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September 2017 Newsletter

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“There will come a time when it isn’t ‘they’re spying on me through my phone anymore. Eventually, it will be ‘My phone is spying on me’.”
― Philip K. Dick

“I know there’s a proverb which says ‘To err is human,’ but a human error is nothing to what a computer can do if it tries.”
― Agatha ChristieHallowe’en Party

All of the biggest technological inventions created by man – the airplane, the automobile, and the computer – says little about his intelligence, but speaks volumes about his laziness.
― Mark Kennedy

 

Contents

  1. IR and Technology
  2. Smoldering Fires and Tax Reform (Just an Opinion)
  3. A World in Turmoil
  4. Interest Rates and the Canadian Dollar Mean An Early Christmas for IR Clients
  5. Tennessee, Memphis and Nashville

IR and Technology

As most of you know, we have been working to automate a number of the processes at IR. Our filling system has been redesigned and standardized, and we have an accounting and inventory system of some significance. We have also implemented a work flow system that will auto-generate certificates. It draws from a data base, which means that mistakes caused from entry errors are almost nonexistent.

Technology does, however, cause its own problems. Our database system has been overwhelmed by the volume of data we have accumulated over the last year and a half. This has slowed the process and is extremely frustrating. Never a quitter and always looking for the best way (see Mark Kennedy’s quote here), we have invested in the development of a new platform. This platform is meant to to handle all of our needs and increase speed and carrying capacity to the point of it “never being a problem again” (I’m rolling my eyes).

We are very happy with the workflow and its advantages, so much so that we are going to add it to most (if not all) departments at IR. Our own experiences will be used to create many more advantages for our clients. We hope to share these advantages with you in the very near future. I guarantee you what we have planned will be nothing short of amazing.

 

Smoldering Fires and Tax Reform (Just an opinion)

Over the last several years, there has been a smoldering fire that is slowly spreading. It’s being debated at work and in lunch rooms. It’s being debated around the after-hour sociables at local taverns, and at dinner tables. It is part of a larger wildfire that has spread to developing and developed countries alike all around the globe. In some places, it has erupted into infernos that have changed political landscapes. In others it just waits, creeping through the underbrush.

Here in Canada, it has sprung up as a political change; social issues that have trended into the forefront of our political system. This movement has been called several things, such as fascism and communism. In reality, it is none of those things. However, it is a significant shift and it is happening everywhere.

Most recently, our own smoldering burn pile has flared up in the form of tax reform. Our finance minister has decided to close some small business “loop holes” that have been seen by some as unfair advantages for small business owners. This flash flare-up could ignite a full scale blow-up and may spark a significant change. This change could cause even greater polarization of our social and political ideals for some time to come.

The threat is that even small business owners will fall into the category of “abusers of the system;” That they are looked upon as part of the problems perpetrated by the “one percent”.

Small business owners are the backbone of our democratic economies. They invest in our communities; they are the trees that make up the substance in our economic forest. The Amazons and Apples of the world are the giant sequoias, important in their own majesty, creating micro-economies and projecting national and global influence as they eat up the forest floor around them. However, the average business is what the forest ecosystem revolves around. It’s where the sequoias sprang from and it is where they get the nutrients and intellectual resources needed to sustain them.

Large corporations are the worst innovators. It is small businesses that take the risk in developing new ways. It is small businesses that transform these new ways into viable business opportunities. The large corporations feed off of these new start-ups. It is here where they add to their own growth through acquisitions and mergers.

I’d like to make it perfectly clear: the tax items being debated right now are not loop holes. They are intentional tax breaks to foster, protect and promote small business, including family farms. Much has been written about the effects of Bill Morneau and the Justin Trudeau liberal tax plans, good and bad. However, the very health of our social and economic system in Canada is what is at stake.

It is very apparent that the tax system is out of date and in need of reform. The tax incentives right now may not be the best, but unless some other incentives are in place, the small business community will be stunted.

Under these new reforms, the forest may eventually turn into a barren landscape of a few towering old growth giants. Or, in the best case scenario, the forest will succumb to slow, rotting decay, dragging the Canadian economy along with it.

