7 Questions Reveal Do Your People Really “Know Welding”?

October 25, 2015

Having some people who “know welding” is usually considered adequate or good welding staffing in American industry.  In essence, if welding is occurring and products are shipping, managers and executives who know nothing about welding sciences will assume that they are adequately staffed for competition and growth.  But is that REALLY true in your company, or is it only a common and expensive assumption?  Here are seven important questions to gage whether your company’s welding science expertise is adequate:

  1. How much money is being lost in weld scrap?
  2. How many hours are being spent in weld repairs?
  3. How many hours are being spent making “welding adjustments” to automated equipment?
  4. What is your internal PPM (or DPMO) weld repair defect rate on products, and how much have you lowered that repair rate in the last year?
  5. What is your external weld defect rate shipped to your customers, and how much have you lowered that over the last three years?
  6. How many times a year does staff have to repair, reprogram or “touch up points” in welding automation that “crashed”?
  7. What are your primary welding operation bottlenecks, and how much have you reduced their cycle time in the last three years?

Of course this isn’t an exhaustive list.  But if your welding staff expertise is excellent and adequately supported for your profitability, they can provide answers to all these questions in a day or less.  Questions 4, 5, and 7 all point to your facility’s continuous improvement environment in welding operations:  if you don’t measure, that’s a forfeit.  If you measure but you have no continuous improvement, it’s because your inadequate welding staffing is locked in firefighting mode and/or hopelessly lacking in welding science expertise.

It’s astonishing that with the complex chemical interactions and high-speed transitions between solid/liquid/gas states, involving the arc plasma, metallurgy, over a dozen process variables with multiple interactions, tooling design, fit-up variations, and dimensional distortion… that welding in America is still thought to be a “simple” process that doesn’t need a trained welder, a welding-process-trained programmer, a specifically trained welding engineer, or targeted scientific research.  If you imagine that you are a metal stamping company without a mechanical engineer or tool-and-die maker, perhaps you can correlate how wide-open the risk and potential is in most companies doing welding.

About 7 years ago as a Manufacturing Welding Engineering Manager, I assigned a task to the 7 or 8 bachelor’s welding engineering grads in my team from all three schools (Ferris, OSU, LeTourneau), to total up the hours they spent in college in welding classes, doing welding structure/metallurgy/process homework, or under the hood performing guided/graded welds. The average minimum was 4,000 hours… much higher for the Ferris guys due to all the “under the hood” time.  Our team applied that welding engineering expertise to great advantage.  What would your bottom line look like if you eliminated 90% of your weld repairs, shortened your welding cycle-times by 20%, reduced your shipped weld defects by more than 50%, and launched new lines that were running at full rate and low defects in the first 30 days?  That’s your funding motivation to staff and empower welding science expertise.

Still think your people “know welding”?

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Is Welding Engineering a good career? Where should I get my Degree?

October 14, 2014

People considering a Welding Engineering career are most likely to ask me one or more of these three questions:

What is welding engineering like?  Is Welding Engineering a good career choice?  Where should I get my degree?

Here’s a concise answer to all three questions.

As far as the W.E. profession, it’s wide open, industry is starving for them, the norm is that over 90% of W.E. grads have accepted an offer months prior to graduation, it pays better than most degrees, and there are many different industries to choose from. That’s the upside. One downside is that you might tend to move or change jobs more frequently than some other professions.  But this is due to another downside that is strange and unexpected in engineering careers:

Since most companies don’t understand that welding is by far their most complex process, and needs to be a central focus for building core expertise, they typically don’t empower or appreciate Welding Engineers anywhere near what would be wise, sustainable and profitable for the company’s future and growth. As a result, a Welding Engineering career can tend to be a frustrating journey through ignorant companies making dumb welding decisions… and yet there are some great successes in the battlefields along the way.

Welding Engineering is also called Materials Joining Engineering – that’s what both Ohio State University and LeTourneau University call their degrees now.  How are the schools different?  OSU offers only engineering, Ferris State University offers only engineering technology, and LeTourneau offers both.  OSU tends to be very science and metallurgy heavy while being too neglectful of the value of manual welding experience that’s needed to catalyze the sciences into a realistic comprehension of what is happening in the molten puddle and how to optimize it. FSU is very hands-on heavy and a great preparation for any manufacturing floor role or code-shop, but they are light on metallurgy and a good span of all the welding processes. LeTourneau has always tried to be a great practical blend of both science and personal skill, producing the most well-rounded graduate, and they are not allergic to transfer students. That’s just my perspective, based on exposure and the historical norms of the various programs.  I don’t know enough about Weber State University or Penn State’s programs to comment, but at least one reader has been through Weber States’ accredited program (Manufacturing Engineering Technology, Welding Emphasis) and thinks it’s solid.  There are a few other programs out there, but in general most of the other available programs are limited in focus, staff, equipment and exposure, and consequently are not ABET accredited.  (Check the sidebar to the right for links to the WE programs.)

