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.

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Ten HR Questions for Welding Engineer Candidates

December 1, 2013

One of the common Welding Engineering searches online by HR or staffing professionals is looking for questions to ask Welding Engineering candidates.  Since such searches turn up little information, I’ve offered these ten questions for staffing professionals in HR roles to ask a Welding Engineer or Materials Joining Engineer:

  1. How did you become a Welding Engineer?  (This seems overly basic, but since ~70% of titled “welding engineer” positions have little or no training in the field, this is a vitally important question.)
  2. Which welding processes have you had formal training in?
  3. Which welding processes are you comfortable with?
  4. What materials have you commonly welded?
  5. What material thickness ranges have you worked with?
  6. Can you describe the types of welding training that you have conducted personally?
  7. What degrees or certifications have you received?
  8. Can you give me an example of how you’ve saved a company money, or increased profitability in welding operations?
  9. What do you see as the broad responsibilities of a welding engineering role in our industry?
  10. What could you do for us that most welding engineers can’t?

Bonus questions for experienced welding engineering candidates:

  • Based on your training, skills and experience, how comfortable are you in structuring and executing world class welding in an automated welding environment?
  • Based on your training, skills and experience, how comfortable are you in structuring and executing world class welding in a manual welding environment?

Keep in mind that some questions may not be as applicable in some companies – you might ask an engineer for help in selecting or modifying the best questions. But in general, these are great questions.  Sadly, questions like these are often a competitive advantage. Why?  Companies interviewing for these positions are selling their expertise at manufacturing complex welded assemblies, but don’t even know that describes their core business competency needs. So these questions are a plus to qualified candidates, who will get the impression that your company at least has a clue about the need and value of welding engineering.


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 »


Cutting Costs or Slow-Motion Suicide

January 28, 2010

What factors cause business failure? Certainly there are many external burdens such as our draconian corporate taxes and regulation that depresses American companies against foreign competitors who pay little or no taxes.  But beyond that, America has a wildly popular and successful internal business management recipe for putting our own companies out of business: shift focus from getting more profitable, to “cutting costs”.

It’s a subtle yet critical difference.  “Cutting costs” seems harmless and sounds sooo responsible.  But it tends to ignore the value and necessity of essential core technical expertise and instead mislabels them as financial liabilities that could be trimmed.  Is it a matter of ignoring, or of ignorance?  Instead of pressing groups for ideas and project execution to improve profits, they press for input on which essential business functions to cut. The mantra is usually “we all hate to do this, but we don’t have any choice.”  The result of this lose-lose is a painful decision to eliminate the very expertise that drives the effectiveness of Continuous Improvement, visionary process quoting, training, process stability, IT systems, and much more.  In short, it creates a top-down management culture of plant-closing through “slow-motion-suicide”.

In a superb article, noted industry expert and author  Bob Sproull summarized it like this: “It was also evident that operating expense had a functional lower limit, and once you hit it, you could actually do more harm than good to the organization by reducing it further.”

I’m not talking about whether you can trim your controls engineers from four to three positions.  I’m talking about trimming from two to one, or even eliminating the position completely – without any analysis of the ROI of value-added cost-reduction projects, or of the critical production support roles that could double or triple downtime and late shipments because of the six dozen automated systems out there on the plant floor. Sounds crazy because it is, but some company executives are crazy enough to do it.

Unfortunately, if you embrace a path that cuts the costs of the assets that produce income, you are essentially downsizing the future profitability of the company.  Cutting profit-generators will make it impossible to remain competitive: the company will  go out of business.  I hope my thoughts can spark a good discussion and some effective ways to recognize and resist these suicidal business practices in your company.