Politicians are shamelessly using every conceivable trick in the book to try and capture votes – without one thought to how this kind of sensationalism is promoting the trend towards protectionism (think Donald Trump here). No stone will be left upturned if it garners a vote. The notions of inequality and unfairness have been used in every campaign. Words like unfair, loop holes for the rich, the one percent and patronage are the keys in statements promoting distrust and even hate. We are better than this.

No one should ever underestimate the power and the importance of small business. They are the innovators of the good and the bad. They promote competition, keeping prices reasonable. The reason small business is such a high risk affair is because very few new ideas ever pan out. However, while they are in business, the small businesses often drive prices down and keep even the giants competitive. Sometimes, new ideas work out and that is when everyone takes notice; but it is the failures that help keep the rest honest.

Only the strong survive, and that is the way it should be. The law of the jungle. A new shoot springs up and the rest of the forest does little to encourage it. In fact, they often try to destroy it.

A new business must have customers, just like a sapling must have light; if it isn’t positioned properly it will wither and die. It is wrong to artificially support start-ups by clear cutting the forest, but some pruning here and there will help it flourish. Supporting the healthiest saplings will also eventually support the forest as a whole.

Small businesses need to be encouraged, and tax incentives are a great way to do this. I don’t necessarily support the current tax breaks. Sprinkling of incomes to family members was done to benefit family farms. It does nothing for the single entrepreneur. Passive corporate investment income, however, can and is being abused by some professional services, so let’s change that instead.

However, we must be sure to have something to replace the policies with before we just mow the forest floor. Let’s not use them to stir a fiery protectionist movement just for the sake of votes. It is not wrong to make money, in fact it is required.

The needs of business owners (from start up to retirement, income to profits, succession or sale) need to be looked at. A modern tax plan needs to be developed. But this is the way it used to be. Now, everything needs to have a line drawn – have someone to blame. Burning passions created bombastically over imaginary lines however, draw votes.

 

A World In Turmoil

We have been talking to friends and associates in BC, Houston, and now Florida, where wildfires and hurricanes are tragically real life events right out of a Hollywood horror movie. I can’t imagine the pain and anguish those affected must be going through.

An 8.1 quake in Mexico and another storm, Jose, brewing in the Atlantic have all got us wondering what we can do to help. All I can say is be careful: phishing scams are starting to pop up, so donate to well-known foundations and charities through equally well-known channels.

There are those who think that this type of environmental destruction creates future growth because of the jobs created to repair the damage. Unfortunately, the cost is ultimately high, and destroying your perfectly good infrastructure with the idea that rebuilding it is a boom to the economy is false. This could be the trigger that pushes the US into thatcyclical recession we have all been wondering about.

The weather is one thing, but it seems that Russia, China, the US, and Europe (among others) are all jockeying to maintain their relevance as well as protect or project their self-interests. A lot of pushing and shoving is going on. We need to keep abreast of the importance of these gyrations and especially how it affects commodities and the Canadian economy.

Interest Rates and the Canadian Dollar Means Early Christmas for IR Clients

Our central bank, the bank of Canada, has been steadily increasing interest rates. The economy is improving as GDP has risen beyond expectations, however, inflation has not. I am always amazed by the numbers we get related to GDP and unemployment. I have no explanation, just wonder.

For instance, before the fall of oil prices, we would advertise for a position and get 1 or 2 resumes. Seriously, 1 or 2. Now we advertise and we get somewhere between 500 and 800 resumes? Hmmm. Alberta is hovering at about 8% unemployment (it was 7 something before the oil crash) and the national average is about 6.5% (a point below what it was before the oil crash). Seems odd but what do I know?

I believe that interest rates are headed up to try and stop the overheated housing market, private borrowing, and subsequent indebtedness. We have reached 95% GDP public debt level, and private debt has increased year over year; it is now 165% of income. Mortgage debt is huge, but home equity loans may be even bigger. Poloz is hoping he can slowly defuse a ticking time bomb, but he may just be speeding up the inevitable.

The original idea was to lower savings rates by lowering the Central Bank rate. This was done in hopes that investment would flow out of savings accounts and into the economy. Well it worked, as savings rates are close to an all-time low- even in an aging baby boomer society.  Low interest rate policies have created housing bubbles and spending sprees because they made money almost free.

