Penn College welding alum designs transducer
Natalie J. Rhoades is thankful that Pennsylvania College of Technology allowed her to branch out and become what she was meant to be. Her employer is also grateful.
The 2020 graduate from Weedville designed the SensorScan DHT-400 ultrasonic transducer, recently brought to market by Sensor Networks Inc. for the oil and gas and power generation industries. Rhoades is an applications engineer for State College-based SNI, which specializes in ultrasonic and remote visual technologies for monitoring and testing of vital components. Ultrasonic transducers are one of its chief products.
“The SensorScan DHT-400 is a significant business opportunity for Sensor Networks. It also elevates our brand in the marketplace,” said Jeff Anderson, president and general manager of SNI. “Natalie did a great job in developing this project.”
She devoted most of her first year at SNI to the initiative. Designing the transducer required many steps, including selecting materials, devising and implementing assembly and testing procedures, and producing multiple prototypes.
“It was challenging at times. Trying to figure out what materials we had to use and various design changes kept me on my toes,” said Rhoades, who earned a bachelor’s degree in welding and fabrication engineering technology and an associate degree in welding technology. “At times, I felt like I was just hitting a wall, but with some help from colleagues, I was able to get to where I needed to be, and that feels so good.”
The dual-element transducer measures remaining wall thickness – both internally and externally – of rough metal to detect corrosion in boiler/furnace tubes, pipes, tanks, vessels, structures and other safety-critical components at power plants, refineries, mid- and up-stream oil and gas assets, and chemical facilities.
For example, the SensorScan DHT-400 sends a sound wave through the rough metal of a pipe and receives the echo of that sound wave from the material’s back wall. The speed of the sound energy helps determine the pipe’s remaining wall thickness. Such testing is key because if the material is too thin, it may not hold its designated pressure level.
“It can be used with common digital thickness gauges or flaw detectors and be used up to 932 F intermittently and up to 400 F continuously,” Rhoades said.
Penn College welding instructor Mike J. Nau isn’t surprised by his former student’s early success. In fact, Nau connected Rhoades with SNI during her senior year.
“She is a true role model and inspiration for others to follow. Natalie is very driven, works well with others and strives to do her best,” Nau said. “I felt SNI would be a good fit for her because she is a great problem solver. She indicated to me that she was very interested in nondestructive testing, especially ultrasonic testing.”
Rhoades, who graduated with a 3.70 GPA, took two nondestructive testing classes during her four years at the college.
“NDT testing of welded materials is probably the biggest application that we serve,” Anderson said. “Natalie’s educational background – a welding major with NDT classes – gives her a great educational resume. We were also really impressed with Natalie’s can-do attitude. We find that attitude and interpersonal skills are just as important as education.”
Shadowing a Penn College welding class as a high school senior sparked Rhoades to focus her education on that trade.
“I fell in love with welding, and there was just something about Penn College that I really liked,” she recalled. “I liked the small-campus aspect, along with the hands-on training. I enjoyed going to school once I started at Penn College. I feel Penn College prepared me in a way to look at the issue I’m having and figure out a different and better way to resolve that challenge.”
She challenged herself outside of the college’s 55,000-square-foot welding facility. In 2018, Rhoades joined two classmates to form the only all-female team that advanced to SkillsUSA’s National Championships for welding fabrication. The trio built a rocket stove based on blueprints and materials provided on-site.
Later that year, Rhoades embarked on a two-summer fabrication manufacturing engineering internship at Volvo Construction Equipment in Shippensburg. Her primary responsibilities encompassed assisting with welder training and testing various filler materials and welding equipment.
“I am very grateful for my Penn College education and all the opportunities,” Rhoades said. “I felt well-prepared to enter the workforce. My schooling helped me take responsibility for my work. Penn College exceeded my expectations.”
So has SNI, where she’s working on a few projects related to remote nonintrusive corrosion monitoring.
“Every day is different, and I’m always learning something,” she said. “I love the people I work with!”
SNI’s president and general manager is pleased that’s the case.
“The company’s success is solely dependent on its employees,” Anderson said. “We are very happy to have Natalie on our team. She’s been a great addition to our growing company.”
For information about Penn College’s welding degrees, non-destructive testing competency credentials for both radiographic inspection and ultrasonic inspection, and other programs offered by the School of Engineering Technologies, call 570-327-4520.
Penn College is a national leader in applied technology education. Email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.