On Shoulders of Giants – Part 2

June 25, 2018

On Shoulders of Giants – Part 2

Continued from Part 1 here.

Only fifteen years after my LeTourneau graduation did I realize that the availability of welding science expertise in industry is in fact, sadly rare. Even ridiculous. It hit me when Yoni Adoni (OSU/LeT-U) explained that the raw numbers for W.E. graduates and Welding Engineer job titles reveals that 70% of “Welding Engineers” don’t have the degree. As the overwhelming rule of thumb, they are “familiar” with one or two welding processes but have little or no welding science training.

This holds the weighty implications that degreed W.E. compensation centers around the 85th percentile, and that true, un-hyped “blue ocean” advantages exist for companies who infuse their company’s core with welding science competency and nurture it.

These realizations evoked yet another puzzling frustration: how could it be that 95% of company engineers, managers and executives, and 99% of HR managers or directors seem unable to comprehend and leverage such obviously valuable opportunity, fully exploiting welding science for competitive advantages? Surely I’m not the only one with two eyes in my head!

Like Morpheus’ splinter illustration to Neo (The Matrix), there was a splinter in my mind: amidst all of this there were two things that especially stumped me over the years. First, the wide gap between EWI’s applied welding process expertise, and my expertise. Second was a maddening, incomprehensible industry-wide ignorance that is blind to the existence of both welding sciences and welding engineers.

  1. How could I have TWICE unknowingly come into a facility behind an Edison Welding Institute (EWI) TEAM investigation report, and bested EWI engineers by predicting and delivering welding process improvements of 500%+ beyond what their evaluation said was possible? There is nothing shabby about EWI’s remarkable achievements – they are arguably the most renowned and most capable pool of consulting welding expertise on the globe.
    So how does this make any sense?  How is it that:
  • A new (1993?) Carrier compressor plant told me that their single biggest problem – a joint made by one simultaneous 10-point Resistance Projection Weld – couldn’t be fixed until they re-designed and re-tooled a completely different approach, which would total nearly a half-million dollars. I objected that it posed no problem to weld, and was probably a superior design – despite the new-launch failure rate which often exceeded 50%. But those decisions made several days earlier were grounded in the fact that both the RW machine builder and an EWI team had concluded that it could not work and that the only solution was to revert to an industry-standard design. I looked it over for 15 minutes, went back and told him all he had to do was reduce the force, increase the amps and volts, and shorten the weld time, and it should be no problem. A week later they let me and a T.J. Snow staffer take 45 minutes (wink) to develop a new weld schedule and machine settings. 30 minutes later, they couldn’t separate more than two projections in over 50 hits from a 32-oz ballpeen hammer (literally) that completely flattened all the sheet metal. Yet, until that moment, whacking it twice without snapping it completely off was labeled as “good” because that was the best ever accomplished.
    What?!!?
    How do I make sense of erasing this simple half-million dollar “impossibility” in 30 minutes, with no tooling or machine hardware changes, based on a 15 minute evaluation?  Were EWI’s main RW experts and the RPW machine-builder’s lead staff ALL on longggg vacations? Can’t any good welding engineer do this stuff?
  • A two-week EWI team investigation in the mid-90’s provided a filled three-inch ring-binder report which concluded that Copeland Corp’s (Emerson Electric) flagship scroll-compressor plant headquarters production facility was doing fantastic in their RPW/GMAW/Brazing/Friction-welding production as the industry leaders and that they might be able to accomplish 5 to 10% reductions in welding rework & scrap. Months later after a pre-interview one-hour plant tour, I was shown charts on their weld defect/scrap tracking, and pointedly asked how much improvement I thought was possible. Encouraged to sit and ponder it at length, I took four minutes to consider everything I’d seen on the floor, and told Gerry Ulrich that with teamwork we could cut those rates by 50% the first year and cut it in half again the second year for a 75% reduction.
    When Gerry asked my certainty, I said I was confident in the first 50%, and felt the 2nd year was a bit conservative because I suspected we could do better. (I knew nothing about EWI’s study and report until months later.)  A year later we were at 50%, and ending the 2nd year we had reduced FPY losses by 80% since my interview. (Although Copeland never understood what really happened or how to fully leverage it, varying portions of what I accomplished was franchised into many new plants across the US and the globe.)But any good welding engineer can do this, right?  Ten years into my career, my confidence in that assumption was eroding, and it disturbed me. I was perplexed by EWI’s inability to provide more benefit to their customer than they did with four(?) W.E.’s in two weeks, but I slid it unexplained onto the back burner, where this puzzle intruded into my mind a thousand times.
  1. How is it possible that the 95%+ majority of manufacturers who daily sell their expertise at making complex welded assemblies think that they do something else, just because it superficially looks like an aerospace battery enclosure, an EGR cooler, an automotive seat frame, a truck axle, a nuclear valve, or a compressor?
    Worse, companies think that staff or vendors without extensive welding science training can design and program a welding automation system that is infused with process expertise to deliver high-profit, high quality results with huge competitive advantages. That will NEVER, EVER happen – yet that myth appears to be the prevailing “conventional wisdom”

