Career advancement

For more than 100 years, the American Welding Society (AWS) has been committed to advancing the science, technology and application of welding in the United States and, subsequently, around the world. Based on this critical mission, the organization is an important topic of coverage in FAB Shop Magazine’s sister publication, Welding Productivity. Whether it’s a new program focused on our nation’s veterans or outreach and mentorship to the next generation of welders, AWS is a major source for news that’s important to our readers.

The CW program is performance based with no prerequisite courses or certifications required. Benefits include higher salary potential, stronger employment demand and better job stability.

AWS certification might perhaps be the largest contribution the organization makes to the industry, however. With these professional credentials, current and aspiring welders can achieve lucrative and rewarding careers while producing the safest and most structurally sound products possible.

Popular professions

The AWS certification program began in 1976 with the introduction of the Certified Welding Inspector credential. Since then, AWS has certified more than 100,000 welding inspectors plus thousands more across the organization’s additional certification programs. Those certifications include:

There are nine AWS certification categories, which address all segments of the welding and joining industry. No matter the career goals, there is something for everyone.
  1. Certified Welder (CW)
  2. Certified Welding Inspector (CWI)
  3. Certified Welding Educator (CWE)
  4. Certified Welding Supervisor (CWS)
  5. Certified Welding Engineer (CWEng)
  6. Certified Radiographic Interpreter (CRI)
  7. Certified Resistance Welding Technician (CRWT)
  8. Certified Welding Sales Representative (CWSR)
  9. Certified Robotic Arc Welding – Operators and Technicians (CRAW)

Other than the CW credential, which is performance based and does not require prerequisite courses, the CWI is probably the most widely held certification. The work of a CWI is incredibly important as they are responsible for examining the bonds and connections between metals to ensure they were performed correctly and safely. The structural integrity of bridges, buildings and other major aspects of our country’s infrastructure are in their hands – and are laid out in the 500-plus-page D1.1 code book, which CWIs must learn inside and out.

Watch the video to learn more about AWS’s CWI credential from Nate Bowman, the director of welding optimization and education at Central Welding Supply Co. Inc.

Because of the critical nature of the job and the vast amount of knowledge required to perform the work, the CWI exam requires extensive preparation. One year of studying is recommended prior to taking the exam, which demands a deep understanding of what’s in the code book.

Fortunately, AWS has developed various seminars, resources and materials to help welders get ready for the three-part CWI exam. Areas of focus include welding processes, welding metallurgy, welding symbols, welding qualifications, quality control, fabrication and inspection methods. A host of study materials are available through the AWS online bookstore, including the code books, practice guides, manuals and specification documents.

Knowing that everyone absorbs material in different ways, AWS offers various methods for welders to prepare for the CWI exam, including in-person prep courses as well as an online self-paced pre-seminar that features 10 multi-media courses over 80 hours of instruction. Each course is divided into short, easy-to-understand modules that can be accessed online at a welder’s convenience.

In this video, Bowman, who is also known as the Weld Scientist on social media, discusses AWS’s CWS certification.

If testing, specifically non-destructive testing, is of interest to a welder the AWS also offers its CRI credential. The exam is multiple-choice consisting of two, three-hour parts: a general knowledge and code book portion, and a practical film interpretation portion. AWS offers an in-person seminar for the certification with the exam being held the day after the seminar at the same location.

For welders that are interested in earning CWE certification, the CWI and CWE credentials can be earned simultaneously. This means that no additional training or seminars are required as long as the individual meets the following criteria: Teaches at least part time (this can include training welders at a place of business), has a valid welder’s certificate and has a written recommendation from a supervisor that validates their ability to not only teach but also weld to certain qualifications.

Among the AWS certifications, the CWS is also a popular choice among welders. The CWS isn’t just about becoming a welding supervisor or manager, though. It’s geared for anyone interested in production optimization and overall welding profitability. When a CWS is able to pinpoint the best process to optimize product flow or the best equipment to accomplish the task at hand, company profits follow.

The CWS is also often recommended for anyone interested in pursuing positions in purchasing, engineering and sales. As is true with the CWI, AWS offers a full range of study materials and courses for welders to take advantage of prior to taking the CWS exam.

For those interested in securing a position in sales, the CWSR is also a good route to take. An AWS online seminar is required before taking the exam, which can also be completed over the internet.    

Creating a career

Many of the AWS certifications don’t require a degree, which is an attractive aspect of the field of welding in general; new welders can start making money right away as opposed to paying off large student debts. For those that have earned a higher education in engineering, however, they can increase their salary potential through AWS’s CWEng.

AWS offers a certification program for robotic arc welding, which will undoubtedly grow in popularity as the use of automation continues to grow.

According to the AWS website, a “CWEng often prepares and produces reports, which accurately reflect professional judgment and is able to work with management representatives, inspection personnel, welders and support crafts, understanding the integrated role of each in the development of weldments.”

The remaining two AWS certifications, which don’t require a college degree, include the CRWT credential and the CRAW credential for operators and technicians. Considering the vast use of resistance welding equipment in the automotive industry and beyond, the CRWT opens up an even larger cache of career opportunities. Ray Michelena, service engineer and chief pilot at T.J. Snow Co. Inc., is a big proponent of the CRWT credential, as he explained in the May issue of Welding Productivity “When you boil it down,” he says in the article, “the CRWT certification is, quite simply, a scale of knowledge that you can expect a certified person to have.”

Michelena began his career at T.J. Snow in the service department, regularly witnessing the effects that a lack of proper training can have on the final quality of a weld. Based on those experiences, he urges anyone involved in resistance welding to get certified and take advantage of the prep courses offered by AWS.

To learn more about AWS’s CWE credential, watch the video.

To apply for the prep course and exam, three years of on-the-job experience in resistance welding is required. Michelena felt it important to point out, however, that “the seminar isn’t one of those courses where you study the test to get all the answers. It goes over the areas that are covered in the test to make sure you have an understanding of resistance welding, but it gets much deeper than that. It’s not only about taking the test; it’s about taking someone to the next level to help them become more advanced and knowledgeable about resistance welding.”

The final AWS credential, the CRAW, is particularly exciting for young welders that are looking to explore the futuristic world of welding. Considering the increased adoption of robotic welding technologies, however, robotic welding isn’t necessarily the future of the industry; it’s here now and requires more and more individuals to oversee the operation. Like every other AWS certification, the organization offers a host of resources to make studying and testing easier. Head to the AWS website to learn more. A rewarding future awaits.

American Welding Society

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Borrowing a Training Idea from Germany

In Germany, the apprenticeship program is the main path young people take to enter the workforce directly from high school. The successful program is often cited as a leading reason for Germany’s high productivity and relatively low youth unemployment rate, which is 7.8 percent as of May 2014, according to Statista, an online portal that provides access to government data. As a result, the German apprenticeship system is drawing increased interest from industry, education and government sectors in the United States. By comparison, the US has a youth unemployment rate of 14.3 percent as of July 2014, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Germany’s dual-system apprenticeship program approach provides training and education between the apprentice and the employer in a formal agreement that lasts two or three years. An apprentice spends some time at the employer receiving on-the-job training to develop practical market skills. The remaining time is spent at a government-funded vocational school, where the apprentice receives a theoretical knowledge of the practical skills. The apprentice receives a wage that increases over the apprenticeship period.

After completing the apprenticeship, they are often hired permanently to work for the company. They also receive a certificate that allows them to transfer to similar companies should the employer not retain them.

Can this successful German approach be implemented in the United States? “A close relationship between government, learning institutions and companies is needed to give apprenticeship programs a push in the U.S.,” said Christine Benz, training manager at TRUMPF Inc., a fabricating equipment and industrial laser manufacturer in Farmington, Conn.

Currently, the U.S. apprenticeship system is state-driven. The federal Department of Labor’s (DoL) Office of Apprenticeship works with state agencies that administer and oversee its nationally registered apprenticeship program on the local level. All states can participate in the program, although some are more successful than others, such as programs in Georgia, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan.

South Carolina’s Apprenticeship Carolina, a program of the S.C. Technical College System, Columbia, S.C., works with the state’s technical college system to develop registered apprenticeships. The program had 777 apprentices and 90 registered apprenticeship programs in 2007, the year it began. Today, it has more than 10,000 apprentices and roughly 650 programs.

Apprentices receiving hands-on training as part of the MAT2 program from Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Similar to requirements in Germany, the three components that the DoL requires for a registered apprenticeship program are on-the-job training, job-related education — whether through an associate degree in alliance with a technical college or conducted internally at the employer or with contractors — and a scalable wage, according to Kelly Steinhilper, vice president of communications for the SC Technical College System. An apprenticeship can range from 18 months to four years. However, unlike in Germany, the employer typically pays the apprentice’s tuition, although some do leave it up to the apprentice.

After completing the program, the apprentice typically is kept on as a skilled worker by the employer. “It is an investment on the company’s part and nine times out of 10 they get that return on investment,” Steinhilper said. “The apprentice sees it as an investment too. They are receiving an education while they have a paying job.”

Statistics on the percentage of apprentices hired permanently or retention rates were not available from the S.C. Technical College System, nor was data on the costs employers incur for an apprenticeship program.

The apprentice also receives a certification, which is portable. “They are gaining skills they can use anywhere,” Steinhilper added. “They can go to another company or even another state because the federally registered certificate is acknowledged nationwide.”

Manufacturing and construction are the two main industries that offer DoL registered apprenticeship programs. “We also do outreach to other industries people don’t necessarily consider when they think of apprenticeships, such as advanced manufacturing and mechatronics,” Steinhilper said. Other industries include health care, banking, higher education and tourism. It is not just large companies that offer these programs. “We have them at small job shops and medium-size companies as well.”

A Piece of Home
As expected, German-based companies with divisions in the United States are apt to offer apprenticeship programs. Volkswagen is known for its effective program at its plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.

TRUMPF Inc. is the North American subsidiary of TRUMPF GmbH, Stuttgart, Germany. TRUMPF initiated a DoL registered apprenticeship program modeled after the German program at its Farmington plant, enrolling the first apprentice in 2006. On average, TRUMPF enrolls one apprentice into its program per year.

The two-year program has three modules. Apprentices spend a certain amount of paid time in each of the company’s departments. They also attend TRUMPF’s internal training center, where classes are split between classroom theory and hands-on training. For the third module, apprentices attend classes at community colleges, for which TRUMPF pays the tuition. “After two years, they are about 50 percent done with their associate degree,” Benz said.

Benchmarks and evaluations are put in place as the apprentice moves through the program. Upon successful completion of these benchmarks, the hourly pay increases.

Although successful, the apprenticeship program is a risk on TRUMPF’s part. “We have no guarantee they will accept employment,” Benz said. “Be we feel confident they will stay with us after the two years. And as further incentive, after they complete the program, we will continue to pay for their classes to attain their associate degree.”

TRUMPF pays approximately $100,000 per apprentice per year. The graduation rate is 88 percent and its retention rate after graduation is 75 percent. Graduates receive a certification that is acknowledged nationwide.

Working with colleges
As with other DoL registered apprenticeship programs, TRUMPF is involved with developing the college curriculum to make sure it fits what they need. “We work with the colleges to explain what our apprentices need to know,” Benz said. “Other colleges have great classes that fit our needs. So we pick and choose the classes. The good thing is the community colleges work together so one college acknowledges the credits from another here in Connecticut.”

In addition to a traditional registered apprenticeship program, where each company can customize the work experience and curriculum for their apprentices, Michigan offers another apprenticeship program more reminiscent of Germany’s program. The Michigan Advanced Technician Training (MAT2), established in 2012, is similar to DoL registered programs, but with one big difference.

“It is based on the German model where a consortium of employers help define the competencies that are going to be taught, then partner with a community college to develop a customized curriculum for the apprentices,” said Amy Cell, senior vice president, talent enhancement, Michigan Economic Development Corp., Lansing, Mich. “The apprentices attend classes in blocks, say eight weeks, then do their job-related work in blocks.” MEDC helps attract, launch and grow new businesses, and within that, help businesses find the talent they need.”

Right now, MEDC has three MAT2 programs—mechatronics, information technology and technical product design, but hopes to offer more and is currently evaluating a CNC program for the 2015.

The three-year program had 31 participants in 2013 and 76 started in 2014. First-year retention was around 95 percent. Costs to the employer, including the tuition, stipend and wages, are around $70,000 over the three years.

“The program is structured in a way that meets German guidelines,” Cell noted. “In fact, apprentices are eligible for German certification after they graduate.”

However, typically the employer requires apprentices to remain with the company for two years after they complete the program, or pay back the tuition and the stipend they received while in school.

What is Different?
The lack of industry/education cooperation is one of the big differences between German and U.S. apprenticeship programs. “In Germany, there is a close embedding of the courses with the vocational schools and the apprenticeships,” said Robert I. Lerman, institute fellow, Urban Institute, and professor of economics, American University, both in Washington, D.C. Lerman is a recognized apprenticeship expert. “They have fairly elaborate negotiations over the skills standards that apply to the entire country.”

This is not the case in the United States. “The interest and willingness to invest in these apprenticeship programs is there,” TRUMPF’s Benz said. “What is needed is more guidance, especially for smaller companies that don’t have the resources to develop a curriculum. Close cooperation between the community colleges and industry is necessary. If curriculum was somehow standardized and a program put in place statewide or even nationwide, all the apprentice would have to do is enroll and the rest would be standardized.”

Another difference between German and U.S. apprenticeship programs is the stigma attached to community college as a lesser choice to a four-year university in the U.S. However, as the cost of university increases and placement after graduation grows questionable, this perception may start to lessen.

Lerman mentioned another difference is that most of the apprentices in the United States are in their mid-twenties. In Germany, it is embedded in the post high school range of 17 to 19 years old.

Also, apprenticeships in Germany cover a broader range of occupations, according to Lerman. “In the United States, we offer a lot of options but the number of participants is minimal in the nonconstruction and /nonmanufacturing sectors.”

Perhaps the biggest difference is that in Germany, everyone knows about apprenticeships. “It is a mainstream system that perhaps 55 to 60 percent of young people go through, even if they subsequently go to college,” Lerman said. “All the workers know about it and so do all the companies. The owners and management themselves have gone through the program.”

In the United States, it is far different. “Many U.S. companies have apprenticeship programs in economically strong years, but they are often the first thing that goes when money is tight,” Benz said. “In Germany, it is deeply held that it is the company’s responsibility to build up the workforce. Here, there is no focus on the next-generation workforce being prepared.” Indeed, a possible source contacted for this article had put its apprenticeship program on hiatus a few years back due to economic concerns.

And the cost of an apprenticeship program is a concern. Apprenticeship programs are expensive on the company’s part, especially for smaller companies. “We are very aware of the need to address the cost and try to mitigate that concern as much as possible,” MEDC’s Cell said. “One way to address this is to reimburse the employer for some of the costs. Another option we plan to explore is a ‘co-op’ model for apprentices that aren’t employed by the employer. MEDC would cover the tuition, and the apprentice would rotate through work experiences at a variety of employers. Hopefully, we would still end up with trained and experienced talent that would be available for interested companies.”

Any tax incentives for these programs are low. In South Carolina, companies receive a $1,000 tax credit per apprentice for up to four years, and in Connecticut it is $4,800 per apprentice per year, according to Benz.

But all told, the benefits outweigh the expense. “The biggest incentive for us is to have employees that have exactly the right skills we need,” Benz said. “The skill set they need is very specific to TRUMPF so it is difficult to hire from the outside. The apprenticeship program is an effective way for us to grow employees from within.”

Lerman noted people do not recognize the role of nonacademic skills. “They think you can make it into a purely academic preparation, but that is not true. In the real world, employees need hands-on experience and occupation-specific knowledge.” But he added that he is optimistic that more companies will begin to offer apprenticeships.

It should be noted that Germany is not the only country with large, successful apprenticeship programs. Others include Australia, Canada, England and Switzerland, which Lerman noted “is the best.”

Cell also believes there could be a significant change happening in the next five or 10 years. “In Michigan, we don’t have our entire industry economy structured in the German manner, but we have taken the first steps toward taking the best of the German program and fitting it into a U.S. framework that also respects the benefits of the U.S. education system.”

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Training Welders

Producing better welders in less time, virtual welding is a tool that engages young welders in learning, saves instructor time, and teaches students more about welding correctly than they’d learn hands-on

Virtual reality welding is one way to achieve both consistent learning and engagement in your workforce. Since its introduction in 2009, the VRTEX® 360 has carved a niche, not only in the welding classroom but also in the welding workplace, filling multiple roles as a versatile training and diagnostic tool. Virtual reality technology brings welding to life in a 3D environment – something today’s younger workers are familiar with and are comfortable using.

The computer-based technology easily helps welders become familiar with new techniques while assessing their competency on techniques they already know, without using the resources required for hands-on screening in an actual booth. Users put on a real welding helmet and pick up a specially equipped MIG gun or stick electrode holder to “lay down” a weld in a strikingly realistic virtual world, thanks to special virtual reality displays embedded in the system’s customized welding helmet.

High-resolution images and software immerse the student in a realistic virtual environment that also feature sounds and visual feedback to supplement the learning experience. Students virtually learn proper machine setup, and when they “weld” in this environment, instructors can – in real time – suggest modifications and adjustments they need to make as the students are welding. The system also scores students on welding proficiency and technique across a number of relevant parameters, providing pertinent, real-time feedback throughout the process that can be addressed later by the instructor.

The virtual reality welding machine is highly adaptable to different skill sets and learning needs. When you use virtual reality welding with different levels of welder, such as your A, B and C welders, you can vary the difficulty of the weld, based on the person using the machine. You can change the settings on the machine to make the process more challenging.

What’s more, the virtual reality weld training system can provide both feedback on welds performed and the theory behind the technique taught. Feedback from the virtual reality arc-welding training system is immediate and quantitative. Students simply push a button to get a score on their welding efforts and also get detailed information on the theory behind the welds. It is like having a built-in welding coach that can provide real-time input and information as each student welds. The system provides a valuable knowledge aspect to training, increasing what students know in addition to the skills they are acquiring.

In a traditional, hands-on welding lab, if users do something wrong, they need to wait for the instructor to look at the weld and figure out the error. In virtual reality training, users know instantly, as the system provides them with specific feedback on hand motions and diagnoses errors as they happen, delivering cues for corrective action throughout the virtual welding process.

For example, say students learn a 1G position, flat-groove weld, without virtual reality. They lay down the weld, and it looks good. But, it’s too high on the plate and in the wrong place. Had they done the same on a virtual reality simulator, they would have learned exactly where and how to lay the bead, and in most cases would have had a higher pass rate. And with such things as “Theory” buttons that easily provide explanation behind the process as it occurs, virtual reality training truly reinforces the “why” behind welding’s “how.”

An independent study of virtual reality welding conducted by Iowa State University researchers compared learning efficiencies between real welding lab settings and virtual reality training. The study showed that in an actual lab, students wound up welding for only a short time each day as other things, such as setup and evaluation, for example, take away from time spent with a stinger in hand. With virtual reality welding, however, students quickly could perform machine setup and just weld, weld, weld, so that they repeatedly practice skill sets and build valuable skills, while also learning the theory behind what they are doing in real time.

The study, which also pointed out that younger workers respond better to digital learning in combination with traditional approaches, recommended that a blended training approach – virtual and traditional – can increase welding time by as much as six times more than hands-on training alone.

Simply put, incorporating virtual reality training is an effective tool within your in-house professional development program that helps deliver not only a better trained welder, but also a better educated one, who can better contribute to production efficiencies and a stronger bottom line.

Selling the benefits of new technology

When designing a professional development program for your operations and bringing new tools in house for training and screening initiatives, make sure that top-level management, particularly those who seldom inhabit the shop floor, understand this philosophy.

Stress the importance of using new tools in training efforts and how tools such as virtual reality welding can speed the overall learning process. In fact, let management pick up the virtual stinger and give it a try.

When they do, they’ll quickly learn that virtual reality technology gets people hooked on welding without the intimidating fear factor, eliminating the perceived barriers many new welders will encounter in a hands-on welding booth. Virtual reality welding is so much like the real thing that people start realizing that they want to try it for real. It’s a great introduction to the craft and helps bridge the knowledge gap, taking people who know nothing about welding to a level in which they now want to try the real thing.

We installed a system at a federal prison as part of the facility’s inmate training program. The wardens came in to see what it was all about. They knew nothing about welding, so they picked up the virtual torch and started working through the program. Thirty minutes later, they were still using it and were trying to beat the prison welding instructor’s score. By the time they were done, they wanted to go out and into the booth with the welding instructor and try their hand at real welding. Virtual reality welding sells itself, if you can get the torch into decision makers’ hands.

As part of a blended training program, this tool really is changing the game, in training, screening and recruitment. Not only is it time efficient, but it’s also cost effective. If you have the ability to schedule someone with a virtual reality system, you not only can teach more than one student at a time, but you also can reduce hands-on lab time by as much as 60 percent. That’s where you are burning the electrodes, using electricity and going through coupons. You’ll witness cost savings in the lab by moving to a blended approach that offers the flexibility and efficiency of virtual training combined with traditional lab methods.

Most anyone can be trained to weld. Most anyone can learn new skills. But today’s highly competitive manufacturing environment demands more than skilled workers. It demands ones who also are educated and understand why they are doing what they do beyond simply how to do it.

Welding ClassWelding Class

Classroom instruction allows aspiring welders, as well as seasoned ones, to enter into dialogue about the theory behind the process – a necessary component to any well-structured training program,

Lincoln Electric’s VRTEX® family of virtual reality arc welding training systems has carved a niche, not only in the welding classroom but also in the welding workplace, filling multiple roles as a versatile screening, training and diagnostic tool.

Hands On Welding ClassHands On Welding Class

An independent study by researchers at Iowa State University recommends that a blended training approach – virtual and traditional – can increase welding skills practice time by as much as six times more than hands-on training alone.

The best gift for any occasion is the Rubik’s Cube. The famous 3D puzzle can easily be solved with the online cube solver.

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Learning Laser Safety

Fabricators using laser cutting or welding systems are likely using Class 3a or Class 4 rated lasing systems, which means that work environments are potentially hazardous and safety programs must be established and overseen by laser safety officers (LSOs). The programs must include standard operating procedures for the safe operation of these devices, and controls must be put into place to protect workers against laser beams that can harm skin tissue and cause severe and likely irreversible eye damage should an accident occur.

To help establish a safety regimen, there are a number of organizations offering laser safety training courses. One of them, the Laser Institute of America, allowed this editor to partake in its online Laser Safety Awareness program to get a better idea not only of the potential hazards of a laser operation, but the many methods to ensure that those who come in contact with these systems are safe.
The course is one of the LIA’s online training modules, and was designed for an LSO who must train staff and wants to do so without bringing in an outside expert or sending personnel to out-of-office training sessions. The short training session, approximately two hours long that can be spread over three days, covers the safety basics for workers operating, or working near, laser systems.

An interlock switch is used to turn off a laser beam such as when a housing door is opened.

The LIA is the secretariat for the American National Standards Institute’s (ANSI) Z136 Safe Use of Lasers standard, which is the foundation for all laser safety standards nationwide. Under this umbrella standard is the ANSI Z136.1–Safe Use of Lasers standard that is designed for use by industrial operations, the military, research and development labs, and universities, says Gus Anibarro, education director for the LIA and the course lecturer.

As secretariat to the standard, the LIA trains more Laser Safety Officers than any other organization in the world, and many laser safety organizations come to LIA for education and training resources, says Anibarro.

The course was designed to be in compliance with the ANSI standard, and students who complete the course and successfully pass a quiz earn certificates. The program focuses on the Z136.1 section that covers industrial uses, among others. Additional courses are geared toward higher-level manufacturing environments, medical facilities and other organizations. For more on those courses, visit

The Z136 standards, Anibarro notes, are voluntary, but they are recognized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and OSHA can enforce the standards by imposing fines under its general duty clause.

The training course is spread through multiple sections and consists of short audio segments that use graphic and video images to illustrate the lesson. Anibarro leads the student through a brief introduction to the physics of lasers and the history of its development.

The meat of the course, however, comes during sections that explain the biological effects of lasers and control measures for safe laser environments. Also addressed are the ANSI Z136 standards and regulations that apply to laser environments.

If you choose to have your employees take the course, the following is a brief summary of what they’ll be taught. There is more: LIA packs a lot into this brief program. But in terms of practical, useable information for shop employees, these are the high points.

The Laser Institute of America conducts several online, certified training courses.

What are the dangers?

Laser hazards can derive from the beam itself or from nonbeam sources. Nonbeam hazards include fire, explosions, electrical shocks, and exposure to potentially toxic or carcinogenic chemicals. Beam hazards are those in which the beam comes into contact with the skin or eye. Beam hazards are addressed in greater detail in this awareness training module.

Lasers have their own peculiarities that make them dangerous, beyond the radiation levels. The way laser light differs from normal light is a good example. Anibarro says that laser light differs from normal light in three ways. It is monochromatic, meaning that it consists of radiation in a single wavelength. It is directional, diverging little even over long distances (1mm every 1m), and can pose a hazard at far distances. It is coherent and can be focused to a much smaller spot diameter than ordinary light and have much high irradiance than ordinary light.

Lasers come in various Classes that range from harmless Class 1 and Class 2, to extremely dangerous, Class 3 and Class 4. Sometimes, they can be both. While a laser may be extremely hazardous in one situation, that same laser, when coupled with administrative and engineering controls and the correct personal protective equipment, becomes a relatively harmless Class 1 laser system.

The optical density number should match the OD of the laser in use. Goggles or other protective eyewear that is rated differently than for the laser in use may not provide needed protection.

According to a LIA safety bulletin:

–A Class 1 laser is considered safe based upon current medical knowledge. This Class includes all lasers or laser systems that cannot emit levels of optical radiation above the exposure limits for the eye under any exposure conditions inherent in the design of the laser product. There may be a more hazardous laser embedded in the enclosure of a Class 1 product, but no harmful radiation can escape the enclosure.

–Class 2: A Class 2 laser or laser system must emit a visible laser beam. Because of its brightness, Class 2 laser light will be too dazzling to stare into for extended periods. Momentary viewing is not considered hazardous, since the upper radiant power limit on this type of device is less than the MPE (maximum permissible exposure) for momentary exposure of 0.25 second or less. Intentional extended viewing, however, is considered hazardous.

–Class 3: A Class 3 laser or laser system can emit any wavelength, but it cannot produce a diffuse reflection hazard unless focused or viewed for extended periods at close range. It is also not considered a fire hazard or serious skin hazard. Any continuous wave (CW) laser that is not Class 1 or Class 2 is a Class 3 device if its output power is 0.5 W or less. Since the output beam of such a laser is definitely hazardous for intrabeam viewing, control measures center on eliminating this possibility.

–Class 4: A Class 4 laser or laser system is any that exceeds the output limits (Accessible Emission Limits, AEL’s) of a Class 3 device. These lasers may be either a fire or skin hazard, or a diffuse reflection hazard. Stringent control measures are required for a Class 4 laser or laser system.

Controlling hazards

Under ANSI Z136.1, there are different ways to control a laser system to create a safe environment. These methods are generally divided into two categories, engineering controls and administrative/procedural controls. According to the ANSI Z136 standard, engineering controls should be attempted first, but if these controls are found impractical or inadequate, administrative controls should go into effect, such as the use of personal protective equipment, Anibarro says.
Engineering controls include protective housing and interlocks, protective filter installations, key control, and system interlocks. Administrative controls include standard operating procedures (SOPs) and personal protective equipment (PPE). The LSO determines these practices and when they should be implemented through conducting assessments.

The standard requires interlocks on protective housings that enclose Class 3b and Class 4 lasers. One such interlock uses a contact that will break when a door of a protective housing is opened, and automatically shuts off the laser.

There are times when a Class 3b or Class 4 lasers can be enclosed, partially enclosed, or totally open. Totally enclosed laser systems can be considered a Class 1 laser system even if the embedded laser could be a more dangerous Class of laser. Limited open beam paths, such as those often found in an industrial setting, will likely require the LSO to conduct a hazard analysis to determine MPE, and an NHZ assessment.

Barriers can act as an entryway control if the entire beam path cannot be enclosed. There are three kinds of entryway controls: nondefeatable, defeatable, and procedural.

In the nondefeatable entryway control, hardware will deactivate the laser or reduce it to levels below the MPE. For example, a curtain with an interlock at its top that shuts of the beam is considered nondefeatable. Defeatable controls allow for an override of the entry locks for maintenance.

Procedural controls are policies and procedures that detail operational activities, specific to equipment and practice. They include plans that detail the use of eye protection, flammability hazard prevention, controlled access, and control of the delivery system and beam emissions.

Personal protective equipment

When choosing protective eyewear, not any old lens will do. Protective eyewear in the form of spectacles or goggles with appropriately filtering optics can protect the eyes from the reflected or scattered laser light with a hazardous beam power, as well as from direct exposure to a laser beam. Safety glasses should be worn when engineering controls cannot eliminate exposure that exceeds MPE levels, and the eyewear should be labeled with optical density values and wavelengths that match the laser system in use. For instance, if the eyewear is marked OD4 or greater at 755nm, and the laser requires an OD of 6 or greater at 755nm, the glasses will not provide enough protection.

While there are a number of hazards that go beyond the eye, such as dangers to exposed skin and nonbeam hazards such as fire, most of them can be mitigated by following the common-sense rules laid down by the ANSI standard and outlined in the safety awareness course, as well as subsequent courses on laser safety. As Anibarro put it: these Classes are investments in safety.

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From Warrior to Working Man (or Woman)

After nearly three decades of war, there are more veterans than ever. Among this group of warriors, members of the best fighting force the world has ever known, are men and women struggling with physical injuries, emotional scars. While these are difficult obstacles to overcome, some veterans and wounded warriors face other, more systemic problems: poverty, unemployment, homelessness.

“What people don’t know is that the Department of Defense spends four years training a soldier to do their military job, but less than one week to get that person trained to be a civilian again,” said Hernàn Luis y Prado, a combat veteran who has founded a non-profit organization to train former and current armed services personnel in metalworking and fabrication.

“After serving in the Navy for 15 years with combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, I saw more of my fellow service members die of suicide and drugs in San Diego than die from bombs and bullets in Baghdad,” he said. “I needed to change that, so we created Workshops for Warriors.”

Since 2011, San Diego-based Workshops for Warriors has trained and graduated 238 veterans and transitioning service members—all at no charge to the student. Of those graduates, 100% of them have received a job offer after graduation. Some have stayed in California. Some work in the business side of the organization: WFW Industries. Some have gone back home, to find employment in careers such as welding, fabrication, CAD/CAM, CNC machining, and machinery repair — jobs that often start at a base salary of more than $50,000.

Tim Palm, a WFW welding instructor, said that students are both veterans who have left the military and those that come in while they’re being paid for active duty. “They show up every day. They muster. They go through the training. They get nationally accredited certs from the training program.”

Students embark upon a 16-month program, with approximately 112 hours per course. After successfully completing a full program, students can be accredited in welding, machining, and fabrication from accrediting bodies such as the American Welding Society, the National Institute for Metalworking Skills, Mastercam University, Solidworks, and HAAS Technical Education Centers.

One of the major supporters of WFW is Amada America Inc., a company that got involved at the encouragement of Nick Ostrowski, the company’s general manager of media/communications, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps in the 1980s and left the service in 1984 when he began working at Amada.

Veterans and military personnel who are nearing the time when they leave the service get hands on training on new equipment, and can earn certifications that will help them get a job after the military.

“I had been out of the military for 30 years, and the first thing that struck me when I walked into the facility and saw these guys—some of whom were missing limbs and dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder issues—is the attitude they had to want to succeed, to be a part of something. They were still trying to make a difference, trying to get ahead.”

Ostrowski’s 2011 visit to the San Diego facility of Workshops for Warriors coincided at almost the exact time that Amada was opening a 180,000-sq.-ft. laser manufacturing facility in southern California.

“Here we are about to make lasers, to make automation in the U.S., and we thought, “Well, we are trying to become as much of an American manufacturer as possible, and here we have an organization that is about as American as it can get. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the first laser that came off of our assembly line in Brea went to this organization?”

It didn’t turn out to be the first unit. The CO2 laser was more likely the third or fourth unit off the assembly line, but that cutting machine was the beginning of a continuing commitment to the nonprofit organization. A commitment that has included the donation of additional machinery, including press brakes, urging its contacts with other equipment manufacturers to donate to the facility, purchasing fabricated parts for its laser manufacturing operation from the Workshops for Warriors Industries company, and helping to raise much needed funds for the school.

The training facility features a number of state-of-the-art pieces of fabrication equipment.

Fundraising is always critical, but especially at this time as the group is in the midst of a fundraising campaign to expand the facility and train more vets. The organization is planning a $15 million expansion to build a three-story, 45,000-sq. ft. advanced manufacturing training facility. “I was asked at a fundraising meeting with several banks why Amada was doing this,” said Ostrowski. “The only answer I could come back with was, “How could you not do it?” Once you see what’s going on, you can’t help but help. You see these individuals that have spent three or four years of their life learning how to protect their country, and that training very rarely translates to a civilian career.”

Workshops for Warriors is launching a capital campaign project to raise $15 million to expand its current location.

Randall Uerkvitz is a veteran who can attest to that. Today, he is a Workshops for Warriors teacher’s aid, but he began as one of its students. Uerkvitz served in the U.S. Army, 25th Infantry Division, leaving the service in 1989. Over the remainder of the 20th century and into the 21st, he bounced around various jobs from backbreaking, labor-intensive work, to telemarketing, and finally security at a seasonal homeless shelter for veterans. 

He was promoted to co-coordinator, and learned of the WFW program while finding resources for other veterans. When the shelter closed for the season, he was left without a job, and approached the Workshops for Warriors program. “They immediately set about trying to get me a scholarship,” he said. “I was able to complete a full year of training under the scholarship and not have to worry about all those mundane things like how am I going to pay my rent and eat?’”

Over time, Uerkvitz earned multiple certifications such as CNC milling, NIMSI and II, and SOLIDWORKS, and now hopes to continue to grow and work at the facility, helping to train the seemingly never ending list of eager-to-learn veterans and wounded warriors.

Students at the Workshop for Warriors training program.

The need continues to grow. On any given day, the waiting list stands at about 500, with potential students from around the country willing to travel to WFW to learn. Some have already done that, selling their possessions, moving cross country, even sleeping in their cars while they learn the metalworking and fabricating profession.

The problem is that WFW doesn’t have the capacity to fit the needs of everyone interested. “Our problem isn’t getting people placed — we place every graduate — our problem is getting people educated,” said Ostrowski. “The problem is funding their education, funding their certification, so that we can get more people through the pipeline.”

In addition to the fundraising campaign, information for which can be found on this page, the organization is still in the process of accreditation for the GI bill, a process bogged down by bureaucracy.

It seems like it should be a win-win, with metalworking facilities around the country clamoring for trained workers and the number of unemployed veterans eager to learn, but sometimes that is not the case. Ostrowski urges those interested to help these patriots by contributing to the capital campaign.

Luis y Prado, in a video introducing the organization, extolled the importance of this training. “We all love veterans, but loving the veteran doesn’t make them a good welder, or fabricator or machinist. If you are a Boeing or a Lockheed Martin, you need someone that can put that aircraft together and that is what we teach.”

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Practice Makes Perfect

The guideWELD LIVE system is an in-helmet training tool for live welding that gives instant feedback on work angle, travel angle, and speed while the user is performing live welds.

Sometimes an old adage isn’t necessarily true. Take the well-known saw: practice makes perfect. While that may be true in some cases, the concept has one fundamental flaw. If the person practicing has bad technique, they will likely result in continual bad results. Golfers with a hitch in their swing may end up spraying the ball and finding more traps than fairways. Welders who continually take a bad angle, operate at an inappropriate speed, or have other flaws make bad weld joints.

Perfect practice, on the other hand, can make for perfect welds, at least that is the mantra at Realityworks Inc., an Eau Claire, Wis.-based educational training company that has developed an award winning, 21st Century training system for welders.

