Practitioner Profile: Aaron F. Hulbert and Rachel L. Taylor

Aaron F. Hulbert and Rachel L. Taylor were hired as a couple at Doncasters Group Ltd. and have continued to work together in radiography for the company. They also work together as chair (Rachel) and vice chair (Aaron) of the Connecticut Yankee Section of ASNT.

Q.  So, how did you both first become involved in NDT? Did you meet through NDT, or did one of you come to an NDT career through meeting?

Aaron.   I used to work semiconductors, and then I lost my job and I got hired on at [General Dynamics] Electric Boat. I was actually hired in welding, and before I even got into welding I was pulled out and asked if I wanted to go into NDT or inspection. I didn’t really know much about it until then, but got into it there and have stayed there ever since I started with MT and PT. Then finally I got into X-ray, and I liked X-ray a lot. I stayed there and got my Level I, II, and III.

Q.  Rachel, how did you get started in NDT? 

Rachel.   Actually, Aaron and I were friends at the time he was working at Electric Boat, and then I finally got my foot in the door as a pipe-fitter and then kind of wedged my way into working with the red dye penetrant and mag particle, and started from there. We both moved on and started doing X-ray together for a different company.

Q.  So, you both moved on to the same company?

Aaron.   Yeah, I got hired on and then—because they [Doncasters] were looking for a Level I/II and a Level III—they asked me if I knew any other operators who were looking to work X-ray, and I said, “Yeah, I know one!” [both laugh] So I gave them the résumé. She actually got hired before I did! [laughs]

Q.  And were you two still just friends at that time, or were you in a relationship by that point?

Aaron.   No, we were in a relationship by then.

Q.  Can you both tell me a bit about your current positions? What are the biggest differences, and what are some things that are similar?

Aaron.   Right now I am what they call the “working Level III,” but I’m going to be transitioning over to what they call the “responsible Level III,” which is more of a management position. Whereas now I’m more on the floor. I interact with all the shifts—I’m the only Level III they have, so I just work with everybody. I’m usually really, really busy—she kind of does some of my work when I need her to do it! [both laugh] It’s easier that way: she knows what I want done, so I don’t have to tell her. She kind of just reads my mind. We work at a casting company, so it’s a high-volume X-ray, probably what, a thousand shots a day just about?

Rachel.   At least.

Aaron.   Yeah, a thousand X-rays a day, or no actually, per shift, I think. 

Rachel.   So right now, I’m actually just a Level I shooter, so I do a lot of the shooting of the parts. I’m working my way into Level II, so I’m in the process of transitioning to a reader, so I’m moving up, in a way. I still work under Aaron, so anything he needs, he tells his Level Is and Level IIs to do. I’ve been there for quite a while now; I’m one of the people who have been there the longest. So I assist with the engineers, casting—I’ll do a lot of work for them to make sure everything’s going good with the casting. I help with picking the techniques and doing special jobs.

Aaron.   I’m trying to move up; she’s trying to go to an off shift. Right now we work on the same shift. Like I said, it’s easy, I get more done with her; I can show her more things that might be beyond an average Level I/II and she knows how to do it. She’s kind of like my right hand. Because I get really, really busy throughout the day, so it’s tough for me to get all the projects done that they need done, so she kind of helps me out.

Rachel.   Not only that, I’m adamant about asking a lot of questions all the time, too. So, I’ll ask him questions throughout the day; I’ll ask other experienced readers and Level IIs questions throughout the day, so I understand what I’m doing and what I’m moving up into all the time. It does help him a lot; it helps a lot of the readers as well. For me personally, my work ethic is that I take pride in my work, so I always put my best into it.

Aaron.   That, and also, I kind of watch over the sister company down in Alabama, so I’ve been taking a lot of trips to Alabama. So she helps me keep track of things up in Groton.

Q.  So it sounds like it works out well working together as a team!

Both.  Yeah.

Aaron.   And they’re okay with it. They actually hired us on knowing that we were together and they actually asked us which shift we’d prefer to be on together, which was different. Not a lot of companies will do that.

Rachel.   We like working together, too. [laughs]

Aaron.   Yeah, people are like, “Wow, you see her all the time!” I really don’t, because I’m usually off doing meetings or whatever, so I’m not really down on the floor all the time, so I don’t really see her all day, but it kind of works.

Q.  Tell me about your work with the Connecticut Yankee Section [Rachel is the chair of the Section, and Aaron is the vice chair.] How has being involved benefitted you?

