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.