So the idea now is to slowly pull the drugs away from the drug addict and hope that they can handle the withdrawal. Anything is possible – I’d be prepared for any scenario. There’s liable to be a tipping point; the world is in one big experiment right now.

The one good thing coming out of this is that the Canadian currency is gaining against the USD, which is allowing IR to chop some prices as inventories roll over. You will begin to see some significant price decreases if you have not already. Word of caution: in our opinion, we do not think it will last. We feel the US dollar has perhaps fallen close to its bottom, so perhaps you should get, while the gett’in is good?

Under these new reforms, the forest may eventually turn into a barren landscape of a few towering old growth giants. Or, in the best case scenario, the forest will succumb to slow, rotting decay, dragging the Canadian economy along with it.

Politicians are shamelessly using every conceivable trick in the book to try and capture votes – without one thought to how this kind of sensationalism is promoting the trend towards protectionism (think Donald Trump here). No stone will be left upturned if it garners a vote. The notions of inequality and unfairness have been used in every campaign. Words like unfair, loop holes for the rich, the one percent and patronage are the keys in statements promoting distrust and even hate. We are better than this.

No one should ever underestimate the power and the importance of small business. They are the innovators of the good and the bad. They promote competition, keeping prices reasonable. The reason small business is such a high risk affair is because very few new ideas ever pan out. However, while they are in business, the small businesses often drive prices down and keep even the giants competitive. Sometimes, new ideas work out and that is when everyone takes notice; but it is the failures that help keep the rest honest.

Only the strong survive, and that is the way it should be. The law of the jungle. A new shoot springs up and the rest of the forest does little to encourage it. In fact, they often try to destroy it.

A new business must have customers, just like a sapling must have light; if it isn’t positioned properly it will wither and die. It is wrong to artificially support start-ups by clear cutting the forest, but some pruning here and there will help it flourish. Supporting the healthiest saplings will also eventually support the forest as a whole.

Small businesses need to be encouraged, and tax incentives are a great way to do this. I don’t necessarily support the current tax breaks. Sprinkling of incomes to family members was done to benefit family farms. It does nothing for the single entrepreneur. Passive corporate investment income, however, can and is being abused by some professional services, so let’s change that instead.

However, we must be sure to have something to replace the policies with before we just mow the forest floor. Let’s not use them to stir a fiery protectionist movement just for the sake of votes. It is not wrong to make money, in fact it is required.

The needs of business owners (from start up to retirement, income to profits, succession or sale) need to be looked at. A modern tax plan needs to be developed. But this is the way it used to be. Now, everything needs to have a line drawn – have someone to blame. Burning passions created bombastically over imaginary lines however, draw votes.

Tennessee, Nashville and Memphis

The end of October brings the Fall ANST conference and exhibition, and this year it is in Nashville, Tennessee. Almost religiously, a number of us attend the conference and we also often bring our wives. This year will not be the exception; in fact, the wives are insisting they come along and have decided a side trip to Memphis is in order.

A visit to Graceland and Beale Street is not an option, but a necessity. The trip has been planned the weekend before the ASNT conference. If you are interested in tagging along with us, drop me an e-mail at brian@irss.ca, and I will include you in our plans for accommodations and reservations.

We are not planning on many days in Memphis- just a day or two before we’re off to Nashville. It is likely we will take some form of group transport like a rental bus, limo, or van. It’s a 3 hour drive or so. We thought it might be fun to fly to Memphis and then drive to Nashville. The more the merrier.

I will close now with a last comment as this letter has gotten rather long. At IR, we record and investigate every comment made to us by you. It is how we improve. It has been estimated that only 20% of client problems are relayed back to the service provider. We do get very few but I know we are not perfect. Please, if you do have a comment let us know. We do take them seriously – and thanks again for your patronage. You can contact anyone at IR, but Jessica’s inbox (Jessica@irss.ca) is where they will end up.

And remember,
For the unknown there is NDT,
For NDT there is IR.

Cheers!
Brian Sargent

 

I think NDT, therefore, IR.

 

Our mailing address is:
8108 McIntyre Rd
Edmonton, AB
T6E 5C4
(780) 452-4761

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Brian’s Blog August 2017

Brian’s Blog

August 2017

Low oil price here to stay

Sadly our predictions for under $60.00 barrel oil for 2017 seems to be right on and perhaps a little optimistic. Never to worry, fracking and other new technologies has pushed the costs of recovering oil to new lows as well but our land locked position here in Canada is a problem and needs a quick remedy.

