Picture Archiving and Communication Systems (PACS) in Nondestructive Testing

An Interview with Peter Rosiepen, Managing Director at DIMATE

February 21, 2024

Inspectioneering recently had the opportunity to chat with Peter Rosiepen, Managing Director at DIMATE GmbH. Our conversation explored the historical evolution of PACS, its applications beyond healthcare, its impact on the NDT industry, and the anticipated advancements in PACS technology for the future.

Inspectioneering (IJ): Peter, thank you for taking a few moments to chat with us. Please tell us a little about yourself, your journey into the industry, and your primary roles within it.

Peter Rosiepen (PR): Since the start of my professional career, I've worked in business development of IT solutions. Since 2001, I've been involved in digitizing medical and diagnostic processes within the healthcare sector with the Picture Archiving and Communication System (PACS) of VISUS Health IT. I have been part of VISUS Health's journey from a startup to becoming a leading player in medical technology.

In 2015, I discovered that the medical IT standard, Digital Imaging and Communication in Medicine (DICOM), was adopted by the industry and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). It became the foundation for the IT standard in nondestructive testing (NDT), known as Digital Imaging and Communication in Non-Destructive Evaluation (DICONDE). Notably, DICONDE closely resembled DICOM in medicine. Recognizing this similarity, my colleagues and I, having deep familiarity with DICOM, initiated an evaluation of the industrial market. We found that the PACS solutions, as seen in medicine, were unavailable. We identified the potential for DICONDE, paired with a PACS, to revolutionize industrial testing and inspection processes.

In 2018, we founded VISUS Industry GmbH to craft a success story in the industry as well. In 2020, we rebranded the company as DIMATE, which stands for Digital Material Testing. With the name change, we wanted to show the industrial market our dedicated focus and develop a professional PACS for non-destructive material testing, inspection, and maintenance.

IJ: The concept of PACS emerged in the 1970s as a response to the growing use of radiological imaging in healthcare. Can you provide our audience with an overview of what PACS is and discuss its historical evolution?

PR: PACS is a technology for storing, retrieving, and distributing medical images such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs. Before PACS, medical images were stored on film, making them difficult to manage and share. PACS revolutionized this process by digitizing images and creating a centralized storage system. It enabled faster access to images, improved collaboration among specialists, and increased overall efficiency. However, the success of PACS in healthcare also required a vendor-neutral IT standard. Users, especially radiologists, no longer wanted to view and store data on multiple systems from different vendors; they wanted a single view of all patient data in a single system and archive. They influenced the device and system vendors, who agreed on the DICOM standard.

Today, PACS continues to evolve with innovations such as cloud-based storage, artificial intelligence applications for image analysis, and improved interoperability with other systems. It has become the central system for all diagnostic images, video, and vital signs, and thus the core system for a patient's lifetime record that is trusted around the world.

IJ: Beyond healthcare, could you elaborate on some important applications and industries where PACS plays a pivotal role today and how its relevance has expanded over time?

PR: PACS has its origins in healthcare, but its applications have expanded beyond the medical field to several industries where efficient management of images is critical. Industries such as aerospace, automotive, and the entire energy sector rely heavily on NDT methods to inspect safety-critical components and plant parts without damaging them. PACS facilitates the centralized and device-independent storage and comparison of NDT images throughout the operating mode, enabling the monitoring of structural integrity and the detection of potential problems before they escalate. The integration of PACS in these industries has digitized inspection processes end-to-end for the first time, improving collaboration between stakeholders and paving the way for more advanced technologies such as AI for automated defect detection. This not only ensures the integrity of assets and components but also contributes to a more proactive and efficient approach to asset management across industries.

IJ: Could you provide further insights into how this technology has specifically impacted the NDT industry over the years? Additionally, how has artificial intelligence played a role in these impacts?

PR: In terms of digitalization, a lot has happened in NDT in recent years. Information about inspection points and intervals is often available digitally, for example, in the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or Inspection Data Management System (IDMS). Also, many test devices already provide digital data, but unfortunately, this data is distributed in different formats in the associated IT systems. In addition, there are many manual or disruptive entry procedures in the inspection process that are prone to error. The PACS plays a crucial role in the realization of a fully digital inspection process without interruptions. By standardizing digitization and centralizing the storage of all inspection images and data in a vendor-independent format, PACS makes outdated methods obsolete. The "C" in PACS stands for communication, and PACS uses this to exchange order and measurement data between administrative IT systems (i.e., ERP, IDMS, etc.) and inspection devices, ultimately ensuring inspection results with a high level of data integrity. High data integrity and quality ensure that relevant inspection results can play an important role in production and decision-making processes. The synergy between PACS and AI has further revolutionized NDT. AI algorithms can be integrated with PACS to automate the analysis of inspection images. This not only speeds up the inspection process but also increases accuracy by identifying subtle defects that are difficult for the human eye to detect. AI-driven image analysis also contributes to more consistent and standardized assessments.