William Roth, PE and CWI added this in blog comments, to explain “the difference between an engineering degree (welding or otherwise) and an engineering technology degree. The engineering technology degrees normally don’t have the heavy math and physics in their curriculum as does a regular engineering degree. In most cases, having an engineering technology degree will either delay or prevent one from being able to sit for the professional engineers exam. While most jobs do not require a PE license, there are limitations to what work you can do without one. In some states, you can’t market yourself as an engineer or open a company with the name engineering in it if you don’t have a PE License. Getting an AWS Certified Welding Engineer qualification is nice, but is not recognized by any state as a license.”

There are many industries with extensive welding, and there is value in broad exposure. One eventual decision that can be helpful along the way is to realize the major segments in the profession and focus in the areas that you find to be the most fun or most interesting or most stable… depending on your priorities. Plate thicknesses, or gauges? Manual or automated? Volume products or custom challenges?  Steel, stainless, aluminum, or copper alloys – or exotic super alloys?

If you notice, I didn’t say one word there about any industry. That’s because Welding Engineering is much more about the physics, sciences, metallurgy, techniques and variables than it is about which particular industry you happen to be involved in at any given point.  And THAT is a key point that defies the HR/management logic in most business segments – you’re not really in agricultural equipment or automotive or appliance or medical equipment: you’re in welding engineering, and they are in the business of selling their expertise at manufacturing welded assemblies. How smartly are they doing that? Most companies barely have a clue, which explains why they aren’t trouncing their equally ignorant competition or seeing the flashing neon signs of opportunity: blind people can’t see signs without touching them or running into them.

I think if you identify your interests based on the divisions of the physics and skill-sets, and then look at industries which must typically bow to the laws of physics in those ways, you’ll be more successful.

Many companies are driven by their ignorance to search for a welding engineering wizard who will give them a special blessing and a potion that allows them to defy the laws of physics as they see fit. The more persistent they are in searching for this wizard with the power to grant them their wishes, the more likely they will shipwreck themselves and be just another sunken vessel on a business map. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is often to educate them that the glorious path of legendary profitability and growth is in the direction of learning and serving the laws of physics better than any of their competitors.

Finally, there are several other good articles to help with these questions. The popular “Difference between a Welding Engineer and a Certified Welder” has over 50 valuable comments/discussions.  Other articles are easy to find using the Tag Cloud in the righthand sidebar – just click on a subject to view a list of related articles.


Hunting for the Elephant Cloaking Device “OFF” Switch

June 8, 2014

During most of the last two decades of my Welding Engineering career, I’ve been searching for the “OFF” switch on the Elephant Cloaking Device.  95% of manufacturing companies lack the high profitability and the growth into market dominance which could be theirs, by turning off the cloaking device that hides their true core business, and embracing the elephant-sized key to profitable market dominance.  Manufacturing companies may think they are in appliances, or implements, or vehicles, or equipment, or devices, or actuators… just name it.  But they are really in the welding industry. Automotive is a perfect example: simply removing welding and brazing from a vehicle leaves nothing but a useless pile of disconnected and non-functional small sub-assemblies – and yet the entire automotive industry seems blind to that fact. It’s pervasive, and it’s top-down.

The “cloaked elephant” in most of the metal-manufacturing industries is that their actual core business is selling their expertise at manufacturing complex welded assemblies.  Because this elephant is cloaked, staff cannot see and grasp that their core success is inherently and tightly linked to the permeating depth and breadth of the scientific welding expertise that’s woven throughout their organizational structure… or, far more likely, is missing entirely.  One major supplier, a “household name” within automotive, is manufacturing complex welded system assemblies in dozens of countries without one single welding engineer, anywhere.  Lack of welding expertise was the overwhelming cause of a major “quality spill” that may have cost them over $50M, and is the reason they are probably doomed to repeat their losses.

The sad truth is that few manufacturers of welded metal assemblies understand and embrace their core business. Even amongst “world class” companies, there is rarely a discussion of world class welding.  How can they talk about Continuous Improvement, and leave welding out of the picture?  It’s due to invisibility – causing an inability for normal sight to see, just as if they were blind.  In the vast majority of companies, the costly lack of welding expertise is the manufacturing lesson rarely seen and never learned.