Rachel.   I know for me, ASNT has definitely opened my eyes to a lot of different things. I didn’t realize at first how broad [NDT] really was, the different inspections. I knew there were several different types but it’s always expanding and it’s really cool, which keeps it very interesting. That’s one of the reasons why I like being involved in NDT.

Aaron.   She was a little apprehensive at first [to go for the chair position], so me and a guy we work with, John Moran, encouraged her because we thought it would be a good experience for her to be the chair. She’s made quite a bit of contacts, I’d say, and learned a lot since she started.

Q.  Have either of you traveled to any of the ASNT conferences?

Aaron.   We’re actually in the midst of booking the [2019 Annual Conference] in Las Vegas, and then I think we’re going to the [Regional Planning Meetings] on [7–8 June] in Vegas.

Q.  Will this be the first time you have traveled together for ASNT?

Both.  Yes.

Q.  Have you ever traveled together for your company?

Aaron.   Not yet; probably coming up though, because like I said, we’re doing a lot with our sister company and it’s requiring a lot of resources from up north. We kind of consider her the best shooter we have: she can shoot any part we have, which not everybody can do. So we’re trying to train our southern partner to start shooting these parts, so she’s going to be a key part in that coming up, so she’ll probably end up coming down with us when we go.

Rachel.   I did go down once on my own to help with a process improvement for X-rays. They needed help being organized and producing a flow to get work done faster.

Q.  What areas of NDT would you like to learn more about? Do you work on learning new information together?

Aaron.   I have quite a bit of NDTs already—the only one I really don’t have that much of is UT. I would like to have more of it; the only problem is that my company now really doesn’t utilize UT, so that would be something I would have to do on my own. So that might be an option. Right now I’m on track to get moving to my current position, so once I get that then I can start looking into doing [UT]. I have basically a Level I in UT. But all the rest I have already, and I have Level III in RT.

Q.  How about you, Rachel?

Rachel.   I mean, really anything. I have my cert in RT and I ended up working with MT and PT, but I want to push for my cert in VT as well. Phased array has always intrigued me, UT—anything! I love learning anything; anything I can get my hands on, I like to learn.

Q.  What are some of your professional goals?

Rachel.   For me, I just want to keep working up. I kind of want to be in the position Aaron’s in, where he works with everything and kind of oversees everything. Eventually I want to get to that point. Like our friend John [Moran]—I kind of want to be like him … he is just literally a walking open book of NDT, and it’s so cool to see that you can ask him any question and he can answer it.

Aaron.   Basically, I just want to move up in my role I have. I was a Level III at EB, but how they handled it is different. That was the military field, and this is more of the aerospace; the rules are a little bit different. It’s more of interacting with the customers and still controlling the NDT process at the same time, so that can be a little bit of a learning [experience] for me. I’m thinking about going and finishing my engineering degree as well, if I can. I have some college experience, but I started out in engineering and then switched to business.

Q.  What makes you want to pursue the engineering degree?

Aaron.   It couldn’t really hurt me. I don’t think I’m going to go into the engineering field per se, but I think it would just benefit me to have that along with all of my knowledge of NDT.

Q.  Have either of you ever had or been an NDT mentor?

Aaron.   As the Level III [at work], I’m always helping people out. Our friend April has worked her way up when she saw that we liked it [NDT]. We took her under our wing and she’s progressing up, and I think she likes NDT now. And as a Section we try to reach out to, for example, students at a local welding school and share our story.

Rachel.   Yeah, I mean, I mentor the shooters, the Level Is, I mentor them a lot. They come to me for questions a lot of times to understand the technique or why we do something the way we do it, so I’m constantly spreading my knowledge among them.

Q.  What is the best career advice that you’ve ever received?

Aaron.   Just keep on learning. That’s what my old boss said; no matter how high you get, you’re never going to know everything in NDT, which is true. Because it’s always changing, ASTM is always changing…you’ve got to keep reading all the time and keep learning, or you’ll fall behind.

Rachel.   Yeah, keep learning and always push forward. Don’t stop. And ask a lot of questions!

Q.  So, what is the best part of working in NDT?

Aaron.   When we worked in the sub field, it was kind of nice to be working on something that was part of our nation’s military. And now we’re building stuff for aircraft—not everybody does that. We work with some big companies, like Pratt & Whitney, which is extremely interesting. Actually, one of the engineers who works for them comes to our [Section] meetings all the time, and he always gives us advice. The things you get to do…for example, while taking a test I got to tour the Pratt & Whitney plant, which was amazing in itself. I’d never been there before.

