Creating a vision for the Welder of what his/her world and job will look like, is one of the central aims of our e-zine, The WelderDestiny Compass. In this web page we tentatively describe what the future professional world will look like for the Welder. This will enable anybody entering the welding industry, particularly Welders, to anticipate the types of skills and knowledge that will be required to meet the future with confidence.
This web page is essentially a compendium of articles published in The WelderDestiny Compass that deals with the vision for the welder. It assists those that want to follow our discussion regarding this future vision for the Welder without having to actually read all the back issues of The WelderDestiny Compass. It will be updated every time we add to our future vision for the Welder and his/her world.
If you have not yet subscribed to The WelderDestiny Compass e-zine, then please enter your details in the subscription box below. As a token of my appreciation for your subscription, I will send you a spreadsheet that can assist you in performing dissimilar metal welding calculations based on the Schaeffler diagram.
As you read the compendium of the "vision for the welder" articles within this page, please keep in mind that these articles also have reference to other articles within the same e-zine edition in which they were originally published. This may make the different articles below appear a little disjointed. If you would like to see the broader context of any specific article, please click through to the full e-zine to get a more complete picture.
The other advantage of looking at the whole e-zine is that there may be supporting articles posted there by some of our readers, and their insights may just be what you are looking for.
This brings us back to the poor Welder being expected to master all those additional skills. Basically it will be required of engineers to ensure that the Welders not only control the machines, but that Welders themselves will have "machine assistants" to help them.
Now we can already see pictures of ourselves being followed around by an R2D2 lookalike robot (A Star Wars reference, just in case you are not a science fiction fan.) to help us, but that is probably unlikely. Much more likely is the scenario that the Welder will have a portable computing device (think smart phone or tablet computer) with software that can help with supplying the answers.
While we will probably all have “generic” AI’s to help with our everyday lives, professionals in just about any profession will have some kind of “bolt-on” to their AI to assist with their professional responsibilities as well. In this picture of the use of AI’s, Welders will have “welding modules” added to their personal AI to help them. (Somebody is going to have to develop those welding modules.)
While automation under controlled conditions is a cost effective solution, there will still be jobs that are out in the field under conditions where fully automated systems cannot work effectively. These are typically maintenance type environments, or small scale manufacturing where the expense of the use of super computers and massive automated systems would not be warranted.
Within this environment, the use of AI’s by Welders will significantly improve their effectiveness and productivity, and would actually result in such productivity improvements that further mechanization would be uneconomic. This would actually preserve the Welder’s job under those circumstances, rather than being a driver for replacing the Welders. You do however need to be one of the Welders that can effectively work within such a system.
Current automated welding systems tend to still need quite a bit of "hand holding" from humans. They pretty much just "follow a recipe". If there are even minor fluctuations in the material properties or welding fit-ups, then there tends to be a disaster, requiring human intervention or scrapping of the component. If the machine learning vision system is incorporated into a robotic welding cell, then the robot will be much better at performing welds under conditions where greater variation exists.
This application within welding automation serves to be more of a driver to reduce shop based work for the Welder, so it will not directly impact the Welder out in the field.
In our last instalment of this e-zine we started to get a picture in our minds of how artificial intelligence (AI) can help a Welder out in the field to make better decisions and offer knowledge based support. If we now imagine that within the welding helmet there could be a couple of cameras that are linked to this AI, which incorporates the machine learning vision system, then several interesting things become possible. But first, let's consider what a Welder does during the welding operation...
Under ideal circumstances, a good Welder can mostly see when defects are being incorporated / generated in a weld. A good Welder will, if possible, stop welding at that point and do a spot of grinding to remove the defect before progressing further. In addition, a good welder can see (based on the clues within the weld pool) if the danger of "burning through" is being approached, so s/he will know to either stop and adjust the power source settings, or modify his/her technique to reduce the probability of this burn through.
In the same way, over time, the machine learning vision system will learn how you as a Welder welds, and what it looks like in the weld pool when things start to go wrong. Based on this, it can give you direct feed-back regarding weld pool conditions, and also act as an inspection record regarding the quality of the weld. In many circumstances, this type of weld monitoring may be able to replace, or significantly reduce, post welding non destructive testing (NDT).