Even though it should be painfully obvious, the lack of welding expertise is typically as invisible to upper management and executive staff as a sci-fi warplane or starship that’s hidden by a “cloaking device”.  The welding “starship” has the immense and unequalled power of “otherworldly” knowledge in the applied physics of the universe, yet it’s cloaked in the invisibility of those complex physics, always evading management visibility, nearly completely untapped and uncomprehended – the stuff of legends, heroes, and world domination or rescue.  But why?  For years I’ve puzzled over the reasons for this top-down invisibility, and I’ve drawn some conclusions… Read the rest of this entry »


Manufacturing Executives – What is Your Most Complex Process?

October 29, 2012

If your manufacturing production process includes welding assemblies together, here’s a valuable challenge. If you think it’s exaggeration to claim that arc welding is the most complex process in your plant, humor me for just one paragraph.  I bet you can’t name one other non-welding industrial process in your operations that is as complex as the most common arc-welding process: GMAW (Gas Metal Arc Welding, or MIG/MAG). GMAW (“MIG”) includes at least 13 variables, of which most are interactive with multiple other variables, and it joins metal via an open electric arc that creates simultaneous multi-phase high-speed transitions between solid, liquid, gaseous and plastic states to form 3-dimensional weld penetration profiles with various chemistries and conflicting/competing grain structures which have widely varying impacts on physical and chemical properties.

Think about it. Ask your engineering manager about it. Is there any process more complex?  Stamping? No. Extrusion molding? Nope. Machining? No again.

Are you convinced yet?  If so, here’s a question that’s likely worth a decade of your career:  how is your company doing in hiring, empowering and leveraging expertise in welding sciences to create a formidable level of competitive advantage and profitability?


The Top Two Welding Excellence Obstacles in US Manufacturing

April 4, 2012

Does your company want the profitability and competitive advantage of welding excellence?  What’s standing in the way?  Two years ago I started a survey poll asking manufacturing welding engineers “what do you think are the Top 2 biggest obstacles to welding excellence in American manufacturing, in the facilities you are personally familiar with?”

Many welding engineers responded, and here were the top answers as of April 4, 2012:

 20%     Staff don’t support weld requirements, and force upstream problems on welding.

20%     Poor welding process knowledge in the design team.

15%     Unqualified people dictate process without honoring Welding Engineering expertise.

14%     Manufacturing welded assemblies with NO degreed welding engineer.

7%       Welding Engineers lack time/support to find and justify the best solutions.

5%       The Manufacturer is too intently managing the economic death of the plant to invest and save it.

 (In general, most WE’s picked at least one of the top two answers, then their second pick ranged among the other choices. The other answers received only one or two votes. You can see them in the poll.)

It follows logically from this survey that if you want to remove obstacles and create welding excellence in your company, that those issues must be addressed.

Additional “gold” came in the comments responding to the poll, which I’ve added below. A key point for me is that because welding is the most complex process, it requires core expertise that can reach to the upper echelons of the company: the need is just as valid as for Tool and Die, or Quality, or OP Ex, or for Information Technology.  Even Six Sigma Blackbelts fall flat on their DMAIC’s when it’s a welding process project, yet when a Smart Welding Engineer is unleashed… the problem is quickly resolved.

The Title and corresponding role of “Welding Engineer” is far too limited in most company structures to enable excellence in welding processes. How many companies have a Director of Welding Technologies, or a Manufacturing Welding Engineering Manager? Very few. They are just as rare as the highly profitable welding operations they could produce.

Poll Comments: Read the rest of this entry »


The Welding Eye in Team

April 25, 2010

How Sharp are Your Team's Eyes?

How do you get welding excellence in new-product-launch in manufacturing?  Skilled contributors working with great teamwork. But what does that mean, and how does it work? Everyone has heard “there is no “I” in TEAM”. Still, every team member is an Individual. The “I” that counts most is the “eye” that team members have for real teamwork. They need a good “eye” for how they view themselves, their team, and their roles.

The critical part of the “eye” in team leadership is what John Maxwell calls the single most important factor in high-performance teams: The Law of the Niche, third of the 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork. The Law of the Niche says that every player on a team has a place where they add the most value. Their niche position takes advantage of a blend of their greatest skills.

I love producing exceptionally profitable high-quality results in manufacturing, and am keenly aware that it takes a great team. Exceptional welding automation is NEVER produced by a jack-of-all-trades engineer, nor by a micro-manager who dictates everything, nor by a talented robotic programmer whose ego ignores the input of a degreed welding engineer. Exceptional welding automation is produced by individuals with respect for each other’s niche skills in tooling, controls, and welding expertise, who are focused on exceptional results.

