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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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 – 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