The WelderDestiny Compass

X-Ray Vision is Coming - Issue #009

Wednesday, March 01, 2017 / Perth Australia / By Niekie Jooste

In this edition of "The WelderDestiny Compass":

  • Automation is Scary, but Technology is Cool
  • Work Does Not Equal Job
  • A Transparent World
  • The Welder with X-Ray Vision

Automation is Scary, but Technology is Cool

When the machine age takes hold, then we will no longer have any jobs! I believe that this view is pretty close to what will transpire in the next 30 years or so. 

This view of the world is only frightening if we equate a job with doing work. If we understand that there are many ways of working and earning a living, outside of the traditional “job”, then our focus can shift to finding the solutions that will work for each one of us individually.

Not only will the technology lead to automation, it will also make our working environment really cool. For instance, what if you had X-Ray vision like superman? 

If you would like to add your ideas to this week’s discussion, then please send me an e-mail with your ideas, (Send your e-mails to: or complete the comment form on the page below.

In last week's The WelderDestiny Compass, we dealt with uncertainty in welding, and the use of sensors in real-time inspections. As a consequence, reader Nicolas had an interesting question regarding the stance a welding inspector should take regarding potential defects in untested welds. To check out this discussion, please click here.

Now let's get stuck into this week’s topics...

Work Does Not Equal Job

Whenever the effects of automation are discussed, invariably we will hear that the machines and robots will eventually take over all our jobs. Eventually we will have no more work! This argument assumes that the only “work” we do is what we do as an official “job”.

In the new era coming, there will indeed be very few jobs as we define them today. Instead, our work will be to find the niche within which we can attract wealth towards ourselves. The way to attract wealth towards ourselves is to find a product or service that adds enough value to somebody else, that they will be willing to pay for that product or service. This is just entrepreneurship 101.

The most successful people will not necessarily be those that “work the hardest”, but those that find the best way to add value to others at the lowest cost and effort to themselves. In other words, you need to become good at identifying a niche, and being able to supply into that niche.

Ask yourself: What skills do I need in the coming era to identify niches, and then supplying into those niches? If you are asking the question: What job can I do? Then I believe that you are asking the wrong question for the machine age.

Work does not equal job. Work equals adding value to a niche. We will discuss this mindset, and the consequences, in future editions of The WelderDestiny Compass.

While the consequences of much of the new technology being developed today will be automation of jobs, this technology is also going to make our work environment really cool!

This brings us to our next topic…

A Transparent World

To understand how a physical object works, we generally need to take a look and figure it out. When there are obstacles in our way, so that we are unable to see directly, then we need to make another plan. As a typical example, we can consider the human body. For us to figure out what is going on inside it, we cannot just look, because it is not possible for us to look through the skin, muscle and bone.

We can however “see” inside the human body by using X-Rays. Unfortunately, this does actually result in some rather unfortunate damage to the human tissue, but hey, we can see what is going on!

We can also use ultrasonics to “see” what is happening inside the human body. Luckily that does a lot less damage than X-Rays. We can also use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to see what is happening inside the human body.

Much of the progress we have made in the last decade in understanding how the human brain works, has been due to us being able to “see” inside it using MRI. In fact, much of the advances in many fields have been possible due to us having developed some kind of technology and associated detectors and sensors to help us visualize what is happening in hitherto hidden places.

Comic books (sorry, graphic novels) have long had superheroes with the ability to look through things. Like superman with his X-Ray vision. While I have yet to meet somebody that has “unaided” X-Ray vision, this ability is now commonplace for those with access to the right technology.

The medical fraternity uses imaging technologies such as X-Ray, ultrasonics and MRI to take a look inside the human body. In the welding industry, we use X-Rays, gamma rays, ultrasonics, eddy currents and several other technologies to take a look inside welds and base metals. Especially in the case of ultrasonics, some of the newer techniques can construct a 3-dimensional image of the weld, showing us the presence of defects.

Imagine how effective you as a Welder could be if you could look at the weld and associated base metal while you are performing the welding, and “see” what is happening inside it. What if you could have X-Ray vision that shows you when you have a defect embedded in the weld, or possibly some lack of penetration within the root of the weld?

The Welder With X-Ray Vision

The ability of being able to “look” into a metal may not be as far off as you may think. For a while now, LASER ultrasonics has been used under certain circumstances. 

In LASER ultrasonics, a laser pulse heats the surface of the material locally, which results in a very rapid expansion and then rapid contraction of the surface. This rapid expansion and contraction results in an ultrasonic pulse being introduced into the material. 

Another laser detects the returning ultrasonic vibrations, which can then be interpreted much like conventional ultrasonic signals. The advantages of laser ultrasonics are that it is a non-contact form of ultrasonic testing and it can be done at very high temperatures. Besides giving dimensional information on the interior of the weld, it can also give grain size information.

Surface dimensional measurements using lasers is also a technology that has been around for quite a while. It is often used to measure any surface material loss due to corrosion, or to perform dimensional measurements for weld fit-ups inside pipelines. If these two laser techniques are combined into an augmented reality (AR) system for the Welder, then the following becomes possible:

  • A 3D projection of the internal of the weld can be integrated with the normal external view of the weld. This will show the Welder in real time if there are any unacceptable defects present within the weld. (Or an inspector for that matter.) 
  • If excessive grain growth is detected, this can be rendered on the visual image in some kind of “texture” to indicate that the thermal conditions are obviously not acceptable.
  • The surface distortion due to the welding can be measured in real time and a record kept. This will show exactly how high the residual stresses are in the material. This could be shown visually as different colours to represent different areas of stress, much like in a finite element model. (FEM)

While the technology is already present to perform each of these operations in isolation, the ability to scale it down and to integrate it into equipment that is portable enough for the Welder to use out in the field, is the big challenge. As Moore’s law tells us, it will only take a few years for this miniaturization problem to be solvable. The real problem is that there are not enough people with the necessary skills to work on these problems to develop the practical tools that we can use out in the field.

Do you want to be part of the team that brings this technology to fruition? If so, do you have the necessary skills? If not, how can you change that?

Yours in welding

Niekie Jooste

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