The final piece of my mental puzzle was in coming to grips with myself. “I want to make a difference” is an inadequately shallow description. In every job I’ve ever had, my goal has been to understand the company and chart a path to guide their unique cultural blend of talent through thousands of un-comprehended complex details, to reach achievements and performance levels that had never been thought possible. This, too, I imagined was something that “every good welding engineer” did.  But they don’t.

All of this spiraled into many interwoven questions that tumbled in my mind for years like threads in a dryer, seeming to defy every attempt to untangle and weave them into a cohesive, accurate explanation:

  • WHAT IS SO WRONG WITH EXECUTIVE MANAGEMENT TRAINING PROGRAMS THAT EVEN VERY SHARP EXECUTIVES DON’T SEE A GRADUATE WELDING ENGINEER AS A VITAL TECHNICAL ENGINEERING MANAGER ON THEIR DIRECT-REPORT TEAM?
  • Why do very smart people see no problem when technically ignorant people get to override a degreed welding engineer with financially costly errors that demand long hours from their W.E. to even partially compensate for them?
  • Endlessly following mythical welding “facts”, tribal “knowledge” and committee-decision technical nonsense… how is that a good strategic policy for explosive growth and low turnover of their most crucial technical expertise?
  • How is it not inherently obvious that as the most complex industrial processes by far, blending more sciences and interactive process control variables than any other, welding science must become a Core Competency if they are to ever remotely approach their facility and corporate potential?
  • How can a leading automotive Tier I supplier of welded metal assemblies believe that a major quality spill is due merely to an accidentally deleted pause after arc-start, before the robot starts moving? How can they not see the true root cause is in not having one single welding engineer among more than 10,000 employees in over 50 global facilities, and that such blindness makes costly welding quality problems a certainty?

It is questions like these that kept me puzzling, got me researching, and kept haunting me. Finally I’m at a point in my career where the many complexities have coalesced, and I’ve been able to analyze and rationalize these systemic industry roadblocks.

In a simple nutshell, here is the core root-cause of these blindnesses:
Industry and management are ignorant of the existence and power of welding sciences and welding engineering, simply because they’ve never been taught.

Some have been told, but very rarely have they been taught.  A three-page e-mail to an engineering & management team is a sure-fail method to teach them a foreign language and culture that they have never been exposed to.  I know.  I’ve spent hundreds of hours trying to find ways to TELL, and it has only exhausted me while frustrating everyone.  Simple facts can be told, but complex matters can only be taught.

Why don’t at least SOME companies recognize this “blue ocean” opportunity and infuse welding science as a core competency with a determined growth strategy, and include serious succession planning for senior welding engineering staff?

Don’t companies want to make money, gain marketshare, and catapult their future forward?

Yes.  But in the stark manufacturing world beyond CATERPILLAR and John Deere, such commonplace business goals are rarely applied to the practical welding sciences that are strewn across the entire plant. In this one arena of welding, this one arena only, the myths, excuses, guesses, tribal knowledge, medicine-men and folklore still substitute for common-sense business. Despite massive profit losses in welding, over 98% of executives, managers and engineers show no interest in welding performance data tracking that could de-cloak both those losses and their potentials.
Can’t they see the vastly untapped potential of welding science expertise? No. Definitely not.

