Chattanooga State Community College is pioneering the first training program in the world for a new certification for engineering inspection of pipes, welds and other equipment in power plants, oil drilling operations and other industrial uses.
Backed by a $1.5 million federal grant awarded in 2013 and $1 million of equipment and support from the Tennessee Valley Authority and other utilities, Chattanooga State announced Friday that the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) has designated the school as the first certified testing organization for a new standard for non-destructive examiners and quality control personnel.
Mike Turnbow, a retired TVA engineer who previously supervised the equipment testing programs at TVA, said he spent the past nine years working to get the new certification and training program at Chattanooga State to help elevate the quality of inspections of key components at TVA plants and other facilities.
ASME studies indicate that only inspectors in the past detected only 19 percent of the problems in welds, but that share has risen above 50 percent and should rise much higher with the new, more rigorous certification and training program. Turnbow said.
"Even though TVA is not building as many new plants, the importance of inspection becomes even more critical as plants get older," he said.
Non-Destructive Examination (NDE) is the collection of methods to inspect material or equipment to determine whether surface or substance flaws are present that may cause a failure. Oscar Brock, manager of operation and project development at Chattanooga State, likened the process to how ultrasound technology determines the healtth of an infant while still in its moth's womb.
Chattanooga State offers associate degrees in engineering specialties that perform such inspections and the ASME certfication will allow the school to provide targeted instruction and testing to certify those already working in the field to improve their skills as they are re-certified every three years.
Carol Eimers, general manager of inspection, testing, monitoring an analysis at TVA, said the federal utility is "fortunate that this program is being introduced right here in Chattanooga, in our backyard," to help upgrade the quality of plant equipment inspections. TVA employs about 50 such inspectors, and often hundreds of other contract workers, to examine material in TVA nuclear, coal, natural gas and hydroelectric plants across the utility's 7-state region.
The new program will also provide a transferable credential to certify the expertise of each inspector.
"This exciting partnership with ASME is yet another example of how Chattanooga State's faculty and staff are committed to meeting the unique needs of business and industry," Chattanooga State President Rebecca Ashford said.