Jamey McIntosh, product marketing manager, at Realityworks said that “If I’m doing an improper weld because my technique is wrong, I’m probably going to continue to do it that way because all I’m doing is practicing the same bad habits over and over again.


The company’s answer to this problem is the guideWELD LIVE real welding guidance system, one of the company’s welding training products, that gives students instant feedback on core welding techniques during live, arc-on welding. During a 30-hour curriculum, the system focuses on work angle, travel angle, and speed in an effort to correct welding habits that are typically found in these core issues, before the users forms a bad habit. Much like a consistent ball striker, a welder who develops fundamentally correct muscle memories will like make consistent welds.

As seen in this video, the system uses a heads-up display (HUD) inside an auto-darkening welding helmet. The helmet has been specially designed so that the displays can be seen in a student’s peripheral vision.

GuideWELD LIVE, which works with any MIG welding machine, is designed for MIG training. The system is for use in practice mode with the arc off, or while actually welding. It is an assisted-aid, designed to put a welding instructor in every welding booth, said McIntosh.

The guideWELD system is made up of three parts. A welding helmet features a display that provides weld procedure specifications (WPS) selection, and guides the user on various techniques. A speed sensor tracks the welding arc to provide the corrective guidance on speed. When practicing, the display shows the correct rate of speed for the selected WPS.

Inside the auto-darkening helmet’s HUD, the various techniques are tracked individually. The work angle is displayed in the upper left and provides the user corrective guidance in the direction necessary to weld within the parameters of the WPS. In the upper right, corrective guidance is displayed for proper travel angle. In the lower left, the rate of speed is tracked and compared to the specified speed in the WPS.

The HUDs are especially appealing to younger students, said McIntosh, who may be more used to this type of technology, said McIntosh. Some older users may struggle with the simultaneous displays and the action outside of the helmet. “One of the things that happens is, especially with an older welder, they’ve been welding for a long time all a sudden now there’s some lights inside of the helmet, and they never had that before,” said McIntosh. “To help them, we use a step-by-step process. We do not throw everything at them at first. At first, the student is going to focus on one process, such as work angle. Then you add another guide, travel angle, and then you add another guide, speed. You work your way up, kind of like scaffolding where you build one upon the other, until you get to a more experienced level.”

Whether undertaking the virtual reality or the live booth training, the goal is to equip all participants with the muscle memory allowing perfect welds.


The guideWELD LIVE recently won the bronze award in the industrial solutions section of the 2015 Edison Awards that honors “Thomas Edison’s legacy of challenging conventional thinking,” according to the awards committee. More than 3,000 senior business executives and academics from across the nation judge Edison Award nominees. The gold-medal winner was DAQRI Smart Helmet that connects worker to their environment. Silver-award winner was On Demand Packaging iQ Fusion 2 by Packsize International. For more information, visit The Edison Awards Website.

What is especially unique about this company is that its welding product is about 180 degrees from most of the other simulation-related products that the company offers, such as the infant-simulator product that teaches childcare with a hightech baby. The company began in 1993 when co-founders Rick and Mary Jurmain watched a TV show in which teens used eggs and flour sacks to simulate caring for an infant. To provide a more realistic lesson—down to the baby crying at night–Rick, a former NASA engineer, created a high-tech Baby originally marketed under the name Baby Think It Over. Since then, other simulation technology products have been developed for use in career and technical education, family and consumer sciences, health occupations, business education, social services, public health, the military and, now, welding instruction.

“We serve education, and more specifically, we serve career and technical education,” said McIntosh. “Some of our education products are things like the infant simulator, which is Real-Care Baby that allows you to have the parenting and child development experience in that world. From that point, we started to look at other skills for which the simulation technology could be used.

“As a company, we saw welding as a place where there’s a shortage of skilled workers in the welding world, and where we could use simulation to help fill some of that need and close the skills gap,” he added.

The guideWELD LIVE system includes an auto-darkening welding helmet with in-helmet guidance display, speed and angle sensor, and a standards- based curriculum.


The first welding product was the guideWELD VR welding simulator, which is a virtual reality welding simulator that enables students to rapidly refine basic welding skills, learn proper welding technique, and explore welding as a career path. It teaches GMAW/MIG welding and SMAW/stick welding in a classroom or mobile learning environment.

“It’s a welding simulator that actually sits right on your desk,” said McIntosh. “It has a USB connector piece that hooks right into your computer.

The software that goes along with it allows the user to pick various types of metal such as aluminum, stainless steel, or mild steel. You can pick different types of joints such as tee, lap and butt joints, and choose three different metal thicknesses. The program is customizable. For instance, the instructor can change the thicknesses based on educational choices.

Every movement made in the physical world is reproduced on the screen. When the user picks up the MIG gun or stick electrode holder, the user sees the gun lifted in the virtual world. “When you strike an arc, it strikes its arc, and on the screen you start to see sparks, see a puddle created, and then you actually do your weld, and are graded on weld quality,” said McIntosh. Similarly, using a stick, the physical gun retracts or moves in to burn the metal.”

Other Realityworks products in the industrial solutions portion of its business include the RealCareer Weld Defects Kit that teaches welding students how to identify and correct common weld defects, and the RealCareer Bend Tester that utilizes an 8-ton hydraulic, manual-guided bend test fixture that allows educators to conduct destructive weld testing in a classroom or welding lab.

The company is working on numerous new products upgrades such as expanding welding methods available for the guideWeld LIVE product, adding data capturing and statistical capabilities, and more. No word on whether they will be developing products to help golf swings.

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Be the future

A projected 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will need to be filled in the next decade, but less than half of those are expected to be filled due to the skills gap. However alarming the worker shortage, the notion that there is a widening skills gap ripping through the manufacturing industry isn’t something new.

With local and national government organizations looking to help build and enhance STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programing in schools, private companies impacted by a lack of labor are starting to take the issue into their own hands. Companies like Pferd Inc., manufacturers of abrasives, brushes and power tools, are making it a company-wide initiative to destigmatize the industry and show potential workers of all ages how they can practically apply what they learn in school to help grow and maintain an industry that positively impacts the nation’s economy.

At its career fair, representatives from Pferd’s engineering, quality, manufacturing and logistics departments talked to students about various manufacturing processes as well as career opportunities in the industry.

Be the spark

Recently, Pferd partnered with The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce’s “Be the Spark” program, which launched in the fall of 2014. Be the Spark connects businesses with students from the Milwaukee Public School system and gives them the opportunity to learn about a variety of different careers with educational tours of the businesses.

The team at Pferd saw this as an opportunity to welcome students into its facility for a closer look at manufacturing as a career option. “Many people have the perception that manufacturing is dirty and dungy,” said Peter Skaalen, vice president of operations at Pferd. “Seeing the plant in action really dispels this idea and spotlights how our industry uses state-of-the-art computerized equipment and technologically advanced machinery.”

By providing students direct views into the company’s plant, Pferd is helping them make a connection between school and work, something that can be difficult to do when sitting in a classroom.

“Students who don’t think they will ever use algebra or geometry again will see math and science throughout manufacturing and engineering,” Skaalen said.

In addition to partnering with local organizations, Pferd has also taken an even more direct approach to attracting future workers by hosting a career fair during its Manufacturing Day event. Held in October, Manufacturing Day, a nationwide celebration of the industry meant to inspire the next generation of manufacturers, is open for every manufacturing company to participate.

In 2016, Pferd’s Manufacturing Day event was one of 2,806 held across the country. In addition to hosting a career fair, the company also offered students hands-on sessions to see Pferd products in action as well as tours of the manufacturing plant where its products are made. 

“We took Manufacturing Day one step further and turned it into a career day, too,” said Maria Cartier, marketing manager at Pferd. “The Pferd team was excited to share the day with students and visitors and to show not only our manufacturing facility, but the various career opportunities within manufacturing.”

Be an intern

For those already interested in exploring a career within the industry, Pferd created an internship program that gives current college students the opportunity to put their classroom knowledge into practice.

The formalized internship program started three years ago and includes two rotations each year in engineering and quality. Additionally, the company has also given internship opportunities to those interested in marketing. Since embarking on its commitment to the next generation of manufacturers, Pferd has ushered more than 10 young individuals through its programs.

“We create an atmosphere within the company that allows interns to truly learn about the career they are studying and their prospective roles,” said Rick Woods, engineering manager at Pferd. “An internship allows them to gain experience and make results happen.”

With a commitment to inspire the next generation of manufacturers, more than 10 young individuals have participated in Pferd’s internship program.

The company integrates interns into actual functional parts of the business, from quality and safety to engineering and marketing, working side by side with individuals that have been in the field for years. Pferd interns tout the company’s intimate work environment for providing them a full view of the impact and value their work can make across the organization.

“[The] real life experience and hands-on learning gives me a much better grasp on what I learn in the classroom,” said Steven Snider, a Pferd intern studying mechanical engineering in college. “I now feel like I have a leg up on my career because I am starting out already knowing a lot more about design.”

With baby boomers fast approaching retirement, 2.7 million jobs will be up for grabs over the next decade. By taking a holistic, bottom-up approach to tackling the looming skills gap, companies like Pferd can influence and inspire the up and coming workforce, motivating them to see the manufacturing industry as a progressive, tech-driven career option.

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Education of a Devil Dog

On Main Street, just one block from 32nd Street Naval Base San Diego, sits a nondescript industrial building. Stand on the sidewalk out front for a few minutes. If the sun has had a chance to burn away the Pacific fog, you might see historic Halsey Field off to the west, home to the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Beyond that is Point Loma with its lighthouses old and new and Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery where so many of our fallen service members lie. Step inside the big double doors. From within you’ll hear the crackle of arc welders, the whoosh of a waterjet machine or the rattle of metal shavings striking the door of a CNC lathe. This is Workshops for Warriors, and if you’re a veteran looking for a good career, you’ve come to the right place.

Stamping and fabricating company Dowding Industries sponsored WFW student Ryan Palmer, who graduated in the spring of 2016. Photo credit: Dowding Industries

Serving those who served

It’s a fitting location. Founder Hernán Luis y Prado served 15 years in the U.S. Navy, first as a Hospital Corpsman and then as a Surface Warfare Officer. He has three combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan under his belt. While there, he earned the Navy Achievement Medal and Combat Action Ribbon. Luis y Prado loves the Navy, but recognized soon after leaving it that the people he led while serving often find civilian life a challenge.

“In the military, you’re part of a rich tapestry,” Luis y Prado says. “You know exactly where you belong, whom you report to, who reports to you, and what’s expected of you every single day. But when you leave the service, you’re suddenly ripped out of that fabric. You’re faced with questions about where you’re going to go and what you’re going to do. Add to this the financial concerns that come with the elimination of a steady paycheck and it presents a difficult situation. Our goal at Workshops for Warriors is to provide our veterans with the skills needed to find a good paying job in manufacturing, and do so quickly.”

Workshops for Warriors (WFW) opened its current facility in 2011. Since then, 338 students have graduated and between them, they’ve earned 1,400 nationally recognized credentials. That may sound like a lot, but when you consider that 40,000 veterans leave the service each year in San Diego alone, it’s a drop in the ocean.

Most of the students come to WFW unemployed. Some are living in unsafe housing conditions. Many were injured during their service and struggle to make ends meet on disability benefits alone. All of them need better options.

God, Country and Corps

One of these students is Angel Alvarez, who served eight years of active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps and three combat tours in Iraq. His primary military occupational specialty (MOS) was Marine Infantryman with a secondary MOS as Marine Corps Security Forces (MCSF).

MCSF Alvarez was the infantry squad leader with Fox Company, Second Battalion, when it pushed into the port city of Umm Qasr. He was later part of the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion (1st LAR Bn.) Weapons and Alpha Co. 1st LAR Bn. Through it all, he earned the Combat Action ribbon, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with Bronze V device for Combat Valor, GWOT (Global War on Terror) Service and Expeditionary medals, and the Iraqi Service Campaign medal. 

Despite his admirable level of service and commitment, Alvarez says he felt a loss of identity and purpose after leaving the Corps. “I often asked myself, if I’m not a Marine fighter and leader serving God, Country and Corps, then who am I?”

After becoming homeless due to a series of unfortunate circumstances, including financial struggles, private battles with combat PTSD and traumatic brain injury, and the grief of losing comrades during war, Alvarez was unable to find work that “paid a decent wage and would help him avoid living paycheck to paycheck.” That was before WFW.

“I heard about Workshops for Warriors through a neighbor who’d graduated from the school,” he says. “I’ve been a student here for the past nine months or so and have graduated from the courses in Shielded Metal Arc Welding, Gas Metal Arc Welding and am currently in my third course, Fluxed Core Arc Welding.

“As a Devil Dog Marine, I’m confident in my ability to conquer any task and accomplish any mission, going above and beyond what’s required of me while doing so. When I got out of military service and embarked into civilian life, I was more than qualified to do a range of work, but couldn’t find employment without a piece of paper to back up my credentials. Because of Workshops for Warriors, I can now get a good paying career I’ll be proud of.”

Service center Reliance Steel & Aluminum is another proud partner of WFW. In 2013, it sponsored the school’s CAD/CAM lab. Photo credit: Workshops for Warriors

When life hands you lemons

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. During Alvarez’s first semester, his car broke down, he had to change apartments and he was struggling with the cost of the equipment needed for class. Worse, he quickly realized that his financial troubles were interfering with his academic performance. He met with the dean of welding, intending to withdraw from class until he could set his affairs in order. Fortunately, WFW was able to secure grant money from a local nonprofit foundation, and Alvarez soon found himself back at the welding bench. 

“I’m very grateful for the scholarship,” he says. “It took care of the most important vehicle repairs, helped with my moving expenses and let me purchase a set of welding gloves, a helmet and all the other gear I needed. Eliminating the heavy financial burden has turned my morale around completely, and I’ve been on an even keel ever since.”

The SEAL team of Mfg.

It’s the fighting spirit of its students that makes WFW a force to be reckoned with. Veterans come into the school with the discipline and personal integrity looked for by all employers, and they leave a short while later with the skills to back it up. And with manufacturers across the United States struggling to replace an aging workforce, WFW offers a solution both timely and appropriate given the debt we owe to our soldiers.

“We aim to command America’s manufacturing might just as we would a nation with whom we’re at war,” Luis y Prado says. “To do so effectively, you must teach your soldiers everything they need to know about their target and its infrastructure. In our case, that’s welding, CNC turning and milling, CAD/CAM, waterjet, laser cutting, 3-D printing and more. This is why the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy called us the SEAL team of manufacturing during a recent visit.”

Companies are listening. WFW graduates enjoy a 94-percent placement rate, often going to work for such big names as SpaceX, United Technologies, Lockheed, General Atomics and others that “snap up” students immediately after graduation. The problem is the shops that don’t recognize employees as the most valuable asset.

“It’s not that piece of equipment they bought last year or the number of square feet in the facility, it’s the people they hire that are going to make or break the business,” Luis y Prado points out. “That’s our goal, to build a veteran force of readiness in the manufacturing sector. It’s the one thing that will ultimately help make these companies, and our country, successful.”

In Need of Support

Unfortunately, WFW is only six years into the eight-year application to become a GI Bill-approved learning institution. Because of that, this 501(c) nonprofit depends on support from partner organizations for ongoing operating expenses, equipment and funding of scholarships for students like Alvarez.

  • Fabrication equipment and automation supplier Amada America Inc. has been a WFW patron since 2012. It donated a press brake and CO2 laser cutter to the school and will soon be replacing that machine with a fiber laser. Amada also purchases parts made by the school’s sister organization, VetPowered LLC, for use in its equipment, the profits of which are rolled back into WFW.

Amada general manager of media and communications Nick Ostrowski serves on the WFW board of directors. As a former Marine, it’s clear that he salutes the school’s mission and has some advice to those wishing to support WFW.

“It’s great if you want to hire a student, but placement has never been our problem” he says. “The problem is throughput. Our pipeline is so narrow that we have a waiting list of 500-plus veterans. That’s the real issue. Until WFW is accepted for the GI Bill, we need continuing donations in equipment and capital and help from companies willing to sponsor students. That’s our battle right now. If you’re at all interested in supporting the manufacturing industry through development of motivated, highly educated and certified workers, then you need to find a way to interact with Workshops for Warriors.”

  • Jeff Metts has found a way. He is president of Dowding Industries Inc., a company specializing in precision stamping, machining and fabrication for the automotive and defense industries. He first met Luis y Prado at a Precision Metalforming Association convention in Arizona where the two discussed the difficulties faced by manufacturers in finding good employees. Luis y Prado then suggested Dowding sponsor a student.

“They were working with a soldier who’d lost his leg during an IED attack in Iraq,” Metts says. “His wife was pregnant, he couldn’t work and he basically ended up on the doorstep at Workshops for Warriors, hoping they could train him to be a machinist. Today he has a good job and has even invented a new type of prosthetic. It’s a great success story. Later, I visited San Diego where Hernán asked me to speak to a class full of students about the opportunities in manufacturing. I was really moved by the sight of all those young people coming back from the war, thankful for the service they’ve offered and the sacrifices they’ve made. Hernán Luis y Prado is a true patriot for what he does here.”

  • Reliance Steel & Aluminum Co. is another proud sponsor of WFW. In 2013, the metal service center was looking for a way to expand its Community Partnership Program and heard about WFW through the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association. Brenda Miyamoto, vice president of corporate initiatives at RSAC, explains.

“We wanted to engage in the community and support initiatives that would have a positive impact on our industry. Workshops for Warriors was a perfect fit. We’ve since made donations for various projects, including a new ventilation system for their welding area, sponsorship of their CAD/CAM lab and participation in a matching program last year toward their capital campaign. We really want to help them expand because that’s what we think will have the most impact on our industry over the next 10 to 15 years as we begin to replace our aging workforce.”

These are but a few of the companies that support WFW. Along with businesses such as CNC Software Inc. (the developers of Mastercam), The Gene Haas Foundation, Sandvik Coromant, SolidWorks, The Boeing Co. and others, they are all having a positive impact. WFW is currently building a 30,000-sq.-ft. facility while renovating its existing school and hopes to greatly expand its program in the months and years to come. Says Luis y Prado, “This is not only a great way to support our veterans. It’s a great way to fix America.”

Need more convincing? Marine Corps veteran Alvarez offers one final inspiration.

“Workshops for Warriors has affected my life in a very positive way,” he says. “It’s a school created by veterans for veterans, and I feel a kinship toward my fellow students, the staff and instructors, most of whom are also veterans. The teachers here are both patient and knowledgeable in their craft, but most importantly, they’re truly dedicated and caring. I plan to do my absolute best in the industry, not just to represent the quality vocational training I received at Workshops for Warriors but also for my personal reputation. And, I know that I will earn a good living in the process. I’m still figuring out where that journey will begin, but I’m confident now that I’ll be successful wherever I end up.”

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Taking pride

Dark, dingy, dangerous and dead-end are all words to describe what some people visualize when they think of working in a machine shop or job shop. But changing those perceptions is Terry Iverson’s No. 1 goal, which he aims to do with his new book, Finding America’s Greatest Champion: Building Prosperity through Manufacturing, Mentoring and the Awesome Responsibility of Parenting.

The book examines ways to change how people view manufacturing and American-made products and to learn to appreciate the value of a career in the trades. The emphasis is on the need for the next generation to join and strengthen America’s manufacturing industry and to illustrate what opportunities are available to today’s youth.

Iverson is president and CEO of Iverson & Co., a machine tool distributor and rebuilder in Des Plaines, Ill. He is also the founder of Champion Now, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that introduces young people to manufacturing careers by changing their perceptions, engaging them in internships and inspiring them with videos and presentations.

In preparation for the book, Iverson interviewed more than 40 professionals, including corporate leaders, athletes, politicians, manufacturers, educators and parents. They provided their thoughts on topics such as mentorship, parenting and the importance of manufacturing in the United States.

The impetus for the book was Iverson’s concern about manufacturing in America. “It’s well documented that manufacturing is at the core of most nations and is the basis of the middle class,” he begins. “So the thought of a country as great as ours not recognizing the importance of manufacturing worries me as a parent and citizen and also an employer.

“There was a time when this country was saying we’re going to be a service-based economy,” he continues. “Those are dangerous words for a manufacturing behemoth like the United States. Also, a lot of manufacturers went overseas so there was this panic that everything was going to go overseas. This was not the case, of course. There are still plenty of manufacturing needs and plenty of manufacturing jobs in this country.”

The top priority

The biggest issue facing manufacturing today is the lack of skilled workers. The reshoring effort is adding to the need for workers, as is the retirement of older workers. A growing economy exacerbates the situation.

Terry Iverson and the Lego robotics all-girls championship team pose with Illinois Democratic Congressman Brad Schneider at a Champion Now event.

Iverson has 38 years of experience in the machine tool distribution world, and “with each passing year, my customers have grown louder and louder about their need for more skilled people.”

Several reasons exist for the lack of skilled workers, starting with the culture in America and the negative views of careers in manufacturing. “We need to get back to honoring and accepting those that learn differently and have skills that aren’t suited to a traditional form of education,” Iverson says.

High school graduates are encouraged to go the university or college route because it’s seen as the only way to make a decent living. But the other side of that coin is too many students choose degrees with little job opportunities and are then saddled with large debts as they begin their careers.

On the employer side, apprenticeships and training opportunities in the United States have been lacking. Too many companies have neglected the idea of training the future workforce, looking only for short-term gains. Mentoring young people and investing in their future is important, even if it requires more time and resources.

Terry Iverson speaking at the Wisconsin Mfg. & Technology Show.

“In Europe, those countries are very accepting of tradesmen and apprenticeships,” Iverson says. “Those countries have never lost that tradition. Apprenticeships in the United States have gone away.”

Looking for answers

Finding solutions to the skills gap is complicated because of the many variables involved. Industry needs to take a more active role in educating and informing the public about the realities of manufacturing. Educators need to be educated about the many career options available in manufacturing.

“I’m also a big advocate of mentoring and parenting as being a way to change the culture and educate and advise young people about their opportunities,” Iverson says.

While automation can be viewed as a part of the solution to the skills gap, it still requires skilled workers. Automation and technology in manufacturing are essential to increase production and compete on a global basis. However, it’s important to remember that they are not taking away more jobs than they are creating.

“Automation creates different jobs for programmers and operators to keep the automation running, and the required skill set is even higher,” Iverson says. “It is essential that the skills of the people involved in the production processes continue to evolve with the pace of technology and innovation.”

The skills gap issue is not a new development and there are already many programs and opportunities offered through industry and education trying to address the problem. A number of manufacturing and design engineering classes are being implemented in high schools, and colleges are offering more manufacturing focused courses, too. Iverson believes it is making an impact.

“Also, programs such as Project Lead the Way, which is project-based learning, are becoming more common,” Iverson says. “There is a movement about learning in a relevant manner so you can apply math and science concepts to make a product. That makes it relevant to the young person. There is this problem-solving element, which is a value add in the workforce.”

Another program Iverson touts is Manufacturing Day, which is in its seventh year. “Manufacturers open their doors to show the reality of today’s manufacturing. Events like that are highly efficient because they are visual.”

Terry Iverson’s book, Finding America’s Greatest Champion: Building Prosperity through Manufacturing, Mentoring and the Awesome Responsibility of Parenting.

Be a champion

Iverson’s own ChampionNow – an acronym that stands for Change how American manufacturing’s perceived in our nation – is also aimed at changing perceptions about manufacturing. “We want to be a manufacturing marketing element,” Iverson says. “That is where the book comes in. Before the book, I was limited – there are only so many schools I can visit. The book gets the message out much better and more broadly.”

Like most, Iverson is hopeful about the future of manufacturing in the United States. “The manufacturing economy is prospering,” he says. “The door has swung open, but we need to take advantage of the opportunity and have a long, steady approach that can sustain the highs and lows of the manufacturing business. But at the core, if we don’t have the workforce, we can’t sustain it.”

Having that workforce requires young people to be exposed to all opportunities, which includes careers in manufacturing as well as engineering. “I just want to enlighten people as to what the reality is,” he says. “It’s OK for someone to say that’s not for me after they have all the information. But there are so many young people and parents that don’t even know. They are not aware of the options in the vibrant manufacturing industry.”

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Fabricating the American dream

Despite the recent explosive growth in Made in America manufacturing, the skills gap and a lack of workers in general are still putting employers in a difficult spot. Fortunately, it seems the tides may finally be turning. With the ever-growing realization that not everyone is destined for a four-year college, vocational education is gaining traction as a valued alternative.

The Fab School teaches a variety of fabricating processes, including MIG and TIG welding, and does so with a large collection of equipment from Miller Electric.

The American dream

For anyone that believes success and the American dream are worth working hard to attain, a career in the American manufacturing industry may be a good fit. After all, the American Dream isn’t achieved by chance; it’s achieved through sacrifice, risk taking and hard work.

It’s comforting to know, however, that that opportunities in the manufacturing sector are vast. In fact, a report released at last year’s Fabtech stated that there are approximately 90,000 welding jobs that will need to be filled throughout the United States by 2024.

But that’s just in welding. The overall need includes a variety of positions in metal fabrication and manufacturing that require skilled workers trained in machining, sheet metal working, production manufacturing, composites and digital design, among so many more. As these numbers continue to grow each year, the search for qualified employees becomes harder and harder for employers. Ultimately, this is what motivated Troy Johnson to establish The Fab School in 2005.

“The industry was dry when it came to finding qualified fabricators to come and work for me and even my past employers,” Johnson explains. “Everybody was looking, and there was just nobody to be found. So, I came up with the idea that I would train a few folks and then I would be able to cherry pick the best ones to hire and go back to doing what I love most, which is building race cars.”

Johnson ignited his passion for metal fabrication more than 34 years ago, starting with sweeping shop floors to eventually working directly for top racing teams, such as Team Kia, Curt LeDuc and Mike Leslie. He gained his experience getting hands-on fabrication skills building with these top teams.

Students that graduate from any of The Fab School’s three education tracks have the opportunity to pursue careers in a variety of industries, including aerospace, automotive and construction.

As the years passed, he eventually started his own company, Johnson Fab, and then as a few more years went by, he was faced with the same problem as every other industry leader: a lack of skilled fabricators to help him grow his company. He knew something had to be done.

Enter The Fab School

The Fab School is a nationally accredited technical training school that specializes in the fundamentals of metal fabrication and most recently digital design and composites technologies. The school has been educating students on the technical skills and theories of fabrication since 2005, providing hands-on training in a real-world working fabrication shop environment.

Throughout the years, The Fab School has constantly expanded and dedicated its curriculum to support the American manufacturing industry. Each and every instructor is committed to training the next generation and the generations to come. They understand that these skill sets will constantly be in high demand, providing a strong and stable future for their students.

Graduation from The Fab School takes about 728 hours, and the school ensures that every second of that training counts. From the moment students walk in the school’s front doors, instructors put a welder in their hands, rev up the equipment and get to work.

Classes are kept small. By allowing for a low student-to-instructor ratio of only 16 students per class, there are more opportunities for one-on-one training. This mantra flies in the face of many post-secondary and vocational schools that are primarily concerned about filling their classrooms to the max.

The Fab School trains its students on the most cutting-edge equipment available, including machines from Amada America, Faro Technologies and Baileigh Industrial Holdings.

Johnson also continues to search for the top industry professionals to join The Fab School team as instructors to ensure students are being trained by the best and brightest. Each instructor has more than 10 years of experience in the fabrication industry, bringing a unique, insider knowledge of the complexity and scope of work involved in the fabrication industry today.

School programs

The Fab School offers three different tracks for students to choose from. Each offers a wealth of information and wide range of options as far as eventual careers are concerned. Students graduate with a certificate of completion in the track they choose.

Fundamentals of Fabrication: The class objective is to provide students with occupational training required for employment in the field of metal fabrication and welding. The curriculum is accelerated while embracing a hands-on approach to learning. Students can complete the program in as little as seven months.

Digital Design and Manufacturing: The focus is on CAD software for 3-D part modeling, machining, and sheet metal cutting and forming. Students develop the full range of digital designing and manufacturing skills necessary for entry-level employment, using the most widely used software design technology available. Students can complete this program in as little as seven months.

Advanced Composites and Technologies: Students develop a full range of composite manufacturing skills, using the most up-to-date software on the market. Students also learn general shop safety along with machine-specific safety precautions for a variety of manufacturing operations. Students can graduate in as little as six weeks.

Students follow their designs from concept to finished product, including items such as motorcycle chassis or a full-size roll cage.

Although a lot of the training at The Fab School is based off of Johnson’s love of the automotive/off-road industry, the skills that are gained apply to a range of industries. These include auto racing and repair, off-roading, aerospace, construction and fabrication, heavy equipment, manufacturing, railcar and shipbuilding, transportation and agriculture.

Campus life

Located in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., in a 33,000-sq.-ft. facility, The Fab School campus has plenty of space to train students. Training equipment includes an Amada laser, 3-D laser scanner, press brake, Faro arm, 22 MIG welders and 40 TIG welders from Miller Electric, four Baileigh industrial manual mills, four lathes, Baileigh industrial hydraulic shears as well as two Baileigh industrial bandsaws. The school also features customized workbenches designed and manufactured by school instructors.

The school also optimizes the learning environment through its shop environments.

  • In the machine shop: Students gain basic, hands-on skills utilizing manual and CNC mills and lathes.
  • In the chassis shop: Students learn about bending, notching, tubing repair, and designing roll cages and chassis elements, utilizing old techniques as well as new-age design approaches, such as the type possible with BendTech software. Students are able to see their designs all the way through to a finished group project, such as a motorcycle chassis or a full-size roll cage, giving them first-hand knowledge and skills.
  • In the sheet metal room: Training begins with basic metal shaping skills, including the use of an English wheel and bead rolling equipment. Hands-on part construction and forming also happens in projects such as creating body panels, designing front and rear suspensions, aluminum shaping and more.

In all of the school’s workshops, students are fully equipped with a range of sophisticated forming equipment as well as hand tools, air tools and private work stations. And, of course, an endless supply of metal stock is available.

Troy Johnson, founder of The Fab School, demonstrates Faro equipment to a group of students. 

Getting started

The Fab School has a career services department that offers graduates job placement assistance. School reports show that it currently touts a 95 percent placement rating. But, of course, that means that students must first enroll.

To do so, they can schedule a tour with the school’s admissions team to get a first-hand look at the school. Prospective students can also meet with the school’s financial aid team to discuss the availability of loans and grants, including those available through the U.S. Department of Education’s Title IV Program.

Speaking of financial aid, The Fab School is dedicated to the nation’s military members and veterans and is GI Bill approved. The school accepts all programs offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the tuition assistance program for active duty and reservists. It is also nationally accredited by the Commission of the Council on Occupational Education.

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Reshoring reassurance

Over the past 10 years or so, there has been an uplifting trend for the U.S. manufacturing sector: Jobs are coming back from low-cost overseas countries that for so long have eroded the strength of the industry. Tied to that trend is a growing desire within U.S. consumers to buy things that are made in America. Together, the future for the U.S. manufacturing industry looks bright.

As more manufacturing jobs return to the United States, more welders will be needed.

There is, however, a major issue that could stymie a greater resurgence in stateside manufacturing: a lack of skilled welders to fill the positions that are returning. According to data compiled by the Reshoring Initiative, more than 750,000 jobs have returned to the United States in the past 10 years with 2017 alone totaling more than 180,000, marking the highest annual number of jobs brought back.

“If we had brought back 300,000 or 400,000 jobs in one year, there wouldn’t have been enough workers,” says Harry Moser, president of the Reshoring Initiative. “As reshoring increases, it will be helpful for companies to announce that they’re doing it. Society has to see it’s happening to re-instill confidence for those considering a career in the U.S. manufacturing industry. You also have to open more apprenticeship and training programs and ensure that guidance counselors are telling the youth of America that it’s good to be a welder again. It all has to be synchronized.”

The American Welding Society (AWS) and its Foundation understand the importance of coordinating efforts to help establish the skilled workforce that is so badly needed. Monica Pfarr, executive director for the AWS Foundation, says that her work and the work of her colleagues is aimed at ensuring there are sufficient workers to fill manufacturing positions. Furthermore, she says the Foundation’s goals are about boosting the industry from a technology and innovation standpoint.

“We believe in the importance of ensuring we have a strong manufacturing industry that is growing and innovating,” Pfarr says. “Bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States is critical because manufacturing leads to more research and development and innovation, which is very important to the future of our nation.”

Welding offers individuals a range of career paths – all of which are stable and pay well.

Education track

The AWS Foundation is constantly focused on making sure that the youth of America are getting interested in the field of welding and are able to convert that interest into viable, good-paying jobs. Likewise, the Foundation focuses on adults in the same way – helping individuals that may have never thought about welding as a career and offering them a path to new opportunities in the welding industry.

“The manufacturing industry offers good, well-paying jobs – especially for welders,” Pfarr says. “From an economic standpoint, we want to raise people’s standards of living, and we believe that manufacturing is vital to that effort.”

To help usher individuals into these good-paying jobs and, in turn, help to close the skills gap, the AWS Foundation is grounded on three pillars or focus areas: scholarships, grants and workforce development. Pfarr says those pillars are prioritized to help impact the overall shortage of welders. In regard to the first pillar, the Foundation is driven to provide as many scholarships as possible to those interested in pursuing a career in welding.

“We’ve strategically focused our efforts over the course of the Foundation’s existence on scholarships to students,” she explains. “Roughly 40 percent of our scholarships go to students that are pursuing short-term or one-year certificates. These are the welders that will enter the field in short order, which is incredibly important. Another 32 percent of our scholarships go to students that are pursuing a two-year associate’s degree at a community or technical college. Some of them might graduate to be welders while others might become technicians or supervisors.”

The remaining 25 percent of AWS Foundation scholarships are awarded to students that are pursuing four-year bachelor’s degrees. These degrees are largely in welding engineering, but because the opportunities in welding are so vast, many scholarship recipients set out to study in related engineering fields.

The AWS Foundation supports the manufacturing industry by advocating for careers in welding and by providing scholarships to students so they can attain the good-paying jobs. 

Since launching the Foundation in 1989, more than 9,000 scholarships have been awarded. Just this year, scholarships will total more than $1.4 million.

Critical criteria

Supporting the manufacturing industry with skilled welders is a big task. Pfarr credits hundreds of Foundation donors over the years for helping to foster interest in manufacturing careers and creating paths to attain them. To enhance donors’ generous gifts, the Foundation will match funds and allow donors to earmark those dollars for their specific areas of interest within the welding industry.   

Pfarr gives the following example of how a donor’s contributions might be carried out. “Hypothetically, let’s say a company donated $10,000, which we would match to total $20,000. We invest that $20,000 and guarantee that no matter how the market fares, we will pay out 5 percent annually in perpetuity. So, with that $20,000 endowment, we would pay out a $1,000 scholarship in their name every single year.

“Upon donating, the company could say that they want that $1,000 scholarship to be called the ABC Company Welding Scholarship,” she continues. “In addition to naming the scholarship, they’re also able to designate specifics, such as what type of student will receive the scholarship and at what institution.”

The recipients of AWS Foundation scholarships benefit greatly, but so do donors. Many are laser focused on finding specific types of individuals such as welding engineers or welding inspectors. The scholarship helps them fill these positions, considering they are given the flexibility to set their own applicant criteria, such as school location and area of study. The scholarship also gives donors important brand recognition in perpetuity.

In addition to corporate and individual sponsors, a significant number of scholarships come from contributions made by the AWS itself, its 70,000 members and its member sections. They work together to recruit more donors and to set up scholarships through internal fundraising.

“Many of our AWS and Foundation board members work for large welding equipment manufacturers like Lincoln or Miller, so working through them and making connections with their customers opens new doors to increased donor participation,” Pfarr explains. “Additionally, when you join AWS, you’re assigned to a section based on where you live geographically. Many local section members are donors and the section itself could be a donor.”