After decades, I’ve realized there are definitive reasons for the common welding blindness’s of both engineers and managers, as well as executives. They are embedded firmly in the chronological industrial timeline, which is hinted at by the late appearance of welding physics, equipment and process development.  But the magnitude of this problem is revealed in a simple organizational survey question: how many of your staff have had at least one welding science, welding process, or welding equipment class? Contrast that with the classroom and lab training that welding engineering programs provide, and your first glimpse of the size of this chasm will come into view.

Despite being the most complex industrial processes, applied welding science studies were never mainstreamed into collegiate engineering, management, and manufacturing processes curriculum. In fact, only three universities ever created substantial ABET-accredited degrees in welding engineering. Understanding this history finally makes it possible, for the first time, to build effective strategies to unleash advancements and competitive advantages in this barely-explored territory.

I’m skilled at developing custom training programs – finding development bandwidth is the challenge.  Yet if I can find some means to get this knowledge into manufacturing management, engineering managers and corporate executives, and chart paths around the obstacles, my knowledge could enable immense sea-change benefits.  If I can pave that road, then a few other welding engineers and their companies will be able to follow.

On that coins’ flip-side, if I do not find my voice, and ways to speak up and speak effectively, it’s unlikely that my abilities will ever be used to the extents they could be leveraged to transform profits and launch companies manufacturing welded assemblies into global orbits of excellence that leave historical legacies of market dominance.

Joe Beckhams’ parting advice and comments indirectly convinced me that I need to write the book I’ve pondered for the last decade:

Toward World Class Welding.

I probably should write it. But I naturally wonder, would there be significant interest? Would it make a difference?

Perhaps it would. Maybe the simple fact that words printed in a book that are being read by a company I don’t work for, could induce the assumption that I have noteworthy expertise in manufacturing welding process science.

If you’ve read this far, thank you for enduring my rambling points of repetition and questionable literary skills.  As a reward, I offer this career-long observation that I hope you’ll take to heart:

Any manufacturer with “good” welding processes who lacks a welding-degreed engineer among more than a hundred employees is very likely losing more than 10-times in profits what a full-time Smart Welding Engineer would cost – one who could deliver those lost profits to the bottom line.

My talents shouldn’t go to waste when they could make a large impact for countless facilities.  So if you’d like my assistance in any strategic or technical welding area, I do have weekends and some vacation time available.  E-mail me and we’ll explore from there.

 

The Hall of Giants

My most notable mentors were/are these men:

  • Bill Dorsey, an Electrical Engineer steeped in applied welding engineering who led development of one of the most successful and respected power supplies in the welding equipment industry, known in combination with the MIG-35 feeder for its exceptionally smooth arc, its dependable arc-starting, and its durable reliability. Bill was my main mentor. His brilliant mind was evident, and my frequent exposure to his systematic logical troubleshooting of welding processes and equipment, with running educational commentary, had value beyond description. In many ways, though I suspect it was unintended, I became his unpublished protégé.   My absorbed abilities in welding system design evaluation and improvement have never been tapped to any extent beyond benchmarking and predicting production performance results.
  • Ted Toth, a quiet in-the-shadows immigrant genius whose main legacy was the architecture and control algorithms for the legendary Digipulse 450 that especially ruled Electric Boat for over a decade and the Korean shipyards for two decades. Ted was genuinely excited to work with me ten years after I left L-TEC/ESAB N.A., to take the waveform I developed for automotive exhaust with 409/439MC and give me a fully synergic version across the whole WFS range.   Then months later I called him with a proposal for how I would love to see tip-burnback-prevention built into the main arc control loop logic. With only a few minutes of my explanation of the control-logic approach, Ted was excited to plunge into it. Perhaps three weeks later he called to announce he was e-mailing me a new .bin to burn into the Digipulse E-ProM’s on our robotic welding systems. It was an instant success that ESAB immediately leveraged for their Al welding customers, where the impact was 10x greater.
  • Joe Devito, a quiet, confident hands-on welder/instructor/trainer/lab developer and more. He had more influence on me than he suspected.
  • To Rex Young, thank you for being the man I grew to appreciate so deeply: a kind, fun, thoughtful gold-mine of expertise, knowledge and advice in all matters of Resistance Welding.
  • To Tim Iorio, thank you for the opportunity to have some of your strategic vision and heart rub off onto me, along with other invaluable things. You are often remembered.
  • To Joe Beckham, the value of your parting words cannot be measured in a mortal lifetime. Thank you. I’ll probably have more to say. But for now, refer to the narrative above.
  • To Daniel Mann, you’re a marvel and a brother. You walk a narrow, unmarked, untraveled path that’s well beyond sight of the 10 or 15 year learning curve in your position. You are an awe-inspiring pioneer. I wish we had more time beyond the next firefight, to learn from one another, collaborate and fully deliver the results we’re capable of.  It would be epic.