Even though commodity prices are tanking, or are still in the tank, the CAD seems to be rallying. As an old friend from my childhood would say “Hmmmmm, Expect that to change, I would”.

The Saud’s and the Russians are heading faster and faster down the path of civil discontent as oil prices are nowhere near a level to replenish there cash reserves and so pain is going to increase for those in charge.

It is interesting and worth a few moments to look at why we are in the oil slump that we are.

Drilling for shale oil costs less per project than conventional plays of years gone by. There are two general types of costs: capital costs and operating costs. Capital costs are the investment required to drill and complete the well and build the facilities onsite to manage it. Operating costs are the ongoing costs after the well has been drilled. These are measured either in dollar per thousand cubic feet or in dollar per barrel.

The total well cost – the entire amount of investment required to set up a new well, including land, permits, drilling and completion – varies by location but runs consistently in the low millions of dollars. A report by the EIA estimated that the average completion cost per well is around $5 million to $9 million, depending on the location of the deposits. Some companies, however, are able to drill and complete wells much more cheaply.

According to the EIA, drilling accounts for 30-40 percent of all capital costs. Completion costs, which include the actual fracking process, account for 55-70 percent. Facilities costs, which include erecting onsite buildings as well as road construction to transport oil away from the site, account for 7-8 percent of well costs.

The same EIA report analyzed well completion costs across a number of companies and locations and determined that average costs, in terms of dollar per barrel of oil equivalent – an approximation of energy released by burning one barrel of oil – declined 7-22 percent from 2014 to 2015 and 25-30 percent from 2012 to 2015.

Importantly, some wells are drilled but not completed when funds dry up or when oil prices dictate that the well is no longer economically viable for the time being. In this scenario, the oil driller has effectively used the low permeability of the sedimentary layer to store oil until it’s ready to frack the deposits.

Once the oil starts to flow, operating costs tend to vary. Gathering, processing and transporting can range from $2.25 to $5 per barrel for oil or higher, depending on how far and the mode it needs to be transported by. Water disposal can range from $1 to $8 per barrel. Other general and administrative expenses range from $1 to $4 per barrel.

New drilling techniques can expedite the completion process and thus drive costs down further. Several years ago, a new well might have taken 3-4 weeks to drill. Now it can take as few as 7-10 days. Not only does this cut down on the overall costs of producing a barrel of oil, it also gives producers flexibility to respond to higher prices and to expand their operations. In fact, now that so many shale plays are known to produce, exploration is less risky, so companies are more willing to operate there.

Since capital and operating costs are so varied, there is no single break-even price for shale oil. But if we average wells by location, we can get a sense of which prices generate profit and which do not.

Russia and Saudi Arabia can still produce oil cheaper than the US can, in the $10 to 15 dollar range. Their problem is that the Russians and Saudi’s are so dependent on oil to finance there economies that they literally need $100 oil to maintain the status quo.

US Recession

The US “IS” going to have a recession. It’s just anyone’s guess when that happens. Statistically it is due anytime. The US Federal Reserve is gently upping interest rates to have some dry powder available for when it does happen. It is however, the rest of the world that will suffer the most, as the US is self-sufficient in energy and is not nearly as dependant on others to drive its economy. It derives most of its GDP from its own consumption unlike many countries such as Germany and China.

ISIS

The Islamic State is looking more and more like it will fail in its bid to create a Caliphate in Syria. News of cholera and polio outbreaks are seen as a loss of control in their abilities to provide even basic services. It will now be of interest to see how ISIS regroups and where they pop up. Although before that there is still a bit of work to do routing them out of there strongholds. Now Israel, the US and Turkey will have to decide how they will deal with Assad and his band of terrorists. None of them wants a strong Syrian and Iranian alliance.

