So you're using AI to evaluate NDE data. What does your model do, if something unexpected happens?

2024-07-15/ Iikka
This is an important question and comes up ... show more

This is an important question and comes up every now and then. It came up at the EPRI TechWeek in June, and my immediate reaction was "this is not my favourite question". Not because the question stupid or unimportant – it's a good question. It's just that it's loaded with questionable assumptions and so the superficially simple question requires a longer answer to address properly. So, here's the proper answer. TL;DR: there's a solution and the concern is been addressed.

To begin, the issue is not as significant as it would appear and part of it is a case of saddling AI with requirements that the present systems do not fulfil. The first unstated assumption is that human inspectors are good at reacting to unexpected features of the data. This just is not so. There's a number of cases with unexpected flaws going unnoticed for extended periods of time. After first cracks are detected, suddenly similar indications are found in other plants. People in POD exercises who focus too much on the small flaws start to miss big flaws. The inspector's work requires high focus. The flipside is that we become blind to things outside of our focus. If you find this hard to believe, look at the famous monkey business illusion.

The second unstated assumption seems to be, that the AI is trained on random examples that just happen to result in good model performance, and so if a new failure mechanism appears, all bets are off, whereas for human inspectors this is somehow different. This is also wrong. The inspection procedures are highly tuned to detect known features of the flaws we aim to detect, e.g. the crack tip diffraction echoes for TOFD ultrasonics. The AI models are also trained to be sensitive to these specific echo patterns. I know the Trueflaw models are and I would cincerely hope this to be true for others as well. Now, asume the material finds a new way of degradation. This is a very rare event, but has happened. If this previously unknown mechanism features cracks, then the inspection method tuned to find cracks is expected to provide detectable signal similar to previously known cracks and the AI model is expected to generalize. Spoiler alert: most critical in-service degratation mechanisms feature cracks, which is why most inspection methods are tuned to find cracks. The signal might be a bit different, but it will necessarily retain the characteristic features of cracks. If the new degradation mechanism does not feature cracks, well then inspection method is not tuned for it either and chances are that there will be no signal to detect, AI or otherwise.

Thus, this question is of interest in a much smaller area than one would intuitively expect. It requires an unforeseen failure mechanism, unlike most degradation to date that the inspection method is, by chance, able to detect with a signal unlike typical flaw signals. So it takes a very rare event, on top of a second very rare event, on top of a third rare event to bring this question to bear.

Thirdly, the way it's often formulated, the question excluces a satisfactory answer. It's a trick question. If something unexpected happens, then, by definition something unexpected results. Otherwise you would not consider the thing that happened unexpected. As such, it cannot be answered, whether in the context of AI or otherwise.

All this notwithstanding, the question has merit, and the underlying concern is valid. It's not critical at present and should not prevent us from using AI today. However, as the role of the AI increases and the human inspectors review smaller and smaller portion of the data the rare events become more important. Also, it might not be a new degradation method, it might be an unlucky combination of dead elements or extenal noise that will not look like a flaw, but might hide flaw signals, if present. In all honesty, it took us a bit longer than I'd like to properly address it.

The key insight that allows a proper answer is a slight re-framing. The issue of data quality has been raised before, and we already have things in place to provide traditional data quality checks (IQI's in DRT, coupling control in UT, etc.) Re-framing this question as a data-quality issue, offers a proper solution. The requirement resulting from the underlying concern is not to predict the unexpected, which is impossible by definition. The requirement is to detect the unexpectedness, as with other data quality checks.

For traditional data quality checks, this takes the form of defining a metric and an allowed range, e.g. noise within bounds to confirm coupling. For AI, we need to have a metric to describe if the example is "expected" within the context of the training data. For this problem, we have a known solution: embeddings. With small change in the models, we can extract an additional output that provides a "fingerprint" of the present data. This can be compared to the training data and provides a metric of similarity relevant for flaw detection. This allows us to highlight out-of distribution samples and alert the use when the model falls outside validated range.

Long story short: there's a good solution and it is being addressed.

P.S. The data fingerprints have potential for other uses as well. They can be used to find potential duplicate data or similar conditions across plants to better support fleet wide condition monitoring. This is perhaps a good topic for a follow-up posting.

P.P.S. This solution is specific to NDE and will not solve issues we don't have, like adversarial input. However, the approach does hint a solution for those issues as well.