One example of this is the trend I’ve noticed toward trying to hire “jack-of-all-trades” engineers.  They want a trained engineer who works like a tech (“hands on”, “bias toward action”) and yet can do CAD drafting, IE functions, Six Sigma, Lean, PLC programming, robot programming, welding systems, program launch management, capital appropriations requests, and executive powerpoint presentations.  Apparently they want to hire a messiah like this (for the pay of a mediocre one-discipline engineer) to handle their 80-robot process automation and launches, because they don’t have quality or control or welding or maintenance engineers to do the work and can’t get approval to hire them. They might as well post for an engineer who walks on water and has a standard 12/6 work-week. What will it take for them to realize that while they can hire someone who lies about having all those skillsets, the extremely rare one who actually might is either being paid $85k+ (USD) as an engineering manager, or has started his own systems design and integration company?

Ken Payne of The Columbus Group recently pointed out to me that while classic Industrial Engineering (IE) breaks everything into the Man, Machine, and Material categories, most companies have lost sight of a simple overarching fact: everything in a company – including Machine and Material – is driven by the Man factor. Payne and Demming both point out that manpower is the source of all value streams.  So the value streams are ultimately driven by the human energy in the form of work, passion, expertise, inventiveness, entrepreneurial drive, and cohesive teamwork of the company’s manpower.  That manpower is a combination of individual expertise and passion, and company culture.

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Beyond Welding Divas to World-Class Success – Why 15 years of welding doesn’t make a Welding Engineer

April 9, 2009
So you’re partial to your UWE (Unqualified Welding Engineer) because he has 15 years in welding and he’s brought your welding automation where it is today? 
  
I love these two, but welding engineers they're not.

I love these two, but welding engineers they're not.

I understand.  I’m partial to these couple of girls because I’ve known them for several years, they give heartwarming hugs, and they look great in sunglasses.  They also do great on 2 and 3 wheel scooters, and in less than 15 years they’ll drive a car.  They’ll always have a place in my heart.  But they’re going to need some training before I let them do a brake job on my truck.  So let’s face it: wearing a welding hood to weld won’t make them welding engineers any more than putting on sunglasses and dancing in a department store makes them the next Hanna Montana. 

 

If you manufacture welded assemblies, it’s no longer optional to be excellent in the welding processes.  You’ll have to move quickly toward welding excellence to survive.
The business reality is that welding is – by far – your most complex process, involving more sciences and physics and variables than anything else you have.  So no matter how good he is, your non-welding-engineer probably cannot enable you to survive.  He certainly can’t enable you to take leadership in your manufacturing segment.   If you’re going to make money in today’s flailing manufacturing economy, you must understand what your UWE is capable of vs what he is not capable of, and limit him to appropriate roles and authority.  How do you do that?  By hiring the real expertise that’s needed to guide him, further develop him, protect you from the self-serving interests of your supplier salesmen, and fill your profit gaps before you drown in red ink and close your doors.

 

But how?  You don’t have 5 years to find your way across the financial desert by trial and error.  How can you quickly make the critical changes you need without splitting your tribal welding culture into factions warring and squealing for authority and recognition?  For 20 years I didn’t have a solid plan to answer that question.  Now I finally do.  Read the rest of this entry »


How to Hire the Welding Engineer You Really Need

March 30, 2009

—  Warning —
If your company makes welded assemblies this information is worth
hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars a year in profits.

Searching for a welding engineer or welding engineering manager isn’t an easy task for an HR staffer or professional recruiter. For many reasons, there aren’t many of us Welding Engineers out here. And 70% of job-titled “Welding Engineers” have little or no training in the welding physics and sciences and so are largely or completely unqualified – knowing enough to enable the welding processes, but often carrying enough influence and ignorance to drive companies right out of business. But to complicate the picture, all three recognized Welding Engineering programs have very different approaches and very different ideas as to what a Welding Engineer really is and should be doing.

Caution:  Welding Engineering training and experience is mainly process-specific and/or material-specific, not industry-specific. This has broader implications, but it’s critical to understand that their skills and expertise easily transfer across completely unrelated industries. Your search can easily turn up dry if you think your competion for a welding engineer is your competitors, because it’s not.  You’re looking for process expertise, and your search competition is all industries that weld similar materials and thicknesses.

