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Non-Destructive Testing Helps Malaysia's Competitiveness

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Technicians inspecting a PETRONAS pipe using NDT methods in order to test the quality of the pipeline. (Photo: A. Nassir Ibrahim/Madani NDT Training Centre)

Industrial testing using nuclear technology has contributed to the competitiveness of Malaysia’s manufacturing sector, industry players have said. The country has also built itself an export niche in South-East Asia, offering non-destructive testing (NDT) with nuclear devices to manufacturers in neighbouring countries.

“The fact that we can get NDT services of a good quality level at a very reasonable price allows us to spend more money on inspection, and thus improve our competitiveness as well as the level of safety of our plant,” said Zamaludin Ali, senior engineer at oil company PETRONAS. Before the development of a local NDT industry and accreditation system for testing services, PETRONAS and other companies in Malaysia had to rely on foreign NDT providers, or local companies hiring operators certified abroad, he explained.

NDT using nuclear techniques involves the use of ionizing radiation to test the quality of finished products. It is based on the same principle as X-rays used in hospitals (see Non-destructive testing). Oil pipes, boilers, pressure vessels, aircraft equipment and ships are among the products whose quality is tested with the technique.

The IAEA has played an important role in helping Malaysia to establish accredited training agencies and a certification system, and to promote NDT technologies such as radiographic testing. As a result of this long-standing partnership, over 50 companies in Malaysia, employing more than 2000 technicians, are certified to carry out NDT testing.

Building local expertise

It all began in the 1980s, when Abdul Nassir Ibrahim, a junior official with Malaysian Nuclear Energy at the time, first attended a series of IAEA training courses on NDT. With support from his Government and assistance from the IAEA, he helped set up the National NDT Certification Board, from which he retired last year. Nassir Ibrahim is currently managing the Madani NDT Training Centre near Kuala Lumpur.

Companies in the oil and gas sector account for around 70 per cent of all NDT inspection business in Malaysia, Nassir Ibrahim explained. Power plants, shipyards and the aviation industry are other important clients that benefit from this technology. The cost of local inspections is about one fifth of the cost of hiring inspectors and using technology from overseas, he said.

The Malaysian example shows that it is possible to build an internationally recognized testing system from scratch.
Patrick Brisset, Industrial Technologist, IAEA

The IAEA helped to develop local expertise in the early years by supplying equipment and organizing training courses and scientific visits, explained Patrick Brisset, an industrial technologist at the IAEA. “Seeing the advances and success in Malaysia, we regularly call upon Malaysian experts to help the IAEA to set up training and certification centres in other countries,” he said. 

Malaysia’s training system and National NDT Certification Scheme have become a reference point for many countries: Nassir Ibrahim and his colleagues regularly conduct training courses in Sudan, which has adopted Malaysia’s certification scheme. Prospective inspectors from the Philippines, Yemen and Sri Lanka also come to Malaysia for training and certification, Nassir Ibrahim said.

The success of Malaysia’s NDT training programme can serve as a model and inspiration for other countries that wish to develop a domestic NDT certification programme, Brisset said. “The Malaysian example illustrates that it is possible to build an internationally recognized testing system from scratch and that the IAEA can help in the process.”

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