Can I use AI, when I don't understand the math behind it?

2024-07-07/ Iikka
In discussing AI with various inspection vendors, one ... show more

In discussing AI with various inspection vendors, one concern that is sometimes raised is that they are afraid they don't understand enough about AI to use it reliably. This is an understandable and justified concern, but the solution is not always intuitive. Should they take a course in AI? Should they refrain from using models, if they cannot do the math themselves?

My take: this is not the understanding you need. The AI courses are not going to help here. They might be interesting in their own right, but even if you become an AI professor, this will not provide the understanding you need to safely use them in an NDE setting. For this, you'll need a different kind of understanding.

The analogy I sometimes use is that of car racing. The mechanic will need a thorough understanding on the car to tune the car to be a winner. But this will not make them a good driver. The driver will need a thorouth understanding of the car behavior to be a winner, but this will not make them a good mechanic. Neither one will win races without the other.

So it is with AI and NDE. The AI vendor will need to understand the mechanics behind AI to pick the right models and to train a robust solution. They'll also need to know quite a bit about NDE and the inspections to avoid pitfalls. This will still not make them inspectors.

Likewise, the inspectors will need to combine their experience and NDE knowledge to exercise the model and to build working understanding on how it performs under various conditions. It's certainly important to establish good communication with the AI vendor to support building this undertanding. However, trying to be both the mechanic and the driver is definitely not necessary and is in most cases infeasible. AI for NDE has proven to be quite challanging. Many have tried, but there's just a handfull of teams worldwide that have shown success. Many companies have started AI projects with high hopes and are still waiting for deployable results.

The good news is that the inspectors do this quite naturally and intuitively. Always, when we deploy a new solution, we find the inspectors eager to try it out and to exercise it on various data sets they have tucked away for special interest. Sometimes even with data sets that the models were not designed for and would not be expected to work with (open communication with the vendor is important here).

The sad part is, that they sometimes feel that this is somehow not enough. They may feel that they would be need to learn something new and completely outside their experience.

There's no need for this. The inspectors already have the skills they need to evaluate new tools. All they need is some hands-on experience to build this working understanding and trust. Work with your AI vendor to create safe environment for such experimenting. Evaluate model performance jointly on your specific setting. The vendor will also want to work with you to make sure they are delivering a solution that performs well for you. Build a strong connection with your mechanic, that's how you'll win.

Formula team supporting the driver. AI generated.

AI/ML or not?

2024-07-04/ Iikka
AI gets a lot of press these days. ... show more

AI gets a lot of press these days. This has created a desire to label products AI, even when this is not justified. Unfortunately, it's sometimes difficult for unsuspecting buyers to tell the difference and it's easy to to get fooled. It's the Mechanical Turk all over again.

One could argue, that if the system delivers the results, it should not matter what the algorithm is. This is correct as far as it goes, but it misses the point. The reason we use AI/ML is that it delivers where previous solutions failed. That's the only reason to use AI. Thus, selling a traditional automation system as AI is like selling fool's gold.

In NDE, automated defect recognition (ADR) has a long and prosperous history. Starting from simple amplitude thresholds and later developed to more elaborate rule-bases systems, these have worked well for simple inspections, e.g., in manufacturing industry for decases. The problem is, that they fail with more challenging inspections. They fail with varying geometry or material conditions. They fail with variability inherent in most important inspections. These required human evaluation, until deep learning and AI finally enabled automation of even the most difficult inspections. AI provides robust automation and can handle the variability where traditional ADR fails.

Now, because of the AI hype, there has been companies that have a well-functioning rule-based system on a simple inspection and they have started to market it with AI. There might be a little bit of real AI added on top of a rule-based system and so it might be somewhat justified. Either way, I think this is rather benign. After all, they have a working system and they are marketing it to a specific inspection task where the traditional systems work and you don't need AI.

However, it's getting worse. I was recently in an AI group meeting, and a prominent NDE vendor miss-presented their rule-based traditional ADR systems as AI. This was in context where the rule based systems are known to fail. These people should now better.

So, I guess the lesson here is you'll need to try before you commit. The true AI systems will typically require tuning/re-training to your data, so you'll need to have some data for the vendor to tune their models and additional hold-off data that you'll use to evaluate the provided solution. If you have specially tricky cases, these should be in the tuning set for best performance. The vendor should also do their own performance evaluation and model validation, so you should also ask them to provide documentation on model performance assessment.