Legends of Welding Excellence and Teamwork

This welding engineering team developed and conducted several waves of a fantastic 4-week training program for robotic welding techs, covering process theory, troubleshooting, manual welding skills, PM’s, procedures, “crash” recovery, programming and “ninja” robot optimization secrets. Results were world-class because every W.E. played niche roles in different training segments, or covered for others. (Left to right above: Nick Perry, Mike Walther, Bill Stevens, Nick & Mrs. Erchak, Gerald Dunnigan, Jared Wilson, Brian Dobben, plus  Travis Sands and a couple of “top gun” robot integration programmers you don’t see)

Exceptional teams cultivate the “eyes” of the individual team members. Each member needs a realistic awareness of their niche skills, and a respect for the niche skills of their teammates. There’s room for pride and excellence in skills, because members know the excellent contributions of their unique skills are wanted and needed by the team. There is also freedom to learn from each other, to ask for help in weak areas, and to rely on others strengths.

A major team pitfall is not recognizing and valuing skills and weaknesses. Which expertise niches do team members bring, and not bring, to the team?

Drop pretense, and play to strengths. By consistently passing the ball to the person who is best able in that moment’s situation to move toward scoring, a team will consistently get high-performance results. By neglecting to help egotistical ball-hogs use the team’s skills, even teams with good athletes will consistently struggle and score low.

Just as you buy a drill to make holes, you buy welding automation to make welded products. It is crucial to realize that welding: is the core process;  is typically the most complex process in the plant; only welds like an expert when it is taught by highly trained experts.

To excel, every essential portion of a welding automation project must faithfully serve both the physics of the core process, and the end-goal of profitable stability and quality in production. Elegant simplicity and robustly profitable quality are hallmarks of automation excellence.  As leader of the core process, the Smart Welding Engineer is responsible to convey those process needs to the controls and tooling, and call the process shots as the welding quarterback.

And yet, every team-member is like the turtle on the fencepost, who didn’t get there on his own.

Brian Dobben


Turnkey Illusions – How to Avoid Pitfalls When Outsourcing Welding Automation

April 6, 2010

“You can easily purchase high-performance welding automation “turnkey” without needing in-house welding expertise, because the integrator is “the expert”.” Really? That’s a familiar idea. But is it true, or… is it just a manufacturing management myth?
It’s a MYTH.

Chances of success? Probably less than 10%. That’s how you purchase poor to mediocre welding automation performance, like most of your competition has, which usually produces small profit margins. Is that the solution that will REALLY help you survive and get stronger? If it’s seemed like every launch is a new Vegas gambling junket, you may not be far from the truth: 10% odds on bringing home a profit doesn’t sound very appealing. Still want to try it again?

Instead, why not try the rare “high-profit expertise” approach?  Let’s compare. In this valuable article I’ll cover:

  • Three Foundational Welding Automation Principles.
  • The Two Successful Paths to achieving high-performance welding automation.
  • Three classic reasons that welding integration suppliers can rarely deliver world-class “turnkey” welding automation results.
  • Five suggestions on how to pick an excellent welding automation designer/integrator and achieve great results.

You buy or create automation for two basic reasons:  to improve profit & quality, or because a customer demands it of you for those very reasons.  So why not be hugely successful at it?  Why not say goodbye to painful, lame launch results? Why not aspire to be so successful in manufacturing automation, that you trounce your competitors? Why shouldn’t one of your biggest challenges be developing strategies to hide how profitable your welding operations are from your nosy customers and envious competitors?Robot in welding integration

To be most successful in welding automation, the first two questions to ask are “what is our path to the best long-term profits, and what will it take to get us there?”  Because I have repeatedly achieved that in complex welding automation, and created cultures of effective Continuous Improvement, I have some solid answers for those questions. But to explain, I need to build the foundational principles – because they are invisible on the radar screen of most company management.

First, let’s realize a simple point: whatever the Pepsi machine says in the display window is how much it costs to get a bottle or can out of the machine.  If the goal is high-profitability, high-quality welding automation that gives you a competitive advantage, then there are some coins required to get there.  Don’t dare think you can save money by cutting critical “options” from the purchase order: that’s like watching a manager beating on the $1 Pepsi machine and demanding a drink for their customer when they only put in 75 cents. Don’t create such embarrassment… decide upfront to pay the price for success.

Instead of looking for ways to cheat the cost of success, which creates a high risk of project failure or tiny profits, look for low-cost opportunities to innovate and make the automation even more profitable than the proposal said it would be.

Read the rest of this entry »