Turnkey Illusions – How to Avoid Pitfalls When Outsourcing Welding Automation

April 6, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 »


The Differences Between a Welding Engineer and a Certified Welder?

March 21, 2009

After reading my recent article about Welding Engineering Compensation salaries, Garrett asked me some great questions: 

What is the difference between a welding engineer and a welder with a certificate? Would it be difficult for one to get into a school for W.E.? And where is W.E. offered? Thank you for your time.

 

Garrett –

Many people have those questions, and I don’t know of any central place to send you for complete answers.  So here are my answers, and if any of our rapidly growing audience can add comments or valuable links to the discussion, please do!

 

What is a welding engineer?  What is the difference between a welding engineer and a welder with a certificate?

In my mind, a “welder with a certificate” has been trained and tested in personally making specific types of welds on specific types of materials with specific welding processes requiring specific qualification test types.  A welding certificate is usually very limited in scope, and the focus is on physically making the welds needed for those exact types of parts – there is nearly zero training on the sciences of physics, chemistry, electricity or photonics, or on the design, maintenance and troubleshooting of the welding systems and equipment. Extensive training in those areas is all part of a “4-year” Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree in welding, plus extensive exposure in all types of welding processes, thermal processes (like cutting and heat-treating), and materials joining (including polymers and ceramics).

 

The National Center for Welding Education and Training is an important new effort that I’ve linked to in my sidebar.  They do a superb job of explaining some of this, like in these job descriptions for various types of careers in welding.  And their welding career videos should be seen in every high school in the country.  But breaking it out further, here’s what I would add:

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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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Poll Collection – Your Opinion Counts Here

March 7, 2009

Here is my collection of ongoing polls.

Poll #1. What is the most profitable business strategy for unfilled Welding Engineering positions?

Anyone in a job listed in the poll can vote.  Please mark two:  1) your opinion of the most profitable strategy, and  2) your job/role.


Poll #2.  What are the Top 2 biggest obstacles to welding excellence in American manufacturing, in the facilities you are personally familiar with?

Pick the top two obstacles. (Qualified voting: Please, only vote if you are functionally experienced and/or titled and/or degreed as a welding or materials joining engineer, and have at least a Bachelor of Science degree in an Engineering discipline.  Everyone else, feel free to view the results.)



If you have a suggestion for a polls you’d like to see, please tell us in the comments.  (The first time you post a comment on my site, I will have to approve it before you or others can see it. This keeps out spammers and “link-trolls”.  Once you’re approved with your first comment, your following comments will all appear immediately.)

Brian Dobben


Advice for Recruiter Client’s Welding Engineer position – #2

March 7, 2009

This is the SECOND in a series of responses from my e-mail archives, which I’m publishing because the Recruiters noted them as helpful advise and perspective on their client’s Welding Engineering search. Most recruiters and even most HR Managers have little experience or exposure to the Welding Engineering segment because it’s so small. It’s my hope that these will help increase understanding of some of the realities, needs, obstacles and rewards in finding and retaining degreed welding engineers.

I read the job description you sent, and Wow. To softly summarize, your Asian-car-company client would be well advised to change their strategy on this position. Why not wisely select a Smart Welding Engineer and let them do their job?

OK, let me take the velvet gloves off for a minute. Don’t take this wrong, but after reading the job description, here’s my very blunt assessment:

“Welding Specialist” is a bad start for the job title. It might be simple ignorance, it could be an inadequate Asian cultural translation, it could be mimicking poor practices in the “Big Three”, or it could be someone’s “clever” idea to save money, but that job description is the role of a BS-degreed Welding Engineer. That’s what they are trained to do: the average BSWE (or equivalent) has 3,000 – 4,000 hours of classroom and hands-on training in the welding processes.  Filling that welding engineer role with anyone else is like taking a CFO position, relabeling it as “Financial Supervisor”, and requiring candidates to have any Bachelor of Arts degree instead of an MBA.  Yeh, a stunning cost-savings idea there.

If they don’t hire a BS-degreed Welding Engineer for this position, it will probably save them $20-40k a year and cost them a minimum $500k (if not several $M) in the first 3 months of startup alone, vs a qualified Smart Welding Engineer. But unfortunately, as that happens, there’s rarely anyone around who’s qualified enough to recognize the losses and missed opportunities and attribute them to targeting and hiring an unqualified person. Even if the “Welding Specialist” knows it, are they likely to be explaining to management that they can’t do their job justice? 

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Advice for Recruiter Client’s Welding Engineer position – #1

March 2, 2009

This is the FIRST in a series of responses from my e-mail archives, which I’m publishing because the Recruiters noted them as helpful advise and perspective on their client’s Welding Engineering positions. Most recruiters and even most HR Managers have little experience or exposure to the Welding Engineering segment because it’s so small. It’s my hope that these will help increase understanding of some of the realities, needs, obstacles and rewards in finding and retaining degreed welding engineers.

Regarding the “#41XXX Welding Engineer Position”, if I could offer some advice for your client as a degreed W.E. with 21 years experience who has interviewed roughly 200 Welding Engineers to hire about 10 W.E.’s in the last 5 years…

A salary range of $44-55k is unrealistic for a degreed Welding Engineer with 3-5 yrs experience unless their cost of living is 20-50% below the national average.

There are only three ABET accredited W.E. universities in the nation: LeTourneau University, Ferris State University, and The Ohio State University. At OSU (for example), the average starting salary is about $60k for a brand new (2008) graduate. Recent LeTourneau University graduate majors are Materials Joining Engineering instead of Welding Engineering. After 3 years experience, average 2nd position starts at about $70k. With 5 yrs experience, a good degreed W.E. with the capabilities they’re looking for is likely going to be in the $65-$80k range.

Keep in mind that there are only about 100 W.E. graduates a year, totaled from the 3 schools. That’s why about 70% of the “Welding Engineers” in industry are only titled as W.E.’s. Those 70% are people, some with other engineering degrees and some with none, who can ENABLE the welding processes. However, of the 30% of degreed Welding Engineers, only about half of them can optimize processes for excellent profitability and quality. That’s why the best W.E.’s, with experience, make $75-120k base salaries: they are the only ones who can make profitability differences measured in millions of dollars.

Most recruiters and even most HR Managers have little experience or exposure to the Welding Engineering segment because it’s so small. So I hope that helps. If you have any other W.E. position openings that could benefit from strong expertise with a history of dramatic process improvements beyond the “benchmark” performance standards, let me know…

Brian Dobben

2nd in this series:  https://weldsparks.wordpress.com/2009/03/07/advice-for-recruiter-clients-welding-engineer-position-2/