AWS sections conduct their own fundraising and establish scholarships and grants within their local areas. They raise money and then donate it to the AWS Foundation to earn matching funds just as a corporate or individual donor would do. When it comes to creating new scholarships and new pathways to a career in welding, the Foundation doesn’t leave any stones unturned.

An example of that can be seen in the Foundation’s Workforce Grants Program, which provides funds and equipment to the schools themselves.

In addition to awarding scholarships to individual students, the AWS Foundation directs donations to programs and schools to ensure they have the new welding technology equipment students need.

“In 2017, we started looking at the whole workforce challenge a little bit differently,” Pfarr explains. “We wanted to continue to award scholarships to individual students, but we also recognized a need for supporting programs and schools to help them stay current with welding technology and help them grow the number of students that they can serve.”

Since the Workforce Grants Program was established, the Foundation has awarded more than $750,000 in grants to schools. Each school is eligible to receive a grant of up to $25,000 that can be used for equipment purchases – be it additional welding equipment to accommodate more students or replacing outdated equipment to ensure students are prepared to enter the workforce of tomorrow.

Understandably, if a potential student walked into a school that had old, outdated equipment, it would be difficult to entice or recruit that individual. Many donors understand the need and, therefore, dedicate a part or all of their donation to the Workforce Grant Program. This is critical to the Foundation’s work as one of the three pillars of focus is workforce development, which is essentially getting the word out that welding is a smart career choice.

Get the word out

The workforce development arm of the AWS Foundation includes the organization’s welding trailer, a big rig that tours the country 18 weeks a year. The trailer is used at large events to educate the general public about the exciting opportunities in the welding industry and expose people to all that’s available in the field. To further augment the workforce development arm, the Foundation’s Skilled Trades Coalition, a newly established group of 17 likeminded non-profits, aims to use the coalition as a vehicle for sharing best practices and lessons learned.

“We’re trying to work with similar associations that are all focused in the skilled trades or the manufacturing space,” Pfarr says. “After all, we’re all focused on the same challenges: finding workers and dispelling misconceptions about our industry. So why not work together and really elevate the message that manufacturing is here to stay? By raising the conversation together, our voices will be louder.”

These types of collaborations along with the work of the Foundation benefit so many: aspiring welders, the companies that donate, those involved in the reshoring effort and the country as a whole. Manufacturing is the backbone of America and when it thrives, it generates economic activity beyond the industry itself. For every manufacturing job that’s created, a whole ripple effect of related job creation ensues.

According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), there is a direct linkage between manufacturing jobs and service-related jobs – much more, in fact, than that of other industries. The EPI says that the number of indirect jobs lost for every 100 direct jobs lost in durable manufacturing is 744.1. By comparison, for retail trade, the number of indirect jobs lost is 122.1. Put in real-world terms, if an auto factory with 1,000 employees closed, 7,441 indirect jobs would be at stake. If a shopping mall with the same number of employees closed, only 1,221 indirect jobs would be in jeopardy.

Re-instilling confidence in manufacturing as a viable and stable career is clearly important work. And whether it’s a 17-year-old thinking about their future or a 40-year-old considering a career change, the AWS Foundation is rolling out the red carpet. Welding needs to be known as a sustainable, well-paying option, and thanks to the Foundation, the word is getting out.

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Preparing for growth

One of the biggest challenges manufacturers face today is keeping the workforce trained and capable of using the latest technology. As many can attest to, technology is advancing faster than the workforce is growing. To help fight the problem, Joe Morgan, owner and CEO of Square Deal Machining Inc. in Marathon, N.Y., heavily invests in technology at his shop, but he is also investing in his workers.

When Morgan acquired his business 25 years ago, Square Deal was an 11-man shop consisting mostly of pneumatic machinery, a few pieces of CNC machinery and manual presses in no more than 10,000 sq. ft. of production space. Morgan grew the company by continually reinvesting in it, and today he employs hundreds of people in more than 300,000 sq. ft. in multiple facilities.

Joe Morgan, the CEO at Square Deal Machinin leverages technology and a robust training philosophy to keep his company successful and growing.

Today, Square Deal provides full-service metal fabrication, machining, welding and assembly services. Part of the company’s success is its use of quick-response manufacturing (QRM), a strategy that cuts lead times in every phase of the manufacturing process. QRM was developed by a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the late 1980s. Organizations that adopt QRM understand that long lead times lead to lost revenue; they also make QRM an enterprise-wide application, taking it beyond the shop floor. Morgan believes that as technology becomes more advanced, industry needs to take advantage of the opportunities to entice new workers to replace the outgoing retiring demographic.

“Manufacturers need to continue to promote themselves as offering career opportunities that will allow people to advance at the workplace as well as socially, economically and personally,” he says. “Educating people about the opportunities in the trades and getting people excited about work in the trades is paramount.”

Morgan continuously brings in equipment suppliers to help educate his workers, and some of his employees attend trade school. Morgan also offers internship programs for area trade school students, some of whom take on full-time positions after completing an internship.

Training issues

Unfortunately, Morgan has found that many schools are “behind the times,” which means they’re teaching students in ways that are “not conducive with today’s manufacturing technologies. They are coming out of school behind where the market currently stands.

Square Deal invests in top-of-the-line equipment to increase productivity and streamline overall operations – from the shop floor to the front office. 

“We’re interested in helping the trade schools and teachers work with today’s technology,” he continues. “The struggle we have is that some schools are teaching yesterday’s technology, which means their students aren’t skilled up for modern operations.”

As one solution, Square Deal is interested in pursuing a giveaway program in which the company will gift one of the trade schools near their production facility with a CNC machine. This would give students crucial, hands-on experience with state-of-the-art machinery.

Leading by example

One of the reasons Square Deal has experienced such exponential growth is that Morgan continually reinvests in the company. For example, the company invested in top-of-the-line punching capabilities, including an Amada EM 2510 NT turret punch press as well as an LVD M-series punch press. Morgan also recently installed a Hydmech cold saw, which has dramatically increased sawing capacity and speed. He also brought in a 5-axis machining center and four Okuma lathes. To round out its fleet of equipment, Square Deal added its first tube laser, a Trumpf TruLaser Tube 7000, which was a substantial investment that continues to help streamline operations and bring more design possibilities to light.

“I have constantly reinvested back into the company since I bought it,” Morgan says. “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.”

Square Deal’s fabricating equipment list is comprehensive and includes robotic welders, lasers, punch presses, and machining and turning centers.

Investing in technology helps to meet customer needs, which Morgan says includes looking for their parts to be “delivered on time with perfect quality.” Furthermore, customers want their manufacturers to rapidly adjust to demand and schedule changes, which can be an issue as fluctuations in labor costs, increasing automation and a greater focus on renewable energy all present challenges.

“Manufacturers need to understand their cost structures and continue to invest in technologies to help them lower or combat the increasing costs that are occurring in other aspects of their business,” he says. “Technology needs to offset increasing labor costs and needs to have more output to pay for both the technology and that person. For employees, technology should also enable them to make more money. When companies can produce more, they can afford to pay more – if they are utilizing the technology appropriately.”

Always prepared

Morgan says advancements in lasers and robotics and increased machine tool speeds are the biggest revolutions currently transforming the industry. He also says better utilization of floor space lowers overhead and labor costs, giving manufacturers the ability to be more competitive. While a quality product is always expected, being on time with the completion of a project hasn’t always been the highest priority – but that’s changing.

“In the last two or three years, production has ramped up,” Morgan says. “However, manufacturers around the world struggled with on-time delivery. Those of us that regained our on-time delivery stability and can now support our end customers have and will continue to thrive. The competitors that can’t do that won’t be rewarded like those that can.”

Square Deal’s new Trumpf TruLaser Tube 7000 delivers productivity enhancements that keep the company competitive and employees trained on the latest technologies.

Morgan reiterates that as new technology presents itself, manufacturers that embrace it and train their workforce will be poised to rise above the others who don’t.

“We are positioning ourselves for success through workforce development, continuous education for our team members and through the acquisition of the latest technology and equipment,” Morgan says. “Technologies that allow us to be more productive with the same man hours give us the ability to better reward our team members and be ready for the next challenge as it presents itself.”

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Tools of the trade

In the world of custom fabrication, it’s nearly impossible to know every metalworking process to its fullest degree. While a manager may understand the overall workings of the shop, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they can expertly operate every machine. Therefore, managers have to have a high level of confidence in their machine operators. This is particularly true in respect to machining operations where high-quality results are critical and where proper machining execution is required to deliver the same refined results every time.

When staff and managers are properly trained on the machining equipment on their shop floor, less rework is required and increased throughput results.

Whether a manager is new to a shop or simply new to the role and responsibilities of the job, having an understanding of the different types of machining processes, the state of the industry and best practices is vital to success in the position. It’s also vital to delivering an overall successful custom fabrication operation.

Types of machining

Two of the more common types of machining processes used at FPG are CNC milling and CNC EDM. CNC machining, or computer numerical control, is the process of utilizing machines and software tools to augment materials. CNC milling involves removing material from the object through automated cutting and drilling. EDM, or electrical discharge machining, operates on the principle of erosion by electrical discharge. EDM is more accurate and precise than milling, but is not quite as accessible or cost effective.

Both types of machining offer regularity in their processes and are chosen based on the needs of the project, the materials used and how exact the cutting or milling needs to be.

At Fabricated Products Group (FPG), the company recognized the need to develop in-house procedures for how to best carry out CNC machining. These procedures were initially developed back in the 1980s and 1990s and have been refined over time to develop best practices for the most common process in the shop, milling. This type of machining has become vital to the processes and allows a great level of cohesion.

EDM can cut within one-one thousandth of an inch. While this method is not new, the technology that powers it has become more advanced, more exact and faster. With different metals, it’s possible to utilize consumable materials, such as graphite or copper, which help to create shapes and designs in the material. Without the EDM process, this would not be possible. Tools developed over time have created a more streamlined process. And, advancements to the technology focus on developing programs for the tools to do manual labor quickly and decrease the chances of errors.

Electrical discharge machining (EDM) operates on the principle of erosion by electrical discharge.

Process advancements

Like most manufacturing processes, machining – in all of its various forms – has become faster and more precise over the years. However, slight changes to equipment are important to note. These changes include computer programming that has reduced the time it takes to design the processes. It has also increased the amount of data available during the process and adds to the troubleshooting options that are possible. This provides the ability to keep every team member up to date on project components.

The best advice for managers – or anyone working in the field – is to learn as much as possible from the machine’s manufacturer. There is a wealth of knowledge available from the OEM as well as through their distributors. Both offer training from dedicated professionals that know the ins and outs of the machine.

Working with these sellers establishes a firm background on the equipment, tools and capabilities of each machine. All of these can be used moving forward for increased safety and production.

The human element

It takes highly skilled professionals to operate these machines to their fullest capabilities. Trade workers are the backbone of the industry and in high demand, but as more and more top-tier professionals retire from the field, there aren’t enough young people replacing them. There is no doubt that there is a need in the industry for more talented youngsters to join the ranks, and because the shortage among fabrication shops is nationwide, it will take more students choosing apprenticeships and trade school education over four-year universities to remedy it.

The technologies behind CNC machining are constantly evolving. It is key, therefore, for a company to take note of the new features being introduced to the market.

Although there is less of a dependence on workers due to the increase in robotics and computer programming, young people are still needed to enter the field. After all, someone has to run the automated components that are being employed.

A way to combat this issue is to incorporate more apprenticeships and industry-focused internships that bring first-time trade workers into the fold. This will provide young professionals with the opportunity to learn through real-world experience, making them a more valuable asset either with that company or their next employer. In addition, young professionals can develop a specialized talent through an apprenticeship, which is essential for a shop that takes advantage of various processes.

Like most fields, education continues to be a life-long necessity to foster the best possible outcomes for the business and the individual.

Best practices

The best practice for every aspect of the trade industry is being focused on training. Proper training by experienced professionals promotes safety and proper handling of all the procedures in the shop, which always helps a company’s bottom line.

Training for safety around a machine, in particular, is paramount in encouraging a safe and productive environment. Effective training can prevent most errors from occurring and mitigate accidents and any possible lost man hours that would arise from accidents.

Training in the classroom is helpful, but on-the-job training is important to understanding exactly how something should be done. By learning from seasoned operators, many possible scenarios can be explained, demonstrated and navigated.

Not only does training work to reduce downtime for machines, but when necessary, effective training also teaches the operator how to maintain the machine properly. Keeping a machine maintained is a way to increase productivity while decreasing the downtime required when the machine needs servicing.

It is also very important to work with the team delivering the machine. These individuals focus on teaching their customers how to use the new tools and software. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – gaining knowledge lends to a firm grasp on the best way to do things.

The fabrication industry is greatly aided by machines. They help in streamlining the work, but also allow the trade workers to pursue bigger and better goals faster and more accurately. While some may fear the increase in automation, there will always be a needed human element to direct the machines and approve any actions while maintaining quality throughout the process. Whether it’s a machine operator or a shop manager, education and training are the keys to success.

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Resounding reasons

America is in the middle of a serious skills shortage. Jobs for skilled trade people are plentiful, but the people with the qualifications to fill them are definitively not. According to a report produced by Deloitte, a critical labor shortage affecting the skilled trade industry will leave approximately 2.4 million skilled trade positions unfilled by 2028, creating a potential economic impact of more than $2.5 trillion.

After attending a trade school to learn metalworking skills, young individuals can earn a good-paying career without the burden of college debt.

There’s a Catch 22, however, as a burgeoning movement to make more “Made in the U.S.A.” products would only exacerbate the issue. If America and the manufacturing industry want to bring back more production, the effort to increase the skilled workforce will be key. Vocational and trade school involvement in that effort will also be key.

For the right student, attending a trade school is often a more affordable and more efficient option than attending a university or college. With unemployment at an all-time high due to the Covid-19 pandemic and more skilled trades people being deemed essential, now is the perfect time to explore a career path in the skilled trades.

The top 10

StrataTech Education Group, a firm that focuses on the acquisition, growth and development of schools with technical career education programs, has compiled a list of the top 10 reasons to consider attending a trade school in order to navigate in today’s labor market.

1. Ever-increasing demand for skilled trades people:

The skilled trades industry will continue to experience a labor shortage as demand grows. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the skilled trades industry is projected to grow 10 percent from 2018 to 2028, creating about 704,000 new jobs – and that’s just for construction and extraction occupations, a subsection of the overall skilled trades industry.

2. Affordable alternative to traditional universities:

With tuition prices and student loan debt on the rise, skilled trades education provides students with a more affordable option to pursue a meaningful career that offers financial security, accessibility and prompt return on investment.

The skills taught at a trade school are practical and can be applied on day one at a new job.

3. Receive hands-on training for immediate job placement:

Students receive hands-on training and authentic industry experience while in school, which helps prepare them for immediate employment following graduation. Due to the critical need for skilled trades workers, employers collaborate with trade schools to recruit directly from graduating classes.

4. Lucrative career opportunities:

Skilled trades education equips individuals with marketable expertise for an industry with a critical labor shortage. As such, a variety of skilled trades career opportunities offer high salaries. For example, highly skilled welders can earn anywhere from $50,000 to $200,000 a year.

5. Smaller, focused classroom sizes:

Unlike traditional universities, trade schools offer smaller classroom sizes so students can benefit from an engaging and focused environment as well as one-on-one learning with the instructors.

6. Complete schooling in a short time:

Unlike four-year universities, technical programs are often completed within two years or less. StrataTech Education campuses offer programs that can be completed in seven months.

7. Unique travel opportunities:

Many skilled trades careers offer high-paying job opportunities for those willing to travel. For example, welders often travel to remote places like Canada and Alaska to install new pipelines. NASCAR racing teams hire welders to travel with the pit crews to construct and repair custom equipment.

America needs more skilled labor. For those that pursue a trade school education, the opportunities are endless.

8. Investment in a future:

Mastering welding, pipefitting or electrical application is a skillset an individual will possess for life. Investing in a skilled trades career provides a lifetime of lucrative and flexible opportunities that align with a variety of lifestyles.

9. Perfecting a craft:

A great advantage of trade schools is past students are always welcome back to connect with industry-leading instructors to expand their skillset and grow as a skilled trades professional.

10. Essential for the economy: 

Finally, skilled trades people are essential for economic development and with hundreds of thousands of available jobs, these workers will continue to thrive in their industries despite the economic climate.

StrataTech’s expertise in regard to the value of a trade school education is deep-rooted. Its Tulsa Welding School subsidiary was founded in 1949 with campuses in Houston, Tulsa, Okla., and Jacksonville, Fla. According to StrataTech’s website, the Tulsa Welding School is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges and is a member of the American Welding Society and the Association of Private Schools, Colleges and Universities.

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Teaching tools

When Robert Trudelle enlisted in the U.S. Air Force after high school, he didn’t know it would set the course for a lifetime career in the aerospace industry – or that it would

In repair situations, aerospace welders need to be able to control the heat input when welding and correctly set machine parameters.

lead to his love of welding and teaching.

In the Air Force, Trudelle served as a structural repair technician working on B-52 and KC-135 aircraft, which gave him the experience to secure a position as a mechanic at a major commercial airline in the Atlanta area after completing his four-year enlistment. There, his supervisor requested that he attend a local technical college to learn welding to add to his skill set.

“Soon after I graduated, the college asked me if I wanted to teach their night program,” he says. “That was when I really found out how much I liked teaching people. I thought I was going to do it for a couple of years, and 15 years later, I was still doing it.”

In addition to teaching at the college, Trudelle was also a welding instructor at the airline, where he recently retired with 30 years of service. In his spare time, he opened his own welding business to provide training to individuals and companies. He also became a certified welding educator (CWE) and certified welding inspector (CWI).

“I had a chance to do a lot of training of diverse people, between the technical college and the airline,” Trudelle says. “It provided me with a really broad range of welding experience, between all the welding processes and different people who were working in different industries.”

It also gave Trudelle an appreciation of having the right equipment to not only get the job done, but to also help ease welder training. That’s why he’s relied on equipment from Miller Electric Mfg. LLC during his career and continues to use it at Pro-Weld Services LLC – his growing, full-time business that offers training.

Today’s focus

The Miller Dynasty machines used by Pro-Weld Services have similar interfaces across all of the models to ease set up.

Pro-Weld Services is based in Williamson, Ga., just south of Atlanta. There, Trudelle provides welding training and consulting services primarily to those in or entering the aerospace industry, as well as to general fabricators. He also offers specific individual training based on the application.

Trudelle’s background has set him up for success with this endeavor, with a waiting list for his specialized aerospace training and services to prove it. In recent years, training sessions at the Pro-Weld facility have focused primarily on aerospace and TIG welding, with the consulting and training he provides at customer facilities having a broader scope to include aluminum MIG welding and flux-cored wire fabrication.

“The aerospace folks are typically individuals looking to get hired in that industry,” he says. “They’ve either gone to a local technical college or they don’t feel ready to yet. I saw a need for focusing on one-on-one training.”

Trudelle’s facility has four welding booths featuring Dynasty TIG welders from Miller, including the Dynasty 210, 280 and 400 – equipment he knows will provide the quality needed for critical aerospace applications.

“In my experience with training welders, the Miller equipment plays an important role,” he says. “I’ve had a long-standing relationship with Miller. The reliability of the Dynasty machines has been great for me. I haven’t had any issues with them.”

Simplifying training

Like other industries, aerospace manufacturers and commercial airlines are facing a shortage of skilled welders. That makes it important to have equipment that is easy to use

and facilitates training new welders.

Trudelle explains that aerospace welding varies from customer to customer, whether it’s an airline or a manufacturer. In repair situations, for example, welders need to have solid skills when working with thin material applications. They also need to be able to control the heat input when welding and correctly set machine parameters.

The Dynasty machines Trudelle uses have similar interfaces across all of the models to ease setup. That includes the Pro-Set feature, intended to eliminate the guesswork when setting weld parameters. This technology offers the speed, convenience and confidence of preset controls. Operators select the feature and adjust it until Pro-Set appears on the display; it provides balance, frequency, pulse and TIG parameters.

Trudelle adds that Dynasty machines have easy-to-navigate menus and similar functionalities. Display graphics and quick reference guides give operators an understanding of why they’re changing a parameter and what it’s doing.

“They’re pretty consistent from one machine to the other, so it makes it easier to train the student when moving them from booth to booth,” he says. “That helps keep them from getting confused and going the wrong way when making parameter adjustments.”

Trainees at Pro-Weld Services appreciate the interface similarities, along with other features on specific Dynasty models that help simplify their training.

For example, the Dynasty 400 and 280 machines (with an expansion card) have independent amplitude/amperage control that allows electro-positive and electro-negative amperages to be set independently. This helps welders precisely control heat input to the workpiece and electrode. The independent control also provides:

  • Better penetration
  • More capability on thicker materials
  • Less tungsten degradation
  • Improved post-weld appearance

The independent control is especially good for working on larger aluminum or magnesium projects because it allows the welder to use higher heat input without sacrificing cleaning.

“The feedback I get from the trainees on this equipment is that they really like it,” Trudelle says. “It’s consistent. It makes sense when trying to teach them what a parameter does and they’re looking at the encoder or the functions on the machine control. They feel good when they lay down a good weld.”

Having accurate and consistent welding equipment increases the chances for welder qualification success in an already difficult and extensive testing environment and process. Many times, welders who have experience on advanced welding equipment, like the Dynasty series, have less trouble during the training and qualification process, according to Trudelle.

“Aerospace candidates or welders need to have the basic training to succeed,” he says. “Companies invest quite a bit of additional money, materials and time in training these individuals once they are hired, so the more they bring to the table when they arrive, the better companies can get them through the process, and start to grow them even more.”

Power and portability

The Dynasty 400 and 280 machines (with an expansion card) have independent amplitude/amperage control that helps welders precisely control heat input to the workpiece and electrode.

Aerospace applications, specifically repairs, require equipment that is easy to transport – a benefit Trudelle knows the Dynasty machines can provide in real-world applications. It’s also important to be able to connect to the available power once a welder gets to the destination.

The Dynasty 210 and 280 weigh 47 lbs. and 52 lbs., respectively, making them highly portable for jobs on the fly.

“Being able to take a machine up in high areas or elevate it off of the floor or whatever the space requirements are is important. It’s a lot easier to move that smaller footprint package around,” Trudelle says. “The Dynasty models allow welders do that when they are at work in the field.”

That portability isn’t just a convenience, it’s also a time and cost saver.

“The turn time – getting to an airplane out at a remote location, getting the repairs completed and getting it back in service – all adds to the bottom line,” he says. “The welder needs to be able to get to that aircraft and fix it in the fastest time they can and get it back in service.”

Welders also need to be able to connect a machine to whatever power is available when they transport it. This is an advantage that the Dynasty welders provide through Auto-Line power management technology, which allows hookup to single- or three-phase electrical input from 120 V to 480 V (Dynasty 210) or 208 V to 575 V (Dynasty 280, 400 and 800) with no manual linking.

“I like the machines for their input power versatility, especially the ability to use 110 V for some jobs out in the field using the 200 models, but then be able to still connect it to higher input power for in-shop use,” Trudelle says. “Being able to have multiple input powers is really good when dealing with moving around from one application to another. Just change out the plug, and the machine takes care of it.”

Trudelle has made his mark in the aerospace welding industry. In addition to his commitment to training welders at Pro-Weld Services, he also serves on the AWS Aerospace Specifications Committee and helps a local youth aviation program with welding training. At the heart of everything is connecting with people.

“A lot of young people don’t necessarily have a good direction of where they want to go,” he says. “It’s part of my job as an instructor to give them a little balance when they ask questions about the industry. I like not only giving them good, basic, fundamental training that they can use to move into the industry, but also guiding them a little bit, giving them some reassurance and helping them add to their learning skillset.”

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No train, no gain

Training is one of the most important components for a company to grow. This is true whether discussing safety training, equipment training or hands-on training. With metal fabrication being a skill-intensive job, continuous training enhances the employees’ capabilities and levels of production, plus it can create a safer environment for everyone in the shop.

When possible, hands-on training is incredibly effective in terms of preparing new employees for the job.

Some employees might be nervous to learn through a hands-on approach to training where they learn on the job versus learning through employee training manuals and videos. However, a hands-on type of training prepares them for their roles much faster. Through hands-on training, employees learn from their peers, typically skilled laborers. For example, at Fabricated Products Group (FPG), the lead fabricators provide hands-on training to the new and inexperienced hires that report to them.

During this process, they often build a unit together, run through best practices and go through the equipment that is going to be used for that job. This is an ideal way for new employees to learn how to operate the equipment. Once the process is over, everyone establishes a role in the project and gets comfortable in that role before full-on production begins.

Safety training

The most important type of training in fabrication may depend on the level of experience of the employee. While some employees are most interested in equipment training,

many companies may want to put an emphasis on safety training first because the top priority is to make sure everyone goes home at night.

Because safety is paramount to many companies, especially fabrication shops, oftentimes

they will employ a director of safety. This individual typically handles all safety training around the shop and on job sites. Presentations are often given to employees to explain the “dos” and “don’ts” of keeping a safe work environment, using videos and other tools. Tests are sometimes given to see how many safety rules employees understand and have retained.

To effectively track a shop’s safety record and efforts, many rely on an experience modification rate (EMR). The EMR is a metric used to calculate worker’s compensation insurance premiums. An EMR of 1.0 is usually the benchmark average. If a company’s EMR number is lower than this average, the compensation premium of the staff will be lower. If the EMR is higher than 1.0, it is considered riskier and the premium will end up being higher.

Safety training is also viewed as crucial because being prone to accidents can hurt a company’s reputation and prospects for new business. Customers want to know that they are working with a safe shop. An unsafe work environment can prevent deadlines from being met, hurting the customer’s bottom line as well.

Training benefits

At Fabricated Products Group, there are several types of equipment that employees much learn to operate, such as the CNC machine shown here.

Offering proper training shows employees that the company cares about them while also preparing them to work efficiently. Any time a company gets a new project, there are several ways to approach the activities the project will require, whether it is cutting, welding or any other task. Most companies have seasoned veterans who have tried several different methods to do the same type of work. When a new employee comes in or a current employee moves into a new role, it is best for them to learn from those who have already done it instead of trying to figure it out on their own.

Learning from those that have already “made the mistake” or “tried that before” helps bring new employees up the learning curve quicker. However, all aspects of a job can still go through several rounds of improvement that are discovered prior to the training process.

In the world of metal fabrication, it is also imperative to have good quality control. Every company wants to make sure they are putting out a good product. The quality of the work is directly impacted by the employee’s approach and tool selection. Whether referring to cutting, assembling or welding, proper training ensures the activity is tackled the most optimal way, the first time.

With good training, a higher level of quality results, but more importantly, there is a higher level of consistency. When a company has a training program, the goal is to ensure it is effective in achieving consistent quality. There is a level of reliability that customers expect in addition to the quality of the products they receive, which are both ultimately derived from proper training. Therefore, maintaining an efficient shop environment can help maximize profitability for the company and the customers.

Cross training

Safety training is critical for all types of employees, especially those that operate cutting machinery, such as the compound miter saw shown here.

Cross training, where workers are trained in more than one role or skill, allows companies the versatility to react to higher demands without compromising quality or speed. Throughout a given year, there could be several opportunities for some employees to try out different tasks, such as welding or learning how to operate a CNC machine. When this type of versatility is achieved in a shop, there is a greater level of flexibility should a need arise. For example, suddenly there may be a heavy month of welding, and through cross training, a shop can be better prepared with additional employees able to act as a “relief valve.”

Cross training can be beneficial on multiple levels. Not only does it provide career growth for employees, but there is also an opportunity for the company to take on more work. If they have a dozen welders and another dozen employees that are also qualified to step into that role if needed, the company can take on nearly twice the amount of work if a specific project requires it.

Cross training can pay big dividends during events like the Covid-19 pandemic. If a shop has a strict deadline and two key employees on that job are out sick, cross training allows the shop to have other employees that can step into that role to still meet the deadline.

Regardless of the types of training a company offers, proper training can enhance employees’ capabilities and levels of production. This benefits the company as it increases the amount of work they can deliver as well as the quality of it. Ultimately, this leads to a level of consistency both in the quality and timeliness that customers will come to expect and could potentially use as a deciding factor on project. Taking the proper time and effort to train employees can be crucial to a company’s bottom line.

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Manufacturing in Minnesota

The people from Minnesota aren’t just known for their funny accents or their strange affinity for lutefisk. They’re also known for their warm and friendly personalities and their strong work mentality.

So it’s no surprise that some of the world’s largest corporations have made a home in the Twin Cities and the surrounding communities. Companies like Target, 3M and Cargill have all come to the area to tap into one of the nation’s hardest working talent pools. And the fact that the area is centrally located with quick access to I-90 doesn’t hurt.
St. Cloud Technical & Community College exposes students to a wide range of welding processes in its one-year programs.

About 65 miles north of the Twin Cities, Eric McAllister, a welding instructor at St. Cloud Technical & Community College, is preparing students to excel in the Minnesota workforce in industries like construction, military, and oil and gas. The state’s proximity to North Dakota pipelines and Canadian offshore drilling firms further emphasizes Minnesota’s position as a large manufacturing hub.

It goes without saying, though, that the manufacturing companies of Minnesota must adapt with the times. With the oil and gas industry constantly in flux, McAllister can’t stress to his students enough the benefits that come from being well rounded and versatile.

“Our program is a one-year program,” McAllister explains. “We start with 24 students in August, who will graduate in May. A second group of 24 starts in January, and they will graduate in August. The two different starts and stops accommodate the hiring patterns of the local community.”

By the time students graduate, they’ve been through classes on thermal cutting and a multitude of welding processes, including all of the main materials, like mild steel, steel, aluminum and stainless, as well as welding methods, like GTAW, GMAW, short arc, pulse and spray, oxyacetylene, flux cored and stick.

As if that weren’t enough, McAllister also produces graduates that are ready to hit the ground running through the school’s intro to robotics course and CNC plasma cutting and fabrication projects where students get the opportunity to design, research and build. They also take courses on metallurgy, print reading, math and symbols, AutoCAD and machining.

Producing talent

After being brought on board at a local manufacturing or fabricating facility, recent grads are expected to pass specific competency tests according to the needs of the new employer. McAllister ensures that his students will pass those tests with flying colors thanks to the versatile courses offered at SCTCC.

“The school offers a jack-of-all-trades type of training,” McAllister says. “We need to expose students to enough information and training so that when they get to their new jobs, they can begin to be productive in short order.”

The training McAllister refers to also takes into consideration the types of industries that are represented in the area. Due to the vast tank manufacturing happening in Minnesota, for example, courses include instruction in ASME Section 9 Code as well as AWS B 1.1 Structural Welding Code. When graduates enter the local industry, they most likely will be experienced in the application at hand.

With SCTCC’s long-standing reputation for producing well-rounded job candidates, local employers see value in the school’s curriculum. Some employers, however, might wonder how oxyacetylene found its way into the welding mix, considering the method has lost ground to other types of welding processes.

“It’s not that it isn’t being used in today’s workplace, it’s just that the need for it and the way it’s being used have changed over time,” McAllister explains. “It’s a tried-and-true process because you can heat, cut and bend metal with it. So it’s still a necessity, but in a different way than in the past. It’s adapted with the times.”

The ultimate goal at SCTCC is to prepare people for the job force. Therefore, McAllister is incredibly cognizant of the changing way that people use oxyacetylene. In fact, he’s come up with a way to use the welding process to teach students other important welding skills – and in a cost-effective way.


“We don’t necessarily include oxyacetylene in our curriculum to teach students how to join metals,” McAllister says. “We include it because it’s an available tool and one that can help us stress safety. We want students to learn how to turn a torch on and off safely. Also, welding can be a repetitive job and the simple way to learn repetition is through repetition. Leveraging oxyacetylene helps us to create that foundation for students.

“Using oxyacetylene, we can also help students create the muscle memory to be able to TIG weld,” he continues. “The two techniques are fairly similar, but oxyacetylene is a little more forgiving in regard to learning the integration of the heat and the rod. It’s also cost-effective in that there’s much less expensive material to procure, such as aluminum and stainless steel. So, through the use of oxyacetylene, we’re able to create future TIG employees.”

A perfect blend

To deliver a learning environment that is effective and engaging, SCTCC works with Tooling U-SME, a training service that provides workforce development training to engineers, machinists, press operators, assemblers, industrial maintenance professionals, welders and students alike. The group works with schools, businesses and individuals to help them develop and improve the skills necessary to thrive in the manufacturing and fabricating industries.

“In the school market, our classes are being used like a textbook,” says Chad Schron, division manager at Tooling U-SME. “The students enjoy the program because our classes are online – and it goes without saying that a digital classroom can be a lot more fun than reading a textbook.”

Tooling U-SME classes start out at the 101 level, assuming that students have no knowledge of the topic and then they build from there. Within the oxyacetylene program, for example, students start with basic concepts: What the process is, the equipment and gases used, applications and the safety component – from equipment to PPE to gas safety and flames.

Like SCTCC, Tooling U-SME places a lot of emphasis on safety. Once students understand all of the safety components, they move on to putting the equipment together, configuring regulators and lighting the flame. From there, the classes get into the application side, like how to hold a weld gun and how to execute the welding process.

“A lot of our classes have universal appeal, such as OSHA safety classes and classes on inspections and lean manufacturing,” Schron explains. “We also have several shop essential classes, like basic shop math. Across the board, though, people are signing up because of the demand in the marketplace for skilled labor.

“The baby boomers that have retired have created a vacuum for skilled labor – and these are good-paying jobs that are available,” Schron continues. “We’ve seen a strong call for skilled laborers for quite some time, and it’s getting stronger as more baby boomers retire.”

He says that welding is one of the hottest areas where Tooling U-SME sees a big demand. Opportunities in the oil and gas industry, in shale jobs in particular, are growing – and employers are paying huge wages.

As mentioned previously, Tooling U-SME isn’t just for those who are first-time entrants to the manufacturing industry. And it doesn’t just focus on its online courses. Tooling U-SME works with companies from all around the United States to customize their programs – from Fortune 500 manufacturing companies to smaller fabricating businesses.

“We offer classes online, but we understand that you’re not going to be a welder by only attending virtual classes,” Schron says. “We’re big believers in blended learning. All of our classes have a knowledge component and a skill component. We’re going to help you with the theory, but you’re going to have to pair that up with hands-on training. With that foundation, the hands-on training becomes so much more effective.”

Schron recommends that manufacturers and schools start off with safety courses and then follow those up with classes like basic shop math and then welding. Overall, however, participants can control how their programs work. And if participants want assistance customizing their programs, Tooling U-SME has a dedicated group that will go into a facility to help create a customized training solution.

Maintaining momentum

Tooling U-SME also works to ensure that a company or a school keeps its students on track. Long-term success is always the end goal, and aligning a training program with business objectives will set up the best possibility for success. Those objectives can be anything from wanting to improve quality or reduce scrap, overcoming onboarding issues or the issue of retirement, and bringing in new technology when the proper human capital isn’t available.

“We stress the importance of maintaining long-term momentum,” Schron says. He follows up his statement with a series of important questions that businesses must consider. “Six months down the road, how will you maintain your momentum? How do you measure the return on your program?”

To keep things from fizzling, Tooling U-SME assigns a success manager to keep a pulse on the program. They can help a business set objectives and put metrics in place and they can also help to determine what’s working and what’s not working along the way. Additionally, Schron stresses how essential it is to make sure that everyone is on board.

St. Cloud Technical & Community College was established in 1948 and boasts a high placement rate for its graduates.

“When programs aren’t successful, it can sometimes be because an organization doesn’t have good buy-in from its executives or even the person on the shop floor who’s doing the program,” he says. “Supervisors and mid-tier management need to understand and see value in the programs. If they don’t, they won’t want those people to be pulled off of the floor to train.”

In Minnesota, and around the nation, a career in welding can be incredibly rewarding. McAllister explains that the rewards aren’t just in a financial sense. He says that the wonderful thing about the welding community is that there’s room for everyone. “We have a wide spectrum of opportunities – for people that are sculpting and using their creativity to the fullest limit to people in math and science who will become metallurgists, engineers and non-destructive testing personnel.

