Welders are responsible for joining metal parts by superheating and fusing them until a permanent bond can be formed. There are thousands of manufacturing applications where welding is used, including shipbuilding; automobile manufacturing and repair; building and bridge construction; and pipe-joining in pipelines, power plants, and refineries. There are also many different types of welder and dozens of different welding processes that a welder can employ. Some are performed manually, where the welder has complete control of the process, while others are semiautomatic, requiring the welder to use machinery such as a wire feeder to perform welding tasks.
In today's world, automated welding is used in an increasing number of production processes. Very often, a machine or robot will perform the actual welding tasks under the oversight of a welding machine operator who must load parts correctly and constantly monitor the machine to ensure that it produces the desired bond. Old fashioned manual welding, however, is still very much alive and well, and there are several specialties of welder that fit into this category. Some of the more common types of manual welding include the following:
- Arc welding: The most common type of manual welding, standard arc welding involves the use of two large metal alligator clips that carry a strong electrical current. One of the clips is attached to some part of the workpiece being welded and the other clip is connected to a thin welding rod. When the rod touches the workpiece, a powerful electrical circuit is created. The ensuing massive heat causes both the workpiece and the steel core of the rod to melt together, cooling quickly to form a solid bond.
- Soldering: This process uses molten metal to join two pieces of metal. Only the added metal (and not the workpiece) is melted due to the fact that its melting point is lower than that of the workpiece. The most common application of soldering is used in the joining of electrical, electronic, and other small metal parts.
- Brazing: This process is similar to soldering but differs in that the subject metals have higher melting points. Consequently, brazing produces a stronger joint than does soldering and is often used to join metals other than steel (e.g., brass). Brazing can also be used to apply coatings to parts to reduce wear and protect against corrosion.
Skilled welders will generally plan their work from specifications or drawings and then supplement this planning with their knowledge of fluxes and base metals to analyze the parts to be joined. They will then select and set up the proper welding equipment, execute the planned welds, and examine them for conformance to standards or specifications. In most cases, the difficulty of the project is directly related to the positioning of the project elements and by the type of metals to be fused. Welders who are highly skilled are often trained to work with a wide variety of materials, including titanium, aluminum, and plastics.
Welders with extensive knowledge of welding techniques are often able to troubleshoot problems as they develop during the process. The welder will observe the process and if problems are identified, can typically compensate by adjusting the speed, voltage, amperage, or feed of the rod. Welders with more limited experience are generally assigned more routine types of duties which have already have been planned and laid out and do not require a large repertoire of technical welding knowledge.
To an increasing extent, automated welding is being used in production processes. These processes are characterized by the use of a machine or robot, monitored by a welding machine operator, to perform the welding tasks. The machine operators follow specified layouts, work orders, or blueprints to set up the machine. They then provide constantly oversight of the machine to ensure that it produces the desired bond.
Most welders work a 40-hour work week, although many work in factories that are open around the clock on shifts that include non-standard work hours. Also, this is a profession where overtime work tends to be quite common. As part of the job, welders are often forced to deal with an unpleasant or even hazardous environment where they may be faced with intense light, poisonous fumes, or exposure to very hot materials. It is standard practice for them to wear safety equipment designed to prevent eye injuries and to offer protection from falling objects. Welders can be found either indoors or outdoors depending on the nature of their work project. Indoor work sometimes takes place in confined areas and outdoor work often occurs in inclement weather or on platforms set high off the ground. In addition, welders may be required to lift heavy objects or do a lot of bending, stooping, or standing when performing overhead work.
In order to be a good welder, an individual needs good eyesight, decent hand-eye coordination, and lots of manual and physical dexterity. The ability to focus intensely on detailed work for long periods of time is another important trait for a welder to have. An ideal candidate for the profession would also possess good analytical skills and the technological savvy needed for operating a computer.
Future employment of welders is largely dependent on the health of the industries in which they work. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (USDL BLS), employment in this field is expected to grow over the next decade, but at an overall slower rate than the average growth over all occupations. In some business sectors, however, demand will continue to be strong. The manufacturing sector has been in general decline due to the trend of manufacturing jobs moving overseas; however, demand for welders in this sector should continue at a solid pace due to the importance of what they do. The construction industry should experience growth over the next decade which will likely result in an increasing demand for welders. Also, general job growth in the oil and gas industries is expected to result in excellent opportunities for welders.
Generally speaking, welders are consistently able to find work. Because the basic skills of welding are the same across industries, welders are usually able to shift employment at any given time to those business sectors where they happen to be most needed. Recent business trends show an increasing investment by companies in automation, especially computer-controlled and robotically controlled welding machinery. These trends are expected to result in a reduced demand for some types of manual welders, but on the flip side, to increase demand for automated welders.
Welder Training, Certification, and Licensing
Although some welders learn on-the-job, most employers today prefer to hire workers who already have either work experience or some level of formal training in the trade. This type of training is available in high schools, from the U.S. Armed Forces, and at many types of postsecondary institutions, such as community colleges, vocational-technical institutes, and private welding schools. Courses in mechanical drawing, blueprint reading, shop mathematics, physics, chemistry, and metallurgy are helpful to all prospective welders. An understanding of electricity and knowledge of computers are of particular importance to those aspiring to be automated welders.
After completing formal education, it would behoove a prospective welder to seek out a welding apprenticeship. Resources to help secure an apprenticeship with a reputable company are often available at the community college, university or trade school at which formal training was received. Knowledge gained during the apprenticeship will prove invaluable in applying for and working in a welding position.
A large number of projects require welders who are not only trained but who have also passed professional certification testing. To meet this requirement, the employer typically sends the worker to an examining institution to weld a test specimen according to specific codes and standards required by the employer. If the welding inspector at the examining institution determines that the worker has performed according to guidelines, the inspector will then certify the welder's proficiency in the in specific skill being tested. The American Welding Society also grants certifications and relevant courses are offered at many welding schools. A certified welder (CW) designation will qualify a welder for many welding jobs and will give him/her an edge in a competitive job market.
- American Welding Society (AWS)
- EWI WeldNet Welding and Joining Information Network
- Deciphering Welding Symbols
- History of Welding
- TWI (The Welding Institute)
- Welding Dictionary
- Welding Library
The large majority (over 65%) of welding jobs exist in the manufacturing industry. Some of these include machinery manufacturing, fabricated metal manufacturing, transportation equipment manufacturing, and structural metals manufacturing. Some welders do repair servicing, including maintenance and repair on automobiles or industrial and electrical machinery. Others are employed by the mining, oil extraction, and gas extraction industries; where work can include drilling and extracting oil and gas or mining ores. Some of the other job markets where welders can find work include government agencies (utilities, bridges, etc.) and wholesale or retail establishments (auto dealerships, scrap yards, etc.).
Schools for Welders are listed in the column to the left.