 

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On Shoulders of Giants – Part 1

June 25, 2018

Brian Dobben, a Welding Engineer… extraordinaire?

For over a decade I’ve puzzled over the enigma of my exceptional welding engineering abilities. But finally, it’s come into focus. Like a turtle on top of a fence-post, despite exceptional accomplishments past, present and yet to come, one certainty remains about the turtle and I: we didn’t get here on our own.   I stand on the shoulders of giants, and have been gifted with legacies and opportunities that are truly rare. I want to pay public homage here to that heritage, to those giants and those gifts, and perhaps find some way to “pay them forward” with greater effect to the next generation.

Chrysler Tower at Headquarters

While anyone can find value in what I’m about to share, if your company manufactures welded assemblies I hope you’ll leverage the next five minutes to begin dramatic improvements in your company – on a legacy level.

Four years ago, I was leaving my post as Senior Welding Engineer for Arc Welding and Brazing at Chrysler Headquarters. Embarking on a new adventure with less snow, to be paid closer to market value, and hoping to save another company from the stagnant or downward-spiral finances of welding science ignorance, I received an unexpected gift that altered me in slow motion. It began to put my many talents and frustrations into perspective – things I had long struggled over.

Joe Beckham, Head of Welding Engineering at Chrysler, said he wanted me to understand and keep some things in mind as I left: “you need to give yourself more credit – you are far better than you think you are.”  That stopped me.

Joe is a man who is tactfully, kindly firm whenever he needs to be, yet I never saw him arrogant or condescending. He wraps himself in sincere, honest integrity, and has learned how to live life in a full balance. In my 15 years in automotive welding engineering, I never met his equal in gifted, brilliant, world-class welding engineering excellence.

Within the group of men who I call my brothers, we would say that Joe offers and carries well the glory of God’s giftings that reside in him. We each aspire to do the same, and it’s astounding to begin seeing who we really are designed to be, and to encourage and watch one another grow weighty in that knowledge and journey. We have learned firsthand that every man who comes alive carries a weight of glory. It’s both a kingly gift and an assignment to live out, and it benefits himself, his family and his employer as he learns to push fear aside and become that man.

Brian with Joe Beckham, Head of Welding Engineering, Chrysler headquarters

Most likely, a confused, doubtful look on my face prompted Joe to explain the 18+ month search to fill my now-open position, with roughly a dozen onsite interviews including Masters and PHD candidates… “You were the first and only candidate that our interview team looked around the table at each another and said ‘yes, this guy could actually do this job.”’ To paraphrase his other comments, I was highly competent and yet secure in what I don’t know. So when results are important I do not guess or pretend to know, but I dig to evaluate every control variable, testing and collaborating to find needed answers. That contrasted with candidates who regarded quick, confident close-enough replies as more important than factual data and accurate assessment, who might later consider trajectory, destination and results. (Joe emphasized that such approaches and/or inflated egos rendered most of the candidates unsuitable for senior engineering positions.)

I was both surprised and puzzled by Mr Beckham’s comments. My puzzlement served as a weak acid that slowly dissolved a decade of my dismissive assumptions that encased the unexamined core of my identity. In slow motion his words drove and persuaded me to pursue a rational explanation for my long track record of repeatedly superior “gold-medal-level” capabilities, and to seriously assess the implications.

Conclusion #1 from these four years of contemplation:

My long record of welding engineering excellence and superior 30% – 3,000% better performance results – across a broad span of industries and welding processes – can be attributed to a combination of unique aptitudes that were awoken during exceptional and rare cross-disciplinary engineering training, and were catalyzed and molded by opportunities to work alongside and glean from remarkable welding science giants of two previous generations – some posthumously.

