Making An Impact

This year’s Welding Summit offers much more than the typical industry conference; event organizers wouldn’t have it any other way

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There are plenty of reasons to attend the Welding Summit hosted by the American Welding Society (AWS) in The Woodlands, Texas, Aug. 7 through Aug. 9, 2024. Some will attend to rack up professional development hours that can be applied toward AWS recertifications, renewals and other professional goals while others will attend to increase their skills and knowledge in specific areas of the trade. No matter the motivator, the Welding Summit aims to make an impact with attendees, providing them with practical and educational presentations, demonstrations and industry-expert exhibits while offering unmatched networking opportunities.

Referring to the event as a typical networking opportunity, however, would be doing it a serious disservice. During a recent pair of conference calls with Summit organizers and past and future presenters, the Welding Summit was instead described as a place to find community, a place for attendees to feel part of something bigger than themselves.

Previous Welding Summits have welcomed attendees from different backgrounds, experience levels, job roles, industry segments, locations and countries. This year aims to be no different.

The event organizers’ goals are to expose attendees to new concepts, new ideas and new colleagues to serve as an inspiration to rejuvenate them in their daily jobs and ultimately give them the tools they need to make the most of their careers. The Welding Summit was never meant to be a typical conference where attendees just show up with a pen and paper to take notes during presentation after presentation. And it’s certainly not a place for people to come with their colleagues and stay in their little bubbles. It’s where attendees can easily chat with a plethora of people from different backgrounds, experience levels, job roles, industry segments, locations and countries.

In fact, Bill Newell, the co-founder and vice president of Euroweld Ltd. who also serves as the Welding Summit conference chair, encourages people to get out of their comfort zones, attend a presentation that they know nothing about and make new friends. For the folks that do, he promises that they’ll leave the Summit with a mentor or mentee and at least three things that can be put into immediate practice back at their respective places of business.

“People walk out of there with more free consulting information than they can shake a stick at,” he says. “Some of the folks that will be there are the heads of codes – AWS, ASME and API. These people are the best and the brightest. They write the codes, write the rules and make themselves available for attendees to ask questions to get the answers they need to take home and put to work.”

What motivates us

During the recent Welding Summit planning conference calls, organizers and presenters set a high bar for attendee expectations. Nancy Porter, a welding engineer at the Edison Welding Institute (EWI) and past presenter, said that last year’s Summit felt technical, but at the same time laid back.

“I’ve never been to a conference where everybody talked to everybody else – it didn’t matter where you were at in the strata,” she said. “What motivates me is to be able to go, meet new people, make new contacts and strengthen the friendships that I already have. It was the most fun I have had in years. It was just so awesome.

From left to right: Bill Newell, co-founder and vice president of Euroweld Ltd., serves as chair of the American Welding Society’s Welding Summit alongside co-chairs John Stoll of ARC Specialties, Gary Lewis of Lewis Reliability Resources and Scott Witkowski of Republic Testing Laboratories Inc.

“It energizes us introverts,” she added. “A student came up to me and said, ‘How do I get a job like yours? I want to do what you do.’ And you know what? That made the whole trip.”

Like Newell, Porter started out as an Ohio State welding engineering graduate, which propelled her career into the aerospace industry and then later heavy road construction manufacturing before landing at EWI. Her decades-long career at EWI, conducting applications research and development and serving as liaison between universities and companies that sell power sources, has resulted in the practical use of a variety of welding technologies, including at the U.S. Navy. Her inspirational presentation at last year’s Summit served as a retrospective of the 30 years of work she’s done with the Navy through EWI.

“For the last 30 years, I have managed research and development projects at the Navy shipyards that build destroyers, submarines and aircraft carriers,” Porter said. “I’m a program manager with a long career of welding engineering. I write proposals, manage projects, keep company at the shipyards and generally keep the Office of Naval Research happy. I believe in building bridges – in a nutshell, that’s what I do.”

Finding presenters that have the technical chops to deliver useful and meaningful information to attendees is a major goal for the event’s organizers, but the team also seeks out inspirational non-industry speakers. Last year, Porter’s presentation followed Major General Charles “Chuck” H. Swannack Jr.’s keynote address.

A decorated former general for the U.S. Army, Gen. Swannack spoke about his career in the armed services and delivered the motivational message that anyone can develop the important life skills he relied on throughout his career, such as overcoming adversity and becoming a good leader. Rumor has it that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house by the time he’d concluded.

John Stoll, Welding Summit co-chair, at the 2019 event chats with attendees between sessions.

This year’s non-industry keynote speaker is Dr. Rick Rigsby, who learned some of life’s most important lessons from his father, a third-grade dropout. Today, Dr. Rigsby holds multiple degrees, including a PhD in philosophy, and is a best-selling author and inspirational speaker. He spent his early career as an award-winning journalist, college professor and football character coach at Texas A&M University. He will speak to attendees about what truly matters in life and how to “make an impact rather than an impression.” Handkerchiefs and Kleenexes are recommended.