IJ: Just like any complex system, the implementation of PACS can present challenges. What are some key considerations that organizations should bear in mind when integrating PACS technology into their NDT processes?

PR: Choose a reputable vendor that offers strong support services and regular updates. This ensures that the PACS system remains current with evolving technologies and is equipped to address any emerging challenges. Comprehensive training programs are essential to ensure that users are proficient in operating the PACS system. User adoption is critical for realizing the full benefits of the technology, so investing in proper training and ongoing support is key.

There is no need to change the processes to make them completely digital. What changes is the way information is transferred and the availability of inspection data: instead of manually typing data from one system into the next, the data is always already available at the respective stations. In addition, PACS provides each stakeholder in the inspection process with the status of a test order: Commissioned, Processed, Released, Rejected, etc. This information, together with the inspection data, is particularly important in turnarounds and helps to shorten or avoid downtimes by several days.

IJ: How do governmental regulations impact PACS and PACS users, and what key considerations should we be aware of?

PR: Governmental regulations exert influence on PACS and its users, particularly in the imperative for maintaining audit-proof company documents, inter alia the storage and archiving of NDT data. PACS effectively addresses this demand through the standardization of data in the DICONDE format and its organization within a meticulously structured archive. As a result, key considerations encompass the commitment to data standards, the implementation of structured archiving practices, and the assurance of document auditability. In addition, standards such as ISO or ASME require reproducible test evaluation and test documentation that is available at any time. The PACS supports manufacturers and plant operators in meeting both requirements and is also the data pool for court-proof evidence in the event of legal recourse.

IJ: Can you discuss other notable challenges or limitations that organizations might face when adopting or maintaining PACS, and how these challenges can be effectively addressed?

PR: Professional PACS systems are easy to maintain and operate. All users, especially inspectors, require a proper computer workstation with an appropriate display for evaluating image data.

Even if the NDT data can be very large in some cases, data handling and storage are no longer problems or cost factors.

PACS is a journey within the company, and this usually begins with the digitization of one test method, such as radiographic testing—not with all inspection systems and departments at the same time, as this often leads to chaos.

Only after completing the integration of one inspection method, including the implementation of workflows, should the next ones be addressed. Therefore, it is essential to compile a list of all test systems to be integrated before initiating the project. In addition, the IT department should be brought on board to coordinate the integration with the customer's IT (i.e., ERP, IDMS, APM, etc.).

User training after system installation is very important, as many people remain apprehensive about digitalization and adopting new systems. However, users are all the more amazed if they receive sufficient training on the PACS and how it can make their everyday inspection work easier.

By adhering to these tips, the PACS implementation will be a success for the entire organization.

IJ: What advancements or innovations do you anticipate in the future of PACS technology and its role within the NDT industry?

PR: The PACS systems of the future will become an important tool for generating additional corporate key performance indicators from the inspection area and for optimizing and making safety-relevant systems and components even safer.

In addition, I firmly believe that PACS solutions will evolve into a component or plant lifetime file, which, like a medical record, will contain all important data about “the patient.” This includes not only diagnostic or NDT data but also drawings, certificates, instructions, documents, supplier protocols, etc. Similar to the medical field, this data can then be utilized to derive a treatment or usage path that ensures a long life for the component or plant.

IJ: Are there any emerging trends or technologies expected to complement or enhance PACS systems in the upcoming years, thereby further improving their performance and capabilities?

PR: Certainly. Two areas that PACS will be able to enhance come to mind: digital twins and predictive maintenance.

Digital twins, which are virtual replicas of physical objects or processes, are gaining traction across industries. In NDT, PACS can serve as a bridge between the real-world object and its digital twin. By continuously updating the digital twin with inspection data from PACS, NDT professionals can monitor structural health, predict potential failures, and optimize maintenance strategies with unparalleled accuracy.

The integration of PACS with predictive maintenance strategies will become a cornerstone of NDT practices. By leveraging historical inspection data stored within PACS, machine learning algorithms can predict when equipment or structures are likely to require maintenance. This proactive approach minimizes downtime, reduces maintenance costs, and ensures the safety and reliability of critical assets.

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