From high school I chose LeTourneau University (then “college”) to pursue a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering Technology, then added another fascinating year-and-a-half for Welding Engineering Technology. Apparently I was drawn to add welding engineering out of having excellent aptitudes for welding processes, that were kindled in Introduction to Welding.  Since the class was required for every freshman engineer, I didn’t realize the extreme rarity of degreed Welding Engineers, nor that LeTourneau was the most balanced hands-on/brains-on training between the three ABET accredited Welding Engineering programs. (Our disciplines have since been rebranded as Materials Joining Engineering at OSU and LeT-U, and now include joining plastics and ceramics.)

W.E. Historical Gold-Nugget: I attended LeT-U during Bill Kielhorn’s tenure.  One of the early giants in welding engineering education, Bill was rooted in what R.G. LeTourneau established, as the “Dean” of the earthmoving industry.  LeTourneau’s personal use and early adoption of arc-welding processes in the 30’s literally forced his entire industry to shift to welded construction or go out of business, in an era when all of industry thought welding was a weird scientist geek-topic that would never see significant industrial use. Thus the first Welding Engineering degrees were established at LeTourneau University (across the street from the main LeTourneau plant) and the Ohio State University in the late 1940’s, followed by Ferris State. Over 95% of degreed welding engineers in the market come from these three schools. Of OSU and LeT-U, only LeTourneau was able to retain W.E. program content and experienced guidance that was rooted in robustly practical manufacturing welding engineering, and which still successfully forges the mental links in graduates between the sciences and the observed arc… most of the time.

Out of LeTourneau University, I was hired in 1988 by Karl Weinshreider – the Southeastern region sales manager for L-TEC Welding and Cutting Systems. This was more immensely important and profound than I could have ever imagined, which hints at why those experiences need significant explanation.

L-TEC was formerly the welding equipment and materials division of Linde Union Carbide that UC spun off in 1986. Some of what I learned with L-Tec was purposeful training, mentoring and collaborative invention – influences which are more easily identified. But some of what I learned came tangentially, through review of ancient training manuals and documented knowledge, flowing from the engineers and scientists who invented plasma welding, plasma cutting, Heliarc (GTAW), and SAW (concurrently with LECO).

Then those who they mentored came behind them to incrementally expand the welding equipment designs and process capabilities. I worked with several of that generation, and those they trained/mentored. The legendary Digipulse pulsed-MIG system was fielded by these most notable men whom I worked with and have detailed at the end of this article: Bill Dorsey, an Electrical Engineer brilliant in applied welding science; Ted Toth, a quiet immigrant genius who masterminded the Digipulse 450 legacy; and Joe Devito, a hands-on welder/instructor/trainer/lab developer.

Each of us contributed in our own ways to the continuous improvement of the Digipulse system and the Digipulse Automatic Control.  Considered by many to be the best pulsed-GMAW system on the globe, it remained my benchmark standard and endured a long sundown during the 2000-2010 era while it was progressively outclassed in external control interfacing and connectivity options, rather than welding performance.

W.E. Technical Sidenote:  The earliest example of my professional development with L-TEC left its legacy in the millions of upright washing machines which are so familiar in North America. They were made I believe well past 2000, (with examples still finding their way into junkyards today), because their commercial design viability was closely linked to the GE electric motor factory at Murfreesboro where Bill and I, and Mike Whitten, installed the first Digipulse Automatic (DA) systems in 1988 – 1989. In each washer motor’s final construction step, four systems welded two sets of four simultaneous vertical plug welds (torches horizontal) about every 5 – 7 seconds.

We tuned the pulse waveform and perfected the DA system control-logic loops and 3/4 second weld sequence to meet GE’s need for precisely uniform welds made exactly simultaneously, every single time, with nearly zero spatter. And they delivered – because of painstakingly detailed attention to every Digipulse design element and every weld-parameter variable. Duplicating this setup on three more motor manufacturing cells became exceptionally profitable for GE due to shorter cycletime, 80% less process downtime, and roughly 95% drops in rejects/scrap. Digipulse-welded motors also delivered miniscule warranty failure rates and exceptionally longer service life due to minimal generation of only non-adhering micro-spatter, with rare spatter intrusion into the windings and bearings, and with low post-weld misalignment stresses. These direct and indirect Digipulse performance advantages greatly expanded the motor’s product design lifecycle.