“You can do just about anything you want,” he continues, “indoors, outdoors, remote areas or right in downtown Chicago. You could be working on the high lines in Montana, a nuclear site in the desert or here in Minneapolis building our new stadium. I have students that have gone on to such high-tech stuff that they end up looking like doctors wearing lab coats in a clean room. They’re working to improve water systems in the United States and around the world. With the right knowledge, the possibilities are basically endless.”

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Teaching Robots to Weld

Manufacturers breathed a sigh of relief when robotics improved to the point where they could be included on the shop floor. However, it wasn’t long ago that without an experienced robot programmer on the team, smaller shops didn’t have the resources to program robots to execute welds. Even if a small shop had an experienced robot programmer on the team, the outcome wouldn’t be worth the investment.

The best results for utilizing robots in the welding environment were found with big companies that produced large quantities of products manufactured with highly repetitive welding steps. These organizations had the budget to purchase the robots and also had one or more full-time programmers on board to finesse the hardware and software so they ran smoothly and efficiently. Smaller, lower-volume operations didn’t see the value in adopting robotic technology because programming the robot to do the welds took as much time as manually welding the products.

Things have changed.

Enter Motoman

Using Kinetiq Teaching, an operator guides the robot by hand and then easily programs the weld points.

The robotic welding landscape improved drastically with the introduction of Kinetiq Teaching. Developed for Yaskawa Motoman by third party Robotiq, this technology utilizes a simplified programming technique that makes robotic welding a reality for smaller, lower volume shops.

Glen Ford, product marketing manager at Motoman, says that surveys of potential robotic technology users gave the company insights into concerns within the industry, especially with regard to the number of qualified programmers in the field.

“While specialized training could address part of the issue,” Ford says, “the need to quickly change jobs for short runs or small batches still needed to be addressed.”

Kinetiq Teaching simplifies the programming of industrial robots to do welding so that the need for special training and skills is greatly reduced. Furthermore, the technology provides an intuitive teaching motion that is faster than traditional robot programming methods.

Ford notes the American Welding Society’s statistic that says 40 percent of manufacturing companies have declined new contracts due to insufficient availability of skilled workers – another reason why Kinetiq Teaching is so valuable to companies of all sizes today.

“This shortage of skilled workers, and programmers especially,” Ford says, “drove the interface design so that benefits could be realized by both novice and expert users.”

Yaskawa’s compact ArcWorld C-50 features an MA1400 robot equipped with Kinetiq Teaching.

The teaching interface

As the slightly customized name would imply, Kinetiq Teaching involves manipulating the robot’s movements by hand to the appropriate points where welds need to be made. The location of these points is automatically entered into the system with the touch of an icon on a handheld interface, thereby kinetically “teaching” the system to go where the robotic arm was moved by hand to the correct points. This simplifies the process through which the robot is “taught” the steps required in repetitive welding scenarios, thus reducing the time it takes to set up the welding steps.

Yaskawa’s compact ArcWorld C-50 boasts a compact footprint and can accommodate either fixed tooling or servo-driven headstock(s).

“We have seen Kinetiq Teaching programming setup times that are 20 to 50 percent faster than traditional manual programming method times,” Ford says. “With just a few hours of training and use, operators begin to reduce their programming times. One recent training session saw a new user reduce the programming time by 6 percent on the first job and by the third job had reduced it by 41 percent.”

Utilizing software and a touch-screen interface, the cumbersome task of programming is now as simple as moving the robotic arm to the correct position and touching icons on the screen. Once the points are recorded, the welder looks over the trajectory of the movements and makes modifications if needed.

Associate Engineer Chris Anderson demonstrates the ease of hand guiding a robot with Kinetiq Teaching.

With Kinetiq Teaching, there is no need to be proficient in algorithms and robot programming language to control the robotic movements. A user-friendly touch-screen menu is now all that stands between robotic welding and the welder. There is also no need for the operator to understand the concepts of linear or circular interpolation because the software behind the technology automatically reduces the number of programmed points for the most appropriate and efficient trajectory.

Most vendors create their own language to control their robots. Motoman is no different, yet regardless of what language a programmer speaks, anyone with welding knowledge can utilize Kinetiq Teaching. Motoman’s language is called Inform, and it can be edited manually, which gives users access to all the features available in the Yaskawa controllers. Furthermore, saved programs can be edited or modified with Kinetiq Teaching.

Operators using Kinetiq Teaching are able to save between 20 and 50 percent on robot programming time, which offers an excellent return on investment, even for smaller shops with low-volume production.

“Complexity of the job to be programmed does contribute to the level of improvement,” Ford notes, “but both novice and expert programmers can achieve significant savings.”

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Restoring a workforce

It has been said “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime.” One might add: “Teach a man to weld and he will eat steak.”

It was this mantra that inspired Milwaukee contract-manufacturer Super Steel LLC and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin (HCCW) to create a 26-week program to engage and create the talent needed to strengthen Milwaukee’s workforce. The program, titled the “Advanced Manufacturing Partnership & Training Initiative” or AMPTI, resulted in an employer-approved education and training program to benefit low-to-moderate income workers.

“We are very enthusiastic about our partnership with the HCCW,” says Dirk Smith, Super Steel’s president and CEO. “We believe training programs such as this one can address, in a meaningful way, many issues that we see within our workforce while at the same time place new employees on the path toward success. Our workforce is about 50 percent welders, so we are committed to building and developing the careers of those in this industry.”

Dirk Smith began his career as a welder and over the years rose to find himself in upper management positions, including having co-owned his own company. Smith serves as a great example of how good character and good foundational knowledge allow a person to achieve his or her goals more readily. So by combining an excellent welding training program, effective professional mentoring and an opportunity for a well-paying career, Super Steel and the HCCW aim to improve local residents’ lives – as well as strengthen Wisconsin’s economy.

Skills shortages

Cohort 3 at MATC 2

In July 2015, Business Insider reported that the welding industry will face a shortage of about 400,000 operators by 2024, according to the American Welding Society. Also according to the American Welding Society, the U.S. welding industry is facing a big labor shortage due to retiring welders and the lack of incoming skilled workers. The situation is happening around the nation, and Wisconsin has not been impervious to it.

Some Wisconsin businesses, in fact, have experienced high turnover of new employees as well as a loss of know-how due to ongoing retirements of key workers. And some have resorted to recruiting talent from other local manufacturing companies. This provides companies with solutions to immediate staffing problems, but does not help the long term – cultivating Wisconsin’s talent pool to provide more skilled and competitive workers.

If skilled worker shortages in Wisconsin are not pro-actively addressed, as many as 31,000 manufacturing jobs could go unfilled by 2021. It is these types of shortages in the manufacturing community that could result in the possible loss of tax revenues, decreased business revenues for manufacturers and lower incomes for Wisconsin citizens.

Cohort 3 at Super Steel
In Super Steel classrooms, training includes safety, blueprint reading, math skills, weld techniques, quality, shop orders, continuous improvement and what it means to thrive within a “culture of winners.”

Therefore, skilled workers and higher employment-retention rates are being developed to assist Wisconsin firms earn and perform on market opportunities, like the one that’s happening at Super Steel. Southeastern Wisconsin isn’t ready to risk its well-earned reputation as a skilled region for complex fabrications, and Super Steel and the HCCW’s program is one example of how the region is stepping up to help remedy the situation of unfilled jobs and the lack of skilled workers.

When properly trained in the field of welding, the opportunities are vast. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median pay for an entry-level worker in 2012 was nearly $36,000 per year without overtime or other incentive pay. Highly skilled welders can earn more than $100,000 per year with overtime.

Strides in skills development

Cohort graduation
Program graduates rise to the top from an initial field of 250 candidates. By December 2016, the goal is to create a total of 50 high-paying welding  jobs.

With the help of a State of Wisconsin “Fast Forward” grant, the Super Steel-customized worker training program was developed in conjunction with the HCCW and Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC.) Super Steel’s certified welding instructors tailored the training to its specific welding requirements, which were then highlighted and taught by MATC’s instructors.

To help make strides with Wisconsin’s labor force, the program focuses on three key components of employment success. It begins with outreach and recruitment, which can include pre-screens and assessments of potential trainees.

It continues with the HCCW’s “Essential Life Skills,” which imparts basic skills needed to be successful in the workplace, including communication, conflict resolution, financial responsibility, relationship building and time management. Participants are paid for this portion of the program and directly following, participants receive customized, accredited and transferrable training from MATC at no cost to themselves.

Luis Jimenez
Program-participant and new employee at Super Steel, Luis Jimenez, demonstrates new skills gained over the 26-week course.
Luis Jimenez 2

The third component of the program is essentially its culmination at which point Super Steel hires participants and enrolls them into its Super Steel University, which consists of three weeks of on-site classroom training, applying the basic skills covered by MATC to real-world in-plant situations. Participants then continue with nine weeks of on-the-job, mentored training.

Super Steel’s classroom training includes safety, blueprint reading, math skills, weld techniques, quality, shop orders, continuous improvement and what it means to thrive within a “culture of winners.” The on-the-job training also includes teaming participants with a mentor to develop and reinforce classroom skills.

Throughout the program, participants receive an evaluation after each round of skills training before moving on to the next level. And once they are brought on board, new employees receive formal check-ins after 30, 60 and 90 days. Finally, they receive ongoing reviews focusing on safety, quality, productivity and skills advancement to keep them learning, improving and thriving on the job.

New employees are full-time and receive full benefits, including health, vision, dental, 401K and educational assistance. These new hires are also given opportunities for advancement within the organization.

Michael Carey
Michael Carey, a new hire at Super Steel, says “I gained a wealth of knowledge and am grateful to be given an opportunity in a field that is growing and has such a demand for skilled workers.”

Throughout the 26-week program, trainees, like AMPTI-participant and new employee at Super Steel, Luis Jimenez, are able to show their dedication by committing themselves to the thorough, full-time program. “The program helps you be a better person, more professional and prepares you for your career,” Jimenez says. “The program is truly a stepping stone into learning the job.”

Jimenez should take pride in completing the course. Graduates rose to the top from an initial field of 250 candidates down to 47 individuals attending all orientation sessions to 26 trainees accepted into program support to 23 accepted into essential life skills to 17 accepted into technical training who eventually graduated in September of 2015. Of the final 17, Super Steel currently employs six with the remaining 11 participants receiving support to land positions at other companies based in Wisconsin.

“Enjoying the experience, I gained a wealth of knowledge and am grateful to be given an opportunity in a field that is growing and has such a demand for skilled workers,” says Michael Carey, another newly-hired Super Steel employee.

Proud to participate

For program participants, Super Steel is a great place to cut their teeth in the industry as well as a great place to spend an entire career. The company is a $60 million, ISO 9001:2008- and EN 15085-certified firm specializing in large, complex fabrications and electro-mechanical assemblies.

The company’s services include laser cutting, plasma/oxy-fuel cutting, up to 600-ton press brake operations, machining, turret punching, AWS-certified welding (manual and robotic), sand/steel blasting and painting (e-coat, liquid and powder). The laundry list of services also includes complex electrical, mechanical and hydraulic assemblies. These processes are employed to build whole goods to the company’s client specifications with materials ranging from 18 gauge to 12 in. thick.

The 92-year-old Super Steel has had strong growth since being re-purchased by the Luber family in 2010. Super Steel excels in providing complex fabrications and weldments requiring high levels of skill. The welders who work there are continually growing and learning, as they are faced with challenging and exciting projects each and every day.

Super Steel’s newest recruits are equally grateful to the partnership organizations that helped Super Steel develop the program, like the HCCW. Established in 1972, the HCCW is a 501(c) organization that advances economic growth and prosperity opportunities for Wisconsin’s Hispanic population, low-to-moderate constituents and the community at-large. The HCCW drives legislative and regulatory public policy success at federal, state and local levels.

The larger “Advanced Manufacturing Partnership” has also included the State of Wisconsin’s Governor’s office, U.S. Department of Labor Workforce Development Boards, the American Welding Society and other Wisconsin companies, such as the Ariens Co., Miller Electric Mfg. Co., Monarch Corp., Pierce Mfg. Inc. and Schuette Metals.

Super Steel is a $60 million, ISO 9001:2008- and EN 15085-certified firm specializing in large, complex fabrications and electro-mechanical assemblies. Its broad range of services take place in its 450,000-sq.-ft. facility.

Super Steel’s success, combined with its projected growth through 2017, spurred its involvement with the HCCW and MATC to create additional skilled employees who will be instrumental in achieving projected goals. Super Steel’s mentorship program is part of its “culture of winners” mindset, which urges employees to define requirements, develop plans and solutions to meet the requirements, and to continually improve one’s self, both professionally and personally. In this scenario, everyone wins.

Super Steel has also been an ongoing participant in the national “Manufacturing Day,” which promotes manufacturing jobs each year. Manufacturers open their doors to educate the public about the industry and the well-paying jobs available.

At this year’s Oct. 2 Manufacturing Day, Jorge Franco, chair, president and CEO of the HCCW, presented its Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Workforce Innovation Award to Smith, Super Steel’s president, in recognition of the company’s efforts to strengthen Wisconsin’s manufacturing competitiveness. Super Steel’s Manufacturing Day included 130 local homeschooled and public school students who toured the company’s 450,000-sq.-ft. facility to learn more about potential careers in the manufacturing industry. Around the nation, hosting companies held more than 2,000 events to promote manufacturing as a career path for students.

For the nation and Wisconsin as well, successful strides are being made to cultivate skilled workers in the manufacturing industry. For Super Steel and Wisconsin, the AMPTI has been a successful integration of a government, advocacy group and private corporate partnership, which resulted in improving the lives of participants.

The upcoming three sessions as well as other iterations of this project should result in a stronger, more-competitive Wisconsin going forward. The goal is to create 50 high-paying welding jobs via four structured training sessions by December 2016.

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Managing information

As with any technology investment, the decision to purchase a welding information management solution must be made with careful consideration if it is to yield the best results. These systems monitor multiple facets of the welding operation, including arc-on time, deposition rates and general weld parameters. Some systems provide advanced process control to guide weld sequences, duration of the welds and more. The goal is to generate electronic data that can be used to gain insight and drive improvements throughout the operation.

Welding information management solutions can reveal various enhancements, such as a wire or process conversion that could ultimately boost productivity.

There are several reasons for seeking welding information, including:

  • Training less-skilled operators
  • Increasing productivity, improving quality and better managing costs
  • Gaining greater consistency of welded parts by different operators
  • Preventing missed welds
  • Enforcing proper weld sequence and required work instructions
  • Detecting and eliminating weld defects using high-resolution signature analysis

A welding information management solution can help address these pain points, but several questions should be asked before purchasing one.

  • Do you need a welding information management solution that can adapt to multiple brands of welding equipment (mixed fleet), older equipment and new equipment?

Most welding operations have equipment from several different manufacturers. Unfortunately, not all welding information management solutions are compatible with multiple brands. Look for a universal system that works with a variety of brands or consider standardizing your welding equipment so you can purchase a manufacturer-centric solution.

In some cases, it may be enough to select a solution that monitors the productivity and quality of specific welding cells within your fleet to eliminate particular problems, and then, find another way to monitor welding activity on the remaining equipment. However, if all of your new equipment is from the same manufacturer and your old machines are the only outliers, it may be more practical to purchase new power sources to match your dominant brand.

Before making the investment, be sure to ask yourself two important questions. First, “What’s the value if I’m only monitoring part of my fleet versus monitoring the entire shop through a universal system?” Second, “Would it be more cost-effective to find a system that monitors a mixed-brand fleet or to purchase new equipment from one brand in order to standardize the fleet?”

  • Do you need a welding information management solution to monitor multiple processes?

Your welding processes, whether you use one or many, affect the type of welding information management solution you are considering. For example, if your shop has sub-arc welding applications and also uses TIG, MIG or flux-cored welding, determine whether the solution can monitor all of these processes. If so, can it perform in a tailored manner or does it monitor the processes through a one-size-fits-all technology?

Similarly, it is important to consider the market segments and industries you serve – along with any regulatory agencies to which they answer – in order to determine your monitoring needs. Traceability and proof of weld quality is a growing challenge for many companies, especially for tier suppliers and government contracts.

  • Is your goal to drive general improvements in productivity and quality, or do you need traceability related to each welded part?

If you need only basic metrics for productivity and quality, it may be more cost-effective to purchase a less sophisticated entry-level welding information management solution that is easy to install, deploy and support. This could include a basic cloud-based system.

Conversely, if you need to tie operator productivity to a specific part, calculate cycle times and understand reasons for downtime, consider investing in a more advanced solution. The same is true if there is a lack of consistency on the shop floor, if you need to give operators specific work instructions or if you want a “virtual trainer” to ensure new operators meet production consistency.

An advanced solution can help train new employees quickly and cost-effectively, allowing them to produce parts on par with what veteran operators deliver – without taking valuable time away from those experienced employees to support training.

  • Do you need a welding information management system to monitor manual and automated/robotic welding?

Take into account whether you have manual welding, fixed automation or full automation with robotics and programmable logic controllers (PLCs) – where it is necessary for a welding information management solution to communicate with a robot and a PLC – or an interface with light curtains or fixture clamp verification.

Always make sure you’re shopping for a system that fits with the equipment you have now but can grow with your needs. Invest in a solution that can adapt to your welding operation over the next two to five years and beyond.

  • Does your facility have network and internet connectivity at each welding cell and is cloud-based data storage acceptable?

Some welding information management solutions are cloud-based while others are PC-based. It is important to understand your security risks and ensure you have strong networks and firewalls in place or guest networks that can handle the solution you are considering. A well-designed solution will send automatic notifications to managers via email or text message whenever expected weld parameters are not met, enabling the team to take corrective action.

computer technology
Welding information management solutions provide a turnkey implementation that frees your organization from managing computer servers and database administration.

Many entry-level solutions are cloud-based, which may require you to work with your organization to gain security approvals. These solutions provide a turnkey implementation that frees your organization from managing computer servers and database administration. If your company is risk-averse and opposed to using a cloud-based system – or does not want to take the necessary steps to implement the proper networks – consider a product that is PC-based.

It is important to note that a PC-based solution may require the purchase of new computers, monitors and keyboards to place in welding cells. You will need to secure the services of a nearby IT/database administrator who can help with the installation, setup and networking support.

Regardless of whether your solution is cloud- or PC client/server-based, it is also important to have a backup plan in place in the event of a cut ethernet cable or computer failure. Be sure to have a spare PC available and ready to implement, a good customer service-oriented company you can call to enable another software license on the backup computer and spare ethernet cables on hand.

Welding information management solutions with built-in wi-fi offer another level of simplicity for implementation, in addition to cloud-based storage of your data. In some cases, these solutions offer an extra layer of protection because they provide local data backup on the collection device if wi-fi connectivity to the cloud is lost. Some solutions can only store up to 1,000 welds in memory while others offer up to 30 days of memory, enabling you to get your network back online without loss of welding data.

  • Do you need a welding information management system to audit your entire process or quantify the most cost-effective filler metal for your application?

Welding information management solutions can help conduct a weld audit of your existing operation by tracking deposition rates and downtime for non-welding activities, such as delays in part delivery or those caused by fit-up challenges prior to welding or grinding spatter in the post-weld stage. By examining these factors, the solutions can also help recognize the most significant bottlenecks in your operation. Additionally, when a solution is in place, it can quickly identify productivity, quality and cost advantages of a filler metal that is more appropriate for your application.

For example, if you are currently using a solid wire that generates spatter during the welding process, it may be beneficial to convert to an alternative product such as metal-cored wire that can provide productivity enhancements, greater deposition rates and potentially less spatter cleanup.

While switching to metal-cored wire may cost more up front per pound of wire, an analysis conducted with your welding data may reveal that a wire or process conversion could ultimately save you money by boosting your operation’s productivity.

  • Do you have an internal champion with welding application experience and a thorough deployment plan? 

To ensure your welding information management solution garners a positive return on investment and helps drive continuous improvement results, you need someone who believes in the solution, who is committed to it and who wants to deliver results – an “internal champion.”

This person serves as a liaison between top management and operators when installing the system, ensures the right people from the organization are involved in deploying it, and helps identify and address the opportunities it reveals.

Without an internal champion, the likelihood of your solution being successful in the long run is significantly lower. He or she can help generate interest in and acceptance of the new technology on the plant floor by educating operators of its benefits. Because operators play such a vital role in the day-to-day welding process, securing their participation and buy-in is imperative.

Welding or plant supervisors are strong candidates for the job, but an internal champion could also be a lead welding engineer, a production manager, a production supervisor or even a head maintenance person for welding and fabrication. The most important attribute is strong leadership with the ability to motivate and inspire others. This person should also be organized enough to gather part drawings or photographs of all the welded parts and correctly load them in the system.

Ideally, the internal champion would create a cross-functional team dedicated to assessing the welding data, discussing potential modifications to the welding operation and executing those changes.

A welding information management solution is a big investment but one that can generate significant improvements for companies that choose the right solution for their operation and effectively integrate it. Before making this investment, consider whether your existing welding equipment is capable of reaching the productivity and quality goals the solution might reveal, and also determine the level of support you need to implement the solution.

Also, be sure to enlist the help of a trusted equipment manufacturer before making a final decision, and decide what return on investment you need to achieve to ultimately consider the investment a success.

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13 Tips

During the week of July 18, a team of ESAB experts attended the 32nd Annual Ironworker Instructor Training Program, held at Washtenaw Community College, Ann Arbor, Mich., where hundreds of ironworkers from around the United States and Canada attended the “train the trainer” event. With their new knowledge and skills, participants returned to their local training halls better able to help the next generation of apprentices turn out as journeymen.

ESAB conducted two classes at this year’s training show with one focused on plasma cutting and another focused on oxyfuel training. The oxyfuel training event covered essential safety rules, proper equipment setup, cutting advice and correct shutdown procedures. For those that didn’t attend, this article delivers 13 tips on using oxyfuel from the event.

Stand aside

When slowly opening the cylinder valve, always stand to the side of the regulator. In the (highly unlikely) event the regulator fails, it would be most prone to fail in a manner that directs the force of the gas in the direction of the regulator bonnet and pressure adjusting knob. Then, open the oxygen cylinder valve all the way, but only open acetylene valves half to one full turn. Open alternate fuel cylinder valves all the way.


Leak test

Use a wrench to tighten all metal-to-metal connections, including the ones between the gas hoses and the torch. Next, leak test the connections by saturating (not just wetting, but fully saturating) them with leak test fluid and watching for growing bubbles. Use an approved leak test solution.


Right size tip

For the best cut quality, use the right size tip for the metal thickness at hand and adjust gas pressure according to the tip chart for your specific brand of cutting outfit. Note that flow rates may vary between brands, so refer to the tip chart if you’re not familiar with a torch.


Pressure drop

When using a long, narrow-diameter hose, consider that the gas pressure will drop by the time it reaches the torch. You can find pressure drop charts in the Victor gas equipment catalog (PDF page 16 in the online version and page 12 in the print version). Compensate for the pressure drop by increasing the regulator delivery psig (pounds per square inch gage) to make sure back-of-the-torch pressure meets cutting tip requirements.


Gauges on the handle

If you consistently cut at long distances from your cylinders, it’s a good idea to verify the exact pressure drop for your rig. Attach pressure test gauges, such as the ones shown here, and note the difference between pressure at the cylinder outlet and at the torch; increase psig at the regulator until the gauges at the torch match the desired pressure.


Brace yourself

In whatever way possible, support your cutting hand with your free hand or an object. The ironworker shown here uses a little innovation by propping up a piece of scrap on which to brace his freehand.


Ready to pierce

Before you can pierce steel with the cutting oxygen flame, you need to be sure that the steel has reached its kindling point. While the reddish-yellow color is a good indicator, you can confirm temperature by gently and slightly depressing the cutting oxygen lever. If the steel forms slag on top of the plate immediately, you’re good to go and can fully depress the level. If the metal doesn’t burn, release the cutting oxygen lever and maintain the pre-heat flame a little longer.


Spiral out

When piercing, start in the center and work outward toward your cutting path.


Torch height

Generally, hold the torch so that the inner cones of the acetylene flame are just off the cutting surface, as shown in the larger photo. That said, alternate fuels are more forgiving in torch height, which has been exaggerated in the inset photo for demonstration purposes.


Roll in, roll out

When cutting thicker metal, “roll” the torch into the edge of the metal and then bring it perpendicular. At the end of the cut, roll the torch outward to help ensure a clean sever.


Lighting alternate fuels

Propane has a different density than air, so it tends to “float” away from the torch tip. If you have trouble lighting the torch, especially in windy conditions, hold the torch against the plate at a 45-degree angle so the plate “traps” the gas. Once lit, introducing the pre-heat oxygen can also extinguish the flame, which happened shortly after this photo was taken. If the flame goes out, relight the torch and hold the tip against the plate at a 45-degree angle and slowly introduce pre-heat oxygen until the flame snaps into place.


Secured cylinders

It’s all too easy to forget to secure cylinders when moving them around a job site. If you don’t have a cylinder cart handy, try a reinforcing column.


Oxygen first, fuel last

Shut off the torch oxygen valve first, and then close the torch fuel valve. This technique leak checks both valves every time the torch is shut down. A snap or pop indicates a leaking oxygen valve, while a small flame at the end of the tip indicates a fuel gas leak.


For companies, unions and other instructors who would like to conduct their own oxyfuel training class, ESAB, through its Victor brand, offers a complete instructional DVD. The DVD includes 36 min. of visual instruction as well as an instructor guide and student reference materials. To obtain a copy of the Victor Oxy-Fuel Safety Video, contact your local ESAB representative and request literature item 65-2505.

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Welding pays off

The demand for skilled welders is growing. The American Welding Society predicts a need of almost 400,000 welders in the United States by 2025 while the Manufacturing Institute has stated that in the next decade alone, there will be a need for nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs.

To ensure the welding industry is prepared to meet this demand, today’s welding educators and instructors must make certain that their programs and training methods are equipping today’s young people with the skills employers are looking for. And, in a workforce that will increasingly require those who are agile, adaptable and highly qualified, “upskilling” students above and beyond the fundamentals of welding will only make them more employable in a competitive, high-demand industry.

common career path for welders

Skills pay off

With an oversupply of entry-level welders and a growing number of skilled welders ready to retire, welding and manufacturing companies are paying more and more attention to welding codes and qualification standards. This means welders who are certified, or who are able to examine and test their own welds, are more attractive than ever before – and their pay reflects that attraction. According to the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association International’s “2013 Salary/Wage & Benefit Survey,” a welder who is certified to AWS, ASME and other codes has the broadest salary range of any shop floor position, up to $83,000 for a base salary, not including overtime and bonuses.

While having basic welding skills can certainly pay off, other skill sets can also pay large dividends. Figure 1 depicts the many paths one can take when considering a welding-related career. For instance, the chart shows the average pay for a welding supervisor and a manufacturing production supervisor. With reported average pay ranges around $12,000 higher than an average welder, these highly skilled positions are rewarded with higher pay.

When speaking with various workforce development boards and companies within the welding industry, it’s not uncommon to hear welding and manufacturing industry representatives say that they routinely pay more per hour for employees who can visually inspect welds and supervise others in the creation of quality welds over those who could simply create the quality welds.

Barring geography, experience, skill level and employer, the message is clear: By focusing on basic skill development and the development of additional career-specific skills such as weld testing and qualification, educators and trainers are opening the doors to higher pay, more benefits and in the long run, more successful careers. If the industry can work on creating more welders who understand how to visually inspect their welds and conduct quality testing, it will help employers and employees.

Training tools

Of course, quality welding training won’t happen without quality welding training tools. Tools such as the RealCareer Weld Defects Kit from Realityworks Inc. enable students to see, touch and feel different weld defects and discontinuities, establishing an understanding of the impact improper welding can have. What’s more, students can learn how to prevent improper welds – and this is where skill development really takes a step forward. By learning how to improve poor welding techniques and prevent weld defects, students begin to develop skills that will help them stand out to employers.

wdk welding productivity
Experiential learning tools like the RealCareer Weld Defects Kit from Realityworks can help students build on basic welding skills by understanding how weld defects and discontinuities occur, and how to prevent them.

Weld qualification through guided bend testing is another skill that will help students stand out in the eyes of an employer. Not only are most employers today using this type of test, but more and more are looking for welders that have this skill. Bend testing and experiential learning tools like the RealCareer Bend Tester are appearing in more and more schools across the country.

These types of tools put the student in the driver’s seat and allow them to learn first-hand how to qualify a weld and how a certified welding inspector addresses a weld. Just like having an understanding of how weld defects occur and how to prevent them can help students stand out to future employers, upskilling students with an understanding of how bend test qualifications work will help set them apart in a growing field.

Taking it to market

Additionally, welding instructors and educators should consider whether they are also equipping their students with the ability to market themselves and the skills they have learned. Soft skills such as the ability to communicate, think critically, show up on time and solve problems are just as important as the ability to create, test and qualify a quality weld.

In fact, research conducted by Harvard University, the Carnegie Foundation and Stanford Research Center has concluded that 85 percent of job success comes from having well‐developed soft and people skills, and only 15 percent of job success comes from technical skills and knowledge. Today’s welding and manufacturing workforce needs workers who have both technical, job-related skills and soft skills.

gwr welding productivity
Tools such as the GuideWeld VR welding simulator from Realityworks can jumpstart a student’s understanding of welding fundamentals and help them establish correct techniques and muscle memory more efficiently.

To stay competitive and relevant in an increasingly global market, today’s manufacturing and welding employers are calling for innovative employees who can take the industry to the next level. To ensure that today’s young people are prepared for future careers, welding educators and trainers are focusing not only on creating quality, skilled welders but enticing students into these profitable, in-demand career paths – and upskilling can help.

By enhancing skill development within welding training and education, educators and trainers can engage more young people in welding and manufacturing careers. In the end, this will allow them to develop skills to help them stand out in the workforce.

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Sorting out a shortage

It’s barely an afterthought anymore: The traditional post-high school path leads directly to college. Nearly 70 percent of high school graduates enroll in a two- or four-year college, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This, in part, is what has led to a skilled labor shortage throughout the country – that and the mass exodus of baby boomers from the job world.

While it has become cliché to say, “college isn’t for everyone,” employment opportunities for people who thrive in areas outside of academics do exist. In fact, Colorado legislators passed a bill that went into effect last month that mandates public schools inform students that not all post-secondary paths lead to college. School counselors must also inform students about jobs as skilled laborers and opportunities available to them in the military.

The skilled labor shortage isn’t unique to Colorado – it’s affecting the entire country. Portland, Ore., which is in the midst of a construction boon, is also affected by a “chronic labor shortage.” One construction official estimates that contractors need an additional 800 carpenters and 800 electricians to keep up with the construction. On the other side of the country in New York City, 61 percent of construction firms report they are having a difficult time finding workers.

The Associated General Contractors of America offers a more grim outlook,  with 69 percent of U.S. firms reporting they are having difficulty filling hourly craft positions.

For the manufacturing industry, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that between 2014 and 2024, it will need to fill 128,000 positions, which includes welders. Welders are going to be working overtime for a while.

weld training
Welding instructors at UTI-Rancho Cucamonga train students on industry equipment like this Lincoln Electric high-frequency TIG welder.

Two unite

Recently, the Universal Technical Institute (UTI), which has 12 campuses throughout the country, announced its efforts to help meet the need for current welding professionals. The school collaborated with The Lincoln Electric Co. to establish a welding technology program at UTI’s Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., campus.

The 36-week program aims to train students for certification from the American Welding Society, and the California Bureau of Private Postsecondary Education has put its stamp of approval on the program. Additionally, it has received accreditation from the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.

Courses include a focus on GMAW and SMAW, pipe welding, principles of welding, safety and more.

This is the first of multiple campuses that are slated to launch similar welding programs. The UTI campus in Avondale, Ariz., also is planning to roll out a welding program in early 2018. Students will be exposed to an industry-aligned training curriculum that puts them on the path to a promising career.

UTI is headquartered in Scottsdale, Ariz., and provides postsecondary education for students seeking careers in automotive, diesel and collision repair as well as well as training for motorcycle and marine technicians. Over its half-century history, UTI has had 200,000 graduates pass through its doors.

Lincoln Electric’s role in this new welding program follows up on more than a century of education commitments for welders. Jason Scales, manager of educational services at Lincoln, said in a recent news release that with the critical shortage of welders today, “we accelerated our efforts to provide educators at every level with skills and knowledge that employers demand. We are excited to offer the UTI team our products, services and expertise to help develop an outstanding welding education program.”

Lincoln Electric was heavily involved in creating the program and has outfitted the school with state-of-the-art welding equipment for the students to use.

welding tutorial
Hands-on tutorials teach students in high-tech industry labs all about proper rod angles.

Expert training

Edward Lopez, an instructor in the welding program at UTI at Rancho Cucamonga has had a successful career since graduating high school 12 years ago. He’s on board as one of the first three instructors for the program, the first classes of which began in early July. New classes, which will include a maximum of 24 students per cohort, begin every six weeks. A total of six instructors are planned as the program expands.

Lopez says students coming into the program are not required to have any prior training, just a high school diploma or equivalent.

“The majority of our students are fresh out of high school,” he says, “so they have absolutely no experience.”

Rick Compton, education manager at UTI, says the welding program is entry level, and geared toward someone with no background in welding and who has never touched a welder.

“Not everybody wants to go to college to be a doctor or a lawyer,” he says of UTI’s typical student. “Students that struggled in high school a little bit tend to be hands-on learners. They need to see it. A lot of times, those are the students that excel in our programs.”

Other details

The classes focus more on the lab than the classroom setting. The program costs $19,000. Fortunately, UTI is a Title IV school and students can receive financial aid just as they would at a community college or a four-year university. Furthermore, scholarships are available through UTI’s TechForce Foundation, which is supported by industry donations.

welding student
A welding student perfects precision skills while practicing on the plasma cutter.

“Pretty much anyone who wants to come to this school can attend,” Compton says.

And the first topic any student will tackle is safety.

“When you’re out in the field,” Lopez notes, “safety is a big priority, not just for yourself but for everyone around you. We try to focus on good safety fundamentals, so when you’re out there, you’re using the right practices.”

Another advantage for UTI students is that the school already partners with many big automobile companies, such as Mercedes, Ford, General Motors, Chrysler and BMW, where they provide training specific to those companies. Therefore, the placement rate in those companies is extremely high for students that become certified.

“Welding is going to be the same way,” Compton says. “We’re in the process of building those relationships right now. We’ve got several large companies looking at our campuses.”

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Welders in demand

Despite their young age, soon-to-be high school grads are confronted with potentially the biggest decision they’ll ever have to make: what direction to take after they’re handed their diplomas. They have a lot of options, including college, the military or an entry-level job.

Another option available is a trade school with careers that range from food service to auto repair to computer programming.

For some, the number of options can be daunting. However, the choice might be made easier by weighing a potential career’s salary with the ease of landing a job.

According to PayScale, a company that uses special algorithms to assess the compensation for hundreds if not thousands of job titles, the average welder brings in more than $35,000 a year. Give that welder an American Welding Society (AWS) certification, though, and the income jumps to $45,000. Add in the fact that welders are in high demand and you have a career that’s not only lucrative, but also incredibly stable.

ETI instruction video

Solid foundation

So how does one land a welding job that offers a good wage and a solid sense of job security? There are a few ways to go about it, but the most sensible one is to find an accredited vocational school and enroll.

In Illinois, only five schools are accredited by both the AWS and the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, a nonprofit agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. One of them is the ETI School of Skilled Trades, located in Willowbrook, Ill., which offers courses in skilled welding and HVAC/R.

Students typically graduate from ETI’s program within seven to 12 months, clocking in 265 hours in the classroom and 641 hours in a 12,000-sq.-ft. hands-on lab. The program is broken into four levels that span the entire spectrum of welding fundamentals. Level one focuses on oxyfuel and plasma cutting, level two focuses on stick welding, and levels three and four focus on MIG and TIG, respectively.   

