Published on 29-Jun-2024

NDE 4.0 – The Digital Transformation of Industrial Inspection

NDE 4.0 – The Digital Transformation of Industrial Inspection

Sources - Euro Consult Danmark

Table of Content

Industry’s continued and increasing demand for quality, safety, reliability, and productivity concurrent with the usage of newer materials and manufacturing processes, innovative and complex designs of components and structures for higher efficiencies has brought in a lot of focus and attention on the need for better inspection at every step of the process. The entire lifecycle of industrial inspection using Non-destructive Evaluation (NDE) and inspection technologies has undergone a phenomenal change in the way how they are being developed, adopted, deployed, and implemented in today's world. The entire lifecycle of the inspection ecosystem is being digitized and automated in different ways for greater efficiency. 

The domains that are helping revolutionize the world of industrial inspection are wide-ranging from sensors, communications, robotics, drones, electronics, high-density interconnect, software, IIoT, materials, manufacturing, machine learning, artificial intelligence, data analytics, cloud infrastructure, virtual and augmented reality and many more. It is the holistic synergies between these multidisciplinary areas which is the true disrupting element for the entire lifecycle of Industrial Inspection be it at the manufacturing stage in the shopfloor or during asset operations after installation.

The Evolution of NDE 4.0 as a subset of Industry 4.0 focuses on the recent advances and trends in the domain of NDE and its synergies with Digitization, Digitalization, and Digital Transformation. At the core of NDE 4.0 is the digital transformation of industrial inspection which is a philosophy, a process, and an approach that in its complete manifestation will revolutionize the way industry works with huge benefits.  

The Key Enablers & Enhancers

NDE 4.0 Digital TrasformationThe growth of NDE 4.0 over the next decade and how it penetrates and creates the necessary impact across the industry is deeply linked to the several key foundation pillars including the enablers and enhancers of industry 4.0 in general and its seamless adaptation with or without modifications towards industrial inspection. While the list is very long, we are highlighting a few important ones which are being seen to have started making an impact and attracting sufficient attention and investments:

1. Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) was probably amongst the earliest enablers which gained a lot of interest and curiosity leading to a lot of exploratory work and applications in industrial inspection. AI enables inspectors to analyze large amounts of data quickly and accurately, providing insights into the health and performance of materials and structures.

Machine learning algorithms can be used to identify patterns and anomalies in the data, making it easier to detect defects and potential failure points. Automated/Assisted Defect Recognition (ADR) based on AI algorithms can analyze images or sensor data obtained during NDE to detect defects such as cracks, corrosion, and delamination. AI-powered NDE systems can also learn from past inspection data, allowing them to adapt and improve over time. This can help in the development of predictive maintenance schedules, allowing companies to address issues before they lead to significant downtime or failure.

Overall, AI has a huge potential to revolutionize NDE utilization in the industry in several different ways. AI can help in inspector training, assist in data interpretation, help in the optimization of procedures, and many such tasks. The main benefits AI systems offer are that they get better and more robust with time as they get more data and work with complex tasks. 

To address the limitations of available data, one of the approaches being seriously considered is to integrate attributes of AI/ML with other algorithms for the analysis of NDE data, plus integrating human analysis into the final decision-making process. This approach sometimes finds greater acceptance by the industry as seen from a few studies.

2. Extended Reality

Augmented/virtual/mixed reality (referred to collectively by the term extended reality [XR]) is an emerging technology. XR is envisaged as one of the critical pillars of Industry/NDE 4.0, enabling one significant part of the synergy between the digital and physical space.. XR is defined as a human–machine interaction tool, which can supplement or overlay “a real-world environment with computer-generated sensory inputs.” XR applications combine virtual and physical reality, take place in real-time, and objects are represented in three dimensions in the virtual environment, enabling enhanced perception of the real world, real-time display of messages for users, integration with 3D CAD systems, and more.

XR is a unique combination of software and hardware that helps expand and extend the physical environment to assist human cognition and perception. XR-based user interfaces for NDE provide real-time instructions in the operator’s field of view during an inspection and expand the perception of the real environment. This provides a holistic visualization of damages, enabling better decisions. XR can optimally guide maintenance operators in complex tasks enabling faster work, fewer mistakes, and less cognitive load. XR can provide immersive education and training to NDT inspectors with self-directed learning on demand. XR can play a major role in remote learning/training of content and to train inspectors with 3D interactive demonstrations. XR helps inspectors dedicate all their cognitive resources to the key task of inspection through simple verbal commands and hand gestures with menu prompts in the XR field of view.

XR can help evaluate NDT performance, incorporate human factors into simulation tools, and determine their impact on NDT. XR can take advantage of advanced features in wearable devices and use AI to track the inspector’s actions in great detail. XR tools can enable effective and seamless remote inspections, with experts providing directions and guidance remotely to on-site inspectors, especially for tough and challenging task. XR can enable big data analytics through improved visualization, ease integration, and contribute toward collaborative discussion and decision-making.

3. Robotics/Drones

The other big enabler for NDE4.0 has been the rapid strides in the domain of Robotics and Drones both of which are key delivery mechanisms for NDE sensors both in manufacturing and during in-service helping automation and faster inspections with greater coverage, reliability, and safety. Robotics Technology can be used to automate the inspection process and reduce the need for human intervention in hazardous or hard-to-reach areas as well as increase productivity for repetitive tasks.