For the first year I ran the regional Birmingham demo lab and training center, while working more and more in the field.  Altogether during those years with L-TEC, I visited roughly 350 shops & plants across 7 states, in an intense blend of surveying manufacturing processes, conducting training, developing pulse waveforms, writing analytical reports and collaborating in evaluating best options, then implementing solutions and optimizing the improvements. Across a broad span of most metal product manufacturing industries, I saw more variants on how to do and definitely not do welding processes than I could ever remember. And, occasionally, I saw some small flashes of homegrown brilliance.

The three things I most enjoyed with L-TEC and became very adept at, were: troubleshooting complex welding process problems that had defied all available expertise; taking a poor or mediocre welding process and optimizing it for high performance; and providing plant-wide surveys of existing welding processes, with advice for substantial improvements in welding quality and profitability.

Highlight Example: Kenny Lofton (originally with Nordan-Smith Welding Supplies) insisted when we spoke years later that I was a household name in the Siemen’s transformer plant near Jackson, MS, as the legend who saved them from closure: after they acknowledged my simpler advice was quite good, they finally applied the crucial advice that was championed by the only welder I trained on a single Digipulse welding system. Their primary welding problems and efficiency losses were reduced 85-95%, exactly as I had absurdly predicted, and profitability skyrocketed.

Yet throughout my time at L-TEC and its ownership transition and rebranding into ESAB N.A., I was naively oblivious to the magnitude of the knowledge I was absorbing and the breadth and depth of skills that I was developing in welding sciences, filler metals, hardware design, control logic and algorithms, troubleshooting, optimization and creative analysis and resolution.

I imagined that this was all normal excellence in manufacturing processes, equipment design improvement and welding engineering. I thought I was merely helping the minority of facilities who had inadequate exposure, to understand the high value and mission-critical need for welding science expertise, and to learn how to select welding equipment based not on brand or salesman personality, but on capabilities, features and  robustness of performance that were purposefully infused into the equipment with process mastery – as early forms of artificial intelligence and neural net logic algorithms. How naïve I was!

In reality, as I was told years later by at least two seasoned welding distributor professionals, I was the ONLY degreed welding engineer in the field nationwide from ANY welding equipment and/or materials manufacturer… EVER.  Even with that surprising revelation, the ramifications didn’t dawn on me – I never realized that I was easily seeing in minutes what others couldn’t see in weeks, and easily doing what “couldn’t be done” because I had seen and done more, and been mentored at more length with more expertise, than perhaps the combined entire career spans of ten typical welding engineers.

A decade later I was doing multi-week,  head-to-head performance comparisons of the competitive flagship P-GMAW systems from various equipment OEMs which were retrofit into production on automated welding systems.  During those comparisons I finally realized that welding equipment brands and machines are NOT interchangeably equivalent in excellence of system design and the embedded AI process expertise which determine actual performance.  FAR from it!  Some were no better than 10-year old designs, most were slightly better, and one produced a 70-80% reduction in COPQ metrics including weld scrap, weld repair, and spatter generation.

Professor Kielhorn’s stated assurance that “all the manufacturers make good welding machines” was somewhat accurate for transformer machines, but modern inverters are software driven.  Consequently, they will never perform at any level higher than they are purposefully programmed to provide.  I found that every inverter system design required detailed evaluation in order to accurately assess and project performance capabilities, and to identify content that would “clearly” deliver poor, mediocre, equivalent or superior performance.

Since then I’ve often been frustrated that so few engineers understand the “obvious” disparities in welding system designs.  Equally frustrating, my benchmarking of best-designed performance was often derided on the user side as “bias” toward a brand or brands, and on the OEM equipment side my efforts and offers to help OEM’s improve their product design performance were typically dismissed or ignored. How can this be?

After ESAB attained Airco, my position was eliminated in the trimming of the 30% lowest seniority among the combined field staff. This opened an opportunity to leverage the customer recommendations I had made for welding processes and equipment to optimize plant expansion results for a new line of commercial stainless steamer/ovens. My new employer was a crucial opportunity that shaped my full span of process capabilities.