Classroom hours include instruction in safety and procedural specifications, reading and understanding of welding drawings, and explanations of associated welding vocabulary and terminology. Lab hours include learning how to properly set up equipment and how to prepare material for welding and cutting. It also includes the techniques and methods behind the full gamut of welding processes.

“Students learn everything they’ll need to be marketable in the workforce,” says Michelle Scheldberg, director of admissions and marketing at ETI. “They learn all of the different welding positions they’ll use in the field and get the chance to practice on a variety of materials, from aluminum to steel and in various thicknesses.”

In less than a year, graduates gain a well-rounded foundation – one that makes them incredibly desirable for employers. Scheldberg gets a smile on her face every time she’s asked about ETI’s program.

“Welding is a very rewarding career,” she says. “Our graduates have worked on some pretty cool projects, like at McCormick Place and Cellular Field, but it goes beyond the Chicagoland area. One of our graduates sent us pictures of himself welding on the Golden Gate Bridge.”

The student demographics at ETI also go beyond the expected. Students come to ETI straight out of high school, but ETI’s classrooms and labs are also full of adults looking to change careers, retired military men and women, and 20 somethings frustrated with the traditional four-year college path they’d been on.   

Camera ready

During a recent visit to ETI’s campus, instructors and students alike were producing a series of videos to illustrate some of the proper oxyfuel techniques taught at ETI. It was clear to see that the students were gaining valuable skills while also enjoying the experience of getting in front of a camera.

During the video shoot, ETI students Austin Morel and Dewaun Stephens, ETI oxyfuel instructor Aaron Styles and ESAB product line manager John Henderson laid out a few key tips for oxyfuel operations. Those tips, however, just scratch the surface of the learning opportunities available at ETI.

As exemplified in the following photo gallery, the range of information presented to students at ETI is wide and comprehensive. The day’s taping included a nice sampling of what students can expect to learn during level one of the ETI four-part program: Introduction to Welding.  

Life is a classroom

In 1977, the founders of the Chicagoland area’s largest HVAC/R contracting company decided to take recruitment and training into their own hands. With a goal to produce more skilled technicians, they opened the doors to ETI. Shortly thereafter, the school received approval from the Illinois State Board of Education. Several years later, the school expanded beyond HVAC/R training and launched its welding program. The AWS followed with the accredited testing facility distinction.

The founders knew that accreditation would be key for a variety of reasons, including the ability to offer Title IV funding to those who qualify and giving the school the ability to work with military students. They also quickly took into consideration the needs of their students, offering day and night classes.

After graduating from ETI, students don’t just walk off into the sunset. It’s quite typical, in fact, for graduates to continue taking advantage of the school. As an AWS accredited testing facility, graduates can come back at any point in their careers to get additional certifications for a reduced fee. Currently, ETI offers testing for 38 certifications, and with a certified welding inspector on site, that number can easily grow if an alumnus needs a certification in a specific process.

welding video 2

“The biggest benefit for our students is that ETI is their forever classroom,” Scheldberg says. “They can come back and refresh, retrain or practice at any time they want.”

Truly, the opportunities that are afforded through the ETI program are unparalleled. Not only can students land a good paying career, but they can also live the life that the American Dream promises.

“Our students want the white picket fence,” Scheldberg says. “They want to be able to travel and have financial freedom. And these professions give them the ability to do that. They’re making incredible money and they’re moving forward in life. The skills that we’re teaching them open so many doors and give them career options that they didn’t have before. Watching these students graduate with confidence in themselves is incredibly rewarding.”

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Deciphering symbols

Resembling some sort of hieroglyphics or old English runes, cryptic welding symbols would confuse any layperson looking at a drawing or blueprint. But no welder could do his job without knowing, at the very least, what the most common and important symbols indicate.

Engineering and fabrication drawings feature welding symbols that describe the type of weld, its size and other pertinent information. The need for consistency in welding led to the development of a system for indicating welding requirements. Originated by the American Welding Society in 1929, the latest version is AWS A2.4:2012 American National Standard Symbols for Welding, Brazing and Nondestructive Examination. Part A of this standard covers the complete set of welding symbols.

“Welders receiving a proper welding education should know welding symbols and how to read them,” says Charlie LaRiche, weld school instructor, CWI/CWE for The Lincoln Electric Co. “If they don’t know the symbols, they won’t know the type of weld, where to put it, how big it has to be and so on. Every welder should be familiar with the symbols, and they need to be to do their job.”

While memorizing all of the welding symbols in the AWS standard is nearly impossible, most welders become familiar with the ones they need fairly quickly.

“Depending on where you are working, some are more common than others,” LaRiche adds. “If you’re doing a lot in the construction area, like an ironworker, you do more groove welds, lap joints and T-joints. If you’re working in an area with a lot of resistance welding, those would be vastly different symbols.”

Symbol structure

An essential part of all welding symbols is the reference line, which is a straight horizontal line and the anchor for all other symbols. The instructions for making the weld are hung along the reference line (see Figure 1).

The other essential part of the welding symbol is an arrow that connects to the reference line and points to the location where a weld is required. The arrow may be connected to either end of the reference line and point up or down. The side of the joint to which the arrow points is the “arrow side” of the joint. The opposite side of the joint is the “other side” of the joint.

To minimize the number of welding symbols required, more than one arrow in a single symbol can be used if each joint to which an arrow is pointing is to be welded in the same way.

The tail of the welding symbol, which is not always required, is used to add any supplementary information about making the weld. The tail is drawn as a greater than (>) or less than (<) sign, connected at the end of the reference line opposite the arrow.

“The tail is a reference point to provide additional information,” LaRiche says. “Say you’re doing a fillet weld, the tail could include instructions to use GTAW welding. It could include the type of filler metal to use. It could include the X ray, ultrasound or other nondestructive method to use to test it. Or, the tail could say to see the legend for a breakdown of what is needed.”

Each type of weld has its own basic weld symbol (not to be confused with the entire welding symbol), which is typically placed near the center of the reference line – and above or below it, depending on which side the joint is located. If the symbol appears below the reference line, the weld is made on the arrow side of the joint. If the symbol appears above the reference line, the weld is made on the other side of the joint. If the symbol appears on both sides of the reference line, the weld is performed on both sides of the joint.

There are many weld symbols that represent the many different types of welds. Here are some of the most common ones with which welders are familiar.

Fillet welds

The fillet weld is used to make joints – lap joints, butt joints, corner joints, edge joints and T-joints. Metal is deposited in a corner formed by the fitup of the two members to form the joint. The fillet weld symbol is a triangular shape placed on the same side of the reference line with the vertical leg always placed to the left.

The size of the fillet weld is shown to the left of the weld symbol (no matter the orientation). It represents the length of the legs. If the two legs of the weld are to be the same size, only one dimension is given; if the weld is to have unequal legs, the size for each leg is given and there is an indication as to which leg is longer.

Fillet welds are often specified as intermittent welds rather than a single long weld. For an intermittent weld, the length for each weld segment is shown to the right of the weld symbol, followed by pitch dimension with a hyphen between the two. The pitch is the distance between centers of each weld segment (not the empty space between the segments; see Figure 2).

When intermittent welds are placed on both sides of a joint, they can be directly opposite each other (chain) or they can be offset (staggered). Intermittent welds are common on thin, heat-sensitive metals or for particularly long joints.

Groove welds

The groove weld is commonly used to make edge-to-edge joints. Metal is deposited within the groove and fuses with the base metal to form the joint. The groove weld symbol is placed on the same side of the reference line.

There are many ways to make a groove weld, as demonstrated by the variety of groove weld symbols. The type of groove weld used depends primarily on the geometry of the edges and parts to be joined.

The various types of groove welds include (see Figure 3):

  • Square groove
  • V groove
  • Bevel groove
  • U groove
  • J groove
  • Flare V groove
  • Bevel V groove

Common additional symbols used with groove welds are the melt through, backing bar, and back weld and backing symbols. In the case of melt through, the groove is reinforced with a weld on the back side of the joint welded from the opposite side. The melt-through shape is a black half circle (see Figure 4).

For support, a backing strip or bar can be welded onto the back side of the joint before the groove weld is performed. The backing can be removed after welding or left on to become part of the completed joint. Its rectangular-shaped symbol is placed across the reference line from the weld symbol. If the bar is to be removed after the weld is complete, an R is used (see Figure 4).

A back weld is when a weld is created on the back side of the joint after the groove weld is performed. A backing weld is applied to the root of a groove before welding the groove. Back welds and backing welds use the same symbol, which looks like an unshaded half circle (see Figure 4). Therefore, a note in the tail of the welding symbol may specify which type of weld is required or it may be specified in the legend.

Groove and fillet weld symbols are the most common, but there are many others, such as plug and slot, seam, spot, surfacing, edge and stud.

Numbers game

Numbers are also a big part of a welding specification, and there is much communicated above and below the reference line.

Each weld, with the exception of spot and plug welds, has a length component. The weld length may be the entire length of the joint or some portion thereof. The length is not given if the weld is to be the entire length of the joint. In most cases, the weld width (or diameter) is located to the left of the weld symbol, while its length is written to the right.

If a weld is required to make a change in direction, an additional symbol or a multi-arrow symbol should be used.

For a groove weld, in addition to the weld symbol, size, length and pitch, the symbol may include the depth of penetration, root opening, groove angle and degree of any beveling required on the base metal.

More to know

A weld-all-around circle indicates the fillet weld is to encircle the entire joint. The symbol consists of a circle that is placed over the intersection where the end of the reference line meets the arrow. In the case of a circular joint, the weld-all-around symbol is not required (see Figure 5).

A flagpole indicates a field weld, which simply means the weld is to be made on site, rather than in the shop. The symbol consists of a flag that is placed at the intersection where the end of the reference line meets the arrow. Any welding symbol that does not include a flag indicates that the weld is to be made in the shop (see Figure 6).

When a welding operation involves many steps, there may be multiple reference lines connected to the same arrow. Each line represents a separate operation and is performed in sequence beginning with the line closest to the arrow (see Figure 7).

Many other specifics are conveyed on engineering drawings and blueprints. Among the most common are finish and contour instructions, grinding or other machining, and consumables insert info.

The information presented here is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to AWS welding symbols. Even for those familiar with welding symbols, it’s a good idea to have a reference chart that contains the symbols and the drawings of what the finished weld will look like.

LaRiche introduces welding symbols in about the 10th week of his course. “I have the students build a bucket tooth and use welding symbols, so that is where they start to pick them up,” he says. “Once you start learning, it can be a little difficult, but as you study and practice, it gets easier. But you must learn the basics. If you’re not ever going to get into resistance welding, there is no sense learning those symbols. But you have to know the symbols you are going to be seeing every day.”

For new hires without welding training, it’s up to the company to provide instruction on welding symbols. While the ideal hire would already have some knowledge of symbols, today’s shortage of welders makes that impractical. Luckily, reading welding symbols is a skill easily learned – and, for many, kind of fun.

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School choice

The much discussed exodus of retirees leaving their jobs in manufacturing with no one to replace them fuels the skills gap fire. Fortunately, welding schools and other outlets are stepping up to ease that gap and add an integral knowledge base to the foundation on which skills can be developed.

The Tulsa Welding School has a 60-year history, training more than 20,000 students.

Gaining welding experience can be found through a variety of resources – from a high school shop class to a vocational school or community college. Welding education can also come from welding programs hosted by some of the biggest names in the industry, such as The Lincoln Electric Co. And don’t forget apprenticeships. Those are available, too, for folks looking for a chance to learn how to weld, and in turn, land a long and good-paying career.

The vocational route

Brandon Milligan, chief operating officer with the StrataTech Education Group at the Tulsa School of Welding (TWS), is all too familiar with the need for welders.

“The demand for well-trained, skilled welders is high,” Milligan begins, “with estimates from the AWS showing a shortage of 290,000 welders by 2020.”

That statistic is apparently reaching graduating high school students who Milligan says recognize the opportunity to begin a potentially lucrative career. Rather than going to a two- or four-year university, they can attend a school like TWS and after seven months of welding training, be prepared for a career.

“We have more than 20 high school admissions representatives that visit high schools around the country to talk to young students about careers in welding,” he says. “TWS strives to give students as much information and exposure through innovative tools like the TWS 360 Virtual Reality Video and #TWS Proud Magazine.”

Although some high school students might not have much familiarity with TWS, the industry as a whole certainly does. The school touts a record of training more than 20,000 students over the course of its 60-year history and is also the largest welding school in the country. Students prepare for sustainable skilled trades careers at its campuses in Tulsa, Okla., Jacksonville, Fla., and Houston.

Classes begin every three to six weeks with anywhere from 80 to 110 students starting each new cycle.

“Our students begin welding on the second day of class,” Milligan says. “They receive a hands-on education with a strong emphasis on technical competencies and skills designed to meet employers’ needs.”

Like many welding trade schools, TWS offers various scholarships and financial aid opportunities for eligible students as well as benefits for eligible military members and dependents to further incentivize young talent to enter a career in the trades.

“Attendance of young students at TWS has actually grown over recent years,” Milligan says.

The same can be said for women taking interest in the field. At TWS, around 7 percent of the total welding student population is female. To support that growing demographic, the school created the Women in Trades Scholarship. The program has already awarded a half million dollars in scholarships.

Great demand for welding training began during World War I. Lincoln Electric responded by opening a welding school, which carries on the tradition today.

It goes without saying, of course, that TWS isn’t the only vocational school out there. Every U.S. state hosts several schools that provide a welding education. In Illinois, for example, schools are scattered throughout the state.

Before enrolling, however, check to make sure that the school has been accredited. Accreditation can definitely be a plus when interviewing for potential welding jobs. As an example, ETI School of Skilled Trades, a welding school just outside of Chicago, is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges and is a member of the American Welding Society and the Better Business Bureau, just to name a few.

It takes a community

Unfortunately, not everybody lives near an accredited welding trade school, which opens up the field to community colleges. Community colleges serve as an excellent choice for students who want to learn about the welding trade, either for management roles or for actually taking the torch in hand to learn how to lay down a proper weld.

And because of the high demand for welders around the nation, it makes sense that individual states are making investments toward educating a new workforce.

For example, Metropolitan Community College in Omaha, Neb., recently made a $10.5 million investment to renovate its Industrial Training Center. The school’s present welding room is cramped as welding programs are in operation seven days a week. The money will enlarge and improve that space.

Like Metro Community College, which is accommodating students over the weekends, Wallace Community College in Dothan, Ala., recently opened its welding courses to people who want to come in on Saturdays and Sundays, as well. Students at the school learn a variety of welding processes, including stick welding, oxyfuel cutting, MIG and TIG welding, and other applicable processes.

Even for community colleges that can’t open their doors over the weekend, John Hindman, director of learning and performance improvement at Tooling U-SME says they’re a great resource for future welding professionals, providing them with theory-based learning opportunities about the trade. That, of course, is in addition to getting hands-on experience.

“ A lot of good things are happening within community colleges to prepare students for these careers,” Hindmand says.

One of those “goods things” is related to affordability. According to College Board, a not-for-profit organization that connects students to college success and opportunity, public two-year colleges have a yearly tuition with fees averaging about $3,440. Four-year colleges, on the other hand, have yearly tuition and fees averaging $9,410. And compared to the cost of attending a vocational school that might not be in a student’s local area, in-state tuition at a community college can be quite affordable.

Lincoln Electric’s Welding Technology & Training Center held its grand opening in March of this year. It’s a 130,000-sq.-ft. center located in Cleveland.

While cost is a big consideration, students with an interest in entering the welding trade have little use for hours of liberal education study. Rather, they can come out of the school in two short years with a tight focus on what will prepare them for a career in welding.

One-year certificate programs are also available at many community colleges that have an even tighter focus on welding.

Take Grand Rapids Community College as an example. The school offers a one-year certificate degree program where students learn about oxyfuel, arc welding and inert gas-shielded techniques. With one of the largest welding facilities in the Midwest, the school’s graduates have gone on to careers in aerospace, piping and boiler work, construction and restoration welding industries. Students are given the opportunity to bypass courses by passing challenge exams, which can shorten the already fast path to a career.

The West Coast is not without its share of community colleges offering welding instruction, including Central Oregon Community College’s one-year welding certificate. The program is specifically geared for students looking for a technician-level career in welding in a manufacturing environment.

The Oregon school’s program includes 45 credits of instruction in stick, MIG and TIG welding. Courses in oxyfuel, plasma and flux-cored processes are also available. AWS, API and ASME welding certificates can be obtained through the program.

On the other side of the country, Jamestown Community College in western New York offers a welding technology certificate that includes coursework as well as hands-on experience in high technology welding. Classes include safety and cutting processes, stick, MIG, TIG and advanced courses in each of these welding processes.

As is true with vocational schools, potential students should check that the community college that they are considering offers an accredited program. A certificate or degree from an accredited institution will make landing a job much easier.   

Apt apprentice

Working alongside a seasoned professional is an excellent way to learn how to weld, and it’s something apprenticeship programs bring to the table. In some cases, these programs are available to high school students.

The state of Missouri launched a “Registered Youth Apprenticeship” program in 2018 that connects students as young as sophomores with apprenticeships in skilled trades, including welding. Students maintain normal academic studies, but also partner with local businesses and industry leaders for hands-on learning experiences.

For those who have already exited high school and don’t have state-sponsored programs to assist them, a number of apprenticeship programs are available throughout the United States – at a variety of manufacturing and fabricating companies.

A quick scan through SimplyHired proves that there is an obvious need for welding professionals, as apprenticeship opportunities are plentiful. Some require the welder to be actively involved in a certified apprenticeship course or taking welding classes at a local college or trade school.

100 years of education

As if the options weren’t already vast, Lincoln Electric also has an educational program in place with a fairly wide scope. And, it touches on some of the topics Tooling U-SME is invested in. In fact, Tooling U-SME and the welding giant have teamed up on several programs, including an online content and educational program.

Lincoln Electric also has a brick-and-mortar school of its own – the Lincoln Electric Welding School, which was established in 1917. Its instructors are responsible for training roughly 250,000 men and women over the past century on the techniques, practices and theory of arc welding.

Lincoln Electric’s dedication to expanding its education program is evident in its 130,000-sq.-ft. Welding Technology & Training Center in Cleveland. While Lincoln’s school takes around 150 young students each year, its approach is focused on professional development of the welding industry as a whole.

The school and its philosophy fit a niche market where welding educators can go for professional development, welders can attend to enhance their skills and engineers can attend to learn about welding design, new technologies, productivity and quality.

“We also engage in community colleges, trade schools and skilled trade unions – all of them,” says Jason Scales, business manager for Lincoln’s education program. “We help them with their facility needs and getting them prepared for the future while also assisting with their curriculum and developing and training their trainers.”

With around 40 people dedicated to education programs at Lincoln, industry professionals from on-the-floor welders to design engineers have a variety of programs and options, some of which are only a day or two long to others, such as a comprehensive skills class that spans 20 consecutive weeks.

Scales notes the focus is on more than just developing skills, which is important because as retirees leave the welding trade, they’re taking with them decades of experience that won’t be passed on to new workers.

“Typically,” Scales says of new workers, “there was somebody there to work with them, shepherd them and take them under their wing to teach them on-the-job skills and the why and the how.”

It’s the “why and the how” that is important to Scales and Greg Coleman, who works in marketing communications for Lincoln. The education programs go beyond the skills part of the training and address the knowledge gap.

“In addition to learning the technique of welding,” Coleman begins, “the emphasis is on the science of the welding and the knowledge associated with it. So many of the students – guys who have been in the industry for 10 or 20 years or even instructors in the industry – come to take a one-week class and their eyes are

opened up to the metallurgy behind the technique.”

Scales says they are challenged in making sure students understand the science behind what they’re doing, especially as new technologies are put in place, including those involving robotic welding.

“Whoever programs and manages that robot has to truly understand the physics of that arc and how to make that weld perfectly,” Scales says. “The robot is only going to do what the robot is programmed to do. Whoever is programing or operating that robot is going to have to manage it, and the only way that can happen is if they fully understand welding processes, how they’re applied and how they work.”

Lincoln’s educational outreach might be largely focused on continuing education, but the company has a history planting seeds in youth who might later consider a career in manufacturing. For example, Lincoln, along with the AWS, played a role in developing the Boy Scout Welding Merit Badge, which more than 40,000 scouts have earned since it was introduced around six years ago.

“We actually put together a network of community colleges and skilled trades to remove barriers to get that badge,” Scales says, adding that they also helped train the Boy Scout merit badge counselors and some scouts on how to weld. “We have had a sponsor relationship with the Future Farmers of America for 70 years, and we also work with 4-H. We are the exclusive welding partner of WorldSkills and also work closely with SkillsUSA.”

Lincoln launched its education website last September. Click here to check it out.

Whether a teenager looking for opportunities to learn how to weld or a person who wants to switch careers after decades in a different industry, there are many opportunities to learn the skills necessary for a career in welding. Even for welders who have been in the trade for many years, the learning never really ends – especially given the technological advancements that are constantly coming into the market.

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Visualizing the arc

According to a 2017 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 377,250 workers are employed in job category 51-4121 “Welders, Cutters, Solderers and Brazers,” a profession with annual growth that is projected to remain steady at 6 percent and that pays a median income of $40,240 annually.

That’s pretty good coin for a job that requires no lengthy college education, no student loans – a high school diploma, a few years on the job and you’ll soon be earning more than most nursing assistants, teachers, bank tellers and even legislators, all careers that call for a Bachelor’s degree (and are a lot less fun than making stuff every day).

Virtual reality welding simulators are available in standalone terminals like the one shown as well as portable units. 

Okay, but…

There’s just one problem: roughly half of the country’s welders are set to retire over the next few years. Unless others are able to step into those steel-toed boots, how will we as a society continue to build bridges, construct new high-rises, weld cruise ships and hyperloops, and make cool sculptures for the Museum of Modern Art?

Are we facing the end of the welding industry as we know it?

Not if David Clond has anything to say about it. The national tech support and system engineer for Fronius USA LLC, Clond says many employers are so anxious to fill open welding positions that they are willing to hire people off the street and train them in-house.

There’s just one catch: potential employees first need to pass a test, one that Clond helped devise.

“If candidates can master virtual welding, employers are more likely to say, ‘Oh, this person seems to have the motor skills and patience necessary to become a welder, so it’s worthwhile for us to invest in their welding education,’” Clond says. “They also use the virtual welder as a tool to train from within their own company, so they’re not always having to pay a premium to bring in employees.”

From virtual butt welds to virtual pipe joints, there’s little that isn’t covered under a virtual reality welding simulator training program.

Beyond the 18th  hole

The virtual reality device he’s describing was developed after company founder Günter Fronius used a golf simulator to work on his swing, explains Clond. “After the session, he came back to work and said, ‘Hey, that was really neat. Why don’t we have something similar for welding?’”

Fronius then partnered with a local university to develop the software needed to simulate the welding process, providing visual and tactile feedback to the user. The Fronius virtual welding trainer was born.

If you’ve ever donned virtual reality headsets to ride a virtual rollercoaster or flee from a virtual T-Rex, you’re already familiar with the technology. What’s different about the Fronius trainer is its use of make-believe but surprisingly realistic welding electrodes, guns and metal workpieces, each of which are tracked in 3-D space.

Would-be welders can actually feel what it’s like to strike an arc or create a bead, and are prompted by the system for the correct welding speed, electrode angle, distance to the workpiece and other operating parameters.

The ghost in the machine

“It’s called the Ghost,” Clond says. “We actually record an instructor performing different welds and use that as the basis to grade students. The standard Ghost that comes with the trainer is fairly conservative and uses a zero-degree electrode angle, but if a customer wants to depart from that and teach students how to weave, for example, or weld specific workpieces, the instructor can record him or herself, set up whatever parameters are needed and establish lessons around it.”

The benefits are obvious. Multiple welding technologies such as MIG, TIG and MAG can be taught on the same machine. Consumable costs are non-existent. Student progress is easily tracked. Lessons can be repeated until virtual perfection is achieved, with continuous feedback about what the student should change. And newbie mistakes are made on the trainer, avoiding potential damage to production equipment and humans alike.

Virtual reality welding simulators enhance the learning experience by allowing the instructor to see through the student’s eyes.

Get started

The Lincoln Electric Co. is another welding equipment provider concerned about training the next generation of welding professionals. Manager of educational services Chris Gandee says the company’s Vrtex 360 line of virtual reality welding simulators teaches more than 170 different weld combinations, and is a great place to start for anyone wishing to learn welding.

“We’ve always done wire feed and stick welding, but we’ve recently added a bunch of features,” he says. “For instance, we can do aluminum and stainless steel now. There are some new weld and lap joints. There’s a replay mode where it records the student’s work, so they can play it back and watch what they did. More importantly, it allows the instructor to see through the students eyes – you can tell if their body position is good or not, or if they’re holding the gun wrong. It’s a great tool for students and instructors alike.”

Like Clond, Gandee is seeing great interest in the product, though not necessarily from its target audience. “To be honest, we originally thought the greatest interest in the Vrtex would come from the schools, but we are now seeing the industry purchase them for internal training and for screening job applicants. It allows people to practice as much as they want without worrying about the costs.”

Introducing young people to the possibility of a welding career is a crucial first step in developing a future workforce.

In the past, Gandee says, the only way for an employer to test someone’s welding knowledge was to take them out into the shop and ask them to weld something. The problem with that is liability – what happens if the person gets hurt? But by putting them on a virtual reality system, employers can discover two things very quickly. The first is obvious: can they weld? And second is, even if they haven’t welded, are they trainable?

Young minds

“Can I get them to score better on the Vrtex after a few passes by having them listen to the commands?” Gandee asks. “In many ways, that’s even more important than their current skill level.”

It’s important enough that Lincoln Electric has developed Vrtex virtual reality welding training systems for students as young as middle school, long before they have a chance to decide what profession they want to pursue as adults. The company has also developed mobile training solutions for transport into high schools and vocational technical institutes. These systems can also be used for recruiting or screening at academic or industrial open houses, job fairs and more.

Since 2011, the AWS Careers is Welding trailer has traveled the country, giving visitors a hands-on welding experience while teaching them the importance of the welding industry.

Says Gandee, “It’s crucial that we get people interested at a young age, that we let them try their hand at a great art and evaluate a profession that’s really in demand right now. The good news is that schools are listening. Lincoln Electric, together with the American Welding Society, has been warning people for years about the future shortage of skilled welders, and even though we’re not yet where we need to be, it’s nice to see we’re moving in the right direction.”

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A lady and her saws

Listen to Cindy Chinn speak and you can’t help but be entertained. Full of energy with unlimited artistic vision, this one-time creative art director is now who her neighbors call “The Saw Lady.”

“People will yell it out, ‘hey, Saw Lady’ to me at flea markets, yard sales and around town,” she says.

Cindy Chinn, the Saw Lady, stands outside of the 33,000-sq.-ft. school she purchased and converted into her personal home, studio and art school in Chester, Neb.

The California native has always loved art, training at the Academy of Art University and at San Francisco State University, before making her way to Las Vegas where she spent her days designing slot machines and video game art. She was even the lead animator for Disney’s Lion King video game.

Chinn and her partner, Art Whitton, started their own creative services company, serving clients in Nevada and Oklahoma. Chinn was happy. Things were humming along as they started making plans to build a 600-sq.-ft. artist’s studio behind their home in Las Vegas.

While waiting for the building permits, Chinn happened to find a 14,000-sq.-ft. school in Nebraska that was up for sale. It cost nearly half as much as her planned studio. The couple ultimately passed on the opportunity because the school was too far away from the airport, but the seed was planted.

Planting roots

The pair kept looking, finally finding what originally served as a K-12 school in Chester, Neb. For $100,000, Chinn and Whitton became the proud owners of a 33,000-sq.-ft. school, complete with its own gym. It wasn’t long before the moving trucks – three in all – rumbled into town.

During the holiday season, orders for Chinn’s plasma cut saws flood her website

That was more than a decade ago. The small Nebraska community, with a population of 232, hasn’t been the same since, in large part because of the couple’s artistic passion and community-minded spirit.

The former public school now serves as a personal home, studio and art school called The Center of Creativity where Chinn offers private lessons to select high school students. The 15 classrooms provide enough room to teach just about every art form: glass, painting, textiles, carving, metal and whatever else Chinn’s unlimited imagination conjures up. The holiday season sees the school’s large grass field and 32 front windows transformed into a jaw dropping holiday light show complete with choreographed music.

Though she is most noted for her miniature carvings created from pencils, it is Chinn’s work with plasma that captured Hypertherm’s attention. Chinn says she purchased an “inexpensive combo thing” online and began practicing her plasma cutting technique. She did that until she ran out of things to cut in her studio. Then, she started going to yard sales.

Drawing on saws

At one sale, she stumbled upon 14 old hand saws. Inspiration struck and Chinn purchased the whole lot. Back at the school, she started drawing on the saws, creating intricate outdoor scenes before cutting out her designs with plasma. Soon, a new business opportunity developed. While Chinn was busy cutting, Whitton was busy photographing and adding the saws to a new The Saw Lady website he had created

At first, the saws just sat there, but then around Christmas 2015, the orders started coming in. The couple soon had 150 orders in front of them. At this point, it was clear the “inexpensive combo thing” wasn’t going to do the trick. Chinn needed something more substantial.

Gaining power

She researched extensively before selecting a Hypertherm Powermax30 XP. The system’s FineCut consumable option was one of the features that was attractive to Chinn.

“Fine tips are necessary for this work,” she says, “and I go through a lot of consumables. I need to change consumables often, before they arc-out. If you’re cutting out a deer and the arc goes out to the side, your four-legged deer becomes a three-legged deer, fast.”

Chinn says her Powermax30 XP is performing admirably. It definitely gets put to good use with Chinn spending up to 15 hours a day cutting out saws during the November and December holiday season.

“My partner lets me know when I need to get into the shop to make saws,” she says. Though the days are long, Chinn is happy people like her designs so much. Everyone that is, except for one man in California.

“I did receive hate mail from a fine finish carpenter in Berkeley,” she recalls. “He was so upset that I was cutting up these old saws so I invited him to my shop and offered him the opportunity to rescue any and all saws that he wanted. We exchanged a few more emails and eventually a rather absurd friendship blossomed. It is all positive now.”

Sourcing older, rustic saws is now a constant, but fortunately, her adopted community of Chester is there to help.

“I never buy saws from antique dealers because their prices are too high,” Chinn says, “but I have an army of saw hunters now. There have even been a few times where I’ve come home to find a pile of saws outside on the picnic table in front of the school or on the steps of the main entrance.”

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Early education

Typically, the educational track for a career in welding, or any other trade for that matter, begins at a post-secondary technical school or career center. And more often than not, it’s treated as an alternative to pursuing a traditional four-year undergrad degree. At Columbia-Montour Area Vocational-Technical School (CMVT), however, the approach is a tad different.

For 50 years, CMVT, a comprehensive public high school in northeast Pennsylvania, has educated youth about the career potentials of 17 different trades. Those trades include welding, machining, automotive repair, food service, cosmetology and carpentry, among several others.

Columbia-Montour Area Vocational-Technical School (CMVT) trains students on welding equipment from the world’s best-known brands, including Miller Electric, Lincoln Electric and Fronius.

Tim Carr, co-op/placement coordinator at CMVT, has dedicated much of his career to fostering interest and education in the trades within the youth of Pennsylvania. In fact, he’s worked at the school for 31 years, helping students land positions in the field of study they’ve chosen for themselves.

Carr says that for the 650 students who choose to attend CMVT each year, education in the trades begins in the 9th grade. During their first year, students enter an exploratory program where they are given the opportunity to learn about four areas of study, chosen from the school’s 17 offerings. The exploratory program is balanced with study in traditional academic courses, such as English, math and science.

“Each day, the student has half a day of academics and half a day of a trade,” Carr explains. “Once they make their final selection at the start of 10th grade, they will be in that same program for the next three years for half a day. By the time the students enter their senior year, they are ready to enter a paid work-study program. My job is to facilitate them getting out into the work world.”

First class

Students are made aware of CMVT through a team of dedicated counselors and a rotating group of instructors and academic teachers that visit middle schools and host open houses. The school is so popular that typically there is a waiting list for enrollment. The criteria for acceptance includes overall grades and attendance records.

In regard to the welding program, students can earn American Welding Society (AWS) education certificates. Overall, the program is aligned with the AWS and its credentialing system.

After graduation, CMVT students can perform a variety of welding processes, including MIG, TIG and stick.

“In addition to being tested on a variety of welding processes, some students also take certification tests for specific welds depending on the job they might be placed in, such as an AWS D11 structural welding certificate,” Carr says. “Many of the students have a credential by the time they leave the welding program or shortly thereafter, and additionally, most end up with 1,500 hours of training under their belts. That ultimately equates to students having their pick of jobs after graduation.”

The manufacturing area in and around Bloomsburg where CMVT is located is incredibly strong. And those companies are quite fortunate to have such a robust pool of potential workers from which to pick.

Many of the students get a job in their senior year or even at the end of the junior year and work throughout the summer. The jobs start at around $11 per hour up to the mid-teens and are typically part time. If a student is 18 years old, they can start a full shift at 1 p.m. during the school week, but if they’re younger than that, child labor laws apply as to how many hours they can work.

“My role is to fit the students with jobs that align with the career they’ve chosen,” Carr says. “And I make sure that the company doesn’t exploit the student but continues to educate and train them while they’re on the job. Most companies are very willing to do this to have the opportunity to get a dependable young person to come to work every day.”

Local partnerships

In addition to getting quality candidates for open positions, local manufacturers and fabricators also benefit from CMVT by getting candidates that don’t need much new-hire training. Several companies work with the school to specify the type of welding skills they’re looking for.

In addition to acquiring welding skills, CMVT students also learn how to operate plasma, oxyfuel and other industrial cutting equipment.

“This allows a company to really craft the type of workers that they need,” Carr says. “We benefit from those relationships, too, considering our local businesses donate materials and even equipment. As an example, a couple of stainless steel shops give us skids of material, such as 20-gauge or 14-gauge material – the same material that their current employees work with.”

In terms of equipment, companies are accustomed to calling the school when they’re making upgrades to their welding equipment. Conversations in that regard are intended to inform the school of these new equipment investments to ensure students are familiar with the new welders. It’s not uncommon for a company to donate funds to help the school acquire that same equipment.

Local businesses work with a variety of materials and equipment and represent a range of industries, including institutional kitchen manufacturing, pharmaceutical equipment production and tractor trailer manufacturing.

“I have standing orders, so to speak, with all of these companies,” Carr says. “One place needs a MIG welder, the next one wants a TIG welder. There are requests for someone that can operate an orbital welder or handle thick plate. Overall, there are a lot of opportunities for our students.”

Instant career

One of the big selling points for CMVT is the price: it’s free. It’s a public school, so there is no tuition to worry about and the only items the students need to purchase are their preferred welding jackets and helmets. As many know, traditional post-high school trade schools can cost up to $20,000 per year. At CMVT, students graduate with close to the equivalent hours that they would have logged in at a trade school – and at a younger age and with no cost.

“The next big kicker is that instead of spending two years earning and paying for a trade degree, our students spend their first two years after high school working at a job making on average about $25,000 to $40,000 a year,” Carr says. “Compared to the student that went to a trade school for two years at $20,000 per year, our high school graduate with a welding certificate and high school diploma and has already earned at least $50,000.”

CMVT offers high school students 17 courses of study to choose from, including welding, machining, automotive repair, food service, cosmetology and carpentry.

In addition to going straight into the workforce after high school, a high percentage of CMVT graduates pursue a post-secondary school degree in a field related to their chosen trade. As an example, drafting students could acquire an engineering degree, a welding student could choose to earn an associate’s degree in welding or enroll in CWI training, and almost any student could go after an advanced degree to land a management position. After all, they already have a firm understanding of their industry.

“This gives them a solid basis to establish a great career,” Carr says. “Not many students change majors once they get to college. They already know that they wanted this trade or, at the very least, they know that it will be a good part-time job to work while they go to college to pursue something else. It’s a good foundation for them to build off of.”