Brass tacks

Don’t get the event organizers wrong, though; the Welding Summit won’t be all kumbaya. The conference delivers the real-deal Holyfield, nuts-and-bolts kind of stuff that people need to advance their careers. “We try to get speakers that bring knowledge about the industry, a process or a procedure and not a salesman up there telling us how good his product is,” explained John Stoll, Summit co-chair and sales applications engineer at ARC Specialties. A list of the presentations currently available on the AWS website include:

  • Arc Welding History from 1782 to 2024
  • Enhancing Welding Efficiency and Safety with SWR-TIP TIG: A Case Study
  • Problem Solved? Engaging Youth in Welding/Skilled Trades to Build Our Future
  • Supplemental Screening Method to Identify Long Seam Anomalies and Cracks in ERW Pipe Using Crack ILI Data: A Case Study
  • Avoiding Hot Cracking in Stabilized Stainless Steel for High Pressure Piping Systems
  • Reduce your Gas Consumption by Identifying Overconsumption and Leakages
  • Metallurgy is NOT a Four-Letter Word
  • Voltage Vortices Anomalies in Pipeline Girth Welds

Overall, sessions will cover the latest advancements and technical approaches that will propel the industry forward while making everyone’s jobs easier. Case in point, Paisley Cameron, an independent consultant specializing in welding and metallurgical engineering, titled her 2023 presentation “Turn-Around Repairs, Changing Difficult to Exciting.”

“Last year was one of my very first presentations within the welding realm, which was really exciting,” Cameron said during one of the recent conference calls. “The title of my presentation goes with the whole essence of what I do – taking things that people assume are hard and challenging them to instead ask, what’s cool about solving this challenge? How are we going to do it? What’s the process? What works? What doesn’t work? When we can change it into more of an exciting mentality, we can figure it out, and it’s going to be awesome.”

Past AWS Houston section chair Edward Peterson and section member Daniel Davenport pose for photos at the 2022 AWS Welding Summit.

Cameron grew up on a farm in Alberta, Canada, and was known for “tinkering,” she says, adding that she always wanted to become a mechanic, eventually pursuing a degree in automotive engineering. Soon thereafter, she had the opportunity to move to Fort McMurray, Alberta, to work at a co-op that performed refinery, extraction and mining activities in the heart of Canada’s oil sands region. To date, her experience in that far-flung area spans a decade.

“I extended my terms and did lots of really cool stuff up there, but eventually went back to school to complete my studies in mechanical engineering with a specialization with metallurgy,” she said. “Right after that, I went back to the oil sands and started working for an owner/user. They needed somebody to take over their welding program; it was a hot potato that nobody wanted to deal with. So, I took it over not knowing a single thing about the basics of welding and learned everything from the ground up.”

Cameron will be presenting at this year’s Summit, as well, and while she has not fully landed on a topic for her presentation, one can assume she will use her experiences in the oil and gas industry as inspiration. Coupled with her background in mechanical engineering and metallurgy, one can also assume that it will be chock full with useful information for attendees to learn from.

Something for everyone

Paisley said that the only regret she had from last year’s Welding Summit was not being able to be at two places at one time. “I look forward to going to the presentations, but a lot of the time, there are two or three of them that I really want to attend at the same time.”

It’s a good problem to have, and the event organizers have worked hard to assemble a schedule that accommodates the wide range of demographics the Summit organizers aim to attract. Alongside Newell, co-chairs for the Summit are Scott Witkowski from Republic Testing Laboratories Inc., John Stoll from ARC Specialties Inc and Gary Lewis from Lewis Reliability Services.

“Being on the conference committee means trying to drive speakers, get content and push the envelope as much as we can,” Witkowski said. “It’s also taking feedback to learn and do everything we can to put together a conference that everybody’s interested in.”

Earning professional development hours is a big draw for attendees at the AWS Welding Summit, which will be held Aug. 7-9, 2024.

And that includes students and new welders. The sessions will dig deep into the areas of welding that trade newcomers will want to get exposed to, and the networking opportunities will be tremendous, as well.

“We had more students last year than ever before, and they were blown away,” Newell said. “Whether you’re a student, the head of a company or anyone in between, you can go out and talk to the other attendees. Just because this guy’s the president of AWS or the chairman of a board doesn’t mean you can’t shake their hand and introduce yourself. Last year, vice presidents and district directors were walking up to the students like they were old friends; you should have seen the expressions on their faces.”

Beyond the goals of motivating and educating new and old attendees alike, Newell, Witkowski, Stoll and Lewis want to make the event convenient for families to attend, too. The location and amenities at The Woodlands Resort certainly help.

“The family-friendly nature of it is great,” Lewis said. “For families that are about to go back to school, it’s a great opportunity for a final summer vacation. Some people come to take advantage of what the city of Houston has to offer, and the resort itself has lots for kids to do.”

Witkowski gave the example of a gentleman that attended from Enbridge, Canada. He was in need of professional development hours, but also wanted to bring his family.

“We didn’t see him much in the evenings because he brought his wife and kids, but that’s okay because they turned the trip into a full family vacation, going to Galveston the weekend prior to the event kicking off,” he explained. “And then, during the Summit, his wife and kids got to hang out in the resort all day long, and he’d go to the sessions and then scoot off to hang out with the fam.”

Overall, there will be something for everyone at this year’s Welding Summit. Newell and his crew have worked hard to ensure that.

“If someone just shows up for PDH hours, our goal is for them to get more from the Welding Summit than they would have traditionally gotten from other conferences they might attend,” Witkowski concludes. “We try to make sure that we’re catering to everyone’s needs.”

American Welding Society

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