Consumers have high expectations, and rightfully so. They have plenty of options when it comes to spending their hard-earned dollars, and for many, only the best will do. Ray Michelena,
service engineer and chief pilot at T.J. Snow Co. Inc., a manufacturer of resistance welding equipment, says that consumer expectations are constantly influencing the way that products are built.
“We live in a world where perfection is the expectation,” he says. “We can’t just make things work – they have to be perfect, and that begins on the shop floor. When I first started in the industry about 20 years ago, we would put 10 welds on a part because we knew eight were going to hold. Today, we put eight welds on that same part and expect perfection out of all of them.”
Fortunately, today’s modern, sophisticated resistance welding equipment can deliver the results that consumers expect. The issue, however, comes down to operator training. If an operator doesn’t know how to properly set up and use the equipment, it won’t be able to perform to the best of its ability.
“We can’t just take people off of the street, put them in front of that equipment and expect perfection,” Michelena says. “Operators and those responsible for setting up resistance welding equipment are a huge part of the equation. Too often, we expect perfection out of equipment that we set up incorrectly.”
Preparing for certification
Michelena has a unique perspective on the importance of training when it comes to resistance welding equipment. He started his career at T.J. Snow in the service department, witnessing on a daily basis the effects that a lack of proper training can have on the final quality of a weld. Based on those experiences, he has long been a proponent of the American Welding Society’s (AWS) certified resistance welding technician (CRWT) certification and is particularly excited about the new prep course offered by AWS, which prepares individuals for the CRWT exam.
As a senior seminar instructor for the CRWT program, Michelena is uniquely positioned to talk about the certification, the required exam and the benefits that come from both. “When you boil it down,” he says, “the CRWT certification is, quite simply, a scale of knowledge that you can expect a certified person to have.”
To take the exam, three years of on-the-job experience in resistance welding is required – as well as a whole lot of studying – which is why Michelena stresses how helpful the prep course can be. Participants can expect the course to cover an array of resistance welding fundamentals and concepts that are needed to demonstrate mastery on the final CRWT exam.
“Keep in mind, though, that the seminar isn’t one of those courses where you study the test to get all the answers,” he says. “It goes over the areas that are covered in the test to make sure you have an understanding of resistance welding, but it gets much deeper than that. It’s not only about taking the test; it’s about taking someone to the next level to help them become more advanced and knowledgeable about resistance welding.”
Michelena equates CRWT certification to any other professional certification where the credentials attached to someone’s name prove that they have obtained a certain level of education and knowledge.
“Technically, we could take someone off of the street and, with minimal training, have that person producing results,” he says, “but we still need someone with a technical understanding of the process to set up that machine and maintain it. When things go wrong, it’s critical to have someone in-house that has the understanding and ability to assess the problem and be able to quickly make adjustments to correct the situation, all while keeping downtime to a minimum. That’s when having someone with the knowledge, skills and ability really pays off.”
The employer’s role
The cost involved with taking the AWS prep course and exam runs a little over $700 for AWS members and a little over $1,000 for non-members. For many resistance welding operators,
the price tag can be an unfortunate deterrent, which is why Michelena says it’s so important to focus on the role of the employer.
“Certification has to make a difference to the bottom line,” he says. “If a company doesn’t think that having a CWRT on board will make them more profitable, then why would they do it? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, ‘We’ve been doing this for 50 years, so why does it matter all of a sudden?’”
To answer skeptical business owners’ questions, Michelena’s response is pretty straightforward: Better weld quality results in less scrap and less downtime and, in turn, more profitability with happy customers. But all of that hinges on having a knowledgeable resistance welding operator that can deliver the perfection for which consumers are looking.
“Certification is going to take a big push from the top down,” he says. “You can’t expect the worker to take the test and pay for it themselves if their company doesn’t really care. Companies and owners are the ones that are going to have to say that the CRWT certification is important to us because we want to show our customers that we’re committed to quality.”
In terms of who needs to be certified, members of the maintenance department shouldn’t be overlooked. Compared to traditional welding processes, like MIG or TIG, fixing an issue mid-project is much more difficult with resistance welding.
“In all of my seminars, I describe resistance welding like making a biscuit,” Michelena says. “There are certain ingredients required to make a weld. If I am laying down a MIG weld, I can adjust my parameters along the way because I’m able to see it as it’s happening. When I make a resistance weld, it’s done between the sheets; it’s hidden. That means I have to control all of the ingredients before making that biscuit. Once I take all of those ingredients and mix them up, I don’t have any more control over the outcome.”
Why is that analogy important when it comes to maintenance? It all comes down to understanding the ingredients. For resistance welding, the main ingredients include force, current and time. When a maintenance person understands why force, for example, is so important, they will be motivated to make sure that the machine is always applying the correct amount.
Something for everyone
While the CRWT certification is geared toward folks that already have experience in the world of resistance welding, someone with zero experience can and should still learn the ropes. In that regard, Michelena is constantly encouraging more people to get interested in resistance welding. Considering it’s a staple process in the automotive industry and a multitude of others, job opportunities abound. For those interested, vocational and tech schools around the nation offer training courses on the basics, as does T.J. Snow.
“For too long, resistance welding has been the black sheep of welding – no one brags about being a resistance welder,” he laments. “They brag about being a MIG or TIG welder because there’s a level of skill that everyone thinks you need to have. But to be a resistance welder? You just put parts in the machine and push a button, right? What experience or knowledge is required for that?”
To respond to that type of sentiment, Michelena circles back to the idea of perfection. If perfect welds are the goal, the same level of expertise would be required for any type of welding, resistance welding included.
“Resistance welding is one of those things that continues to challenge us – in a good way,” he says. “Every weld is different, and every product is different. Even if some products are similar, the equipment or materials being used could be different. And that’s what makes resistance welding such an interesting and challenging career. The more you dig into the metallurgy and how a weld is actually made, the more it will amaze you. It really is one of those careers that you’ll never get bored with.”