Protectionism

So there you have it, more of the same coming up. Growth is slow to non-existent and it is only growth that can increase the use of commodities. So the oil glut will remain until such time as production falls due to lack of revenues and any rise in revenues will result in a rise in production, a circle jerk if you will. The other way out is we somehow initiate growth, but the world is due to shrink in population in the near future so growth may be difficult. Our opinion is that even if we do see growth it may lack the longevity of past booms and will likely be spurred by India and North Africa and a few others. In any event we are a few years away from a demographic trend that will lead to any kind of recovery and nothing indicates that much else can change that. What will probably effect economies as much as anything in this stagnate climate is geopolitical issues arising from civil unrest and protectionism probably caused, at least in part, by the economic slowdown.

At Home

At home here, we are sitting on the boondoggle that is the North West Redwater Refinery that has blossomed from a 4 billion to an 8 or 9 billion dollar project. If this was a viable project in the first place industry would have built it, another reason why government should keep its nose out of business. The only profitable refineries are those that are built to serve the markets that surround them or those that are situated in a place that makes shipping easy like the gulf coast. Albertans will be paying for this for decades.

IR is beefing up its rental lines. Currently we are offering Sentinel 880, SCARPro Selenium 75 and 330 Cobalt 60 devices, Open Vision, Sonatest flaw detectors, Comet 300 Kev spot tubes, Vidar digitizers and we lease Armorlite RT labs. IR is now so much more than just a one stop shop for NDT products and services, and keep your eyes and ears open for other products and services soon to arrive like calibration of light meters, and x-ray tube repairs.

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Brian’s Blog July 2017

BRIAN’S BLOG

July 2017

Hello everyone!

It’s been awhile since I have sent out a letter but we have just wound up our open house event here at IR Edmonton and I wanted to thank everyone for the great turnout and support. It’s always great to see some old friends and make a few new ones.

Our open house was billed as “A Taste of New Orleans”. It was held in conjunction with our maintenance and source retrieval courses developed and run by QSA Global with Mike from the Houston office and Theo from the Baton Rouge office, as the instructors. Theo Ewing the maintenance instructor also brought his immense talents to the kitchen as he prepared his famous Jambalaya and Crawfish Étouffée and as promised it was the hit of the party and didn’t last long.

Mark Sermazeski with Cruelty Free Cartoons, mark@crueltyfreecartoons.com was with us again and as always he entertained like no one else can. Mark is warm, very social, humorous and a great caricature artist who is engaging the world with his exceptional talents. We were very thankful that he took the time out of his very busy schedule to come to our event (he had another event in Vancouver that same night).

Also in attendance was Rebecca Rudolf of Comet, Jeff Darby with Carestream NDT, Charles, (Buddy), Lehmann of QSA Global, and all the way from England James Denton and Steven Shepherd both with JME. Thanks guys and gals it was great having you and the technical information you provide to our clients is always a main highlight and one of the reasons these functions are always so successful.

James and Steven brought JME’s famed crawler, newly updated and redesigned, (I believe it’s the only crawler in the world that meets the RED Act) and their 6.5 MeV Betatrons for display. It is amazing how much power such a small generator can provide, the complete unit would fit in the trunk of most medium size cars. The new crawler incorporates X-ray and can also be converted to use an 880 exposure device as a Gamma crawler.

Rebecca was here to show off our new demo and rental tubes, The 300 KV EVO Smart tube, real beauties that will be ready to go very soon. These new tubes are rugged, and almost operate themselves.

Before I get on to other topics I want to thank our staff as well for all the hard work in preparing for this event, they take the time out of there busy days to help organize and then implement all the necessary arrangements and still put in a full day’s work. Thank you all, you are tremendous and make IR what it is.

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Brian’s Blog October 2016

BRIAN’S BLOG

October 2016

Jeffrey Gundlach of DoubleLine Capital said recently:

“Sell everything: the house, the kids, stocks, bonds, commodities
– everything looks overvalued.”

Jeffrey Gundlach, to be honest, hasn’t always been right. He predicted muni bonds to be a bad investment and their value to lose more than 20%. That was in 2011 and so far that hasn’t turned out as predicted, but in his defense, the markets have not been working in a predictable fashion either.

Jeffrey Gundlach is famous for TCW’s, Total Run Bond Fund and its 10 year finish in the top 2% of all bond funds. Which elevated him to oracle status and he has been orating ever since. He is often heard on CNBC, Bloomberg, and others. So could he be right this time? Is it time to “sell everything” and hide in the hills?

