulting on advanced and emerging NDT methods. During my first job in New York City, I was certified in accordance with Recommended Practice No. SNT-TC-1A as Level II in infrared and thermal testing (IR), visual testing (VT), liquid penetrant testing (PT), and magnetic particle testing (MT), and a Level I in ultrasonic testing (UT). I am also a registered Chartered Engineer with the Engineering Council through the British Institute of Non-Destructive Testing (BINDT).
Q. Describe the work you do.
A. Well, my seven-year-old told people, “Mommy talks on the phone” when asked what I do for work; thank goodness he followed it with, “and helps save lives.” Early in my career, I worked on projects such as site safety at Ground Zero following 9/11, hardness testing of the Empire State Building antenna structure, transportation project management for the construction of Citi Field, and strain gaging of the Miller Park retractable dome. More recently in my career I have focused on structural health monitoring (SHM) consulting; I’ve worked on the George Washington Bridge, the New Jersey Turnpike, and various bridges across Pennsylvania and the country. I generally help owners develop SHM scopes of work for proposals as well as manage instrumentation projects. I additionally have helped technology development companies move into the bridge industry through what I have termed “parallel technology transfer.”
Q. What is your current working environment?
A. Generally, I write proposals, obtain projects, interact with clients, manage the projects, then review reports and make presentations. I help supervise the field teams. I travel around the country making presentations to owners and consulting engineers about the merits of using SHM in their asset management programs. So I guess my working environment is an airplane! In the past I’ve worked atop tall bridges and stadiums, underground on aqueducts, and in trains while monitoring the stresses. The coldest project I had was on the roof of Miller Park in Milwaukee in March. Now I am spoiled in Los Angeles.
Q. Is your work focused on a particular field?
A. I primarily work on bridges, though I really enjoy getting the best technologies in the hands of people in all industries. I believe there is not enough cross-sector communication on this. This is one of the reasons ASNT is so important, because it facilitates that avenue of communication.
Q. What kind of structures/materials are you testing?
A. Generally, I work on metals and fatigue crack monitoring and prediction technologies. When looking at SHM overall, I also work on concrete structures in the bridge industry.
Q. What is your educational background? How do you keep up with changes in technology?
A. I did my undergraduate work at Johns Hopkins University when the Center for Nondestructive Testing was there, working for Green and Djordjevic. I then got my master’s degree at Virginia Tech with Dr. John C. Duke, Jr. working on IR of fibre reinforced polymer (FRP) bridge decks. My entire job is really to be well versed in emerging technologies. It involves a lot of reading and continuing education at conferences.
Q. How important is a background in engineering or mechanical systems to NDT technicians? How important is a college degree?
A. I think a background in engineering or mechanical systems is invaluable. Understanding how systems and structures work and operate allows you to determine where to look for potential problems with NDT. Depending on where you want to go with NDT—research, management, or field work—a college degree is not necessarily important. What’s most important in NDT is obtaining problem solving skills and having the drive to work hard.
Q. Have you ever had/been an NDT mentor? How helpful have mentoring relationships been in your work?
A. The importance of mentoring cannot be underestimated. I’ve been blessed with a number of mentors in NDT looking to help me out over the years—Drs. Green, Djordjevic, and Duke, as well as Bill Via and Ricky Morgan, to name a few. Those relationships have really been fostered through activity in ASNT as well. In terms of mentoring others, I hope I’ve made some impact. I started the e-Mentoring Program in ASNT to help younger professionals across the globe connect with more experienced NDTers. Sometimes it is not an easy industry to be in and stand your ground when some owners may want you to “just sign off” on inspections, and I think it is particularly helpful to have someone to talk to in those instances. I’ve tried to mentor others at every formal and informal opportunity, particularly for women if I can. Since women only make up 4% of the industry (which may be an optimistic number), I feel a responsibility to help other women in the industry as much as possible. That is one of the reasons I pushed to get the Recognition for the Advancement of Women in NDT award at ASNT in place. I also get involved with groups such as the American Aerospace Technical Academy (AATA) that helps veterans and people from disadvantaged neighborhoods gain a career through NDT education. I love being able to speak to these students about NDT.
Q. What’s the best career advice you’ve received?
A. The best advice I’ve gotten is to make every task a learning experience. There were times I was assigned tasks in marketing and business development early on in my career, when I just wanted to do engineering, and those tasks were invaluable in gaining experience in those areas. So much so that last year I co-founded the we-NDT Marketing Network to help NDT companies more effectively accelerate time to sales through clearer communications and marketing.
Q. What characteristics do you think define a good NDT technician?
A. A good technician is one that works hard, pays attention to detail, and sees the bigger picture that their work ultimately saves lives.
