After reading my recent article about Welding Engineering Compensation salaries, Garrett asked me some great questions:
What is the difference between a welding engineer and a welder with a certificate? Would it be difficult for one to get into a school for W.E.? And where is W.E. offered? Thank you for your time.
Many people have those questions, and I don’t know of any central place to send you for complete answers. So here are my answers, and if any of our rapidly growing audience can add comments or valuable links to the discussion, please do!
What is a welding engineer? What is the difference between a welding engineer and a welder with a certificate?
In my mind, a ”welder with a certificate” has been trained and tested in personally making specific types of welds on specific types of materials with specific welding processes requiring specific qualification test types. A welding certificate is usually very limited in scope, and the focus is on physically making the welds needed for those exact types of parts – there is nearly zero training on the sciences of physics, chemistry, electricity or photonics, or on the design, maintenance and troubleshooting of the welding systems and equipment. Extensive training in those areas is all part of a “4-year” Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in welding, plus extensive exposure in all types of welding processes, thermal processes (like cutting and heat-treating), and materials joining (including polymers and ceramics).
The National Center for Welding Education and Training is an important new effort that I’ve linked to in my sidebar. They do a superb job of explaining some of this, like in these job descriptions for various types of careers in welding. And their welding career videos should be seen in every high school in the country. But breaking it out further, here’s what I would add:
Two-year Associate of Science (A.S.) degrees leave out about 1/2 to 3/4ths of the sciences and math, and most of the cross-functional engineering training that equips you to team with other engineers and to use the basics of other areas of science. But, they spend thousands of hours under the hood and destructing welds, perfecting their skills in welding, fabrication, weld-quality inspection, and welding training skills. Their focus is to serve a company’s daily shop-floor needs in a mostly-manual welding environment. That includes training welders to the high skill levels needed to pass the demanding weld quality tests used for applications like military, nuclear, structural, pipeline, and ship-building. They can also develop into good leaders of robotic welding tech teams.
A well-trained A.S.W.E.T. (Associate of Science in Welding Engineering Technology) can take and pass the CWI (Certified Welding Inspector) test the first time, with high scores. In the manual-welding and code-heavy industries there are more openings and sometimes greater demand for an ASWET with their CWI than there are for BSWE/BSWET graduates.
On the other hand, a B.S.W.E. does not have a sharp focus on developing manual welding skills. Educational content varies from program-to-program and decade-to-decade, but these degrees excel in applications that are demanding in areas like metallurgy, R&D, and Finite Element Analysis. Those going through a B.S.W.E. program are susceptible to two key weaknesses: to the extent that they haven’t personally welded, they can’t optimize a welding process, and they can’t train someone to weld. In addition, even the speed of progress in R&D can be limited because it takes longer to correctly identify what is happening without being grounded in manual welding. The B.S. Welding Engineering Technology approach (B.S.W.E.T., an option at both LeTourneau and Ferris) is a way to resolve these weakness, bridging the gap between high-end theory and practical reality, by trimming out classes like Chemistry II, Calculus III, Differential Equations, etc, and instead teaching you practical welding physics and grading you at how well you apply them “under the hood” in your own welding. Of course in resolving these weaknesses, you are exchanging them for others. But for the bulk of automated welding environments, this is the perfect degree.
Another excellent option is a combination of a B.S.W.E. blended with or followed by a professional training program in (for example) certified pipe-welding. Many companies are stunned to find an OSU W.E. who can actually weld, which was Nick Erchak’s recent experience. Attending a Hobart School of Welding is a surefire way for OSU grads to get this stunning reaction, but the option of the Lincoln Welding Bootcamp in recent years has helped a great deal – a week of hands-on welding is far from LeTourneau or Ferris, but much better than nothing.
70% of “welding engineers” just have a job title, and are unqualified except in the limited role of enabling the welding processes to function. These unqualified welding engineers (UWE’s) are usually an ongoing profit liability when unguided by a BSWE/BSWET, and have convinced themselves and many around them that they’re just as good as a degreed B.S.W.E. Because although they bring clear fabrication experience and honed fine-motor-skills to the company’s welding, with genuine value that cannot be easily replaced, its’ simply impossible for 15+ years of experience to equal a BS degree. A B.S. Welding Engineering is someone with an educational degree covering a broad range (at least most) of the welding processes and the sciences behind them, which should have equipped them to tune or optimize the welding processes, the welder training and the equipment in order to get the highest quality and efficiency (profits). Combined together, the classroom and hands-on training in the welding processes and sciences is between 2,000 and 4,000 hours for a B.S. degree. That scientific training is structured, arranged, and guided by welding expertise – no amount of “shop-floor experience” can substitute for it.