Overall, Carr says his job is incredibly fulfilling. The thousands of students that have roamed CMVT’s halls have quickly been brought up to speed about what a career in the trades can look like. And thanks to that thorough understanding, CMVT students are motivated to succeed.

“The thing that makes us so successful are the good students we get and the excellent support that we get from the area, including parents and businesses,” Carr concludes. “Just as they are motivated to succeed, we are inspired to help them along their journey.”

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Future welders

It’s no secret to anyone in the manufacturing industry that there is an alarming shortage of skilled welders in the workplace. If the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is correct, the problem is only going to get worse in the next few years as the demand for skilled welders will increase another 26 percent by 2020.

There are more than enough jobs – good jobs that go unfilled because the younger generation’s perception of manufacturing has been negatively skewed by social norms, the media and even the structure of our education system.

But there’s a popular saying: Be the change you want to see in the world. So, let’s be the change we want to see in our industry.

How did we get here?

Dan Turner, former chair of FMA’s welding technology council, is very passionate about understanding the cause of the problem plaguing the manufacturing industry and is working diligently to help solve it. As a 24-year welding instructor currently teaching at Yuba College in Marysville, Calif., he’s seen first-hand how young people perceive blue collar industries and how the American education system effectively works against replenishing the retiring workforce.

“This problem didn’t happen overnight,” Turner says. “This shortage exists because over several years of societal choices and educational changes, we have generations of young people who believe blue collar jobs are for uneducated people willing to accept low-paying, dangerous jobs, but that just isn’t reality.

“The American education system is designed for and executed as a college prep experience,” Turner continues. “Kids are under a lot of pressure to make decisions about their career paths as soon as they enter high school, before they’ve been able to experience anything other than our traditional education system, which is focused on testing and being good at classwork. Student aren’t being taught they can go to college to learn how to build things with their hands and develop problem-solving abilities, and we are paying the price for it.”

A career in welding can be lucrative and exciting, but many young Americans don’t yet understand the benefits that come from the job. 

How do we change the trend?

The lack of skilled welders can be incredibly frustrating. But rather than sitting around complaining that we can’t get people to apply for our open positions, refocus that energy on reaching out to help build our future workforce.

Students and young adults probably won’t read our trade publications. They certainly don’t go to our committee meetings, and they may not be getting information about welding opportunities from educators who have limited experience and understanding of the trade. Which means it’s up to us to inform young people about rewarding careers and creative opportunities that exist in the manufacturing industry.

One way to begin cultivating a network of educators and influencers is to reach out to local colleges and trade schools that already have welding programs. Offer to visit classes to speak to students about careers in welding. Sharing real-world experience with students may strengthen relationships with the educators while introducing businesses to students who are already learning the trade.

Don’t stop with trade schools. Reach out to feeder high schools in the area and speak with shop teachers, guidance counselors, math teachers and art teachers. Speak to classes about the increasing demand in the industry and how college preparatory classes are applicable and valuable in the manufacturing community.

A common misconception to address while building a network is the lack of skill and training required when becoming a welder. Many students, educators and parents have been conditioned to believe one must go to college to be successful, so use that to educate them about various college programs that offer associate degrees and certifications in welding. This is a skilled trade – this isn’t something people do when they aren’t “good enough” for college.

Similarly, don’t be afraid to talk about the negative stigmas often associated with blue collar careers. Make jokes about electricians and plumber stigmas, but then ask who’s really laughing when skilled tradesmen are making $100 per hour to solve problems other people couldn’t manage.

This strategy can be applied in more places than schools – reach out to local unemployment offices, recreation centers, summer programs and libraries. All are constantly looking for valuable programing and events for their patrons and participants. What is more valuable than information that can lead to rewarding careers in a high-demand industry?

Thanks to organizations like Women Who Weld, women are stepping into unfilled positions all around the country.

Power of social

Knowing the goal is to find future employees where they currently spend time, there are few greater places to find a pool of candidates than on social media.

According to Turner, one of the biggest complaints from educators, parents and employers is that people are constantly attached to smart phones, thumbing through social media.

“Don’t fight it, use it,” Turner suggests. “If you don’t have an Instagram account, get one. Post cool and unique welding pics and do a lot of tagging to local school programs. Once a few students start following you, their friends will, too. Soon, teachers and parents will start following you and your network of influencers will continue to grow.”

In-house opportunities

Rather than hoping the education system catches up to demand in the next few years, consider developing a workforce. There are countless certifications welders can receive in a training program, and businesses have little control over the priorities imposed by welding schools.

While creating in-house welding programs can be expensive and challenging, you don’t have to go it alone. Organizations, such as the American Welding Society (AWS), are there to help. Once you get their guidance, certifying employees can be so incredibly valuable as it ensures new welders are trained in the specific applications required in the facility.

Internships and mentoring programs are great ways to build company loyalty, as well. Because the demand for skilled welders is so high, often it’s businesses with the deepest pockets that will have the easiest time filling open positions. However, by training employees in-house, offering mentorships, internships and even scholarships, businesses build loyalty while building their workforce.

Through its six-week welding training program, Women Who Weld is transforming lives one soon-to-be-welder at a time.

Support others

Times are tight, and it’s not always possible for businesses to spend significant time or resources reaching out to local high schools and welding programs. In those cases, whenever possible, show support to other organizations dedicated to the cause.

For example, Women Who Weld is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit workforce development organization that teaches women how to weld and find employment in the welding industry. According to Samantha Farr, founder and instructor for the organization, Women Who Weld’s training programs are designed to help address the urgent talent shortage in the welding industry and include an annual, six-week intensive welding training program that is entirely subsidized for unemployed and underemployed women; year-round, low-cost, week-long intensive welding training classes; and year-round, low-cost, single-day introductory workshops.

“Businesses and individuals in the manufacturing community can support organizations like Women Who Weld through monetary or in-kind donations,” Farr says. “Women Who Weld does not receive any federal, state or municipal funding, so it depends in part on the support of the welding and manufacturing community to sustain and grow its programming to reach and train more women to become skilled welders.”

Women Who Weld is only one of several non-profit organizations dedicated to bettering the future of welding and manufacturing. Others include Nuts, Bolts & Thingamajigs and the AWS. By focusing on strategies including skill training, scholarships, fundraisers and special events, they work with businesses every day toward building a brighter future for welding and manufacturing.

According to a study by Deloitte and the Mfg. Institute, if nothing changes, 2 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled over the next decade. Our businesses, our economy and our growing workforce can do better.

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Expanding career paths

For many individuals, learning to weld has offered a chance at a stable, lucrative career – a career to be proud of. However, many welders are unsure of how to take their careers to the next level despite the numerous options the trade affords. When welders are unaware of career development opportunities, they miss out on the chance for higher salaries and better positions by enhancing their skill sets in an industry they already know they love.

One of the key missions of the American Welding Society (AWS) is to shed light on those opportunities and offer the tools welders need to advance in their field. A visit to the AWS website quickly reveals the organization’s overriding goals.

The AWS can help members gain certification in a variety of programs, including welding educator, radiographic interpreter, welding supervisor, welding sales representative, welding inspector, welding engineer and robotic arc welding as well as its certified welder program.

“Advancing the science, technology, and application of welding and allied joining and cutting processes worldwide: that’s our mission and it’s why we exist. Whether you’re here to explore membership, certification, advanced training, updated standards, conferences, professional collaborations or the many exciting career opportunities in welding today – we are here to support you. Count on AWS for the leading-edge industry knowledge, resources and tools you need to achieve even greater business and career success.”

As the AWS mission suggests, certification provides so many advantages, particularly for welders. According to the AWS, earning specialized welding certification can lead to higher salaries and greater job stability. Also, by taking the steps to become certified, it proves to employers that a welder is proactive about his or her career and that they could be leadership material.

Advanced certifications aren’t just advantageous to welders; employers can benefit, too. When an employer provides its welders the financial and/or scheduling support they need to attain specialized certification, it frequently leads to long-term employee retention, which produces more consistent, high-quality work and results in improved business opportunities.

Pick your career path

AWS highlights eight certification programs that employers seeking to secure their workforce and welders looking to enhance their skills or advance their careers should consider. They include certified welder (CW), certified welding supervisor (CWS) and certified welding inspector (CWI). More specialized certifications offered include certified welding educator (CWE), certified welding engineer (CWEng), certified welding sales representative (CWSR), certified radiographic interpreter (CRI) and certified robotic arc welding (CRAW).

By pursuing a specialized welding certification, welders can aim for higher salaries and better job stability. Employers benefit from the confidence that comes from giving their welders more complex work.

The following list highlights each certification and gives a brief description, showing how it can serve as a career path for welders as well as a unique method for employers to increase the welding knowledge base on their shop floors.

Certified welder (CW): Once a welder earns a CW, they are awarded “transferrable” credentials that they take with them to any job, proving that they have been tested – and passed – on procedures used in industries such as chemical refinery, sheet metal, structural steel and petroleum pipelines.

Certified welding supervisor (CWS): The CWS enables managers, lead welders, foremen, procurement managers and inspectors to ensure productivity is maximized and that a higher level of work is achieved on the shop floor and out in the field, thereby improving company profits. To accomplish that end goal, CWS focuses four important metrics: safety, cost, quality and productivity.

Certified welding inspector (CWI): From associate certification to senior-level credentials, the CWI offers welders the chance to expand their careers. As is true with the other certifications, earning the title of CWI can lead to a lucrative and rewarding future.

Certified welding education (CWE): Gaining the CWE from the AWS proves you have the talent, ability and knowledge to direct and perform welder training and classroom instruction duties. It’s especially well-suited for individuals that have interest in being an educator or a knack for teaching and guiding others.

Certified welding engineer (CWEng): For those with an interest in directing operations associated with weldments and other types of joints, the CWEng is a great fit. In fact, it is the only professional certification for welding engineers issued in the United States. Employers, therefore, often consider it as a prerequisite before hiring welding engineers.

Certified welding sales representative (CWSR): As exemplified in the CWSR program, a career in welding doesn’t always require one to weld day in and day out. Welders who have achieved the CWSR use the extensive knowledge they gained out in the field to provide valued sales advice on a variety of products.

AWS certification helps welders take their careers to the next level.

Certified radiographic interpreter (CRI): The CRI program is designed to teach welders how to identify proper film exposure, correctly select image quality indicators, characterize indications and use acceptance criteria according to AWS, API and ASME codes. By earning this certification, welders have shown the ability to assess welding-related indications on radiographic film and related media.

Certified robotic arc welding (CRAW): Staying current with the welding industry means understanding the value of welding automation and understanding how to operate the associated equipment, which is why the CRAW certification is so valuable in today’s day and age. This program allows welders to measure themselves against standards for their occupation, but also shows that they have demonstrated the capability to work within specifications, standards and codes related to robotic arc welding.

The more you know

AWS estimates that by 2020, there will be a job deficit of 290,000, which means employers are aggressively pursuing new hires. So, for those currently working as welders, now is the time to jump on a certification that looks appealing to get into a better position and not only earn a higher salary but long-term job stability, as well.

When welders are scarce, employers must ensure that their crew is top notch. And just because a welder has years of experience doesn’t necessarily guarantee they can pass a certification exam. Therefore, it’s recommended that employers help their welders improve their skills through certification.

To get the ball rolling, AWS offers guidelines for who can be certified based on their level of education. For example, with the CWI certification, welders with a bachelor’s or higher degree in welding engineering or welding technology must also have a year of welding-based work experience before they can become certified. However, for welders with less than an 8th grade education, they must have 12 years of welding-based work experience before they can register for CWI certification.

The certified welding sales representative program is ideal for sales-oriented individuals that also have experience welding in the field. The certification gives customers piece of mind that they are receiving the best purchasing advice available.

To get advanced understanding as to how these certification programs can work and for what types of applications they’re beneficial, stay tuned to Welding Productivity throughout 2019. We’ll be partnering with AWS to highlight the ways that the field of welding continues to offer lucrative opportunities to both employees and employers.

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Game on

As technology develops, the ways in which people learn also continue to develop. Today, a lot of the focus is on digital technology, with online classes and training being a good example. Digital learning exposes students to methods that allow them to learn in many innovative ways and understand things from a different perspective, which is part of a healthy thought process.

With the Welducation Basic App’s quiz, users pick up basic welding knowledge through play.

Students can go at their own pace until they understand the material. This makes learning more engaging and fun.

Mobile apps are another good example of using digital technology for education and training. As everyone knows, young people today are driven toward using their smartphones and other mobile devices for many purposes, accessing information at anytime from anywhere. Mobile apps can boost engagement while also making the learning process fun and easy.

More and more, the metals fabricating industry is embracing this new digital approach to learning, and a new mobile app from Fronius serves as a great example. The new Welducation Basic App supports virtual learning by offering welders a fun way to build up their know-how. It has two parts – a game function that enables users to experience welding interactively and a quiz section that conveys useful information on the welding process.

With the virtual training function, users guide the welding torch with their finger to get a feeling for the right welding torch position and speed.

Available for free for Android and iOS, the app is geared toward new welders and students to supplement formal training. Experienced welders can also take advantage to brush up on their welding knowledge.

In theory

Welducation Basic helps with the demanding task of memorizing theoretical content for welding. The quiz portion is a fun way to learn the theoretical principles. Users are shown a standard welding question and must choose an answer from four options. If they get it wrong, the app tells them what the correct answer is and why it’s the correct answer.

To complete a round of the game, users must answer 10 questions. The goal is to accumulate as many points as possible. It’s time based so the longer it takes to answer, the less points the user accumulates. Each time the user opens the app, a new set of questions appears.

The team at Fronius developed the questions, which range from theoretical questions on welding and metallurgy to basic questions such as who is responsible for developing a process.

The virtual trainer uses color signals to show if the welding speed and torch position are correct.

Sample multiple-choice questions include:

What is the maximum resistance of a material to the ingress of another body called?

Choices: Resistance force, Strength, Density or Hardness

Answer: Hardness is the resistance of a body against the ingress of another body.

Which shielding gases are used in metal active gas welding (MAG)?

Choices: Helium, Argon, Argon-rich shielding gases with active components or Propane

Answer: The shielding gas for MAG primarily consists of the main component argon with mixtures of carbon dioxide or oxygen.

Scores are then shown in order of ranking. An international high score ranking allows users to compare themselves with all app users worldwide.

“If you make an online profile, you can post your score online and can get bragging rights for having the best score,” says Shaun Relyea, technical support manager, Fronius USA LLC.

Users don’t have to make an online profile, though. Anyone can download the app and use it without having to reveal their scores online.

Do the drag

The other part of Welducation Basic is the game section that allows users to learn through practice and gain experience with virtual welding. The touchscreen becomes a workpiece and the user’s finger becomes a welding torch. The user drags their finger across the screen to practice their welding skills. The virtual trainer supports the user by showing them the ideal welding speed and position using color signals – the greener the better.

The aim is to score as many points as possible through consistent and accurately welded seams. Users can also save their points from the game in the online rankings.

There are different levels to the game – the higher the level, the more difficult the welding task. Users can weld melt runs or fillet and butt welds, for example.

“The game part of Welducation has two levels,” Relyea says. “One with the guide and one where it is a ghost and the guide is completely off. That way, the user can practice with the guide feature and then go to the ghost level as they improve.”

The virtual welding feature is only MIG welding at this time, with other processes possibly being added later. Welducation Basic has only been out for a few months and already has 10,000-plus users and quite a few positive reviews. A quick search on the internet reveals there are no other apps that do what Welducation does. Users can download the Welducation Basic App for free via Google Play Store or Apple Store.

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The sky’s the limit

Flying the friendly skies takes a village. There are pilots, flight attendants, air traffic controllers, TSA agents, baggage handlers and more. And that list doesn’t even begin to discuss the people and companies that produce the airplanes themselves. From designers and engineers to machine operators and assembly staff, that village is probably more like a small city.

Because the bulk of the welding work at Atech Turbine Components is TIG welding, job candidates with TIG experience have a leg up.

Welders also make up a healthy chunk of the collection of individuals that help get travelers off the ground and cruising at 40,000 ft. But how does one become a welder in the aerospace industry, one of the most exciting, dynamic and fastest-growing industries today? To find out, the team at Welding Productivity talked to Jay Kapur, vice president of operations at Aimtek Inc.

Business class

“We’re not always looking for someone with a lot of specific aerospace experience, but we also can’t teach someone how to weld from the ground up,” Kapur says. “We’re willing to train an entry-level welder or someone just graduating from a trade school because even if someone comes in with experience, they don’t have specific experience doing the things we do. No matter the hire, there’s always a certain amount of training that has to take place.”

Most of the work that Kapur is referencing requires TIG welding experience, which he says applicants have to have. And the bulk of that work is for thin sheet metal components, with material ranging between 0.02 in. and 0.05 in. thick. Ultimately, those components are used to repair and service a multitude of Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines and other critical aircraft parts.

When Aimtek Inc. opened its doors in 1973 under the name American Industrial & Medical Products Inc., it hadn’t yet broached the world of aerospace manufacturing. It was supplying medical gases and respiratory and anesthesia supplies to hospitals and pharmaceutical companies. Expanding on its experience in gas distribution, however, Aimtek acquired Bay State Oxygen, a welding supply and industrial gas distributor, in 1977. A year later, the company took on the name Aimtek Inc.

In the 1990s, Aimtek began offering specialty welding and brazing alloys to customers in the aerospace industry. In 1998, Aimtek was named Region I Small Business Subcontractor of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration – based on a nomination submitted by one of its customers, Pratt & Whitney.

Its relationship with Pratt & Whitney continued, in particular in 2003, when Aimtek acquired Atech Turbine Components Inc., an overhaul and repair facility for Pratt & Whitney Canada turbine engine components. This is primarily where Kapur is looking to place welders.

Cleared for takeoff 

Like most welding companies, Atech adheres to American Welding Society (AWS) standards, of which there are three specifically designated for the aerospace industry: D17.1 (Specification for Fusion Welding for Aerospace Applications), D17.2 (Specification for Resistance Welding for Aerospace Applications) and D17.3 (Specification for Friction Stir Welding of Aluminum Alloys for Aerospace Applications).

Because of the safety requirements for aerospace manufacturing and repair, the company must also adhere to additional standards dictated by the FAA and by its customers.

Atech specializes in the repair and overhaul of non-rotating hot section components, including bearing covers, air seals and combustion liners.

“There are standards and procedures that we have to follow, which means that our employees have to earn internal training qualifications before being leveraged for production work,” Kapur explains. “They have to weld parts and then we have to send them to an independent lab for testing. That’s just the nature of aerospace.”

On-the-job training at Atech typically starts by working on repetitive parts under the supervision of an experienced, long-term employee. From there, a quality manager ensures that the new welder can do a certain number of jobs repetitively and successfully without failure.

Unlike other welding positions around the country, once a new hire earns his qualifications to weld at Atech, the work environment is incredibly clean. The work is also less physically intensive than a traditional MIG welding job.

“It’s clean work that’s not physically taxing, so those are major benefits to our type of work,” he says. “The shop is basically spotless, and because the parts they’re welding are typically small, all of it is bench work.”

It’s no wonder that a young welder may have aspirations to land a job in the aerospace industry. Kapur adds that there are fewer hazards and risks in positions like the ones he’s offering and that the high precision nature of the work can be very rewarding.

For welders looking for a career in aerospace manufacturing, the American Welding Society offers scholarships to help with the cost of valuable, associated education. 

Landing a job

While Kapur admits that a job candidate might not need specific aerospace experience, those that do have some under their belt will have a much easier time landing a job. So where can a young welder gain experience when most positions require experience in the first place?

Kapur says it starts by developing strong skills in TIG welding. Trade schools teach a variety of welding processes, but when students graduate, they might not be proficient in any one process. Therefore, many recent grads begin their careers by specifically looking for entry-level positions that include a certain degree of TIG welding.

Welders – regardless of the number of years they’ve been on the job – may find AWS certifications, such as the certified welding inspector (CWI), certified welding supervisor (CWS) and certified welding engineer (CWEng), helpful in advancing their careers in aerospace industry companies like Kapur’s. CWIs also have an option to supplement their AWS certification with the D17.1 Aerospace Welding Applications Endorsement credential.

Safe travels

When Atech has a job opening, the company typically posts its opportunities on employment search engines, such as The company also works with local trade schools to find promising talent, specifically asking for a school’s best TIG welders.

“TIG welding requires a different skillset,” Kapur explains. “And actually, reaching out to local trade school instructors worked well with one of our new hires. We brought him in as an intern working part time while he was in school. After he graduated, we hired him for a full-time position, and he’s been one of our best welding hires to date.”

In terms of apprenticeship opportunities at Atech, Kapur says he would appreciate a student having the initiative to reach out to him while still in school. This would give aspiring aerospace welders the chance to determine what specific skills they should focus on while attending classes.

In addition to seeking out star students, Kapur says Atech looks for candidates that are reliable and dependable. A resume that relays stability in previous positions is also desirable.

“We follow basic hiring practices in terms of seeking out candidates that can accept teaching and instruction and be able to work cooperatively,” Kapur says. “Attention to detail is also key, considering the precision required to produce aircraft parts.

“New hires also need to be self-motivated,” he continues. “There’s not a lot of standing over the shoulder here. Once they’ve been trained, they’ll basically be working independently. The parts will, of course, go through an inspection process, but there’s not a lot of micromanagement here.”

Beyond the hiring requirements that Kapur laid out, there is also mandatory pre-employment screening required. Because Atech is FAA certified, there is a strict drug-testing program in place. For most new hires, however, it’s not surprising to learn that the standards are high in regard to working on safety-critical parts. And as technology advances, those standards will continue to rise.

“More and more, technology is becoming an important part of the industry,” Kapur says. “Productivity improvements in terms of automation and robotics are becoming the norm, so moving forward, the job will expand beyond manual welding. Today, having math skills and being able to read prints help candidates get noticed, but at some point, those skills will be a requirement.”

Aerospace is an exciting industry, but its future will demand a new generation of welders that isn’t intimidated by computer controls, automation or high-tech equipment. Not only is Kapur confident that his new welding hires will step up to the plate, he has faith in the next wave of welders entering the trade overall.

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Top gun

Ask any American to describe a veteran and you’ll undoubtedly hear a huge assortment of positive attributes: Veterans are brave, strong and selfless. They are intrepid, loyal and trustworthy. They are skilled, patient and efficient.

Ask the same of anyone who’s employed a veteran and they’ll say the same and then some. Veterans are hardworking, collaborative and supportive. They are disciplined, adaptable and respectful. They thrive in team environments, exhibit a strong attention to detail and are eager to take on new responsibilities.

Veterans are highly sought after for positions in welding based on a variety of positive traits as well as specific welding experience attained from military service.

With those characteristics in mind, it’s easy to understand why a veteran would make a great employee and more specifically, a great welder. In fact, many veterans learned how to weld while on active duty, giving them a leg up in the hiring process. They also understand the importance of adhering to standards and procedures, which is integral to any welder’s day on the job. Furthermore, many veterans are still young and are looking to embark on a civilian career path that offers room for advancement.

Veterans interested in a stable, well-paying job in welding have a slew of resources of which to take advantage. In addition to the resources provided by the military, civilian programs and non-profit organizations have been established for the sole purpose of helping returning service members carve out a path toward a sustainable, lucrative career.

Cool careers

Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot more to military service than active combat and training. To ensure troop readiness – especially when overseas – many service members are tasked with the responsibilities of maintaining and repairing vehicles, equipment, weapons and facilities. The cultivation of welding skills through military ordnance schools is key in these critical operations.

At the U.S. Army Ordnance School at Fort Lee, for example, enlisted service men and women can attend a welding training program that is certified as an American Welding Society (AWS) SENSE school. SENSE, which stands for schools excelling through national skills education, offers a set of specifications and guidelines that define and teach the skills employers in the welding industry are looking for in new hires. Students that attend and graduate from a SENSE school are highly sought after, meaning veterans that received this type of instruction during their military career can and should leverage the experience in their transition into civilian life.

Veterans are highly sought after for positions in welding based on a variety of positive traits as well as specific welding experience attained from military service.

Beyond the practical training offered to service men and women through ordnance schools, such as the one at Fort Lee, all four branches of the military deliver useful employment information on their credentialing opportunities online (COOL) websites. The COOL websites offer a one-stop-shopping approach to help service members and veterans find information on certifications and licenses related to their post-service job interests. The goal is to connect the dots between the training service members received in the military and the credentials and experience required for civilian employment.

“Each branch of the military has a COOL site that does a nice job of translating the military occupational codes into industry-recognized certifications and potential careers that map nicely for service men and women that are going to be separating,” says Monica Pfarr, executive director at the AWS Foundation. “Based on their military experience, the sites offer information on careers that wouldn’t require too much extra education or training to transfer into a civilian career. It’s a helpful resource for determining what they’re going to do in the next chapters of their lives.”

The guidance provided on the websites can get fairly specific. As an example, someone who performed maintenance on military vehicles could be linked to the civilian certifications that are related to that military experience and could also see lists of related occupations and continuing education that may be of interest.        

In regard to applicable certifications and continuing education, the COOL websites have partnered with organizations, such as the AWS, to offer how-to advice to attain those valuable accreditations. Once a career path and the necessary post-military education are identified, the COOL websites also direct veterans to financial aid resources, such as tuition assistance programs and the GI Bill.   

In the U.S. Navy, some maintenance must happen underwater. Shown here, a serviceman produces a fillet weld in a training pool. Photo Credit: U.S. Navy combat camera photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Charles E. White/Released.

Like the COOL websites, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website offers a wealth of information and services for veterans trying to identify a potential career path that fits their skill sets and interests. Programs, such as Veterans ReEmployment and My Next Move for Vets, can also be accessed via the VA website.   

Civilian services

The amount of career assistance made available by the military and VA for transitioning service members is impressive, but it is just a fraction of the services that veterans can rely on. From major corporations to mom-and-pop shops, companies throughout the United States are looking to show their gratitude to veterans in the form of long-term, well-paying employment.     

Take Ford Motor Co., for example. The company currently employs about 6,000 veterans in all types of positions and facilities in the United States and around the world. In fact, company leadership considers the practice of hiring veterans as a competitive advantage. The positive habits, attitudes, skills and work ethics accrued during military service are hard to attain elsewhere.

Ford has also partnered with the United Auto Workers (UAW) and Wounded Warriors organization to prepare veterans for a career in welding. The intensive, six-week program, which takes place at the UAW-Ford Technical Training Center in Lincoln Park, Mich., offers training in most common types of welding, including MIG, TIG and stick. For participants that don’t live in or around Lincoln Park, room and board as well as financial aid for additional expenses may be available.

At the end of the course, participants are awarded a UAW-Ford Welding Course certificate and have the opportunity to take the AWS Certified Welder test in the 1G through 4G positions. There are also job coordinators to help course graduates find permanent employment.

During their time in the military, service men and women practice and perfect their welding skills, preparing them for eventual jobs in the civilian sector. Photo Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Konstandinos Goumenidis.

Airgas Inc. is another major corporation committed to hiring veterans. The industrial gas supply company has a long record of supporting veterans and military families through active recruitment of employees with military experience. To date, the company has hired more than 1,000 veterans. It also offers a welding training program free of charge to veterans.

For the past 10 years, the industrial gas supply company has supported Operation Homefront, a non-profit organization that provides military families with a variety of relief programs. Airgas support has come in the form of associate manpower at Operation Homefront fundraisers and charity events around the country as well as donations totaling more than $1 million.

Additionally, Airgas Merchant Gases, an Airgas business unit, recently signed a statement of support with the Texas Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a Department of Defense program.

“We’re proud to support military families – within Airgas and in the communities in which we operate,” says Tom Carson, Airgas’ vice president of human resources. “Military veterans exhibit certain skills and traits that are highly desirable. Therefore, Airgas conducts targeted military recruitment efforts to help us connect with transitioning military members and veterans on and off base.”

Homegrown heroes

Clearly, veterans are highly sought after at all types of companies. But many veterans’ employment decisions are dependent on the type of industry predominant in the geographic area in which they resided prior to enlistment. Often times, when a service member retires from the military, the first order of business is to head home to pick up where they left off.

No matter the size of their hometown, it’s highly likely that there are businesses just as eager as Ford and Airgas to hire veterans – especially those that hail from their community. Many business owners have a dire need to fill positions to make up for the large number of baby boomers that are retiring. Fortunately, the military population is incredibly diverse, which aligns well with the need for non-traditional candidates in the welding industry.

A good place for veterans to start looking for work could be the chamber of commerce in their local community. And, if certifications or further education is of interest, nearby community colleges and trade schools often offer military-specific programs. In fact, the AWS works with a variety of community colleges and technical schools that offer welding programs tailored to veterans. Examples can be found all over the country.

In Virginia, where there is a major need for welders to produce U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and submarines, Thomas Nelson Community College is collaborating with Huntington Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding and the Peninsula Council for Workforce Development to offer the Veterans Marine Welder Training program. The three-week, 120-hour intensive course teaches veterans stick welding based on AWS standards.

And in Texas, through the Dallas County Community College District’s Veteran Success Through Accelerated Career Pathways program, veterans can earn industry certification on MIG, TIG and stick. Like with many colleges and trade schools, veterans may be eligible for additional college credit based on the training and experience they gained while in active service.

A U.S. Navy hull maintenance technician MIG welds a bracket for an oxygen tank rack aboard the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. Photo Credit: U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate Airman Joshua C. Kinter.

Although many veterans head back to their hometowns after leaving service, it’s important to remember that they may be willing to relocate, as they were accustomed to moving with the military while in service.

“Many of them have families that they return to – their spouses, their kids, extended family and friends – so naturally they’re going to gravitate back to their home to look for employment there,” Pfarr explains. “By and large, they want to go back home, but depending on what the manufacturing base is in their local area, they’re often flexible enough to look beyond their backdoor.”

Paying it forward

According to GuideStar, an information service that specializes in non-profit companies, there are more than 45,000 non-profit organizations in the United States devoted to veterans and their families. While not all of them are focused on veteran employment, chances are many of them are well-connected with their local communities to, at the very least, be able to send a veteran looking for employment in the right direction.

As mentioned, the AWS promotes and partners with a variety of groups that offer veteran welding training programs, such as the UAW and Wounded Warriors. Additionally, the AWS also collaborates with Workshops for Warriors (WFW), a non-profit that trains, certifies and helps place veterans in advanced manufacturing positions. In fact, WFW is among the two percent of veteran service organizations in the United States with revenues of more than $1 million per year. Furthermore, of that two percent, WFW falls within the 17 percent that have full-time employees. More than 83 percent of WFW donations go directly to training veterans.

When the team at AWS partners with groups such as WFW, they offer support building curriculums and sharing resources that can propel veterans toward certifications that are essential in securing employment. In 2015, WFW won the AWS Excellence in Welding Award thanks to its dedication to promote the image of welding amongst its students and local community.

In addition to working with a variety of non-profits, AWS partners with all military branches to ensure the information about AWS certifications are accessible and accurate on all of the COOL websites. Support in this regard includes mapping military occupational service codes to AWS certifications, offering steps to achieve certifications through links to resources and more. Additionally, AWS certifications are GI Bill approved for most branches.

Localized support from the AWS is also available in the form of its local sections and members. Many participate in area job fairs and can also be contacted to discover which local businesses place priority on hiring veterans.

Currently, about 20 million veterans live in the United States. Although the unemployment rate for veterans has been declining in past years, millions of veterans are still unemployed or underemployed.

The team at Welding Productivity applauds all of the organizations working so hard to assist our military men and women as they return from duty. Veterans deserve our utmost gratitude. But even more so, they deserve a future that is stable, lucrative and rewarding. And for many, a career in welding can provide them that future.

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Join the resistance

For every car we drive, every airplane we take and a whole host of other products that we rely on in our daily lives, resistance welding plays a major role. But when compared to other types of welding, such as MIG and TIG, resistance welding seems like it’s more of a background player.

“All automobiles, most aircraft and heavy trucks as well as numerous appliances, home goods, tools, water heaters, office furniture, caskets, electronics and smartphones contain resistance welds, and really, the list could go on and on,” says Don DeCorte, vice president of RoMan Mfg. Inc., a manufacturer of water-cooled high-current, low-power resistance welding sources. “And many of those items are 100 percent resistance welded. Despite being one of the most misunderstood and underappreciated welding processes, resistance welding, ironically, is one of the most robust, proven and simple of all of the various welding processes used today.”

Because resistance welding doesn’t require additional materials to create a strong bond, the process is extremely cost effective.

Key advantages of resistance welding include strong bonds, no need for filler materials, easy monitoring and control, low overall operating costs and little to no emissions. While an arc welder must cultivate the skills to lay down a successful weld, resistance welding technicians operate equipment that produces the welds. Unlike the arc welding process, the success of a resistance weld is highly dependent on equipment design, settings, and maintenance processes and procedures.

Based on its current position on the welding totem pole, it’s safe to say that resistance welding could benefit from a public service announcement. So, with the help of the American Welding Society (AWS) and experts like DeCorte, Welding Productivity was honored to take on the task.

DeCorte started his career in Detroit in 1979 rebuilding resistance welding machines and controls. He has been with RoMan Mfg. for 25 years and is a lifetime member, counselor and past national director at large for AWS.

Process details

The AWS website defines resistance welding as “the joining of metals by applying pressure and passing current for a length of time through the metal area which is to be joined.” DeCorte defines it a bit more simply: “Resistance welding can best be described as a heat, time and pressure welding process.”

Several subcategories are found under the resistance welding umbrella, including spot and seam welding, projection welding, flash butt welding and upset welding.  While those subcategories share similar processing technology, the equipment is often specifically designed to accommodate the various applications involved. For example, in seam welding, the workpiece rolls between wheel-shaped electrodes while the weld current is applied. For projection welding, welds are localized at predetermined points via projections, embossments or intersections to focus heat at the point of contact.

Resistance welding is a staple form of joining for a range of applications, including automotive, aerospace and heavy equipment.

“From simple manually fed equipment to very sophisticated fully automatic machines, there are many levels of resistance welding equipment available,” DeCorte says. “In smaller shops, for example, operators are responsible for pulling parts at certain intervals to conduct quality tests to assure the machines are working correctly. In other cases with more sophisticated equipment, machine controllers and monitors can stop the machines and give indications that something is wrong.”

Perception problem

“I could be considered biased, but resistance welding doesn’t get much attention when you consider the entire welding industry as a whole,” DeCorte says. “Although MIG and other variations of arc welding are responsible for 98 percent of the welding in the world, resistance welding holds an important niche in the market as it can complete welds that other processes cannot.”

Because resistance welding isn’t as well known as other welding processes, finding skilled welding technicians and engineers that are trained to operate and maintain these machines is difficult.

“Many times,” DeCorte continues, “the operators and, in some cases, maintenance staff have issues identifying the true nature of a problem because so much of the process is controlled by the machines and electronic controllers that run the equipment.”

So how does one become trained in resistance welding technology and application? Unlike traditional welding courses available at vocational schools and community colleges worldwide, resistance welding education is not as prevalent or easy to find. More often than not, the only training available is from the OEMs themselves that want to ensure their new customers fully understand how to operate their new equipment.

The Resistance Welding Manufacturers Alliance (RWMA), a standing committee within AWS, recognized this important need and has been instrumental in developing educational programming in resistance welding.

In the know

For more than 40 years, the RWMA has offered an intensive 1.5-day Resistance Welding School that covers all aspects of resistance welding. Their Fall Resistance Welding School will be held from Nov. 11-14 at McCormick Place in Chicago. More information, including the method for registration, is available online.

Also available through AWS is an online course titled Welding Fundamentals II that focuses on the science, equipment, consumables, variables, safety precautions, and advantages and disadvantages inherent to resistance welding, plasma arc welding, electron beam welding, laser beam welding, cutting and drilling. More information is available on the AWS website.