I spec’d equipment, guided installation, interviewed and trained two shifts of welders, and developed ISO documented welding procedures for resistance seam, nut, spot and projection welding, CD stud welding, plasma welding and pulsed MIG.  These intensely challenging experiences forced me to learn more on deeper levels, and especially to develop intimate familiarity with RW controls and every type of RW schedule approach.  Customers expected minimal to zero reverse-side marking on finely brushed or mirror-polished stainless, and I was under pressing launch deadlines to support major industry tradeshow product rollouts.

But how did I learn Resistance Welding?  Not on my own.  Rex Young with T.J. Snow was an invaluable asset in countless ways, and a great professional mentor. While in more recent years he strikes a pose as having limited capabilities, Rex showed me the ropes of available electrodes and holder configurations, and taught me how to construct effective resistance welding schedules. Then as I struggled with the challenges of reverse “show-side” marking, Rex gave me the information I needed to piece together balanced solutions to deliver strong projection welds on large nuts while having little or no “show-side” marking on thin gauge, polished stainless steel.

What a welding engineer can deliver in the profitability of process excellence is largely based on his functional interactive puzzle – his working model – that he has built within his mind for that specific welding process. And so it is that everything I’ve accomplished in the broad Resistance Welding category rests on the foundation that Rex helped build in my mind. Certainly there is complex excellence which I’ve built on that foundation, far beyond Rex’s input.  This was enabled, I believe, not by aptitudes alone but in combination with the detailed scientific foundations I gained at LeTourneau and L-TEC.

Continued in Part 2.


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”?


Valuable New Technologies – Arc Vision

December 19, 2014

How can you turbocharge your weld quality in mechanized welding? By viewing the weld, greatly magnified, with far greater clarity than possible with a welding shield, remotely from any location. How does this technology work, and why is it so much better? Cameron Serles’ blog post does a good job of explaining the basics of the breakthrough Xiris camera systems: http://blog.xiris.com/blog/bid/392061/How-to-Get-the-Best-View-of-an-Open-Arc-Weld

But beyond that, what about the hands-on opinion of an objective welding engineer?  This is a first-ever hands-on review in Visionary Welding, and it’s a story worth telling.  I was able to set up and demo a Xiris dual-camera setup in recent months with the help of the talented Cornelius Sawatzky, and coordinating aid from Machine and Welding Supply Company (Raleigh, NC branch, Mark Jeffries and Brent Ellis).  I saw fantastic benefits for long multipass mechanized welds. 

Operators control view during welding

Here’s how I would cram the WOW into one paragraph:  The screen perspectives are astonishingly good – so good that it makes you want to put a Xiris camera on your head and a smartphone screen in your helmet for doing manual welding.  It’s like what you see on a dark cloudy night, vs. wearing night-vision goggles.  It’s like the difference between what you can see, and what Superman can see – courtesy of logarithmic light intensity processing that lets you see the puddle, the arc, and the surrounding material all at the same time.  You can toggle between auto-recording (when the arc is active), or manual recording modes.  The ability to capture everything during a weld means that welder operator training can move ahead by a light-year, just by reviewing and using video segments to show ideal techniques, weld defects as they occur, and methods of error recovery which may avoid weld repairs.

In reviewing the welding videos that we made during a couple of days of production, several things stood out:

