Welding is one of the most important industries in America, with more than 50% of U.S. products requiring some form of it. However, there is a shortage of skilled workers in many parts of the nation, workers that include welders. For this reason, there has been a push by many private and public institutions to generate more interest in the industry. One of the biggest obstacles in this initiative has been the large amounts of training involved in skilled trades.
A way that some schools are countering this is with virtual reality technology. One of the schools that have experimented with this new training method is Mark Morris high school. The public school has recently added a virtual reality headset and welding simulator to its computer-integrated machining lab.
The virtual welding machine, designed by Lincoln Electric, is designed to help beginning welders learn the basics of welding. The Longview School District recently purchased the device using money from the Computer and Technical Education budget, and it cost $35,000. The goal is to use the simulation to give students a step toward a career in high demand.
“We just purchased it, so moving forward it’s probably an opportunity to let kids develop skills maybe before they start using the welder,” said Career and Technical Education director Jill Diehl to Observer-Reporter. “It would be like an initial training.”
The simulation system uses a welding mask that has virtual reality goggles built in, which allows a user to see the program. Some of the environments implemented are a skyscraper, desert base, and a warehouse. These scenes are paired up with materials that would need to be welded in them.
The program works by having the student weld along a seam, with the instructor able to watch their progress. Once they finish, the students receive a report card based on their performance. It even gives reasons why a weld was imperfect, including excess splatter, melt through, and other statistics.
“The scores they get when they perfect their skills on the virtual welder correlate really well to industry standard certification tests,” Diehl said. “That helps them know they’re getting the right skill level that they need.”
There are more than 500,000 welders in the U.S., according to the American Welding Society. Many of whom may be retiring soon. With demand already high, programs like the one used in the Longview school district could be vital to growing interest in the career.
“Our focus right now is really kind of beefing up manufacturing and technical skills, because that’s where the jobs are,” Diehl said. “They’re anticipating a huge demand for kids with those manufacturing fabrication skills. As the baby boomers retire, our area, Cowlitz, Multnomah, Clark, they’re not even sure how they’re going to fill the need.”