T.C. Ridgeway, Inc. (TCRI) is not a NDT company, but is very familiar with the NDT community that services paper mills. Our primary function is to assist the mill engineer in understanding what the labís UT inspection data is saying about his Recovery Boilers. A historical review will shed some light on what part TCRI plays in the overall process.
During the early 1970's when the UT inspection of Recovery Boilers started ramping up, computers did not exist in the general public. To inspect a boiler, the UT technicians operated as a pair or two-man crew. One technician would place the transducer on the boiler tube and interpret the oscilloscope to get a thickness reading, which he verbally called out. The assistant technician would write the UT readings on a pre-printed form that he had on a clipboard. The form included the paper company name, mill name, boiler name, inspection date, boiler section and the elevation being inspected. It had dozens of little blocks where the UT readings were to be written. By the end of the inspection, there were hundreds if not thousands of pages of just numbers that came out of the boiler. Those dirty pages were then given to the NDT lab's secretary who simply typed the UT readings onto clean forms, all of which went into a three-ring binder. That was the UT inspection report the NDT labs gave to the mill engineers back then. It was nothing more than thousands of pages of raw numbers.
That type of inspection report presented a major problem for the mill engineer. His goal was to understand what the data was saying about his boiler. He soon realized that looking through thousands of number was nearly an impossible task. Therefore he asked the NDT labs to use a magic marker, and in the printed report, highlight the UT readings that he needed to be concerned about. Keep in mind that computers and color printers did not exist at that time in history. It was a laborious task, but the labs started producing reports that were prepared on an electric typewriter and where the readings of concern were manually "flagged" with a magic marker. That was the standard report the NDT community supplied for years.
When the first "desk top" computers arrived in the late 1970's, things started to get exciting in the UT Reporting field. The goal was to eliminate the electric typewriter and bring in the computer keyboard. The secretary would use the technician's dirty UT data sheets and would enter the readings into a crude software package. Using her colorless dot-matrix printer, she would be able to print the data as many times as necessary. However, the report was still just raw numbers and manual flagging with a magic marker was still required. The NDT community was slowly moving into the digital reporting world for boiler examinations. Before that time in history, the only time the term "digital examination" was mention was in the proctologist's office.
By the time the early 1980's arrived, the three-color dot-matrix printers had appeared and the "Reporting Race" between the NDT labs was on. While using commercially available software, each lab would use their computer and color printer to improve their UT reporting capabilities. The printed Boiler Report itself became a significant marketing tool. Each lab hoped the mill engineer (who wanted a good UT report) would give them the boiler job because of the lab's report. The reports became more than just "raw" data. They started to become "informational" data. Things like multiple colors and the average UT thickness per elevation were being included in the ever-encompassing reports. Because of the vast quantity of UT readings, the labs soon realized the off-the-shelf programs like Lotus and Excel did not have the capabilities needed to further enhance UT data reporting. Therefore, programmers were hired and given the task to create the most capable and most impressive color report the labs could offer to their clients. The race was on and this played out a numbers of times by many labs. The resulting programs were all different internally and written in different software languages. These programs did specific task very well and produced very good boiler UT inspection reports. The computer world calls them "Expert Systems". Keep in mind, these were still just "data reporting" software packages. The technicians were still writing the data on paper and it was then manually entered into the program by the office secretary or computer staff.
The mid, to late 1980's brought in the UT data loggers. They were supposed to make things simpler and easier. Just the opposite was true! The level of complexity to conduct the UT inspection went up dramatically. Because the software that came with the logger was not satisfactory, the labs modified their own "data reporting" software to become "data acquisition" software as well. This meant the individual Expert Systems started talking directly to the loggers. The labs were then totally in the new digital world and storing data on hard drives somewhere.
In 1985, I speculated what the mill engineer would want next and I saw a train wreck in the making. It made sense to do something analytical with all of the UT data that was being stored on the lab's hard drives. As specified in Volume 1 of the "American Paper Institute, Recovery Boiler Reference Manual", the mill engineer would want to mathematically trend the UT data. Trending gives him a rate of metal loss and therefore he can forecast the future condition of the boiler. A mill engineer's dream. Unfortunately, he still had to deal with the mill's purchasing agent and at times was forced to use different NDT labs to conduct the boiler inspections. That means the UT data was going to be coming to the mill engineer from different Expert Systems over the many years that are needed to accurately trend data. As previously mentioned, each Expert System had its own file structure and by design did not talk with a competing system. This was a real problem for the mill engineer. He had a lot of UT data from different systems, none of which will work with data from a competing system. I saw there was a need for a "Standard" file structure. The mill engineers could ask the labs to modify their software such that it produces data files that comply with the standard. In order for the labs to agree, the standard would need to be developed and published by a third party that was not a competing NDT lab. Thus, TCRI was created.
TCRI came onto the scene in early 1985 and was not the type of company most people thought a software company would be. We only did one thing and that was to be at the boiler shutdown to qualify the UT data as it came out of the boiler. By doing so, it could immediately be analyzed by our software, triggering boiler maintenance actions if necessary. Because analytical software for boiler data did not exist at the time, we had to develop and write our own from scratch. After establishing a workable data file structure, we wrote our own Expert System and referred to it as the "Technical Database System" or the TDS. The file structure became the "Standard" and was given to the NDT labs so they could produce TDS type files from their already existing systems. At the request of their paper mill clients, the labs begrudgingly modified their software to produce TDS type UT data files. The TDS as well as the lab's software have evolved over the years.
The TDS does four primary functions. First, it is a "data acquisition" system. That means it creates UT work assignments and transfers those assignments to the logger. After the technician performs the inspection in the boiler, the assignment that now contains UT data is transferred back to the TDS. The second function of the TDS is that it is a "data reporting" system. That means it produces large multi-color prints of the UT data in a variety of ways. The prints are referred to as "Static Images" and pertain to a specific inspection date. The third function of the TDS is that it is a "data analysis" system. That means that hundreds of thousands of UT readings from many inspections by different labs, all come together precisely to yield accurate mathematical trending of tube metal loss. Every individual UT location on the boiler tubes has a rate of metal loss calculated. Once the data is in the system, the advanced calculations and projections happen in just seconds. It truly empowers the mill engineer when it comes to the understanding of his boiler. The fourth function of the TDS is for it to be a "data archiving" system that stores all of the data in a manner that enables immediate access by the end user. That means the engineer does not need to know the details of how the software works or in which folders the UT data is stored. He answers several simple questions in boiler terms and he is automatically taken to the data he is looking for. Once there, he can slice and dice the data in a variety of ways with different software routines. These routines are not just bells and whistles, but are real engineering and analytical tools. The system also deals with the data that originates from the Mud Drum inspection probes. The probes automatically capture millions of UT readings. When the lab finishes the inspection inside the Mud Drum, they give us the data so the TDS can display 3D images with it. The TDS almost sounds like science fiction. It is real, and is the results of a 6.4 million dollar and twenty-five year investment. The labs have also spent vast amounts of money perfecting their own expert systems. The latest boiler reporting system being developed by an NDT lab, is the product of five years of software research and a four million dollar investment. By definition, the software packages that were designed for UT inspections of recovery boilers are very expensive to develop and maintain.
So much for the historical prospective. I wrote it so you have an understanding of where things are today concerning the computer side of the Recovery boiler UT inspections. The question now is how does the NDT lab get their data into the TDS format. That is where the TCRI Compatibility document comes into play. The document explains the Standard file structure and what the labs need to do to get the data in the mill's database.