Training Welders

Virtual Weld Training Is a Powerful Tool

Ted Zablocky, Welding Instructor at Lenape Technical School
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Producing better welders in less time, virtual welding is a tool that engages young welders in learning, saves instructor time, and teaches students more about welding correctly than they’d learn hands-on

Virtual reality welding is one way to achieve both consistent learning and engagement in your workforce. Since its introduction in 2009, the VRTEX® 360 has carved a niche, not only in the welding classroom but also in the welding workplace, filling multiple roles as a versatile training and diagnostic tool. Virtual reality technology brings welding to life in a 3D environment – something today’s younger workers are familiar with and are comfortable using.

The computer-based technology easily helps welders become familiar with new techniques while assessing their competency on techniques they already know, without using the resources required for hands-on screening in an actual booth. Users put on a real welding helmet and pick up a specially equipped MIG gun or stick electrode holder to “lay down” a weld in a strikingly realistic virtual world, thanks to special virtual reality displays embedded in the system’s customized welding helmet.

High-resolution images and software immerse the student in a realistic virtual environment that also feature sounds and visual feedback to supplement the learning experience. Students virtually learn proper machine setup, and when they “weld” in this environment, instructors can – in real time – suggest modifications and adjustments they need to make as the students are welding. The system also scores students on welding proficiency and technique across a number of relevant parameters, providing pertinent, real-time feedback throughout the process that can be addressed later by the instructor.

The virtual reality welding machine is highly adaptable to different skill sets and learning needs. When you use virtual reality welding with different levels of welder, such as your A, B and C welders, you can vary the difficulty of the weld, based on the person using the machine. You can change the settings on the machine to make the process more challenging.

What’s more, the virtual reality weld training system can provide both feedback on welds performed and the theory behind the technique taught. Feedback from the virtual reality arc-welding training system is immediate and quantitative. Students simply push a button to get a score on their welding efforts and also get detailed information on the theory behind the welds. It is like having a built-in welding coach that can provide real-time input and information as each student welds. The system provides a valuable knowledge aspect to training, increasing what students know in addition to the skills they are acquiring.

In a traditional, hands-on welding lab, if users do something wrong, they need to wait for the instructor to look at the weld and figure out the error. In virtual reality training, users know instantly, as the system provides them with specific feedback on hand motions and diagnoses errors as they happen, delivering cues for corrective action throughout the virtual welding process.

For example, say students learn a 1G position, flat-groove weld, without virtual reality. They lay down the weld, and it looks good. But, it’s too high on the plate and in the wrong place. Had they done the same on a virtual reality simulator, they would have learned exactly where and how to lay the bead, and in most cases would have had a higher pass rate. And with such things as “Theory” buttons that easily provide explanation behind the process as it occurs, virtual reality training truly reinforces the “why” behind welding’s “how.”

An independent study of virtual reality welding conducted by Iowa State University researchers compared learning efficiencies between real welding lab settings and virtual reality training. The study showed that in an actual lab, students wound up welding for only a short time each day as other things, such as setup and evaluation, for example, take away from time spent with a stinger in hand. With virtual reality welding, however, students quickly could perform machine setup and just weld, weld, weld, so that they repeatedly practice skill sets and build valuable skills, while also learning the theory behind what they are doing in real time.

The study, which also pointed out that younger workers respond better to digital learning in combination with traditional approaches, recommended that a blended training approach – virtual and traditional – can increase welding time by as much as six times more than hands-on training alone.

Simply put, incorporating virtual reality training is an effective tool within your in-house professional development program that helps deliver not only a better trained welder, but also a better educated one, who can better contribute to production efficiencies and a stronger bottom line.

Selling the benefits of new technology

When designing a professional development program for your operations and bringing new tools in house for training and screening initiatives, make sure that top-level management, particularly those who seldom inhabit the shop floor, understand this philosophy.

Stress the importance of using new tools in training efforts and how tools such as virtual reality welding can speed the overall learning process. In fact, let management pick up the virtual stinger and give it a try.

When they do, they’ll quickly learn that virtual reality technology gets people hooked on welding without the intimidating fear factor, eliminating the perceived barriers many new welders will encounter in a hands-on welding booth. Virtual reality welding is so much like the real thing that people start realizing that they want to try it for real. It’s a great introduction to the craft and helps bridge the knowledge gap, taking people who know nothing about welding to a level in which they now want to try the real thing.

We installed a system at a federal prison as part of the facility’s inmate training program. The wardens came in to see what it was all about. They knew nothing about welding, so they picked up the virtual torch and started working through the program. Thirty minutes later, they were still using it and were trying to beat the prison welding instructor’s score. By the time they were done, they wanted to go out and into the booth with the welding instructor and try their hand at real welding. Virtual reality welding sells itself, if you can get the torch into decision makers’ hands.

As part of a blended training program, this tool really is changing the game, in training, screening and recruitment. Not only is it time efficient, but it’s also cost effective. If you have the ability to schedule someone with a virtual reality system, you not only can teach more than one student at a time, but you also can reduce hands-on lab time by as much as 60 percent. That’s where you are burning the electrodes, using electricity and going through coupons. You’ll witness cost savings in the lab by moving to a blended approach that offers the flexibility and efficiency of virtual training combined with traditional lab methods.

Most anyone can be trained to weld. Most anyone can learn new skills. But today’s highly competitive manufacturing environment demands more than skilled workers. It demands ones who also are educated and understand why they are doing what they do beyond simply how to do it.

Welding ClassWelding Class

Classroom instruction allows aspiring welders, as well as seasoned ones, to enter into dialogue about the theory behind the process – a necessary component to any well-structured training program,

Lincoln Electric’s VRTEX® family of virtual reality arc welding training systems has carved a niche, not only in the welding classroom but also in the welding workplace, filling multiple roles as a versatile screening, training and diagnostic tool.

Hands On Welding ClassHands On Welding Class

An independent study by researchers at Iowa State University recommends that a blended training approach – virtual and traditional – can increase welding skills practice time by as much as six times more than hands-on training alone.

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