Robots have been in use even earlier but their integration with multimodal sensors, intelligent software for path planning, and their ability for handling large and complex shaped objects with increased collaboration are making them more attractive for industrial inspection. Assets vary in size and complexity from industry to industry and their inspection requirements also differ depending on the nature of damage expected. There is also the problem of access if the component to be inspected is at a great height, extremely large, located in difficult-to-access areas, situated in harsh environments, etc.

The advent of drones over the last decade has seen a phenomenal increase in their use for the inspection of assets in the industry ranging from wind turbines, boilers, pipelines, chimney stacks, aircraft, transmission lines, etc. While the applications until now were limited to non-contact sensors like visual or thermal imaging cameras, the last few years have seen success with contact sensors like Ultrasound for Thickness Measurements also. Several important developments have been made in the use of drones along with different NDE/Inspection sensors a very useful, practical, and realistic approach with huge benefits to all stakeholders.

3. Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is a technology that allows users to access computing resources such as storage, processing power, and software applications over the internet. In NDE 4.0, cloud computing can play a significant role in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the inspection process.

  • Data storage: Cloud computing can provide a secure and scalable platform for storing NDE data. By storing data in the cloud, engineers can access the data from anywhere, collaborate with other team members, and avoid the risk of data loss due to hardware failures.
  • Data processing: Cloud computing can provide high-performance computing resources for processing NDE data. By leveraging the processing power of the cloud, engineers can analyze large amounts of data quickly and accurately, reducing the time required for inspection and analysis.
  • Software as a service (SaaS): NDE software applications can be provided as a service, eliminating the need for local installation and maintenance, and benefit from the latest features and updates seamlessly
  • Virtual collaboration: Virtual collaboration among team members globally by providing a platform for sharing data, communicating in real-time, and working together on projects becomes feasible and helps improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the inspection process.

When opting for cloud storage/computing, one should look out for a solution that will be simple, easy to adapt, easy to access, and most importantly fulfil your security requirements.

4. Digital Twins

Digital Twins (DT) are virtual replicas of physical objects or systems that use data and algorithms to simulate their behavior and performance in real time. In NDE 4.0, digital twins can be used for several wide-ranging applications that improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the industrial inspection. Some of the applications which have already started getting traction include :

  • Predictive maintenance: DTs can help predict the likelihood of asset failure and schedule maintenance accordingly through real-time simulations.
  • Virtual testing: DTs can help to simulate NDE processes and predict the outcome of the inspection helping to save time and reduce costs by testing multiple scenarios virtually before conducting physical tests.
  • Real-time monitoring: DTs can be used to monitor the behavior and performance of physical systems in real-time and identify deviations from normal behavior helping to alert operators to take corrective actions.
  • Training: DTs can be used to train inspection engineers and technicians by simulating real-world scenarios, thus providing a safe and immersive environment for learning and training.

Adoption & Implementation Challenges

While the benefits and advantages of NDE 4.0 have been elaborated above, it would be naïve to assume that its adoption and implementation in industry will be easy and fast. The transition to NDE 4.0 will undoubtedly be highly desirable but also present several challenges, especially given its multi and cross-disciplinary nature cutting across industries, technologies, domains, demographics, product/asset types, regulations, policies and several others. 

Developments and efforts needed for enabling specific envisaged benefits of NDE 4.0, will span technical and non-technical considerations. Amongst the former, the means of gaining industry confidence through standards for qualifying advanced algorithms is a key challenge, whilst amongst the latter, enabling regulatory acceptance of novel inspection approaches and broader automation including in the decision process is a potential bottleneck to be overcome. Both should be tackled early on, to prevent overall progress from being delayed. In addition, the industry scepticism in some areas, the lack of awareness, the anticipation of labor force resistance, the capital investment envisaged, and the uncertainty of business benefit estimation will be major hurdles to overcome with suitable strategies and approaches. 

Way Forward

While the pace of growth and implementation may appear to be slower for NDE 4.0 when compared with other similar efforts in adjacent domains, it is not difficult to see its potential impact in the long run. This can be easily accelerated through a systematic and structured approach globally to raise awareness, share efforts and success stories and collaborate at a global level. The industry needs to be more proactive in creating a “pull” for the adoption of NDE 4.0 globally. There are several efforts underway through many academic / R& D institutes/Corporations/ forums including NDT societies around the world by forming Special Interest Groups / Working Groups focusing on this task. Books/Handbooks on NDE 4.0, Articles in Professional journals, Discussions on social media, organization of National and International Conferences/Workshops, and several similar initiatives have shown an exponential increase in the last 3 years.


NDE is inherently a data-oriented technology and has a high affinity with automation and digitalization. By developing NDE4.0 from the viewpoint of inspection automation and digitalization, we believe it has the potential to transform NDE in the industrial world. The use and adoption of NDE 4.0 have been accelerated due to the unprecedented global challenges that we saw recently in the last 2 years. 

NDE4.0 and its use within the industry aims to bring together various sections to ensure that a path forward takes a number of perspectives (academic, industry, R&D, and standards) into account. Digital transformation in industrial inspections is here to stay and benefit the world. This leap into technology is set to transform the asset integrity and maintenance industry around the world. NDE 4.0 is set to revolutionize the industry by providing accurate, timely, relevant, and specific information which can enhance the quality, performance, utilization, and overall efficiency of Materials. Components, Structures, and Assets as a whole.

Author: Shyamsunder Mandayam

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