AWS and RWMA are also pleased to introduce a new certification (and the first in resistance welding), the Certified Resistance Welding Technician (CRWT) certification, which will be offered in late 2019. This certification is targeted for skilled tradesmen, technicians and engineers that work with resistance welding in their daily jobs and want a deeper understanding of the process.

“Until now, the only real measuring stick for employers to gauge an individual’s knowledge of the resistance welding process was to ask if they had taken the RWMA welding course,” DeCorte explains. “Starting later this year, the addition of the CRWT and the fact that it will be managed and maintained in the same way that all AWS certifications are managed will allow employers to know before they hire someone that they have a specific working knowledge of the process. This is win/win for both employer and employee.”

Candidates who pass the CRWT exam will have demonstrated that they have the knowledge and skills to operate resistance welding machinery, perform weld quality checks and manufacture consistent products. Those who earn the CRWT credential may have more opportunities for career advancement and higher income.

Resistance welding is well-suited for automation, further elevating an already highly controlled and repeatable process.

“When companies are seeking high-quality individuals in the arc welding industry, they recognize the value of the AWS CWI certification and are willing to pay individuals more when they have it,” DeCorte says. “With the CRWT, the resistance welding industry will have a recognized certification that employers can use as a benchmark when hiring new operators, technicians and engineers. The RWMA school along with the addition of the CRWT certification will assure individuals have knowledge of machines, setup, testing and quality processes, all of which are directly related to resistance welding.”

In addition to the CRWT certification, AWS is also in the final review stages of the 6th edition of its Standard C1.1, Recommended Practices for Resistance Welding, as well as C1.5, the Specification for the Qualification of Resistance Welding Technicians. Both publications will be available in the AWS Bookstore later this year.

In-house efforts

In conjunction with the extensive efforts at AWS, DeCorte says that resistance welding equipment manufacturers such as RoMan Mfg. must also assume the responsibility of training welders on the equipment and products as well as the process in general.

“We have a huge need to ensure our employees understand how our product is used and how it must perform for customers,” he says. “The better our people understand the process and what key roll our product plays in the function of the equipment, the better our product will be and the better we can service and help customers.”

Even though RoMan Mfg. doesn’t make the entire resistance welding machine, it does produce special power supplies and transformers that go into the resistance welding machines and robotic welding guns that make the actual welds. The company’s parts are integral to the success of resistance welding operations and, therefore, a deep understanding of the overall process is critical for all who work there.

“Until now, we had to supply all of the training to our employees and customers,” DeCorte explains. “With the recent launch of AWS’s online training, a redesign of the RWMA resistance welding school and the new CRWT certification, we’ll be able to have more employees get both basic and advanced training.

“When I tell someone that I’m in the resistance welding industry, it comes as no surprise when they ask me what color my welding helmet is,” DeCorte muses. “Perhaps we can change that.”

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Group effort

This January, anyone involved in the quality control efforts at their place of business should head to Houston. Not just because the weather will be good, but because four industry organizations will combine forces to offer a first-of-its-kind conference based solely on quality control and inspection. Inspection Conference 2020 will be held Jan. 21-23 at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Houston and will serve as an educational forum to examine the various ways that quality control and inspection activities are advancing in the industry.

Quality control happens at all stages of welding. The more a welder knows about the entire process, the more valuable they’ll be on the jobsite.

Undoubtedly, there’s a lot that falls under the QC umbrella, so to deliver on all of the ins and outs, the American Welding Society (AWS), American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT), American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) and NACE International (The Corrosion Society) are in the process of developing a comprehensive agenda for the event. With a focus on the four organization’s core missions – corrosion engineering, nondestructive testing, steel construction and welding inspections – attendees can expect tips and resources to improve the quality of everything from plans and drawings to documentation, visual inspections, procedures and testing processes.

As the group continues to gather abstracts for the event, which can be submitted on the AWS website, there are plenty of reasons to learn more about each partner organization that is taking part. Year round, their shared goal is to help those in the metals fabrication industry deliver the highest quality products possible.

Tested, certified

The ASNT, a technical society for nondestructive testing (NDT) professionals, has been around for 77 years and its certifications have been considered the most recognized credentials in the industry for NDT. While most welders – and especially certified welding inspectors (CWIs) – are familiar with the organization, the conference will serve as an effective stage for ASNT to showcase the breadth of its leadership in NDT, including advancements that are being made in the field and resources that are available to association members to help them in their quality control and inspection efforts.

The American Society for Nondestructive Testing offers a host of resources for welders and fabricators to enhance their internal quality control efforts.

Understandably, attendance at the conference as well as membership and certification with ASNT are beneficial to both employees and employers alike. For employers and their business, ASNT certification offers a competitive advantage over other businesses that may not have it. ASNT certification amongst job applicants is also helpful during the hiring process as it indicates to the employer that a job candidate is competent in NDT. For employees, the certifications and resources available through ASNT can be a big help during day-to-day work while also helping them advance in their careers.

“Understanding what a weld inspection will require is paramount to being a successful certified welder,” says James Bennett, chief technical officer at ASNT. “The weld can be subjected to any number of NDT methods and techniques at various stages of the welding process in addition to the finished weld. NDT certification itself will require principle and theory training, work experience and examination. Unfortunately, for many welders, certification isn’t available through their employer, but training and understanding can be gained through self-study, online courses or in a classroom.”

For employers that are willing to aid their welders in gaining certification, there are four ASNT certification programs currently available: ASNT NDT Level III, ASNT Central Certification Program (ACCP), ASNT NDT Level II and Industrial Radiography and Radiation Safety Personnel (IRRSP). For many welders, AWS’s CWI certification is a stepping stone for certification in NDT. Thanks to the reciprocity agreement between ASNT and AWS, welders that have CWI certification can apply for an ACCP visual testing certification without having to take the otherwise mandatory test.

As the most recognized credential in structural steel construction, the AISC certification indicates that a fabricator or erector’s quality control management system is well developed and robust.

In terms of public safety, the more welders that are certified – or at the very least, educated – in NDT, the better. With a focus on educating attendees in new methods and strategies, the Inspection Conference 2020 can be a valuable resource in understanding NDT processes and technologies, producing quality welds and, in turn, increasing public safety.

Sound structures

Since AISC’s founding in 1921, the organization has become the leader in structural steel-related activities and has set the standard for structural steel building integrity. AISC’s certifications are considered the most recognized credentials in the industry for structural steel quality assurance. In fact, businesses that hold the AISC certificate are considered among the most qualified to fabricate and erect steel structures in North America and around the world.

AISC certification was put in place to help fabricators and erectors build quality structures through error prevention as opposed to error correction. The process for certification begins with comprehensive evaluations, including an eligibility review, a documentation audit of the applicant’s quality management system (QMS) and, finally, an on-site audit of the applicant’s QMS.

Although AISC certification is not based solely in welding, there are several instances during the evaluation that would benefit from a CWI or another welder that is experienced in structural welding procedures and the D1.1 code, which dictates the safe building of steel structures. Art Bustos, certification program analyst at AISC, says that one aspect of the certification process involves reviewing applicant welding procedure specifications (WPSs).

Corrosion at the point of a weld is common, but there are many strategies and techniques that can be implemented to minimize or greatly delay its effect.

“We ask that applicants submit a sample of a current WPS and a current welder performance qualification record,” Bustos says. “We need to know that they have these systems in place and have qualified welders in their facility. Eventually, we’ll also conduct on-site interviews of quality personnel and welders at all levels.”

Despite the extensive nature of the process, AISC certification comes with big payoffs – everything from developing the robust quality assurance systems that AISC demands of its applicants to winning jobs thanks to the reputation the certification holds.

In addition to its certification program, AISC offers both members and nonmembers access to educational offerings, industry conferences and free online sessions that Bustos recommends for use as toolbox talks.

“We conduct more than 100 NASCC: The Steel Conference sessions each year and have been posting them on our website since 2008, so a lot of topics have been covered,” he says. “They’re about 45 minutes long, so someone can review that session and then truncate it into a toolbox talk.”

Likewise, AISC’s sessions at the Inspection Conference will be beneficial for attendees, bringing them up to speed with the latest quality control and inspection activities in structural steel applications.

Protecting assets

NACE, a non-profit organization that advocates corrosion awareness and action, just celebrated its 75th year in operation and will be a key player in the Inspection Conference 2020. With quality control and public safety on the conference docket, NACE’s mission statement is perfectly aligned with the overriding conference goals:

“NACE Institute will improve public safety and environmental protection by advocating corrosion awareness and action, and provide unparalleled qualification programs that drive corrosion industry performance.”

As an AWS CWI, a welder’s career opportunities greatly expand – especially in quality control and inspection capacities.

Kari Hodge, senior exam design, development and analysis manager at NACE, put it in a nutshell, saying NACE’s mission “is to protect assets from corrosion.” Although her organization’s scope is wide, she adds that there are several applications of interest to the welding community, including one of the most efficient methods to control corrosion: coatings.

Naturally, one of the first places a corrosive-resistant coating will fail is at the weld. And that’s why NACE’s flagship training program would be of interest to welders and fabricators that regularly coat their products. Its Coating Inspection Program offers three levels of accreditation, setting the standard for quality control and inspection in the protective coatings industry.

Like the other organizations involved in the Inspection Conference 2020, NACE’s certifications are recognized worldwide as the most comprehensive available in the industry. The curriculum includes corrosion control, paint application and inspection, and project management. Considering how important it is for welders and fabricators to understand how their welds affect steel surface coatings, the resources available through NACE should be of great interest – as well as its sessions during the conference.    

Career benefits

Clearly, there are many avenues that welders can take to improve the quality of their welds. But perhaps more exciting, there are also many avenues for welders to enhance their careers in the areas of quality control and inspection. For Joe Young, senior manager workforce development at the AWS Foundation, the avenue of choice was attaining his CWI certification.

“If you want to dip your toe in the water in this industry, there’s a lot of water,” he says. “With a CWI certification, you can easily transition from one side of the industry to the other side. It’s proof that you understand the technical side of welding as well as the quality control side. The exam is incredibly comprehensive and requires serious preparation, but if you apply yourself, you can achieve something great.”

As a welding inspector, Young says he can be involved in more aspects of a project than one might realize. A welding inspector has to ensure that welds and welding-related activities comply with quality and safety criteria, and that can include anything that happens before, during and after welding.

“Something as simple as a small structure that can hold water benefits from a CWI’s input,” he says. “We have to verify the materials the engineer specifies, inspect the type of welds and their correct location, and even determine if ambient and material temperatures are okay for that type of work. We check to make sure the correct electrodes are being used and whether the welder is qualified to do that type of work. The CWI certification prepares you for that entire process.”

Young’s career started more than 10 years ago stick welding at his family’s landscape business. When the economy crashed shortly thereafter, he enrolled in college, taking a variety of classes to see what interested him most. He quickly realized, however, that he had a knack for welding and that with welders in such high demand, there was a lot of potential in the field.

“It took 10 years, but I built a great career for myself,” he says. “My advice for the welders out there trying to achieve their CWI certification, yes the test is harder than heck, but anyone that applies themselves has the potential to pass it.”

To get help with the test-taking process, AWS offers a slew of resources, including pre-exam seminars, educational resources on its website and other online classes, such as its D1.1 code class. Additional test-taking advice can come from attendance at the Inspection Conference 2020 as it offers unique networking access with CWI professionals that have already prepared for and passed the exam.

“For me, if I’m looking at the CWI certification, I would definitely want to be in attendance,” Young says. “I’d want to pick people’s brains to find out how they overcame the obstacles of the exam and what advice they have for how to use the certification as a building block for a good career. Anyone at the conference would be more than happy to share their experience while also gaining new knowledge.

“As a CWI, you always want to be proactive and be engaged with how technology is changing,” he continues. “Having a balanced understanding of the changing industry landscape is important because it could save you a lot of headaches on the job. I’m looking forward to learning about new technologies and strategies that are being implemented in the industry just as much as I’m looking forward to hearing from CWIs, CWEs and that whole network of folks that get together and pitch out all of their oddball questions. And that’s because there’s a good chance that I’ve faced the same challenges they have. It’s going to be a great place to learn from everyone and to continue to grow our careers.”

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Helping hand

Ask a room full of fabricating shop owners or welding department supervisors what their biggest challenge is and they will all voice the same complaint: We can’t find qualified people. On the flip side, there are millions of students, veterans, disabled individuals and other hardworking people who want nothing more than a shot at a good-paying job. Wouldn’t it be a fantastic idea to bring those two groups together?

A future welder, welding engineer or fabricating shop owner? Shown here is one of the many recipients of an AWS Foundation scholarship.

That’s what Monica Pfarr thinks. And even though it wasn’t her idea, the executive director of the American Welding Society (AWS) Foundation spends her days doing exactly that, awarding scholarships to students and grants to schools and universities and promoting welding education and workforce development however she can.

So whose idea was it? Any welding history buff might recognize the name. In 1989, Glenn Gibson, one of the inventors of MIG welding, made the initial $300,000 contribution responsible for launching the AWS Foundation, now a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) charitable organization.

A proud legacy

Glenn Gibson has since passed, but his initiative was quite successful. Now in its 30th year, the AWS Foundation awards more than $1 million annually to students seeking vocational welding certificates and associates degrees in welding technology or engineering and even to Ph.D. candidates working toward a doctorate in welding science.

Many others have followed in Gibson’s footsteps. Notable industry contributors include The Lincoln Electric Co. and ITW/Miller, individual donors such as former and current Foundation board chairmen Ron Pierce and Bill Rice, and especially the AWS itself. Because of this generosity, the AWS Foundation continues to thrive.

“The monetary amount and number of scholarships that we award annually have grown each year since our founding,” Pfarr says. “In fact, we’ll provide more than $1.5 million to students pursuing welding-related education in 2019 alone.”

One example is Daniella Morris, a student at Ohio State University slated to graduate this year with a bachelor’s degree in welding engineering. Thanks to a scholarship from the AWS Foundation, she has had more time to focus on her studies in the face of a heavy course load, one that included internships at automaker Honda and engineering services firm EWI in Columbus, and most recently, her second summer at SpaceX.

“Welding engineering is an extremely overlooked degree,” she said in a thank you letter to the AWS. “There aren’t many things that we use each day that aren’t welded or somehow related to welding. Because the coursework with this degree is so diverse, it has helped me to connect the concepts in my physics, statistics, chemistry, materials science, metallurgy, welding, electrical engineering and math classes. This is a very diverse field, and I encourage other women and undergrads to consider welding engineering as a career.”

The AWS Foundation and its 53-ft. semi-trailer travel across the United States, teaching people about the opportunities that exist in the welding industry.

Words of gratitude

Countless other thank you letters arrive at Pfarr’s desk or inbox each year, many of them from vocational and high school instructors sharing success stories.

  • An AWS grant allowed North Montco Technical Career Center to install three additional MillerMatic MIG welding work stations in its welding lab. “This equipment provides students with the hands-on training they need to succeed in the welding field,” wrote curriculum specialist Bob Lacivita. “The result is that 80 percent of our students gained full-time employment in the welding or related industry within two years of graduating.”
  • Mark Hadley, program director at Davis Technical College, was able to hire a full-time instructor to teach a welding technology program at a local area high school, easing capacity problems at the college and increasing enrollment by 45 percent. “This will have a huge impact on our ability to meet the workforce needs of our industry partners,” he wrote.
  • Sikeston Career and Technology Center welding instructor Brent Trankler was able to add three machines with pulse welding capabilities, allowing the staff to train 100 percent of the students on a process “that is increasingly predominant in the local economy,” he noted. “This has resulted in students coming out of the program more confident, better trained and workforce ready.”
  • A $25,000 AWS grant allowed Mark Dombroski, executive director at Michigan’s Industrial Arts Institute (IAI), to broaden the scope of IAI’s services to a local school. “Thanks to the additional welding booths, Onaway High School is now able to send students to IAI for six hours of welding each week during their school year,” he wrote.

Again, these are just a few of the many examples of the AWS Foundation’s profound impact on young people searching for a good-paying and increasingly vital profession.

“We award about $300,000 annually in grants to help schools improve and expand their welding programs, which we feel has a profound, long-term impact on the industry,” Pfarr says.

On the road

Pfarr and her colleagues at the AWS Foundation don’t just sit at desks and answer telephones all day, waiting for donations. Instead, they actively promote welding by showing it to people using a 53-ft. expandable semi-trailer.

“We travel the country exhibiting at state fairs, farm expos, trade shows and other large events,” she says. “We get around 30,000 visitors each year by using the trailer. They have an opportunity to try out virtual reality welding. We have hands-on displays showcasing the variety of careers available in the welding industry and people on hand to answer questions about our programs and about the welding industry in general. It’s pretty cool.”

It’s also important. Data suggests that, due to the combination of worker attrition and manufacturing growth, the industry will need an additional 375,000 welders by 2022. If welding’s stereotype as a dirty, dangerous job doesn’t disappear, however, that figure is unlikely to improve. Pfarr hopes to change all that.

In addition to student scholarships, the AWS Foundation provides much-needed equipment to educators to ensure that future welders can learn the trade on the best equipment available.

“A big part of our mission is to educate the public about recent advancements in welding automation and the new technologies under development,” she says. “It’s an excellent time for a young person, a veteran or anyone looking for a rewarding career to consider welding. And because we work closely with suppliers and manufacturers – many of them donors – there are a lot of opportunities for employment after graduation. Just call us, log on to our website or talk to an area instructor. The application process is quite easy, and eligible students usually get access to the funds by the following semester. It’s really a great program.”

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The write stuff

Many welding applications require a welding procedure specification (WPS) – a document that provides direction on how to complete welds correctly and repeatedly. When written properly, a WPS helps takes the guesswork out of producing high-quality welds every time.

A WPS provides direction on how to perform welds correctly and repeatedly. When written properly, a WPS helps takes the guesswork out of producing high-quality welds every time.

Even when a WPS isn’t required for a job, completing one can offer significant benefits for weld quality, time savings and reduction of rework.

Writing a welding procedure – especially for the first time – may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Learn more about the benefits of using these documents and tips for writing a WPS.

When it’s required

A WPS may be required by the welding code being used for the job; this is common for structural and oil and gas welding, for example. For some manufacturers, a WPS may also be a customer request or requirement. Even when it’s not mandatory, having a WPS is a good practice to help ensure consistent welding performance and optimize productivity.

The document outlines the parameters and processes to follow to create a quality weld for the specific joint design and application. For complex assemblies with various joint designs and weld types, multiple procedures may be required or beneficial. The detailed information often includes welding process, type and size of filler metal, welding pass sequences, preheat and interpass temperatures, wire feed speed, amperage and voltage. The more detailed the WPS, the better.

The detailed information in a WPS often includes welding process, type and size of filler metal, welding pass sequences, preheat and interpass temperatures, wire feed speed, amperage and voltage.

A WPS also helps communicate expectations. Good welds can be made at low-productivity or high-productivity parameters. To maximize the cost effectiveness of the welding operation, the WPS can outline the parameters that deliver quality in addition to high productivity.

If a company has high welder employee turnover, the details outlined in a WPS can help reduce training time and bring consistency no matter the welder’s skill level. Consistency in welding results in cost effectiveness – the faster that welds are completed and the less rework involved, the more costs are reduced.

When a welding code includes prequalified procedures to be followed, there is no requirement to write a WPS for that application. Prequalified procedures outline proven methods and parameters for specific welding applications – almost like a template for success. Only if the welder must deviate from the prequalified ranges would the procedure need to be requalified.


Every time there is a WPS, there will also be a procedure qualification record (PQR), unless the application is using prequalified procedures. This document is just as important as the WPS, as it supports the welding procedures with testing results.

Chemical analysis and mechanical testing are the core results of PQR testing. All of the information detailed in the WPS – the combination of amps and voltage, pass sequences, filler metal, base materials and joint designs used to produce a weld – are tested to ensure they produce the necessary chemical and mechanical properties. Those results are then detailed in the PQR, which forms the basis for the ranges that will be provided for each variable in the WPS.

Put another way, the WPS details how a quality weld is produced, while the PQR shows the actual testing and results of completing welds with those specifications.

A welder qualification record (WQR) is another document that may or may not need to be included with a WPS. The WQR shows that a welder has tested and is qualified to make specific types of welds. It’s often required for certain codes, such as AWS D1.1 Structural Welding Code – Steel. Having a WQR is an indication that a welder can apply the WPS to produce high-quality welds.

Writing a WPS requires research and testing to ensure the details being included are effective for the specific application. Filler metal data sheets or certificates of conformance can be a good starting point for suggested parameter ranges.

Writing a WPS

Writing a WPS does require some research and experimentation to ensure the details being included are effective for the specific application. Helpful resources are available. When drafting a WPS, consider these three tips.

  • Determine the expectations of the welding to be performed: Are mechanical properties the most important driver? For example, is low-temperature toughness a requirement? If so, it may be wise to specify a filler metal trade name, rather than just the classification, on the WPS to ensure that requirements can be consistently met. If productivity is an important driver, take shop skill level into account. Outlining tight control of welding variables is excellent for repeatability, but it introduces a level of difficulty to ensure conformance.
  • Do some homework: Refer to manufacturer recommendations, such as the data sheets for the welding filler metal to be used. These often indicate minimums and maximums of an acceptable operating range and can be used to develop good starting parameters. However, don’t rely on data sheet ranges alone because a proper WPS requires testing the settings to ensure they work for the specific application and conditions. Consult a filler metal’s certificate of conformance, which will list the gas and parameters used, joint design and other factors.

To write a good WPS, it’s also important to understand the nature of the process and the desired weld. This involves consideration of four issues:

  • Process versus travel speed: Some processes allow higher travel speeds due to higher deposition rates – a metal-cored wire compared to a solid wire or a flux-cored wire compared to a stick electrode, for example. This may change the weld pass sequence.
  • Joint design versus travel speed: It’s easy to “ride the puddle” and not get good penetration when there is a tight root opening with little bevel. Very narrow joints require higher travel speeds to ensure good weld quality. A narrow joint design also affects the choice of wire diameter. A thicker wire provides higher deposition but may fill up the joint too fast and prevent proper fusion.
  • Welding position versus travel speed: Typically, the operator must maintain a good travel speed when making a vertical up or overhead weld, as going too slow will cause the molten metal to drip. A high-deposition filler metal such as metal-cored wire may not work best for vertical up welding because it lacks slag that supports the weld puddle and requires lowering the wire feed speed to maintain a proper weld puddle. Consider the welding position and necessary travel speed when choosing processes.
  • Material type versus heat input: Certain materials require better control over heat input. For example, high-strength, low-alloy steels often require tighter control of heat input and preheat/interpass temperatures. If heat input is too high or low, it can affect weld quality, such as hydrogen-induced cracking or mechanical properties like tensile strength in the heat-affected zone.
  • Do some lab work: It’s important to assess and ensure acceptable performance at the upper and lower ends of the range specified in the WPS. If performance is unacceptable, limit the range slightly. Next, work with the floor personnel to determine the best balance between productivity and the average welder skill level. This may require a time study.

It’s also important to look at a weld cross section to ensure that good fusion and a good bead profile are being obtained. An operator may be welding at a high deposition rate but not getting good root fusion or a good overall cross section. Borderline root fusion may become lack of root fusion with minor modifications to welding parameters. Ensure that the WPS offers robust ranges and leaves no room for error.

All of the information detailed in the WPS are tested to ensure they produce the necessary chemical and mechanical properties.

Finishing touches

In addition to the technical details and experimentation necessary to write a good WPS, it’s also important to follow some basic formatting guidelines to get the most out of the procedures.

Use a consistent format and flow, which makes locating information easier and can eliminate confusion when looking at different procedures. This is especially true when using multiple procedures on one component or project.

WPS examples and templates can be found in Annex N of AWS D1.1 or Annex O of AWS D1.5. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers also offers a WPS template. Here are some examples: a sample WPS form for gas metal arc welding and flux-cored welding, a sample PQR form and a sample WQR form.

Another step that eliminates confusion is to detail pass sequence requirements. This helps welders estimate appropriate travel speeds, weave width and wire placement. Wire placement is not something typically described in a standard WPS template, but it can be an important factor for some automated applications. In these cases, noting wire placement and oscillation settings can be a significant time saver if anything happens to the robot programming.

Writing and implementing an optimized WPS requires doing the legwork. Making this effort helps ensure welding operations are producing a WPS that is most effective for the specific application, which can reduce rework and downtime, shorten welder training time and lower overall costs.

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Making dreams

The creative genius Leonardo Da Vinci is credited with blending art, engineering and science during the Italian Renaissance. Da Vinci toiled in solitude, but present day innovators, designers and artists are joining the maker movement and exploring ideas, processes and problem solving in a social learning environment. Known as makerspaces, hackerspaces or even fablabs, these organizations are community centers and networks for creative people.

Artist Gretchen Greene uses a Hypertherm Powermax45 at the Artisan’s Asylum, a makerspace in Somerville, Mass. Photo courtesy of Glenn Kulbako.

“We’re like the YMCA for people who make stuff,” says Hannah Wides, manual operations manager at Open Works, a nonprofit makerspace in Baltimore. People gravitate to makerspaces for many reasons. There is the social aspect generated though shared interests and exploration, but mainly individuals want to be inspired and tinker on their own projects.

Wides explains, “Some people can’t or don’t want to invest in a home shop, and then there are entrepreneurs using our facility as an affordable new business incubator.”

Community workshops

New makerspace locations are sprouting up nationally and worldwide. In the last decade, the number of makerspaces globally has grown from about 100 to approximately 1,500 today. The White House even hosted its first Maker Faire in 2014 and a year later, established an annual National Week of Making, held each June.

It’s the do-it-yourself culture and the release of human potential that’s fueling this grassroots movement. People are rejecting mass consumption, seeking meaningful work and have a desire to understand new and emerging technologies. These local hubs have become a creative resource for their own communities and a support system for every generation of makers.

Typically nonprofit, makerspaces are financed through corporate donations, foundation grants, fundraising, tax credits and public support. Anyone in the community can pay a monthly membership fee, much like a gym membership, to gain access to equipment housed on-site in makerspace workshops. Along with classes, social events, craft and hardware supplies, digital technology and computer labs, members gain access to powerful machine tool technology used in professional fabrication shops – 3-D printers, laser etchers, milling machines, wood routers, plasma systems and even waterjet cutters – to complete their DIY projects.

Josh Bushueff, director of the Claremont MakerSpace in Claremont, N.H., says, “The goal is to make high-quality fabrication tools available to the community through open-access workshops. The range of high-tech and traditional tools available in our workshops would be incredibly difficult for an individual person to amass and maintain. By housing these resources in a shared space that’s available via monthly membership, we can substantially lower the cost of access so projects aren’t delayed while people wait for their tax return or the ‘right time’ to buy, or worse, never get made at all.”

Plasma is a popular piece of equipment found in makerspace locations around the country.

Plasma appeal

Makerspaces know that plasma cutting technology is a must-have tool for their fabrication workshops, and DIYers experiment with plasma’s ability to cut, gouge and mark metal. Part of plasma’s appeal is its capacity to span projects. Members can use it to create intricate designs on metal plate or go in a whole other direction, and use it to fabricate structures or even modify a piece of metal furniture.

When Bushueff and his team selected the Hypertherm Powermax85 for their makerspace, they wanted a plasma system with a lot of power so members would have the option to cut a wider range of metal thicknesses.

“We wanted a bigger, better plasma tool that offered plenty of flexibility,” he explains. “We wanted something beyond what would be found in most hobby shops or residential garages. We wanted folks to have equipment to work on projects that were previously out of their range.”

Makerspaces are very popular in major cities where real estate and additional workspace is expensive. Often, members work together on projects, using crowdfunding to get the money they need for more complex projects.

That’s how Gretchen Greene joined the movement. She became one of nearly 300 members at a makerspace called Artisan’s Asylum after reading about a project called “Stompy,” a 2-ton, six-legged, rideable hydraulic steel robot. The project was crowdfunded by a Kickstarter campaign and caught the attention of someone at the Boston Globe once public donations neared $100,000. A bevy of Artisan’s Asylum members, including Greene, worked on the hexapod in the makerspace’s 40,000-sq.-ft. workshop located in a reclaimed factory building in Somerville, Mass.

With a desire to make giant robots of her own, Greene completed the basic plasma safety and operator training offered to Artisan’s Asylum members. Greene says she “fell in love with plasma,” leading to a career as a professional metal sculptor. Her intricate large-scale sculptures have appeared in Architectural Digest and furnished the fashion house of Dior.

While she did use the Asylum’s CNC plasma system to cut metal parts for Stompy, it was truly the hand-held torch that inspired Greene, as it “gives me a feeling of connection to the steel and the ability to design in real time.”

The Artisan’s Asylum has a Powermax30 used for cutting by hand and an automated Powermax85 set up on their light industrial CNC table. “Before the Hypertherm plasma, tool reliability was a real issue,” according to Greene, who was frustrated by the performance of the existing tools. The Asylum’s first plasma system broke repeatedly and was replaced with another brand, which sadly, lasted less than four days.

“When I left on Friday it was working; when I returned on Monday it was not,” Greene notes.

Fortunately, the Artisan’s Asylum chose Hypertherm the third time around. However, Greene could not wait for that decision to be made. “That Monday,” she says, “I researched who made the best plasma cutters, called a Hypertherm dealer and bought my own Powermax45 the next day.”

That was six years ago. Greene continues to keep her Powermax45 in her storage locker at the Artisan’s Asylum and it is always there when she needs it. “It works just like the day I bought it,” she says.

More success

Open Works in Baltimore owns two Hypertherm plasma systems as well – a Powermax65 on a light industrial cutting table and a Powermax30 with a hand-held torch. This makerspace offers two three-hour classes to train members on CNC plasma cutting, but most people also get one-on-one training with staff. Member Jo Schneider, a licensed and LEED certified architect in sustainable design, took this class. Schneider designs public sculpture professionally, but reserves time at Open Works for personal projects.

Makerspaces like Open Works in Baltimore, are becoming more and more popular throughout the United States.

Another Open Works member who regularly uses plasma is Mimi Frank, a local artist who made a beautiful sculptural chair with the Powermax65. And it’s not just members utilizing the equipment. Open Works’ staff has used the system to fabricate the fixtures and hardware needed to organize their own workshop.

Anyone interested in joining the maker movement should do a quick Google search to find a makerspace in your area. Makerspace websites often publish their equipment list and workshop layouts, so potential members can see what’s available to use. If you do not have a makerspace close by, grab your friends and start your own. There are makerspace resources and playbooks online to guide the way.

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Securing certification

In the era of social media and fractured politics, there is at least one thing we can all agree on: When military service members return home, they deserve our utmost respect, gratitude and support and – perhaps even more important – they deserve happy, stable and lucrative lives as working veterans.

Finding the path back into civilian life isn’t always easy. Navigating career choices and educational opportunities, not to mention the ins and outs of the G.I. Bill, can be dizzying. For those interested in pursuing a career in welding, however, there is a clear starting point: Set all sights on gaining American Welding Society (AWS) certification.

Many veterans attain welding experience during their time in the military, which is a useful skill to have after returning to civilian life. Regardless of the level of experience, AWS certification greatly benefits anyone seeking a career in welding.

Benefits of AWS certification include higher desirability amongst potential employers and – after landing a job – increased salary potential and job stability. Employers see job applicants with AWS certification as a safe bet and consider current employees with AWS certification as the best candidates for promotions and special assignments.

There are a myriad of ways for people from all walks of life to become certified, but veterans have even more resources to explore. In terms of achieving certification while attending school, various community colleges and vocational institutions accept the G.I. Bill, and there are non-profit educational programs that offer free tuition to veterans. Additionally, scholarships are available dedicated to military service members as well as charitable organizations around the nation that are focused on helping veterans obtain stable, good-paying jobs.

On track

Millions of military service members have taken advantage of the G.I. Bill since it was enacted in 1944. In 2018, more than 700,000 military service members used it to attend private and public colleges and universities as well as vocational and other non-college-degree institutions around the nation.

For veterans interested in pursuing a career in welding while also attaining an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, first things first: It’s important to determine whether the G.I. Bill will cover the cost of tuition and what additional expenses will be covered, such as housing and textbooks.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, payment amounts vary depending on the G.I. Bill program that is being utilized as well as the type of school that is being considered. To learn more about the G.I. Bill, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs can be contacted via email or through the department’s toll-free helpline.   

Once those initial questions are answered, the next step is to ensure that an AWS certification can be attained through the school. The best way to do that is to determine whether the school is an AWS accredited testing facility or if it is recognized as an official AWS educational institution.

Jonathan Medellin, a veteran of the Army airborne infantry, is in his third semester at Hill College in Hillsboro, Texas. Hill is an official AWS SENSE school, which stands for schools excelling through national skills education. To achieve SENSE status, a school must meet a set of minimum standards and guidelines. Although Hill College is 40 min. from home, Medellin considers the school’s designation worth the extra drive.

At Workshops for Warriors, welding students spend the bulk of their time studying and practicing processes to gain welding qualifications, such as those that are issued from AWS.

“Hill College gives students a leg up when it comes to getting a job after graduation,” he explains. “In my area, there are a couple of big manufacturing plants and plenty of other metalworking companies, and our instructors are in contact with those companies. They’re up to date on what’s going on in the welding industry overall and specifically, what’s going on in our local area.

“On top of that, every welding professor has a ridiculous amount of experience,” he adds. “That was another reason I chose Hill College. I don’t care how good they say their program is or how new their equipment is, none of that matters if they aren’t accredited and don’t have experienced instructors. You really can’t compete with that.”

As Medellin works toward his associate’s degree in applied science in welding, he is also earning his Level 1 – Entry Welder AWS certification, which will be invaluable as he begins applying for work after graduation. His certification card will list the endorsements he has received for each arc welding process that he successfully completed during school. To date, Medellin has earned endorsements for stick, MIG and metal-cored processes.

Other options

Understandably, there are plenty of reasons that veterans might want to pursue AWS certification without attending school. They might want to enter the workforce in a quicker fashion or might already have a degree.

Abraham Aldama, a full-time welding teacher’s assistant at WFW and former graduate, entered the school’s program during his last six months of active duty in the U.S. Marine Corp. using the U.S. Department of Defense’s SkillBridge program.

For veterans taking this route, there are several ways to become certified. The straightforward approach is simply taking an AWS certification test. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a benefit that pays the testing fees for a license or certification, including several offered by AWS. After taking the test, veterans can apply for reimbursement from the VA office.

Numerous non-profit programs and schools can also help these veterans attain and hone their welding skills while also delivering AWS certification. In Lincoln Park, Mich., just outside of Detroit, Ford has partnered with the United Auto Workers (UAW) and Wounded Warriors organization to prepare veterans for a career in welding.

The intensive, six-week program offers training in welding, including MIG, TIG and stick. Upon course completion, participants are awarded a UAW-Ford Welding Course certificate and have the opportunity to take the AWS Certified Welder test in the 1G through 4G positions.

In San Diego, Calif., Workshops for Warriors (WFW) also provides veterans the opportunity to earn AWS certification while training them in the trades and helping to place them in good-paying jobs. Hernán Luis y Prado, the founder and CEO of the non-profit school, places major importance on the institution’s ability to provide students with nationally recognized certification.

“AWS certifications are crucial because every course and instruction taught at Workshops for Warriors leads to a nationally recognized credential, and there are no better certifications than those offered through AWS,” he says. “It was crucial for us to become America’s No. 1 welding school, and to do that, we needed and wanted AWS’s support. And thanks to them, we’re well on our way to becoming the preeminent welding school in America. We’re looking forward to developing and continuing our welding programs with the support of AWS.”

Luis y Prado says that WFW is able to provide AWS certifications to students at no cost to them through the generous support of individual, corporate and foundational scholarships.

Abraham Aldama, a full-time welding teacher’s assistant at WFW and former graduate, can attest to the opportunities available through the school. Although WFW is primarily focused on veterans, Aldama entered the program during his last six months of active duty in the U.S. Marine Corp. using the U.S. Department of Defense’s SkillBridge program, which relieves service members of their military responsibilities to allow them to concentrate on their training and transition back into civilian life.

