PMI Inspection Training: Why It's Crucial

Emily Kingland
June 26, 2020
PMI Inspection Training: Why It's Crucial

Attempting PMI inspection without the proper training is kind of like pretending to be something you’re not.

It’s easy enough to claim you’re a master chef. Maybe you even invite your friends over for a dinner party to prove it to them.


You decide beef wellington is on the menu this evening and get to work making what you ordain as beef wellington. You can probably already see where this scheme goes wrong.

First of all, you’ve never learned how to make beef wellington (you’re not even totally sure what it is). Secondly, you’re putting yourself and your friends at risk by serving the steaming glob you’ve managed to concoct and slap onto a plate.

The consequences of pretending to be a master chef? Inedible results, food poisoning, and no friends.


The consequences of no formal PMI inspection training? Much, much worse.

Why is PMI inspection training important? PMI inspection training is crucial to the integrity of the metal supply chain. Without proper PMI training, inconsistencies, low-quality products, and even catastrophes like oil spills and plant explosions are possible.

Today, we’re unpacking:

  1. The current landscape of the PMI testing field and how to get into it.
  2. Why so many professionals misuse PMI analyzers.
  3. How to find the best PMI inspection training for you and your business.

Let ‘s get started!

Psst: This post is based on a podcast with co-host Chris Carolan. To hear this episode (and more like it), subscribe to The Manufacturing Show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

A growing knowledge & skills gap

The advancement of technology and its ease-of-use is great for the metals industry but can be detrimental at the same time.

“Point-and-shoot is not as simple as everyone would like it to be.”

Chris Carolan

Positive material identification (PMI) techniques like handheld XRF, handheld LIBS, and mobile OES have become so convenient that they’re being misused. Although point-and-shoot technology seems simple enough, there’s a lot more to it.

Not fully understanding PMI technology

WARNING: Tough love ahead.

You know when you put an iPad into a toddler’s hands and they already know how to use it? The thing is, while the toddler knows how to navigate to his favorite game, he doesn’t actually know how or why the device is giving him those results.

Sadly, we see a similar lack of understanding of PMI testing in the field today. You see, the consequences of PMI “professionals” not fully understanding the technology they’re dealing with are much more serious than a child with a tablet.

The consequences

When someone doesn’t completely grasp how their PMI analyzer works, it can lead to:

  • Inability to troubleshoot the technology
  • Improper sample prep
  • Inconsistent results
  • Low product quality
  • Safety hazards for themselves and others
  • Expensive liabilities

This is what happens when formal PMI training has not been carried out. 

The lack of good training isn’t one person or business’s fault. However, it’s up to all of us in the field to correct this industry-wide blunder.

Silver Eagle Refinery explosion

One instance that demonstrates the consequences of not fully understanding PMI technology is the explosion at Silver Eagle Refinery in Utah.

In 2009, four workers suffered serious burns from a flash fire that resulted from a large flammable vapor cloud that was released from an atmospheric storage tank. The vapor cloud came across an ignition source and the subsequent flash fire exploded up to 230 feet west of the tank farm.

Later that year, a second accident occurred at Silver Eagle Refinery. When a 10-inch pipe failed, a powerful blast wave damaged nearby homes.

Perhaps, if the refinery workers had had a better understanding of the PMI instruments they were using, these accidents would not have happened.

Getting into PMI testing

By now, you might be wondering… 

If there are no real standards for PMI training, how do people get into the business?

Many of the people who have gotten into the PMI profession started out in nondestructive testing.

ASNT nondestructive testing

The American Society for Nondestructive Testing, or ASNT, is a technical society for nondestructive testing (NDT) professionals.

Although PMI is considered as a form of nondestructive testing, it still isn’t a well-recognized discipline of ASNT nondestructive testing. 

The six primary disciplines of ASNT-certified NDT pros are:

  1. Eddy current
  2. Magnetic particle testing (MPT)
  3. Liquid penetrant
  4. Radiographic
  5. Ultrasonic
  6. Visual testing

The above disciplines can be classified as traditional nondestructive testing methods. 

Unlike PMI training, becoming certified in the above methods is actually a pretty extensive process. There are three levels of certification that you can reach through classroom instruction and practical experience with the methods. While relatively lucrative, Level 3 takes a lot of time, effort, and experience to obtain.



The NDT pros who branch out into PMI normally do so out of necessity. Since there are no specific requirements for PMI inspectors, the responsibility has fallen on NDT specialists.

When you’re looking to outsource positive material identification, it’s likely that the company you choose isn’t strictly PMI-focused. In fact, PMI probably isn’t even one of their core offerings.

It just so happens that they have the equipment and somewhat knowledgeable personnel to do the job.

"I can't reiterate enough how important training is for worker safety, product quality, and company liability."

Chris Carolan

With more companies requiring PMI inspection, demand for standardized training has started to bubble up.

Training for PMI professionals

While not an official requirement of PMI practitioners, some refineries have started to require the inspector to carry a 578 card.

API RP 578

The American Petroleum Institute (aka, API) is an oil and gas trade association that establishes standards for the industry concerning…

  • Operational and environmental safety
  • Efficiency
  • Sustainability

RP 578 refers to the Recommended Practice 578 that provides criteria for material and quality assurance systems to identify the composition of metal alloys. Although this particular guideline only deals with piping systems and their specific construction materials, there is a training component associated with PMI.

If a refinery requires inspectors to carry a 578 card, that means they need to go through API RP 578 training before conducting PMI testing.

Demand for PMI inspection training

The globalization of the metal supply chain has increased the need for higher PMI testing standards, therefore, higher training standards.

There’s more pressure than ever to positively identify the composition and quality of materials for… 

  • Buildings
  • Bridges
  • Vehicles
  • Aircraft
  • Medical devices
  • Food processing plants
  • Oil refineries
  • Machinery

The complexity of the metal supply chain warrants the inspection of materials at every point leading up to the finished product and sometimes beyond.

So, it’s imperative that the people carrying out PMI testing have a complete understanding of the process and technology. Otherwise, the consequences we went over earlier could be in the future of any… 

  • Scrapyard
  • Foundry
  • Parts manufacturer
  • Refinery
  • Refinery maintenance/inspection team

If you ask me, it’s a little unsettling to think about untrained PMI practitioners testing materials of such a great scale.

The good news

Being a consultant for the Metal Analysis Group has taught me just how important it is for PMI inspectors to get formal training.

Seriously, I’ve seen it all: coworkers pointing the handheld lasers at each other, users pulling the analyzer’s trigger for various amounts of time expecting quality results, users holding the analyzer several inches away from the sample.

"You're taking big risks if you aren't putting resources into training your staff and making sure they're completing tests properly and safely."

Chris Carolan

The good news is that the experts on my team at the Metal Analysis Group offer specialized classes for industrial professionals to improve their skills and advance their careers. One of the classes being offered by the MAG Industrial Training Institute is the first-ever qualification and certification program for PMI.


All of the programs offered by the MAG Industrial Training Institute are well worth your while, in my opinion.

PMI inspection training is essential

The goal of this article is to demonstrate just how vital PMI inspection training is. To avoid accidents, liabilities, and inconsistencies, invest in proper PMI training.

It’s all part of mastering your metals!

For more expert insights on PMI testing, subscribe to The Manufacturing Show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.