Q. How did you decide to start your own business?
A. Well, by any sane person’s standards, I would not have done so initially. My son was seven months old and we had just bought a house five months earlier, but I guess life is never neatly packaged. The start up I had been working for was struggling after a change in ownership, and in the year preceding the formation of Miceli Infrastructure Consulting, I had seen many owners struggle with sifting through all the new technology out there. Owners, particularly in the bridge industry, were wanting to use structural health monitoring, but were not sure how to get meaningful data from it in order to make decisions. Likewise, SHM technology manufacturers were unclear about what was important to the bridge industry and how to talk with owners about the value of their technology. I saw a real need in the marketplace to become that bridge for them so that good technologies could be adopted more easily and so that owners could obtain actionable data, saving time and money and increasing safety. I brought several technologies over from other industries to the bridge industry and coined the phrase “parallel technology transfer.” One of those clients I helped was Metal Fatigue Solutions, and in the past year I went to work for them full time in order to manage one of their big contracts and help them with global business development. Generally, I go where I feel I can make the most impact in the industry. It’s been a very rewarding career following that path, even when that path is unclear at first.
Q. How has ASNT membership/Section involvement benefitted your career?
A. Wow, how hasn’t it benefitted my career? Being involved in ASNT, not just being a member, has allowed me to be on the cutting edge of the industry and emerging technology. I can continue my education while networking with the greatest minds in our field. What I love about ASNT is that it brings together the technicians on the front lines with manufacturers, researchers, and educational institutes all in one place. This allows the industry to move forward faster than others and fosters relationships where each group can help the others excel. Being involved at the section level was particularly rewarding for me, as you help members connect to the larger organization and become a conduit for information in both directions. I will also add that throughout my career, when I was frustrated at work, involvement in ASNT allowed me to continue to make a difference and feel good about the work I was doing.
Q. How are you involved in your Section? Can you tell us about your Committee work?
A. So currently, I am not as involved as in years past. I was the chair of the Metro NY/Northern New Jersey Section twice and was in charge of social media and the website for the Greater Los Angeles Section. With the distance from my house and my other commitments, involvement with my Section has been difficult. However, as part of a Board of Directors initiative, I am working on developing a virtual section for members who, like me, are too far from their sections but still want to network and continue their education.
Q. What can industry do to encourage careers in NDT? What can ASNT do to assist/encourage technicians in their careers?
A. Industry seems to have moved away from supporting their employees to be involved. Employers need to understand that involvement is not only about the employee development, but also that having their people involved in shaping the industry is beneficial for the employer, as well. Unfortunately, I am not sure what will convince technicians to get involved. I know that while working long hours, many people cannot make commitments to organizations such as ASNT, but perhaps hearing the stories about how membership has benefitted people they know or have heard of will encourage them to at least check it out.
Q. What's been your most interesting/unusual application of NDT?
A. Actually, I think my thesis work was pretty unusual. We were doing infrared thermography on FRP bridge decks in situ at a weigh station in Virginia, so we had to build a large hot air convection device and heat up the deck in order to inspect it, and we needed to do it prior to sunrise. So, I think blowing hot air into a bridge deck from underground in the dark was certainly a strange experience. But I’ve called my overprotective Italian mother from the antenna of the Empire State Building, roofs of stadiums, the inside of dams, the top of bridges, and various other strange places, just to freak her out. I guess that kind of variety and excitement is one of the reasons I got into the industry.
Q. How has NDT changed during your career? What trends do you see?
A. Well this will make me sound old but…back in my day, the IR cameras had enormous arms and a battery back that had to be worn around your waist. As a 5’4” woman, I sort of looked ridiculous. Now you can convert your iPhone to be an IR detector! Technology moves so quickly that the number of emerging technologies seems as though it doubles every year. I’ve made it my goal to stay as up to date as possible on the new technologies in the marketplace as well as those still in the research laboratories. Certainly the advent of drones, advanced condition monitoring, and the Internet of Things is changing the face of NDT, allowing for faster inspections and monitoring with real-time data from anywhere in the world. Energy-harvesting and remote communications allows for structures to monitor themselves and alert their owners in times of trouble. NDTers are adapting to these changes by obtaining more and more education, often remotely through online education services now available. In terms of NDT education, I’ve even seen the use of virtual reality, as well!
Q. What's the best part of NDT?
A. The best part of NDT is being able to help save lives while solving problems and being an innovator. It is both challenging and rewarding. I can look around at various cities and point to structures I’ve worked on and say, “I’ve made a difference.” That is priceless. I really enjoy talking to owners about getting better information from their structures and showing them how it can be incorporated into their structural preservation decision-making. And I like finding new applications for good technologies in other industries and in areas where they can make the most difference.
Q. What is the best way for a technician to advance his or her career in NDT?
A. Get involved. In ASNT, in your place of employment, wherever you can help. You gain knowledge about how the decisions are made and in time you are called on to help make those decisions. That and also, work hard.
Q. What advice would you offer to individuals considering careers in NDT?
A. Go for it. You get technology, exciting job sites, and you get to make the world a safer place. Find a mentor in the industry in which you want to work. Never stop learning.
You can reach Marybeth Miceli at email@example.com or at Marybeth@miceliconsulting.com
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