Aldama’s experiences as a student at WFW were incredibly positive, but he wants to remind potential students that there is a lot of hard work involved. He punctuates that statement, however, by saying that the hard work doesn’t go unrewarded.

“One hundred percent of my time was spent studying and practicing processes to gain welding qualifications,” he says. “Sure, it was pretty rigorous – you’re on your feet welding for seven and a half hours a day. You’re sweaty and dirty, but you kind of love it at the same time. Besides, you’re with 17 other students that are in the same shoes as you, and there are instructors that were also once in the same shoes that now have a lot of knowledge to pass on. As long as you apply yourself and ask questions, anybody can succeed here.”

Aldama is certified in stick, MIG and flux-cored arc welding in all positions and through WFW, he requalifies his AWS certifications every year. At WFW, there are instructors that are certified AWS inspectors as well as certified AWS educators, which means they are eligible to teach and qualify other personnel, like Aldama.

To pursue certification through WFW, the first step involves filling out an online application. Once the application has been submitted, applicants can expect an email detailing next steps in the enrollment process.

Abraham Aldama, a full-time welding teacher’s assistant at WFW and former graduate, entered the school’s program during his last six months of active duty in the U.S. Marine Corp. using the U.S. Department of Defense’s SkillBridge program.

In regard to tuition, WFW is a G.I. Bill eligible school that is also able to provide scholarship opportunities thanks to the generosity of private donors. The personal protective equipment required for the welding program costs approximately $300. It’s advised, however, that interested parties first consult with the local VA office to determine what expenses are covered for books and supplies.

Due to ever-increasing demand from prospective students, WFW is expanding. The development involves building a 148,000-sq.-ft. facility to graduate more than 10 times the number of veterans the school serves annually. WFW recently kicked-off a capital campaign to raise funds for the $163 million expansion.

Added support

In addition to the G.I. Bill and scholarships that are available through schools like WFW, there are a slew of other financial benefits to pursue, including scholarships issued by the AWS Foundation. Every year, the AWS Foundation awards more than $1 million dollars in scholarships with more than 100 scholarships in which to apply.

No matter the path toward certification, there is a scholarship available – for folks heading to a trade school and for those looking to earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Among those scholarships is the Nancy and Barry Carlson Scholarship for veterans pursuing careers in welding, which Medellin relies on for supplemental financial support during his time at Hill College.

“The G.I. Bill pays for classes and up to $500 for books for the year, but I’m fortunate to also have the AWS scholarship to help pay for my welding tools and things like my laptop,” he says. “It also helped me pay for some of the books that the G.I. Bill didn’t cover.”   

After graduation, Medellin will graduate with a handful of AWS endorsements as well as certification. He plans to move to Washington to find work in maritime welding, which is incredibly prevalent in that part of the country. While in school, he’s getting tons of great advice for post-graduation as a student member of AWS. Topics at his student chapter meetings run the gamut – including additional scholarships that may be available, new technologies coming into the industry and tips for landing a job.

The opportunities available to veterans in the field of welding are vast, including shipbuilding, work in the oil and gas industry and beyond.

Like Medellin, Aldama has also benefitted from attending AWS meetings.

“The meetings are informative, but they’re also a lot of fun,” he says. “Sometimes they bring in equipment that I’ve never seen or used before – cutting-edge stuff. Overall, the meetings aren’t what you would expect where everybody has a pen and paper and is taking notes while someone else does all of the talking. We’re eating, sharing knowledge, and just mingling and learning from one another. It’s a great place to network.”

Clearly, the future looks bright for both Medellin and Aldama. With AWS certifications under their belt, the sky is the limit in terms of employment. For Aldama, however, he is content in his current job.

“I see myself staying at WFW for the long run,” he says. “I love what I do and the training doesn’t stop just because I’m employed. I have to keep up with whatever they throw at me, like new class offerings focused on different types of metalworking.

“More than anything else,” he concludes, “I feel honored that they asked me to stay and that I get to help my military brothers and sisters attain the same core skills that I did.”

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Jobsite insight

Pipeline welding needs to be on point from beginning to end because any mistake could result in an environmental issue or lost profits, at the very least. It’s tough work for the welder for a variety of reasons, but it’s not an easy job for the welder’s helper, either. Proper preparation of the pipe is important to produce quality welds and minimize defects. Using the right product helps ensure high weld quality and saves time so workers can be more efficient to meet tight deadlines.

In an effort to make life easier on the pipeline, particularly for the welder’s helper, Weiler Abrasives was allowed access to a number of pipeline sites to gain insight into how to better develop products and solutions with feedback from pipeline welders and helpers.

“When we approach a project, which relies on our ‘voice of the customer’ process, we do a lot of in-house research and field research to learn how our customers think,” says David Jescovitch, abrasive specialist manager at Weiler Abrasives. “For the pipeline project, we talked to the contractors, distributors and the labor itself – the welder, welder’s helper, foreman, superintendent, safety people and the toolroom guy who supplies products to the labor. We asked them how they do their jobs, what would make it better where the problem areas lie. As we talk to them, we’re observing, as well, because there is occasionally a difference between what we hear and what we see.”

Weiler Abrasives developed its Tiger Pipeline grinding wheels to help welder’s helpers be more efficient to meet tight deadlines.

In addition to prepping the pipe for welding, Weiler Abrasives focused on the pipe gang where the pipes are welded together and where the root pass gets ground. The workers join the pipe, lay the root pass, grind it with their pipeline grinding wheel, run the hot pass and then the firing line takes over to run the filler and cap passes.

Following the root pass, it is necessary to grind the weld to ensure proper penetration for the hot pass. The hot pass burns out the slag and potential hydrogen trapped by the slag. This is typically done using a 1/8-in.  pipeline grinding wheel along the root pass, which helps create a flat or U-shape at the bottom of the weld. Some pipeline grinding wheels are designed to be used only on their edge, perpendicular to the workpiece.

“That was one of our key findings,” Jescovitch says. “Operators use that same pipeline grinding wheel to do other types of grinding, such as prepping the pipe bevel by using the face of the wheel. There are grinding wheels specific to just grinding the root pass; they’re not made to grind using the face of the wheel. They’re unsafe to be used for that, and it clearly states that on those specific pipeline wheels.

“Pipeline wheels typically have only two layers of fiberglass and as you grind on the side, you wear through one piece of that fiberglass,” he continues. “It has a high chance of cracking or breaking.  Two layers are okay for grinding a root pass, but you shouldn’t use it for facing or on any kind of angle grinding. We found very few people recognize the difference.”

Another problem Weiler Abrasives witnessed on the jobsite was grounded in bad, outdated habits. Prior to grinding the root pass, the welder’s helper often puts little chips or notches around the edge of the wheel to clean the wheel as it loads up with material on the edge.

“The welder’s helper has been taught – tribal knowledge, if you will – that if you put a chip in the wheel, it kind of stops “loading” and cleans itself out and then continues to cut,” Jescovitch says. “But by doing that you are altering the wheel. You’re cutting through those layers of fiberglass, which help the wheel stay together. This is a dangerous practice that can result in flying debris and potential injury.”

One solution is to use a wheel designed specifically for cutting and grinding. However, many of them have a fairly short lifespan when grinding a root pass. Fortunately, that’s not the case for Weiler’s Tiger Pipeline grinding wheel, which has been designed to last a long time without loading or reducing wheel life on the hot welds on the root passes.

Safety issues can arise when welder’s helpers use the wrong grinding wheel or alter it in an unsafe way.

Hard to hold

Another issue Weiler Abrasives discovered on the pipeline was that chatter and vibration take a huge toll on the welder’s helper. Yet again, it was an instance where the wrong tool or product can have a huge impact on productivity, not to mention the health and safety of the operator. When working on larger diameter pipe – between 16-in. and 42-in.-dia. pipe – the last thing a welder’s helper wants to do is work harder because they have insufficient equipment.

“Holding a grinder all day is hard enough, but at the 12 o’clock position and the 6 o’clock position, it is purely arm strength that is holding the grinder,” Jescovitch says. “That is one hard day’s work. So, any time the grinder starts vibrating or chattering, it’s an issue. If it starts jumping out of the root pass, the wheel is going to hit the wall of the pipe. At the very least, it’s going to scar the side of the pipe or worse yet, grind away too much material, which will require repair work.

“Any welder’s helper will tell you in a minute how much they hate when the wheel vibrates,” he adds. “Not only because of the inherent danger or damage it can do to the pipe, but also because they has to work way too hard.”

Based on Weiler’s field work, their Pipeline wheel has been formulated to reduce chatter and vibration. The result is a tool that provides the operator increased comfort while keeping the wheel from jumping out of the weld area.

Mechanical moves

In addition to studying the stick welding performed at the jobsite, the team at Weiler Abrasives learned the nuances of mechanical welding, as well. “I learned very quickly not to call it automated welding,” Jescovitch notes. “It is mechanical welding, and it takes a great deal of training and precision to have the machines operate efficiently.”

While mechanized welding is not new to pipeline construction, its popularity seems to be increasing. Once the equipment is set up, it can move at a fast pace and produce a couple of weld layers at a time, making it an incredibly efficient process. However, it works best for large-diameter pipe running straight without a lot of terrain differences or tie-in work.

“One of the advantages of mechanical welding is that it uses a lot less material,” Jescovitch says. “On a typical stick weld, the angle of the bevel is 37.5 degrees to form a nice V shape. With mechanical welding, the weldment required to make a solid weld is greatly reduced, so they can use a J bevel or K bevel, where the angle can be as little as 10 or 5 degrees.

“These larger dimeter pipes have thicker walls so it’s harder to get a grinding wheel down in there to grind the start and stop of the weld,” he continues. “The grinding wheel itself needs to be placed in just an 1/8-in. gap, typically. And the helper only has 5 or 10 degrees with which to work without otherwise hitting the sidewall of that bevel, which causes scarring. So a very common problem is getting a 1/8-in. grinding wheel to fit down in there. Or, we found some people go to the other extreme and use a small cutoff wheel, which quickly wears away to nothing.”

Because of the nature of a mechanical welder, the next  weld follows the exact pattern as the previous; it doesn’t have the ability to determine that an adjustment needs to be made to cover the defect. When the weld is tested and the flaw is found, it ultimately is rejected and must be repaired, which is extremely expensive.

Welder’s helpers only have a small area to work in to avoid creating possibilities for welding defects.

Weiler Abrasives’ solution is the Tiger Mech pipeline wheel, which is designed for applications on mechanical pipe welds. The wheels are manufactured slightly thinner than a standard 1/8-in. standard pipeline wheel, allowing the welder’s helper to grind the starts and stops of the weld bead without widening or scarring the narrower channel used by the mechanical pipe welding process.

“The real benefit of the Mech Wheel is that it greatly helps reduce rejects because it allows the helper to keep that wheel from jumping outside of where is should be,” Jescovitch says. “It helps to reduce the weld reject rate, which is a huge cost savings.”

Lessons learned

Transitioning work on the pipeline was another area where Weiler Abrasives’ voice-of-the-customer process was invaluable. Transitioning can be used when the pipe changes from one wall thickness to another or there is some tie-in work being done. Like other facets of pipeline production, Weiler discovered that this type of work can also benefit from jobsite education.

“The pipe isn’t always perfectly round so it might need some altering,” Jescovitch says. “It’s a demanding application, but when the helper uses a wheel that’s not designed to grind the ID, safety concerns can arise.

“While you can use our Pipeline wheel, we also showed them at the jobsite an ‘old school’ Type 28 grinding wheel that can be used for that application,” he says. “This style of wheel is exceptionally aggressive because of the angle at which it is built, which is good for transitioning.”

Throughout the process, Weiler Abrasives also learned a lot of details about how to make improvements based on jobsite needs. The company recognized the importance of making the label easier to read, which makes it easier for the toolroom manager to find it on a shelf. Putting the appropriate amount of products in one package is also important to reduce excess packaging materials on a jobsite.

“The last thing you want to do on a jobsite is leave trash lying around,” Jescovitch notes.

At the end of the pipeline day, quality and productivity are important – but safety is critical. Following proper safety procedures can help maximize product performance and efficiency while also contributing to a safer environment for operators and nearby workers.

“We developed new products based on the voice of the customer, but our most important goal was and is to bring awareness to the industry about the safety issues that can arise when using the wrong product,” Jescovitch says. “It’s certainly dangerous for the operator, but typically for 16-in.-dia. pipe or larger, there is a welder and a helper on each side. By using the wrong product or altering it in an unsafe way, it endangers everyone in proximity to the work.

“Beyond the safety component, we’re focused on helping the operators be productive throughout the day in a very difficult job,” he concludes.

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Mentor mentality

The month of April serves as a major turning point in the year – the days are longer, the weather is warmer and the spring season is finally taking root. April is also National Welding Month, which was established by the American Welding Society (AWS) in 1996 to recognize those in the welding industry and to shed light on the career opportunities that the industry offers.

Coastal Welding Supply Inc. was presented with the Excellence in Welding award in the distributor category in 2019. Shown here from left to right are Mike Tecklenburg, WEMCO Excellence in Welding Awards chairman; Chuck Mazoch, Coastal’s president; Barbara Mazoch Nelson, Chuck’s sister and Coastal’s assets manager; and Eric Laubach, past WEMCO chairman.

“[It’s] an annual opportunity for the welding profession to show the world that we are more than torches and sparks,” said Stephanie Hoffman-Wedding, program manager workforce development for the AWS Foundation, in a recent press release. “Welders have to understand shop mechanics, blueprint reading, mechanical drawing, physics, chemistry and metallurgy. The more technological advances our industry undergoes, the more skills and knowledge we need to do our jobs successfully.”

Awards season

The next generation of welders is still taking shape: As most in the industry know, there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of positions available to fill today and in the future. And that need isn’t slated to diminish over time or as technologies grow. There will always be a need for a person to either hold an actual welding torch or program a robot to perform the weld. Equally, there will always be a need for someone to instill those skills in the industry’s up and comers.

The Welding Equipment Manufacturing Committee (WEMCO), an arm of AWS, has made it a point to celebrate the individuals that are instilling the skills – and the passion – that the next generation of welders will need to succeed. WEMCO’s Excellence in Welding awards showcase these key people and anyone who truly takes on the charge of lifting up the image of welding and promoting the industry in their communities.

To celebrate National Welding Month, Welding Productivity is proud to honor three individuals that have been presented with an Excellence in Welding award and, in turn, are preparing the next generation of welders for prosperous careers.

Family tradition

Chuck Mazoch is the president of Coastal Welding Supply Inc., an industrial and specialty gas supply company that his father, Al, founded in 1963. He is also the torchbearer of the company culture that his father established. When Mazoch is asked about his father’s legacy, he first and foremost describes him as a teacher.

“When he passed in 2009, I felt like we needed to carry on his passion for teaching,” Mazoch says. “He came up in the industry in the early 1960s when a lot of new technologies were emerging, so as part of his selling skills, he would go out into the industry and teach people about all of these new and exciting things that could increase their quality and productivity and make them more competitive. We set up a scholarship in his name at the Lamar Institute of Technology. That kind of started it all.”

Since then, Mazoch and the Coastal team have dedicated substantial time, effort and resources to promoting welding as a viable, good-paying career. In addition to the scholarship for the Lamar Institute of Technology, Coastal contributes to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Scholarship Fund.

Lyle Palm is the chief academic officer at Workshops for Warriors and the recipient of the Excellence in Welding award in the veterans category in 2015.

Along the way, the Coastal team continues Al’s approach of educating customers about new technologies that are coming into the marketplace. They also leverage their social media platforms and even partner with local radio and television stations to create educational campaigns to encourage young people to consider welding as a career path.   

When Coastal won the Excellence in Welding award in 2019 in the distributor category, Mazoch’s father was on his mind, but so were all of the young Texans that he and Coastal have supported and will support in the years to come.

“It’s critical that people know how important a welder is and how important it is to get kids excited to be a welder,” he says. “There’s a tremendous demand, and welding is an important part of our future. We’ve got to get these kids educated, get them on the job sites and keep this economy rolling.”

Since the company’s founding more than 60 years ago, Coastal has evolved from a single-source location to becoming the largest, independently family-owned welding and specialty gas distributor in the Texas Gulf Coast region with 10 locations throughout southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana. Moving forward, the Coastal team will continue to support area high schools, colleges and welding schools with equipment demonstrations, instructor seminars, welding competition judging and memberships in AWS area chapters.

Lifetime commitment

Lyle Palm, the chief academic officer at Workshops for Warriors (WFW), has spent his entire life in welding – during his 20 years in the U.S. Navy and for the nearly 20 years since in retirement, where he has been passing on his skills to veterans, teaching them to weld and helping them land great jobs.

Tom Kostreba, the 2019 Excellence in Welding award winner in the individual category, spends the bulk of his free time traveling the country consulting companies and mentoring students, like those at Central Tech Career & Technical School in Erie, Pa.

Having shown exemplary dedication to promoting the image of welding to his community of servicemen and women and veterans, he received the Excellence in Welding award in the veterans category in 2015. Palm was incredibly honored to be recognized, but, truly, he couldn’t imagine living his life any other way.

“I love the mission of WFW – giving veterans a successful path to take in civilian life – and that’s what we do every day,” he says. “So, I’m doing my part for WFW and our students, but I’m also doing my part for our country. I see the potential we have to get our country back on track with skills like welding and machining.”

Palm first learned to weld in high school in 1977. In the 1970s and early 1980s, votec programs, like welding, were the norm across the United States.

“I feel fortunate that I was exposed to welding at an early age,” Palm says. “I tried to go to college, but I kept gravitating back to welding. I earned a certificate in welding at a one-year program where I grew up in northern Minnesota and immediately after, I enlisted in the Navy with the plan of learning to weld even better.”

In the Navy, he spent a year in welding school and then continued as a nuclear power plant component welder. He also earned his bachelor’s degree while in the military, majoring in education with a plan to teach adults after retiring.

“Life had different plans, though, and my brother and I started a welding fabrication business in 2001, which we ran for about 10 years,” Palm explains. “Around 2010 when we were downsizing our business, I ran into Hernán Luis y Prado, the founder and CEO of WFW, and donated a lot of my equipment to the school. Around the same time, I started teaching for the Navy at Camp Pendleton and was working toward a master’s degree, which I ultimately earned in 2012.”

The following year, while Palm was still teaching at Camp Pendleton during the day, WFW recruited him to take over the evening welding program, meaning he was teaching adults – which had always been his post-military plan – from sun up until sun down. Palm held this schedule for several years, but as he took on more roles at WFW, he knew his time with the Navy had to come to a close again.

“I came to WFW because I understood the mission from the get-go,” Palm says. “We need to get our young men and women back to work after they’ve served. We all know they have great work ethics and work well in teams. That’s why picking men and women from the military to fill open positions should be an easy decision for employers. All we have to do is provide them the training and certifications they need, and I’m honored that I get to do that every day.”

In addition to Palm’s Excellence in Welding award in the veterans category, WFW earned the award in the educational facility category the same year. Recently, WFW announced a major expansion at its San Diego headquarters, which aims to accommodate 10 times the number of veteran students the school currently serves.

Paying it forward

Tom Kostreba, the 2019 Excellence in Welding award recipient in the highly competitive individual category, has almost too many titles to list. He is a locomotive test technician at Wabtec Corp., which produces locomotive products; a welding educator at the Regional Career and Technical Center in Erie, Pa.; a welding and welding codes instructor at EPCI University; and he is the founder of his own business, Kostreba Inspection and Training, where he serves as a weld inspector, trainer and consultant. He is an AWS certified welding inspector (CWI) and an active AWS member.

“My whole life, I‘ve worked for companies like General Electric [which is now Wabtec], building locomotives,” Kostreba explains, “but I always had a side business where I was training people. When I got my CWI, I really ramped up the frequency of my side jobs, helping companies get on track by providing them with training to carry out their work correctly and working with them to lay out the right codes for their welding jobs.”

Kostreba works the third shift at his full-time job to be able to work his side jobs during the day. He also uses all of his vacation time from his full-time job to travel the country, participating in roundtables, giving lectures, consulting with clients, doing hands-on welding demonstrations and paying visits to welding equipment manufacturers to learn about the new technologies that are coming down the pipeline.

“The big equipment manufacturers put a lot of resources into pushing the trade of welding, which is great,” he says. “They shine a lot of light onto the welding industry, inspiring people to seriously consider welding as a career path.”   

Kostreba also credits AWS for lifting up the welding industry and says that his own career wouldn’t be what it is without the organization. The networking alone had a big impact on the success of his business.

“Reflecting on the 20 years that I’ve been a member of AWS – the places they’ve sent me and the people I’ve met – has been amazing,” he says. “The jobs that I’ve earned from the people I’ve met keep paying me back tenfold. The AWS organization creates a big family atmosphere where we help each other out. Having people that we can reach out to and rely on to learn something new or even just find work is invaluable.”

He describes the welding community as a big brotherhood. And he says that he’s constantly looking to bring more people into the fold.

“It takes a unique person to be under a hood all day,” he says, “but we can’t do everything by ourselves if we want to take our careers to the next level. People helped me get where I’m at today, and I want to pay it forward whenever I can. It’s amazing to see students find something that they like to do, follow through with it, and establish a good job and a great future. It’s really rewarding.”

Nominations for the 2020 Excellence in Welding Awards are open through June, and the awards will be presented during Fabtech 2020. To nominate someone making an impact in the industry, this online form is available.

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Southern support

In 2005, annual passenger vehicle sales in Mexico hit the 1 million milestone. It was the beginning of a new era, and José Blix, president of British Federal Mexico (BFMX) and executive vice president of CenterLine Mexico, remembers it well. Back then, there were only six major car manufacturers producing vehicles in the country, including Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Honda, Nissan and Volkswagen. Today, there are more than 40, propelling Mexico to be the sixth largest country in terms of motor vehicle production.

Leading up to the sale of Mexico’s millionth vehicle, Blix had been diversifying his company’s product mix to support the changing needs of the country’s automotive manufacturing industry.

For Mexico, cars are one of the country’s top exports. Supporting that industry requires a stable supply chain of resistance welding equipment, training and support.

“When I think about the industry back in ’93 and ’94, it was definitely a different market than it is now,” Blix explains. “Back then, the proportion of automation was exactly the opposite. About 70 percent of welding was manual, including the process of resistance welding. Now, about 90 percent is automated. A lot of that growth happened in the 1990s and early 2000s.”

During those transition years, many of the automotive plants in Mexico didn’t have access to the technology and training they needed. They were still working to establish a culture of carrying out resistance welding in the proper way. Blix recognized the need and began shaping his company to help meet the needs of the industry. To do so, he focused on training and education and service and support.     

History lesson

Blix’s story with the welding industry in Mexico began in 1993. Based on his machinery selling experience, British Federal Ltd., a newcomer to the country, hired him as its direct sales representative. British Federal was hardly a newcomer to the international market, however. It was founded in the 1930s, and by the time the company approached Blix, it was No. 1 in the European resistance welding market and was in the top 10 worldwide.   

“By 1997, we had established a small office in Mexico City as a subsidiary of British Federal, going by the name British Federal Mexico (BFMX),” Blix says. “British Federal had this great vision about the international market; they had offices everywhere – in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, all over Europe and in Turkey and India. I handled all of the Latin America sales and strategies, including South America. During the first three or four years, we secured a few small contracts with Chrysler and some Tier 1 companies, but it wasn’t until 2001 or 2002 when things really took off.”

Around the same time, British Federal found itself struggling. Its leadership was nearing retirement, and the resistance welding market was evolving at a pace too fast for them to keep up with. In 2001, British Federal went into receivership, leading Blix to eventually acquire the subsidiary.

Providing the Mexican auto market with resistance welding equipment and components is at the core of British Federal Mexico, a company that was founded in 1993 in Querétaro, located about two hours north of the country’s capital.

“Back then, the Mexican office had been No. 1 in overall British Federal sales overseas, contributing up to 15 percent of their global sales,” Blix says. “Leading up to the Chapter 11 filing, the British Federal CEO had said that I needed to do two things: find products that I could sell from other companies and become self-sufficient. So that’s what I did – with the help of Don DeCorte.”

Blix met DeCorte, the vice president of RoMan Mfg., a leader in industrial resistance welding components, at Fabtech in Chicago in 1999. During that initial meeting, DeCorte explained that his company had been selling transformers to British Federal, but that he was looking for a new partner in Mexico to do the same. Over the years, DeCorte – a lifelong member of the Society (AWS) – introduced Blix to some of the biggest resistance welding companies in North America, including Centerline, Welding Technology Corp. and Watteredge.   

“In 2001, BFMX had sales of about $300,000, but by 2017, we had risen to almost $14 million in sales,” Blix says. “We multiplied our sales and, other than the downturn in 2008 and 2009, we have been growing. Today, for the equipment we sell – resistance welders, weld guns, cables and robot dress packs, transformers, welding caps and tip dressers – we have the largest amount of sales. For welding controls, I’m pretty sure we’re in the top two. In terms of engineers and technicians, I believe we are also No. 1 in Mexico. We’re one of the most integrated companies in the country. We’re incredibly happy with where we are today, but, of course, we’re always looking for new markets and opportunities.”   

Effective education

As Blix was growing BFMX to where it is today, the overall Mexican automotive industry was in a state of maturation. To aid in that process, Blix set out to establish his business as a go-to provider of not only equipment and consumables, but also training, education and support.

“When I first started selling to the auto industry, one of the things that I carried over from my experience with British Federal was their dedication to service,” Blix says. “The level of support and service that they provided their customers was extraordinary. They had a lot of knowledge to share. When we started competing against these large, established companies in Mexico, one of the things that I quickly discovered was that they were struggling to offer the right level of support to their customers. When they would ship their equipment here, they would only have one or two guys to make service calls. It was a problem.

In 2019, 92 million cars were manufactured worldwide. Mexico, which produced nearly 4 million, is one of the top 10 global producers.

“They didn’t realize that the companies in Mexico needed more support and training than what might have been needed in the United States back then,” he continues. “Currently, we are one of few companies in Mexico that supplies training and resistance welding courses. We also offer our customers online support and do preventative maintenance and weld certification.

Education and training have been essential in growing the Mexican welding industry, and that’s why Blix built his service department to have more service technicians than sales representatives. “That’s how we’ve done business the entire time and it’s how we’ll continue to do business,” he says.

In 2018, Blix applied for government funding to build the country’s first independent resistance welding lab at BFMX’s headquarters now located in Querétaro. The goal was to allow customers to bring in their parts to conduct welding coupons, samples and trials.

“One guy came in a few years ago with some aluminum pots and pans, saying that he had been having a hard time finding the right way to weld them,” Blix says. “Our welding trials were so successful that he almost offered us a contract to build them all.”   

Meeting mentors

About 90 percent of Blix’s customers come from the automotive sector, but he is constantly looking for new markets, including appliances and aerospace, which have both been growing in Mexico. Overall, Blix says that his relationship with the AWS has and will continue to support the future success of BFMX.    

“I’ve been a member of AWS since 1994 when I started working with British Federal,” he says. “A few years later, I enrolled the company as an AWS member, as well. Since then, I’ve attended several events hosted by AWS, such as Fabtech in the United States as well as in Mexico. Networking at those events has been so critical in our journey as a company. A great example of that is meeting people like Don DeCorte, who put me in touch with so many other resistance welders, weld guns, cables and robot dress packs, transformers, welding caps and tip dressers.”

Currently, AWS has two official chapters in Mexico: one in Monterrey and one in Chihuahua. There is also a student chapter located in Nuevo Leon. For companies that may be outside of those regions, AWS also has extensions of its chapters that are based in Texas and Florida.

As Blix further establishes the company’s training and service departments, AWS will yet again be integral to those efforts. In addition to the company’s welding lab, Blix plans to open a training facility in Querétaro.

“We really want to move to the next level with our training efforts, which is to get recognized from AWS as a certified resistance welding training facility,” he says. “That’s our goal for the next year. During the past 20-plus years, we have been laser focused on reaching our goals and growing the Mexican welding industry. We will continue to do so with the help of groups like AWS.”

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Enriching employment

For young adults considering a career in welding, questions abound. What will the career look like? Will the work be physically demanding or difficult? Will the job be stable and pay well? Will it be mentally stimulating or will it be monotonous? But most importantly, will it be a career to be proud of? Ted Coon, joining engineering supervisor for vehicle operations at Ford Motor Co., pondered those same things before beginning his career almost 27 years ago, and his advice to young adults today is simple. 

As the years have passed, Ford Motor Co. has promoted the use of welding robots to improve quality and throughput and increase employee safety. The robots shown here are welding and inspecting the all-new 2019 Ranger body in the body shop at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant. Photo courtesy: Ford Motor Co.

“Go for it,” Coon says. “Work in welding is never boring. It’s constantly challenging. Specific to welding in the automotive industry, one of the cool things about it is you’ll be able to see the fruits of your labor every day when you get in your car and drive to work. Along the way, you’re going to work with some really talented people, which is another great benefit of getting into welding in the automotive industry.”

And Coon would know. In addition to finding stability and financial security during his 27 years at Ford, he’s found that a career in welding provides a lifetime of learning.

A rare path

Coon graduated in 1993 with a Bachelor of Science degree in welding engineering from Ohio State, which is one of the top and, in fact, one of the few schools in the nation to offer the four-year degree. Despite not having any exposure to welding in high school, he pursued the specialized path based on the belief that he would be afforded more opportunities after graduation.

“I knew I was going to Ohio State and that I would be studying engineering, but my decision to get into welding engineering was really just based on the fact that it was a unique field,” Coon explains. “Since I didn’t know what specific field I wanted to get into, I figured it’d be smart to get into something that’s rare.”

Just as it was for Coon nearly three decades ago, welding is still a smart path to follow. Welder shortages are widespread, meaning opportunities abound in a variety of industries, including automotive where Coon ultimately landed.    

Robots weld the body of a Mustang at the body shop at Ford’s Flat Rock Assembly Plant. Photo courtesy: Ford Motor Co.

“As I approached graduation and started my job search, I was thinking about my future career based on the internships that I had at Westinghouse and Pratt & Whitney,” he says. “Those experiences coupled with the classes that I’d found most enjoyable led me to envision my career with a bit of tunnel vision.

“I’d only taken one course on resistance spot welding and thought, if this is what they do in automotive, I’m not going into that,” he continues. “But when I graduated, I found myself with an unexpected choice: I was offered a job at a small company in Cincinnati and was also offered a job at Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn. At the time, I felt that Ford was the best choice for my long-term aspirations.”

In terms of his misconceptions about automotive welding, he quickly discovered that resistance spot welding was far from the only welding process he’d be involved in. As the years have passed and as the design of automobiles has evolved, the range of joining technologies required at Ford has grown. So clearly, his intuition paid off: The decision to work at Ford resulted in a lasting and rewarding career.

Weld programs

When Coon first started at Ford, a body-in-white was joined using MIG welding, fastener projection welding, drawn arc stud welding and, of course, resistance spot welding. Since then, laser welding, laser brazing and gas metal arc brazing have been added to the mix as well as new types of resistance spot welding.

“Depending on what vehicle is being produced, it’s going to have a mix of those various processes,” Coon says. “For example, not every steel body will have laser welding or laser brazing. They’re all going to have resistance spot welding, fastener projection welding and drawn arc stud welding, but whether or not the other processes are used will be dependent on the design and the specific vehicle program.”    

In addition to the use of various metallurgical joining processes, Coon discovered that the use of mechanical joining was also expanding at Ford, which previously had been limited to a few closure applications, such as hoods and decklids. Mechanical joining, in fact, has become so prevalent over the years that the welding engineering department was renamed the joining engineering department. Self-pierce riveting, clinching and flow-drill screwing are three of the major mechanical joining technologies used at Ford today, but the company also relies on self-piercing clinch nuts and studs on bodies-in-white for aluminum.

The next-generation Explorer features a cast aluminum shock tower on its front end that is joined to other materials, such as aluminum and a range of steel grades. That front structure alone relies on 10 different joining processes, including the use of adhesives.

“Our design team is constantly challenging us to not only use existing processes, but to also help them develop and prove out new joining processes,” Coon says. “Anytime the design team sees an opportunity to improve performance, reduce vehicle weight or maximize costs, we’ve worked closely with them to assess what new ideas or approaches we should be bringing into our shops.”

Unlike Coon’s initial perceptions of automotive welding, the options available to him and the joining engineering department are infinitely vast. On one body, there could easily be a combination of 10 to 15 different joining processes or more – this is especially true as a greater number of materials are being introduced into new vehicle designs.

“These days, it’s not just an all-steel body or an all-aluminum body; it could be a combination,” Coon explains. “An example of that is seen in the next-generation Explorer, which features a cast aluminum shock tower on the front end that is joined to other materials, such as aluminum and a range of steel grades. That front structure alone has 10 different joining processes involved if you count adhesives. It’s very complex, for sure.”

Matters of material

Throughout Coon’s career, the automotive industry has shifted to a variety of new materials, including the increased use of aluminum as well as the introduction of new grades of steel, such as high-strength steel and advanced high-strength steel, which emerged in the early 2000s.

“The changes that we’ve seen in materials have definitely presented challenges to us, but we’ve learned so much along the way,” Coon says. “As an example, I was involved in launching the first applications of dual-phase steel at Ford, which led us to make a significant investment in medium-frequency, direct-current (MFDC) resistance spot welding.”

No matter the challenge, Coon and the joining engineering department were ready and willing to take it on. In doing so, Ford was better equipped to incorporate new materials into its vehicles while simultaneously increasing quality.

“To address these new materials, we were significantly investing in MFDC spot welding and were also in the process of switching from pneumatic to servo-driven force actuators on our weld guns,” Coon says. “This was all happening as we were putting a lot of resources into ensuring that we could bring different advanced high-strength steel grades into the company, including boron steel.”

In regard to the benefits that MFDC spot welding technology brought to the table, engineers can easily set a weld schedule to achieve precise control over the time and weld current. The process also delivers significant cost savings as it requires less power to make a weld. In regard to the servo actuators, they too delivered major quality improvements, especially compared to the previously used pneumatic cylinders that could only cover a certain range of force.

Whether it’s new materials or new vehicle designs, the joining engineering department carries out intensive research and development to determine which joining processes should be deployed and when. The engineers also use American Welding Society (AWS) standards to help them develop their own internal standards.

Professional development

Beyond the extensive research and education afforded by his time at Ford, Coon’s career benefited from the relationships he forged at AWS. Coon served as chairman of the AWS D8 Committee on Automotive Welding, the group that is responsible for the development of AWS standards on all aspects of welding in the automotive industry, from 2017 to 2019. He has also served as the chairman on a couple of the subcommittees responsible for releasing new process-specific quality standards since 2005.

“When you serve on AWS committees and subcommittees, you have the ability to interact with other engineers from competitive companies and understand what their standards look like and what they’re doing in their body shops,” Coon says. “It’s been rewarding to have a hand in developing specifications for AWS, and it’s been important to me to ensure that Ford is closely aligned to the industry standards that come out of AWS.”

Although Ford bases some of its internal specifications on AWS standards, the company ultimately produces its own specifications, procedures and training to a degree that doesn’t require its personnel to be AWS certified. Coon says, however, that “it’s something we’re always reviewing.”

This is especially the case with AWS’s new certified resistance welding technician credential, which validates that a welder has demonstrated knowledge about resistance welding principles, processes and equipment through a combination of education, experience and examination. Undoubtedly, it can be a valuable tool for any welder looking to transition into a career in automotive.

“Our team is incredibly diverse with engineers from eight different schools with seven different degree fields,” Coon says. “It’s a much wider mix of talent than where we were when I first came on board. Regardless of their area of expertise, everyone is focused on keeping Ford as a leader in joining in the automotive industry.”

The automotive world is constantly changing, and the rise in popularity in electric vehicles is serving as the next major sea change. Having had first-hand experience in the ways in which welding has evolved and changed since the 1990s, Coon is excited for what’s in store for the next generation of welders.