  1. The balanced location of the molten weld puddle has to be constantly monitored and frequently adjusted. The location needs to be adjusted not only to edges, but also to placement on the plane of the layer in planning for the width and sequence of beads that will effectively fill each required layer (and provide for post-weld machining to finish dimensions).  Doing this relies on proximity line-of-sight, which is normally limited, restricted, and distant: generally poor. Everything seen through a welding helmet lens under these conditions is difficult to interpret and even harder to teach.
  2. Producing a perfect weld takes not only great interpretive visual skills but constant, non-distracted attention.  Both of those were “bionically” enhanced while welding with the camera system.
  3. In historic mechanized welding, both the interpretive visual skills and this issue of non-distracted attention are not simply limited by the welder’s motivation: they are chained and blindfolded by the use of inadequately archaic manual technology. For example, the welder historically needs to peer through a welding hood and see the weld area clearly from more than one angle to properly interpret what is happening in the weld and in the joint. But, he cannot see everything clearly with only one lens shade, he can only get a second viewing angle by leaving the controls, and his eye is always at least three feet from the arc. So the welder functions in a world where everything is a compromise and he is limited to guesswork which is based on poor visual access, and a distant, squinting perspective.
  4. Many things can be done with a standard single-camera Xiris system.  But through placement of two cameras, you can gain a view of both sides of the weld – giving the welder an instant and continuous advantage which they never had before.  With a tap of your finger or glove, you can switch between three arrangements of the two views to maximize the advantages for the needs of the moment.
  5. “Supersize” the magnification advantage for the operator, or broadcast it to a wider, distant shop-floor audience by plugging in a big external flatscreen.  (Could be a high value deal-closer for customer visits or Open House events?)
  6. The Xiris software provides the important ability to automatically adjust or manually “tweak” the image characteristics for maximum clarity advantages.  After all, there are great differences between welding processes, weld parameters, materials, and joint configurations.  But frankly, the results of activating the auto-adjust were hard to beat and as fast as a digital camera in Auto mode, making it obvious that Xiris has invested a lot of brainpower to make it easy to get optimal viewing results of the weld puddle and the entire welding area – at the same time.  Finally, the focal point of the camera has everything to do with how clearly you can see what you want to see.  But since these cameras have built-in focal-length motors and easy screen-tap changes of focal point, it’s fast to make on-the-fly adjustments to focal-length.

Considering these issues, it becomes more clear why Xiris’ dual cameras with logarithmic light intensity processing of magnified images is a gigantic enabler for weld quality perfection. Not only can the operator see the weld and surrounding areas perhaps 5 times better than even closeup through a welding shield, and not only is it magnified much larger, but he never needs to stand/squat/peer/duck/walk-around while leaving the controls to glimpse a different view. Because he is at the controls when he sees the first hint of a problem, and because he can interpretively identify it much sooner, he is able to adjust to avoid the problem – instead of recognizing and adjusting a few seconds after the problem is full-blown. 

It is primarily the nuanced details occurring within the weld puddle motion, puddle placement, puddle shape and solidification profile that determine the quality of the weld deposit. Because of this, it seems inherent that giving the welding operator this 10-times improvement in detailed visibility (that’s an understatement) should reduce remote mechanized welding defects by at least 70 to 90%… but I suspect it can probably enable 95% defect reductions in many situations.

All considered, the system seems pretty cost-effective, with fast payback in many production environments.  What’s the cost?  Think “best new cars on a budget” without fancy options or extra-status badges and you’ll have an idea of the price range.

What about the Xiris equipment design and durability?

Well-engineered design seemed evident in almost every aspect of the Xiris equipment:Xiris control console interior

  • Engineered and tested durability in high-temperature environments, using Exair chilled compressed air in the temperature-monitored camera housings, and optional high-temperature insulating wraps. Its’ tested camera/cabling capabilities can comfortably handle a 500F preheat environment when fully outfitted.
  • Matured control console design, with cooling and filtration
  • Durable high-performance cabling with sealed end connectors
  • Intuitive software interface  design, with graphic-symbol-driven screen layouts and screen swapping 
  • Simple yet thorough system documentation
  • 3-layer password levels
  • Our optioned higher-storage capacity unit provided about 130 hours of dual-camera weld-arc recording time
  • Amazing pixel achievements in the clarity and value of the highly engineered weld imaging
  • Continued improvement efforts in the software-use details

In summary, I found the Xiris system is designed to be easy to use, easy to maintain, and quite durable with reasonable care and use.  How easy and intuitive was it to use?  I had confidently selected and labeled a hardback notebook, knowing that I would need to take a number of important notes on how to accomplish and recall various Xiris tasks and tricks.  I never do that, but I “knew” I would need it, and I wanted to “pick” Cornelius’ brain on such things.  I had the notebook with me the entire time, but I could never identify anything that I needed to write down: that’s how easy and intuitive it is to use, and how thorough the short Xiris system manual is. 

In short, this is disruptive, groundbreaking world class welding technology that’s not R&D: it’s ready for mainstream.  My congratulations to Xiris on a fantastic product line that should prove to be a game changer in profits and weld quality in many automated or mechanized welding applications.


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 – like an inability for normal sight to see something in plain sight, as if they were selectively 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 unequaled 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?