But that doesn’t mean that Welding Engineers are “better”. It just means that the role of a genuine W.E. is just as critical to profits as the role of the welder. Without a skilled welder, the company can’t make quality products to sell. Without a smart W.E., the company can’t optimize their welding processes, maximize their profitability, and plan for strategic improvements in welding that can produce big gains in marketshare and profitability. The reality is that for any company to do high-performance welding, they need a high-performance team whose development is led by a Welding Engineer. Most companies haven’t assembled a team like that, but the ones that do will be the most successful.
Would it be difficult for one to get into a school for W.E.?
Getting into a W.E. program just takes applying for admission at the University that you are interested in. They’ll guide you from there – in fact, their Admissions departments are designed specifically to assist you.
What Universities offer Welding Engineering programs?
I’ll give you two answers: the classic answer, and the broader answer that’s deserved. But no matter how you look at it, the list is short, and the total annual B.S. welding graduates in the U.S. range approximately 75-120 people per year. The classic answer is that there are only three ABET-accredited Bachelor of Science welding degrees in the United States, as follows:
- The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
- Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Michigan
- LeTourneau University, Longview, Texas
(LeTourneau’s programs are now degrees in Materials Joining Engineering)
Though more from Ohio than any other state, I’m partial to the quality and historical focus of LeTourneau’s program. Perhaps that’s because of my own views about what makes a “good welding engineer”, or as Patrick Donjon calls them, a “Smart Welding Engineer”.
The broader answer is that once you allow that a BSWET is indeed a Welding Engineering bachelors, and that not everything has to be specifically called “welding engineering” to qualify, you have to add a couple more ABET-accredited programs. Keep in mind that the U.S. Department of Labor doesn’t list Welding Engineering, and however arcane it may be, still buries it as a subset of Materials Science Engineering. Admittedly, compared to Ferris and OSU, most welding engineering programs are limited in students enrolled. But a great student-teacher ratio is a valuable asset that often results in better learning. If they cater well to your experience or specific interests, if they’re in your backyard – or you’d love to see their backyard every morning – you might consider them:
- Colorado School of Mines, Golden, Colorado
(Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, dating from 1936.) Includes the Center for Welding, Joining, and Coatings Research. OK, so it’s hard to find Welding Engineering info in their disjointed online presence. Someone enlighten us here. But where else can you be in the Rockies every weekend, much less get hands-on foundry training?
There are also some other programs that lack ABET accreditation, such as Pennsylvania College of Technology (Penn State), Williamsport, PA. These tend to be newer programs that are strongly focused on practical hands-on application, and may be more cost-effective than other programs. They may be building toward ABET accreditation, but it takes many years to put all the components in place.
Those leaning toward academic snobbery sometimes imply that non-accredited programs are worthless, but let’s be real. A welding engineering degree is valuable. In the end, you’re the one who owns the level of excellence you aspire to. Don’t fret over the education differences you would have gotten “if only” you went to a different school – they all have their own weaknesses. The “best” one is the one that equips you to be your best, which you can afford to attend, and which you actually graduate from.
Non-ABET programs may be solidly grounded, yet lack some breadth or depth in various areas such as metallurgy, physics, and in developing engineering thought-processes. If you may ever consider going on to a higher degree such as a Masters, or if you want to use the courses to count toward another degree, it’s likely that many of the classes won’t transfer – sometimes leaving you to take and pay for the nearly the same thing a second time. That’s the potential downside.
But if the cost is reasonable, it’s close to home, you’re going to finish all your education at that institution, and you’re more a hands-on-doer who struggles with the intellectual patience to endure an A.S. or B.S., then look over the course curriculum and consider the qualifications of the teaching staff. If they are qualified to equip you to reach your goals, you’re comfortable with the program, and you won’t regret going there instead of “where you’ve always wanted to go”, then go for it.
Finally, note the additional links under Blogroll in the sidebar.
LeTourneau University Alum – BSMET/WET