Historic mechanical turk rendering. AI generated.

Hard problems first

2024-06-24/ Iikka
At Trueflaw, we tend to tackle the hard ... show more

At Trueflaw, we tend to tackle the hard problems first. We started AI for NDE in the Nuclear and aerospace industries, not because they were easy, but because they were hard. AI being a new technology, building trust was a key to success. Showing success in these highly regulated and safety-critical industries is a good way to show AI can be trusted.

This strategy has worked very well for us. The references are there now and we are seeing NDE at the forefront of qualifying the use of AI in safety significant applications. The flipside is, however, that sometimes we don't talk enough about the easy stuff. There's a ton of industrial applications that can benefit massively from using AI to make inspections more efficient and reliable. Now with the hard problems solved, these are straightforward and easy for us to deliver. Think automated weld lines in pipe factories (UT/RT), boiler weld visual inspection, wind turbine tower weld UT, automotive inspections, robotized tank inspections, etc. These are just a few examples of inspections where it makes no sense any more to continue evaluating data manually.

So, here's a quick summary of how easy it is to integrate AI to your current inspection system and what's needed from you.

  1. The solution

    The input to AI is raw NDE data, direct stream of files (.dcm, .nde, .UVData, .opd, .rdt, etc.). You provide the input by copying the file to a shared drive location (either manually or automatically) or streaming data directly for real time applications. The processing can be done locally with the TrueflawBox edge computing hardware for speed and securigy or it can be done in the cloud to share data between multiple sites.

    The output is:

    • automatically annotated data,
    • interactive report with indication list and representative measurements and data plots for final evaluation and/or
    • streamlined application for data evaluation.

    The end result is, that you save 90% of data evaluation time and your inspectors can focus on the parts of data that actually matter.

  2. The tailoring

    For best performance, the solution is almost always tuned for the customers. While there's great similarity between the different customer solutions, we want to make sure that the models are validated for the specific conditions and can deliver the expected performance. This is not a big development project, and is certainly worthwhile. For this we need time and data. You'll need to provide data for 20 flaw indications of each flaw type of interest, and roughly 10x unflawed data. This amount of data is typically something customers already have from test blocks or field data. If this is challenging or you're missing a crucial rare flaw type, we can also manufacture artificial cracks to complement the data. Currently, it takes us 3-6 months from data to delivery.

    Sometimes we do see new applications that require more significant development. This is also OK. It just takes a bit more time, up to 12 months.

  3. Cost

    On completion, we licence the solution to you on a yearly basis. The cost varies depending on the solution; a good rough estimate would be 35k€/a.

    For small tailoring/tuning (~80% of the cases) there's no upfront development cost, just the yearly license. However, you do need to commit to licensing the model for at least one year, provided that the solution meets the agreed performance criteria. For more involved projects (~20% of cases), typically involving customized integration to existing systems or very specific NDE data, there is an additional development cost.

We've worked hard to make AI for NDE reliable, easy and accessible. I think we've succeeded quite well. For any inspection with substantial volume, this should be an easy decision to make. To get started, message me or one of our experts: Sonja, Oskar, Topias, Oskari or Goncalo.

Trueflawbox edge computing device

If it can be inspected, it can be automated.

2024-04-09/ Iikka
That's where AI for NDE stands today.Next week, ... show more

That's where AI for NDE stands today.

Next week, the Nordic Welding Expo kicks off in Tampere. To showcase the latest AI for NDE advancements, we partnered with the welding experts at Suisto Engineering Oy. They welded a tube for us. We made some cracks. We acquired PWI/TFM ultrasonic data with the wonderful Peak NDT Ltd. LTPA. We trained a deep learning network to find the flaws for us. Small flaws in noisy austenitic material, too small to detect with a simple amplitude threshold. Finally, we put the model to the Trueflawbox and connected it to the LTPA for some real-time AI magic.

For those, who cannot make it to Tampere, here's a video showing the working demonstration. Ultrasonic scanning with real-time PWI/TFM reconstruction and AI defect detection.

If you're at the expo, be sure to make your way to booth A80 and talk to Oskar Siljama or Sonja Grönroos and see how to take this opportunity and turn it into a concrete tailored solution for your inspection.

Trueflaw Ltd.
Tillinmäentie 3 A 113, FI-02330 Espoo, Finland
+358 45 635 4415
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