Formal education is just the beginning of the story because once they’re out in the workforce, degreed welding engineers tend to lean into different areas.  A W.E. might lean toward heavy-wall welding, meaning it’s either piping, structural, off-road heavy equipment, or pressure-vessel, and normally includes a lot of manual welding management, welder training and certifications. Or a W.E. might lean toward the thin “gauge-thickness” materials. In terms of experience, those two worlds (thick or thin) are probably the greatest differences.  Beyond that, they might have a strong affinity for manual hand-welding environments, or for welding automation, or for metallurgy, “exotic” materials, testing, training, process optimization/control or R&D work.

As a personal example, over the years I have been compelled to conclude that I have some world-class skills in an environment of welding automation on gauge-thickness materials.  In that arena, I can excel to a level that makes most welding engineers and welding equipment manufacturers seem rather incompetent – I always find myself trying to figure out who is trainable that I can develop as a welding engineer or equipment supplier.  Can I handle an exclusively manual welding environment of heavy-wall code work that can’t or doesn’t want to move any of it into welding automation?  I’ve been trained, I’ve had exposure, but exclusively manual heavy-wall code welding is not my thing.  I could eventually grow into it, but many W.E.’s are better suited and it might be a waste of my individual talents.  Why not hire the right guy and support him?

A recruiter friend of mine, Kirk Abraham, recently said or quoted “Robots are fast, accurate & stupid. Humans are slow, sloppy & brilliant.”  Too many companies either can’t see the value in having brilliant humans teach robots to be fast and accurate, or they sense wisdom in the idea but just don’t know how to get there.

Then there’s the company or client side of the picture, which frankly can be structured to make the task of filling a WE opening… impossible. There are many pitfalls. After years of watching and participating in this sometimes painful dance either personally or by proxy of fellow welding engineers, I hope my perspectives may be a dramatic help to you as you work to fill your welding engineering position. Along the way I’ll discuss experience, job title, job description, responsibilities, compensation, training skills, strategic issues, and much more.  Here we go!
Read the rest of this entry »


Welding Engineer Salary Compensation Data

March 13, 2009

In January I found this question that had been posted in a members-only forum last fall, asking where to find solid data on Welding Engineering salaries.  Until I responded near the end of January, not much help had been offered.  There’s some good content on management & HR perspectives, and some of the challenges in building a high performance welding team.  But mostly I want to put out his question with the answer I posted, to see if anyone else can offer data or suggestions.  And if someone wants an excellent project that could strongly benefit many metalworking industries, their HR staff, the welding engineering profession, and recruiting networks – here’s a wonderful opportunity to contribute.

Hello Everyone,

I am looking for a realistic comparison of WE salaries. I have been searching the web, but have found very little applicable data. I am looking for average salaries within the WE field, specifically in the 0-5 years experience range. If anyone can offer any help, I would really appreciate it.

Thanks,
Dave

Dave –
There is a real need for better data on Welding Engineering salaries. Having personally interviewed 150-200 WE’s over the last 3 years, and hunting hard to assemble justification for realistic market salaries while hiring 9 BSWE welding engineers, I learned some things that few understand.

OSU and Ferris State have data on WE grad starting salaries. OSU’s is most complete and easiest to find online, the last I knew. The best data I’ve ever found on welding engineering career salaries is at ThinkEnergy-dot-com. BUT, there’s a huge caveat that they don’t tell you about. While they track Welding Engineering, they do not distinguish non-degreed from degreed WE’s: all figures are lumped together purely by Job Title. That doesn’t sound bad until you realize it’s not at all like other engineering fields, where most Civil Engineers or Chemical Engineers actually are trained in their disciplines – which is why the W.E. salaries look much too low. In the U.S., according to Dr. Yoni Adonyi (Professor of Materials Joining Engineering, LeTourneau University), about SEVENTY PERCENT of “Welding Engineers” are merely appointed to the job title. That’s because they need someone and either can’t find a real W.E., think they don’t need a real W.E., or they aren’t willing to pay for one (for various reasons). The stand-in may have a vocational welding certificate, or an Associates or Bachelors in another field, but in most cases their welding training is very limited.
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