Welding schools continually look for ways to attract and retain students as the industry struggles with a skills shortage. One way schools can help new welders develop their skills faster is by choosing equipment and consumables that are reliable and easy to use.
At two thriving welding schools in Texas, programs are built on foundations of experienced instructors, ample hands-on time in the welding lab, and the equipment and consumables that students will encounter once they enter the industry. Tulsa Welding School (TWS) is the nation’s largest welding school with campuses in Houston, Tulsa, Okla., and Jacksonville, Fla. Blinn College District launched its two-year welding degree program in 2016 on its Brenham and Bryan, Texas, campuses with 23 students. Four years later, enrollment has reached nearly 140 students.
“We have to keep up with the latest equipment technology, and we have to know that we’re meeting industry standards,” says Dickie Jones, welding program manager at Blinn College. “I can’t use 10-year-old technology to train students and then expect them to enter the field or start working at a fabrication shop after graduation where everything is new.”
Durability and consistency are also important with welding equipment, especially in a learning environment where the machines might run for 10 to 12 hours a day or more.
“I have 316 welding booths and 316 students welding,” says Casey Stafford, regional director of facilities for Tulsa Welding School and Technology Center, the Houston campus of TWS. “I can’t have a welding machine go down. I depend on reliable products.”
Multi-process machines are used in most of the schools’ welding booths to make it easier for students to switch back and forth between processes as they train. The schools want equipment and consumables that help students save time while also delivering versatility.
Both TWS and Blinn College rely on Bernard semi-automatic MIG welding guns, Bernard Centerfire consumables, Miller welding equipment and Hobart filler metals in their labs.
Instructors and students at TWS and Blinn College appreciate how comfortable and lightweight the Bernard MIG welding guns feel compared to other guns they have used. That helps keep them comfortable and able to weld longer.
“The lighter the MIG gun is, the better – especially for a welder that might weld for 10 or 12 hours a day,” says TWS welding instructor Greg Langdon. “They’re not too big and bulky, and so I don’t have to worry about their arm becoming too tired. The students really loved them when we first tried them.”
Having a lightweight MIG gun is especially important when welding out of position or overhead.
“If you’re welding in an uncomfortable position, it’s just easier if the gun is lighter,” says Jesus Otero, a Blinn College welding student.
Blinn College student James Anderson agrees. He immediately noticed the difference between the lightweight Bernard MIG welding guns he uses in class and the heavier welding guns he uses at his part-time welding job.
“The Bernard guns are so easy to work with,” he says. “I can weld overhead with them. I have heavy guns at work that are hard to maneuver and if it gets tangled up, I can’t move it how I want.”
The overall durability of the MIG welding gun is important in a classroom environment where students who are just learning may experiment with parameters and push the equipment.
“I want something solid that’s going to be there for me for years,” says John McGee, Blinn College welding instructor. “The Bernard series is just a no-brainer.”
The schools also use Bernard Centerfire consumables, which includes contact tips, nozzles and diffusers, with the Bernard MIG welding guns. They’ve found the Centerfire contact tips to be extremely long lasting – reducing the time and money spent on tip changeover.
“We aren’t buying nearly as many consumables as we did in the past,” McGee says. “For instance, the contact tips are very heavy duty from the standpoint of just lasting after long hours of use. It’s a classroom setting so these things can take crazy amounts of abuse.”
Plus, instructors are able to diagnose potential problems faster when students ask for help. Less experienced welders may not have the contact tip snug in the housing, so they may think it’s a machine malfunction instead of installation error. With the Centerfire consumable system, it’s easy to uncover this issue.
“I need to be able to diagnose problems quickly,” McGee says. “Is it operator error? Is the setting wrong? Does the contact tip need to be replaced? Fortunately, with the Bernard Centerfire system, as long as the nozzle is tight and everything else is in there, I don’t have to dismantle the whole thing to check every little piece of the puzzle.”
McGee was so impressed that he changed over every MIG welding gun in the Blinn College welding lab to use Centerfire consumables.
“The Centerfire series is so user friendly that I actually bought conversion kits and changed all our non-Bernard gear over to Bernard consumables,” he says.
While TWS and Blinn College offer students different models of welding education, the programs share plenty of similarities when it comes to what’s important. Experienced instructors with a desire to pass on welding knowledge to the next generation; plenty of hands-on training time in the lab; and reliable, easy-to-use equipment and consumables are the fundamentals for both programs in training the next generation of welders.