The process of welding is characterized by the joining together of metal parts by superheating and fusing them until a permanent bond can be formed. The products on which welders work could include auto and aircraft parts, electrical circuit boards, brackets, panels, housings, jewelry parts, and many other things. Welders are needed in many business sectors, particularly in the manufacturing industry where they are prominently used in automobile manufacturing and repair, shipbuilding, bridge construction, and in dozens of other applications. To an increasing extent, the welding process is becoming more automated and dependent upon machines or robots to perform the actual welding tasks under the oversight of a skilled individual trained in both the welding process itself and also in the operation of the requisite machinery. Such an individual is known as a Welding Machine Operator.
Welding machine operators need to be able to set up the machine, load parts correctly, and continuously monitor the machine to make sure that it yields the desired bond. Operators may specialize in the operation of a particular type of machine. Those who do may have titles such as Resistance Welding Machine Operator, Arc Welding Machine Operator, or Gas Welding Machine Operator.
A welding machine operator starts a project by first reading blueprints or work orders to determine the specifications of the particular product or job. Based on these instructions, the operator then sets up the machine by adjusting attachments, setting controls, and computing other settings to be programmed into the machine. Before preparing the work piece, the operator adds solutions which will cool the work piece or cause the metal to bond more easily. Next, he/she will lay out or fit together the parts to be bonded and, if necessary, load or feed the work piece into the machine. Some operators control robots that do all of these things.
During the time the machine is running, the operator will constantly monitor the machine to be sure it produces the desired welds or bonds. The operator will troubleshoot any problems right on the spot, which may involve adjusting controls or even stopping the machine temporarily to make an adjustment. When a product is finished, the operator will inspect, test, or measure it to be sure it meets requirements. Typically, an operator also performs preventative maintenance on machines, which includes cleaning them, lubricating them, and making adjustments as needed for proper operation.
A full list of duties which could be performed by a welding machine operator would be quite exhaustive, but a good representative sampling might include the following:
- Reading blueprints, work orders, or production schedules for instructions
- Positioning fixtures and attachments on the machine
- Setting and adjusting machine controls for proper flame, electric current, or air and hydraulic pressure
- Devising new fixtures to hold odd-shaped work pieces
- Adding solutions to cool the work pieces or to assist in the joining or bonding
- Aligning and feeding the work piece into the machine and removing it after completion
- Operating the machine and monitoring its operation
- Troubleshooting problems as they occur during machine operation
- Recording information on production reports
- Inspecting or testing finished work pieces for defects and to ensure requirements are met
- Cleaning, lubricating, and maintaining machine parts as needed, using hand tools and equipment
- Giving direction to other workers about machine set-up
Tools and materials used by welding machine operators may include the following:
- Hand tools and clamps
- Spot welding guns
- Gas welding torches
- Face shields and tongs
- Bonding wire
- Cast iron
- Resistance welding guns
- Bottled nitrogen and oxygen gas
Most welding machine operators work a 5-day work week and 8 hours each day, although some tend to put in a great deal of overtime. Many manufacturing companies operate several shifts and consequently operators who work there may be required to work afternoons or evenings. Operators sometimes work alone and sometimes as part of a team. When working, operators normally wear protective clothing, helmets, goggles, and/or face shields. They sometimes work in the presence of toxic fumes and gases, and quite often in a heated environment. Other unpleasant aspects of the work environment could include loud noise, vibration, and contact with grease, rust, and dirt.
Traits which a good welding machine operator should possess include good eyesight, attention to detail, organizational skills, and good hand-eye coordination. Efficiency, good communication and problem solving skills, and an ability to work in a team environment are other key aspects of the job. Good operators welcome activities which involve repetition and involve detail and accuracy. They need an ability to observe the detail in objects or drawings and to recognize differences, no matter how slight. Good analytical skills and familiarity with computer work are additional pluses for a worker in this profession.
The U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (USDL BLS) projects moderate job growth in the welding profession over the next decade, with growth proceeding at an overall slower rate than average employment growth over all occupations. Future job prospects for manual welders will not necessarily match those of welding machine operators. Advances in welding technology should result in an increase in the use of automated and robotic welding techniques in manufacturing, which should in turn bode well for future employment of welding machine operators. Also, recent trends are showing an increasing investment by companies in automation, especially computer-controlled and robotically controlled welding machinery, which may increase demand for automated welders.
The nature of the welding profession lends itself to smooth transitioning from one business sector to another. The basic skills required of welding machine operators tend to be fairly consistent across industries, and consequently, operators are often able to find employment in whichever business sector happens to need their skills at any given time.
Welding Machine Operator Training, Certification, and Licensing
A high school diploma or GED is almost always required for this profession and, although many operators are trained on-the-job, some form of additional formal training is usually preferred. Many high schools, professional-technical schools, and two-year colleges offer formal training programs. Training is also offered by the U.S. Armed Forces and by private welding schools. Courses in mechanical drawing, blueprint reading, shop mathematics, physics, chemistry, and metallurgy are all helpful. Due to the growing prominence of computer-controlled machinery, some employers seek out applicants with knowledge of computers and/or an understanding of electricity.
A welding machine operator who is certified will be considered qualified for many jobs and will have an edge in a competitive job market. The most common path to certification is through apprenticeship. Securing an apprenticeship with a reputable company can usually be done through the community college or trade school at which formal training was received. Certifications are granted when the applicant demonstrates an ability to weld a test specimen according to specific codes and standards associated with the skill being tested.
- Welding.com Resource Center
- American Welding Society (AWS)
- Welding Resource Council (WRC)
- TWI (The Welding Institute)
- EWI WeldNet Welding and Joining Information Network
- Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME)
- Welding Library
- Welding Dictionary
The vast majority of welding machine workers are employed in manufacturing industries. Major employers include motor vehicle parts manufacturers, agriculture machinery manufacturers, structural metal products manufacturers, and construction machinery manufacturers. Other manufacturing business sectors include fabricated metal manufacturing, mining machinery manufacturing, and transportation equipment manufacturing.
Schools for Welding Machine Operators are listed in the column to the left.