From the name, one might deduce that Inspection Engineering is either: The job of looking at things that have been engineered, or, of designing an inspection. When you combine the two, that about sums it up nicely.
If you ask a professional, they would describe Inspection Engineering as the planning, conducting, and reporting on, the (primarily) visual inspection of engineering assets -- especially offshore and subsea.
Inspection Engineering is one of the many disciplines that does not belong to the core engineering family. Inspection Engineers are not required to complete an engineering degree, nor are they eligible to join most recognised engineering societies, such as the Institute of Engineers, nor are they qualified to operate a train engine. That being said, some Inspection Engineers do have Engineering degrees, in particular mechanical or Structural engineering degrees. The majority of Inspection Engineers are ex divers, ROV pilots, or NDT technicians.
As with most engineering professions, the workforce is comprised of very few (if indeed any) women.
Inspection Engineering: A Job Description
Patience is always a virtue, and in this job an absolute necessity. The ability to sit still and retain concentration over long periods of mind-numbing boredom is also a real plus.
The offshore work environment can best be described as sitting for 12 hours at a time inside a modified 20 foot cargo container, watching live video feeds from an ROV.
Most inspection campaigns take place over a period of 4-6 weeks, with operations continuing 24 hours a day. Inspection Engineers work 12 hour shifts, with tasks generally split between Online Eventing and Offline Review.
Hours of mind killing nothing interspersed with brief periods of intense activity. The online eventer's job is to observe the asset being inspected and look for any signs of damage, debris, or other indication of, or risk of, structural weakness. The online eventer must record the video, give a running audio commentary, and record all findings (usually in to an electronic data capture tool). They control the inspection, telling the ROV pilot where to go and where to point the camera.
As the entire vessel spread is there for the inspection, if the online eventer stops, so does everyone else. As a result, the online eventer is essentially chained to his chair for his full 12 hour shift -- which can become uncomfortable.
An offline reviewer can best described as one part management, two parts reporting, and two part quality review and spelling checker. It is the offline reviewer's job to manage the inspection campaign in the field, review all the data recorded by the online eventer (including spelling and grammar as well as accuracy/consistency), create field reports, and generally run around putting out fires (generally not literally).
The offline reviewer is generally the point of contact between the inspection and the client.
How Do I Become an Inspection Engineer?
Perhaps a better question, is why would you want to? As with many jobs the answer here boils down to coin. Inspection Engineers typically earn a better pay rate than their diving and ROV pilot compatriots.
So given that you want the job, how to get it becomes the question. Realistically there is only one way to become an inspection engineer, and that is to work in the offshore industry. The most common path is to start as a diver or ROV pilot, and then gain your 3.4u qualification. Some companies are willing to take on staff without qualifications, at a lower pay rate, and train them. You will probably need to know someone in the industry for this to happen, and even then, it's still uncommon.
Inspection Engineering Qualifications
The 3.4u (pronounced three-four-you) is the most widely accepted accreditation for offshore Inspection Engineers. So common in fact, that many companies refer to Inspection Engineers as three four yous.
The 3.4u course takes place over 10 days and covers a broad range of inspection topics including:
Inspection campaign planning
Diver and ROV dive plans
Recognising and describing concrete defects
Recognising and describing metallic defects
At the completion of the course a 2 day exam is given -- unlike many industry exams which come at the end of an expensive course, this is not a gimme. Many participants do fail the exam.