Rachel.   For me, it’s always a new adventure—I can put it that way! [laughs]

Aaron.   Yeah, there’s never a dull moment. Things are always changing and building new. It’s never stagnant—no matter what NDT field you’re in, it’s always interesting.

Rachel.   Yeah, there’s always something new that pops up, always something that might give you a sudden issue that you’ll walk away learning from. You’ll never ever get bored with it, ever.

Q. So, what is the most difficult part of NDT? Have you encountered different kinds of challenges, or similar challenges?

Aaron.   I would say some are similar, some are different. Dealing with the customer sometimes can be a little challenging. A lot of companies don’t understand the NDT process, so it’s tough to try to explain to them the whole process. That’s usually the difficult part for me, because a lot of them have zero knowledge of it, so when you say, “You can’t do that,” they don’t understand, so you have to explain it in a way that they understand. That’s probably the most challenging part for me.

Rachel.   For me, I have to push very hard to move forward. It’s almost like a rat race, I guess you could say, sometimes.

Aaron.   Yeah, it can be rather a male-dominated industry, so it’s tough. I’ve got to say, she’s fought hard to get where she is and to move up; she’s fought really hard. And I always tell her, don’t give up, just keep pushing. Because there’s more need for NDT than there are people in the industry, so the need is always there.

Q.  Aaron, I’m interested in what you just said about it being a male-dominated industry: have you seen her experience different challenges than you’ve faced because of that?

Aaron.   Yeah, but she’s got a lot of fight, so I know she’ll push through. And she’s got a lot of good people backing her, so I think she’ll get where she wants. It might just take her a little bit longer, but I think as long as she keeps learning and doing things the right way, I think she’ll get where she wants to go.

Rachel.   Yeah, [I’m] constantly making sure that I know my information and that I know what I need to know to prove it.

Q.  So in your opinion, what do you think industry could do to encourage careers in NDT, and what could ASNT do to encourage and assist technicians in their careers?

Rachel.   This might just be situational for where we work now, but being thoroughly educated. Like, people come into this and [don’t] really realize what they’re doing, and having the right people there to guide them through it and explain things to them helps them a lot. With the training, that’s something that I’ve just personally found myself; when we get new people in, I make sure I thoroughly explain things to them so they don’t get frustrated and also left behind—because I want more help, you know? [laughs]

Aaron.   Especially our world, aerospace, it’s very fast-paced, so it’s tough to train on the fly. We’ve gotten a lot better, and I think the training at our facility has come very far. The people coming in know more.

Rachel.   We’ve put more effort into thorough training, making sure that people understand what they’re doing.

Aaron.   I think it would be helpful to have…and I think some of our sections do, sometimes they have women that show up and talk about their [careers], that might be beneficial. Because like I said, it’s male dominated, so it’d be good to get some more women into the field. [Rachel] has talked to a few that are successful Level IIIs, and I think that pushed her a little bit more into doing more.

Rachel.   It boosted my confidence, I can definitely say that much. And having these women encourage me to keep moving forward and tell me that I’m doing a really good job, it’s definitely something that’s helped me a lot.

Aaron.   I think ASNT does quite a bit, that’s the thing. I think that’s why I’ve encouraged her to be involved; I think it’s helped her quite a bit.

Rachel.   Yeah, and once I started going to the meetings and experiencing the presentations and learning more by going to these presentations, that’s definitely helped me a lot, too.

Aaron.   Maybe have more sections have more diverse meetings, covering different NDTs would be a big help. We try to, at our Section, kind of cover almost everything. We cover welding; we cover UT, MT; we cover everything.

Rachel.   We get AWS involved too, and we’ll do joint meetings with them. Because one thing I did realize is [that] Aaron, having been a welder and understanding what the welders do, helps a little bit with understanding what we do, too.

Q. Before we go, is there anything else you would like to share with me?

Aaron.   I don’t think so.

Rachel.   I think we actually covered quite a bit!

Q.  This was great. I feel like you two had so much back and forth, I barely had to do anything!

    [both laugh]

Aaron.   This is how we are at work. If I can’t figure something out, she usually will help me out, or if I need to train her…

Rachel.   That’s actually kind of the coolest thing about being together and working together is—we get along really well and we understand each other so well that we can solve problems together fairly easily, and I love that.

Aaron.   She’ll know if something’s shot, she’ll know that I’ll see a problem in it, and she’ll correct it before the problem gets worse…

Rachel.   Out of hand. [laughs]

Aaron.   And then I’ll just go and address it and make the change.


Aaron Hulbert and Rachel Taylor can be reached at