One way to get some insight on this is to look into what the “smart money” is doing vs what the “dumb money is doing. Smart money refers to those investors that more often than not get things (the trends right). They don’t always make tones of money but they usually are contrarian at the right times. These are the commercial investors, the guys whose companies depend on them being right. This might be airline investment advisor who buys fuel options at the right times, or another who hedges oil or sells their commodities while betting on future gains 12 months out.

The dumb money are those that continue into a trend until it ends and then try to get out, usually to late or hang on expecting things to turn around until the bottom. Once, at the bottom they often become so disillusioned that they bail only to see things begin to rise again. That’s me. We follow the heard right into the slaughterhouse.

According to one investment newsletter I receive it looks like Mr. Gundlach may be on to something. Apparently the smart money is at or close to record levels in shorting commodities, lumber, oil, stocks, and long bonds.

Even gold and silver are expected to fall according to smart money. They even short the USD, my favorite hedge for the last two years! And of course the Yen. Let’s look at what this may mean before we get all caught up and put the kids and dog in the garage sale.

So smart money is short commodities. If this is true and raw materials like iron, aluminum, copper etc. are about to fall some more, this would also mean that China will not be getting its mojo back anytime soon, US will continue to muddle along as is or fall into that overdue recession that has been eluding the cycle geeks. Shorts on lumber mean housing starts may be ready to turn down, and low expectations for oil would then just be a natural call. As economies would begin to stall even more than at the anemic pace we are seeing from the developed countries around the world. If we are to trust “smart money” then we must sell our gold and silver, the go to buy for gold bugs when crisis hits. I’m not surprised by this as gold and silver shot up just before the 2008 mortgage crisis but fell when stocks fell and the major crisis peaked. They have stayed down ever since until recently, as they have spiked up close to $1400.00 USD, Deja vu all over again?

The smart money is also close to record levels in short positions in the stock market. This is one market that has gained from central banker’s monetary policy in a big way. If bubbles always burst as some analysts contend, then this is one big bubble looking for a needle in the fiscal hay stack.

Japan has been rumored to be contemplating helicopter money, direct bond purchasing to provide monies for infrastructure, (they already have the best infrastructure in the world), or checks sent directly to the people as tax rebates or some other schemes. Shorting the Yen has been a favorite of some contrarians for many years but it has rarely paid off, a lot of money has been lost on this bet but it looks like a sure thing? Maybe, some day.

If all this comes to pass as smart money at the moment seems to be indicating then the USD could take a hit but my personal opinion on this is that the USD will continue to be in a better position than my home currency, it being commodities and export dependent in the eyes of the world.

So let’s summarize what has to happen-just for fun;

  1. The USD falls with the Yen as both counties fall into recession or stagnate further at a minimum
  2. China continues to slow putting deflationary pressures on commodities
  3. Japan’s helicopter money does not impress investors
  4. Oil continues to fall due to slowing world economies along with all commodities
  5. Housing starts falling, dragging economies and lumber prices with them
  6. The monetary policies of reserve banks becomes ineffective, the stock bubble bursts and gold and silver follow.

Hmmmm!  A lot has to happen for the smart money to win this one. There are things called Black Swans, one time or very seldom cataclysmic events, there are also unknown unknowns, the effects that something unknown produces that we couldn’t even conceive of, like mortgage derivatives in 2008. There is also the truism that the markets can stay irrational a lot longer that the average investor can stay solvent. You might not want to sell the kids right now but I’d have them dressed nice and if the dog isn’t behaving…well?

It’s impossible to tell how all of this will play out but through it all we have to put food on the table. At IR we are continually working to find you the best deals and give you the best service we can. We have recently launched our new ecommerce website loaded with prices so you can compare (if you want) but we are confident that what we offer goes beyond just price, it is people. People like Jenna, Pieter, CJ, Vanessa, Byron and Robbie, who know you, who you can trust to give you great service and advice or just bounce an idea off of. Our new website is a convenience for you, not a replacement for personal service, we still want you to call or come in and see us. We hope you like the new site and that you will give us your comments, likes or dislikes because it is for your benefit that we have spent countless hours putting it together.

So have a look, go to www.irss.ca and remember “For the Unknown there is NDT, for NDT there is IR”!

Cheers

Brian Sargent