Calling all welders

To develop, update and maintain its standards, the American Welding Society calls on the industry to volunteer

The American Welding Society is always evaluating opportunities for creating new standards, and it all starts with volunteers.

Recipes get passed down from generation to generation; beyond our DNA, they are perhaps one of the strongest familial bonds. Over the years, though, they are often modernized and tweaked to accommodate the availability of ingredients or to better suit changing pallets and diets.

Similarly, there is a lot of history behind many of the American Welding Society’s (AWS) standards and procedures. Like those passed-down recipes, as new materials, equipment and technologies are developed, standards and procedures have to be updated according to the changing times.

New materials, equipment and technology can definitely spur the need to update or create a standard, but so can a natural disaster, like an earthquake. After a 6.7-magnitude earthquake occurred in Norridge, Calif., in 1994, several welded steel structures were damaged, which led to the development of AWS D1.8/D1.8M:2005: Structural Welding Code Seismic Supplement. In addition to outside influence, such as a natural disaster or a newly developed alloy, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) also recommends that standards be reviewed and updated every five to 10 years, depending on their cycle.

Safety is a top priority at AWS, which is accomplished, in part, through standards. Volunteers involved with the publishing of standards are essentially helping to drive AWS’s mission.

While there are a myriad of reasons why an AWS standard or procedure might need to be created or updated, there is only one way for it to become officially recognized and that is through a thorough committee process that requires dozens of volunteers.   

“It really boils down to the idea that standards are in place to make the world safer,” says Peter Portela, director of standards development at AWS. “This work ensures that AWS is fulfilling its mission. We can put the guidance out there, but we’re not at every job site enforcing the code. The volunteers, therefore, are the lifeblood of what we do. Without them, we would just be a bunch of program and committee managers with little technical expertise.”

Jennifer Rosario, program manager at AWS agrees, adding an exclamation point to just how important these documents are to society as a whole.

“AWS standards are responsible for qualifying a welder and a procedure for a weld that is going on a bridge, an airplane or a high rise,” she says. “These standards educate welders to help make them better at what they do to keep society safe and secure for decades into the future.”

It takes a village

AWS relies on approximately 2,000 volunteers to publish its standards. These individuals represent a variety of roles and industries — from end users to manufacturers and everything in between.

Over the years, AWS has authored more than 350 standards related to welding and welding procedures for a multitude of industries and applications. And according to ANSI and AWS protocol, those standards must be regularly reviewed and updated. To do so, AWS compiles committees and subcommittees that fall under seven different classifications: fundamentals, qualifications and inspection, processes, industrial applications, health and safety, materials and welding equipment. Each committee – and there are more than 200 – is comprised of many volunteers as well as a handful of AWS staff, like Portela and Rosario.

“These volunteers are very dedicated, and without them we would not have the standards we have now,” Portela says. “The average age of our volunteers, however, is increasing, so if we don’t get more volunteers, we won’t be able to sustain the number of committees we have now.”

In terms of the level of experience required to become a volunteer, AWS welcomes welders and industry members of all backgrounds. There isn’t a requirement to be certified or to have a certain number of years of experience.

“We actually don’t require much to become a volunteer,” Portela says. “Depending on how you get involved and where you’re at in your career, you can be tasked with different things. As an example, an entry-level welder isn’t going to rewrite a huge clause in a code book. And that’s why I encourage everyone to get involved, whether they’re a student, on their first day on the job or a 20-year welder.”

As new technologies and processes are developed for the welding industry, AWS and its volunteers create standards to support them.

In terms of the incentives to volunteer, there are many, but networking is a big one. Portela has seen so many people get a job or switch jobs because of who they knew or met and interacted with on a committee. “It’s like a living, breathing resumé,” he says.

Networking isn’t just beneficial for getting a new job, though. Serving on a committee offers access to a huge pool of knowledgeable individuals. Faced with a challenging weld or welding project on the job? No problem. Just reach out to a fellow committee member for advice.

Volunteers also benefit by knowing what’s coming around the bend. By working on a committee, they can alert their companies or employers to upcoming changes.

“You’re able to stay ahead of what the industry’s doing, and if you see the regulations and codes are moving in a way that’s going to cost your company more dollars, you’re able to comment on that,” Portela says. “As an example, a volunteer could say ‘hey, I don’t think people have taken X into account or have considered how it will affect the industry.’ While one volunteer can’t make that decision alone, they can definitely get the conversation going.”

“By being on these committees and working on these standards, volunteers get to put into practice what they’re doing and what’s working in their own companies,” Rosario adds. “But we always like to have a balance of volunteers on these committees – where multiple viewpoints are represented, not just solely from one company. We need everyone to have a say.”

Going the distance

For anyone considering AWS’s call to volunteer, it’s understandable to ask about the work involved. What does the process of updating or creating a standard look like and what type of time commitment is required?

“In general, it all begins with either a current, published standard or an idea for one,” Portela explains. “From there, somebody has to put pen to paper, as they say, which isn’t always easy. Fortunately, if you’re writing a new standard, you can replicate the structure from an existing one. We have a style guideline that lays it all out. ‘Clause One has to be like this, Clause Two like this’ and so on. The guideline makes that part of the process straightforward, but depending on the topic, it could take years to write a standard from scratch.”

While that may sound a tad intimidating, it’s not a solo task. But it is just the beginning of what can be a multi-year effort. Once a draft has been completed, committees enter the balloting phase.

“For a new standard that’s been drafted or for an existing standard that has recommended changes, the balloting phase begins,” Portela says. “Here, AWS program managers take that content and propose it to the committee through an official ballot.”

Once the ballot has been circulated, committee members have 30 days to review it, provide comments and feedback, and then vote. In some cases, balloting could be focused on one individual change, but sometimes balloting is focused on a whole document with hundreds of proposed changes or comments. Depending on the size of the document or the number of comments, balloting could take a few months or a few years.

“After that first document is approved, you have to replicate the process in the main committee,” Portela says. “It starts with a subcommittee, is replicated at a main committee and then passed over to the Technical Advisory Committee. What adds extra complexity is the public review process where you have to make your document available through ANSI and anyone outside of your committee that wants to provide comments.”

At the core

If anything, the enormity of the process speaks to the level of importance AWS standards hold. These standards establish the foundation for welding work happening not only in the United States, but around the world. A standard that was recently published serves as a good example: AWS B2.1/B2.1M: 2021 Specification for Welding Procedure and Performance Qualification.

“This is a standard to qualify welders and welding procedures, and it’s not application-specific,” Rosario says. “You could be welding on an airplane, railroad or structural project like a skyscraper or a bridge. In theory, this standard can be used across the board – instead of having different standards for different applications.”

The committee that oversees the B2.1 standard started in 1979, and the first edition was published in 1984, introducing the concept of standard welding procedure specifications in addition to a set of rules for qualifying welding procedures, welders and welding operators. Its maintenance over the decades has been crucial for welders of all stripes, doing all types of work.

Overall, AWS volunteers are involved with work that can, at times, seem tedious, but it is truly critical for the safety of citizens and the longevity of the projects that involve welding. The work, however, can also be exciting.

“There’s always new technology coming out like waveform control, which we just developed a standard for,” Rosario says. “We also had a meeting about developing a new standard for additive manufacturing with powder metal and a wire filler metal. It’s cutting-edge stuff.”

At the core of the AWS organization are its standards, and it is the volunteers and AWS staff that keep them alive. They are responsible for creating the standards that are then leveraged into certifications, welding courses and training, and seminars and conferences. “Without these codes and standards, we wouldn’t have any of that to draw from,” Portela concludes.

American Welding Society

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