Virtual welder lets users test out profession

Farm Forum

New Tec’s new virtual welding machine mimics the act of welding so well, that users don’t realize the metal pieces have not been joined until they take off their helmet.

New Tec bought the computerized equipment in hopes of attracting more people to the welding profession, said Brandon Lemer, executive director. Welders are in short supply in Aberdeen, and Lemer wants to change that.

“This new equipment can be used for recruiting, training and testing,” Lemer said. “It is amazing.”

A person puts on a welding helmet with electronic goggles that are connected to a computer. When the person squeezes the trigger on the welding gun, which is also connected to a computer, he or she sees a virtual bead form. The bead size and shape change as the person drags or pushes the tip of the gun across the surface of an object.

The computer records the welding attempt and rates it on a variety of factors such as angle, contact, travel speed and consistency of the virtual bead. After each attempt, a person can see the score and read quick tips on how to improve performance.

The Lincoln Electric VRTEX 360 virtual welder was paid for with a Community Development Block Grant. New Tec received the $164,500 grant from the state for its welding program. The virtual welding machine cost about $47,000, said Lemer. Another $33,000 was spent on eight real welding units. More was spent on welding helmets, coats and equipment. Much of the grant will be used to pay for welding instructors, he said.

New Tec’s 40-hour welding training program can lead to employment at one of several businesses in town, such as Hub City Inc., Twin City Fan and Anderson Industries, Lemer said. The next class starts Feb. 11.

“We train eight students at a time,” he said. “After they are trained, they can go to one of the local employers and take a welding test. If the person does well, they are hired and will receive further on-the-job training.”

Beginning welders start at $11 to $14 an hour in Aberdeen. Once certified, a welder makes $20 an hour or more, he said.

Pipe welders are the most skilled. Only about 5 to 10 percent of those who start a welding program have the skill to become a certified pipe welder, Lemer said. Those welders can make $130 an hour in the oil fields of North Dakota, he said.

There are many types of welding, such as arc or wire welding, and certifications are offered for each. One of New Tec’s instructors has 27 or 28 certifications for different types of welding, Lemer said

One of the benefits of the virtual welder is that students can practice their skills without using up materials or having to pay an instructor. The equipment, however, won’t be used a lot in the class.

“We use the real welders for that,” he said.

One of the greatest benefits of the virtual welder is that it is a great recruiting tool. It can identify people with an aptitude for welding and provide a welding experience, he said.

New Tec will buy a trailer for the machine so it can be taken to high schools, trade shows and other places. New Tec gets many of its students from referrals from the Department of Labor and Vocational Rehabilitation.

For more information on the New Tec welding program contact Lemer at 605-725-1833.