If this technology makes its way out into the field, there will obviously be some creative destruction taking place, with NDT and inspection companies losing work and vision technology companies gaining market share. This has the potential for a lot of fights of “self-interest.” The battle field of this fight will be that of fabrication codes and industry regulation.
In this war, will you be in the firing line, a spectator, or winning the battle?
Many automated welding machines are already connected to a computer in some way or another. Most modern welding power sources have computer based control systems. Many of these power sources can be interfaced with a network. Many power sources are in fact networked and could be accessed at any time from a computer anywhere in the world. In this regard, the IoT has already arrived in the world of automated and robotic welding.
This has happened, because these types of equipment already have the necessary sensors attached to measure a wide array of welding parameters, and they tend to be “fixed in place”, so the interface complications associated with mobility are minimised.
In the case of the field Welder, the IoT has pretty much been non-existent. The first obvious application would be in diagnostics and calibration of the equipment itself, as the equipment could be interfaced with a network on a routine basis to perform those functions. This application will however not have much of an impact on the job of the field Welder in a direct way.
Future IoT application to the field Welder will in all probability arise mainly as part of an artificial intelligence platform, as the artificial intelligence platform would be highly advantageous in performing control and monitoring functions even while the equipment is not connected to the internet. For continuous IoT functionality, continuous internet access would obviously be required.
For the immediate future, a plan for cheap global wireless internet coverage is not in place. There have certainly been proposals on how to achieve cheap global wireless coverage, and eventually this will happen, but I believe that that is still a few decades away. I could obviously be wrong about this timing, but it is much more likely that artificial intelligence networked on a localised wireless network to other devices around it, will be realised before cheap global wireless internet coverage.
This model of locally networked artificial intelligence with “smart devices” around it will give similar functionality to continuously internet connected devices, because the “real time” IoT functionality could be provided by the artificial intelligence. As soon as the artificial intelligence is within reach of an internet connection, the stored data could be uploaded and analysed as needed for the wider “big data” IoT functionality.
At any rate, the artificial intelligence would make it much more effective to add all kinds of sensors to the Welder to record the necessary parameters and inputs. This would be the case whether the device is constantly connected to the internet or not. So, what kind of sensors are we talking about?
In the last edition of The WelderDestiny Compass we looked at machine learning vision systems. Such systems would be able to potentially perform measurements such as welding travel speed, which is necessary for real time calculation of welding heat input, when combined with voltage and current inputs from the welding power source.
Another very useful sensor would be an infrared enabled vision system. While measuring welding heat inputs are widely used currently, they are not perfect measurements. In future newsletters, or the WelderDestiny website, we will deal with why this is the case. Suffice to say that the actual information that we want when measuring the heat input is the cooling rate of the weld and the heat affected zone (HAZ) of the base metal. With an infrared enabled vision system, the cooling rate calculation could be made directly, rather than relying on the imperfect heat input proxy that we currently rely on.
With a continuous record of the weld cooling rate, we could have an almost fool-proof measure that Hydrogen Assisted Cold Cracking (HACC) has not occurred. (Click here for more information on HACC.) This will mean that the need for time delays following welding, followed by ultrasonic testing, could be reduced or in many cases eliminated.
In cases where high heat inputs are problematic, such as with the welding of stainless steels, this record could serve as assurance that the microstructures are not degraded, allowing the material’s full corrosion resistance to be realised.
Are you ready for a welding future where the networking of devices is necessary? Are you ready for a future in which it will be assumed that the Welder understands why and how weld cooling rates are measured? (and other metallurgical knowledge)
There are many drivers that encourage people to move to the casual employment model. Some of these drivers are associated with legislative barriers, such as labour laws, that make it more advantageous for companies to hire people on a casual basis than on a permanent basis. Some of the drivers are associated with the need for companies to be very responsive and able to “right size” at very short notice due to the rapidly changing economic landscape. Some of the drivers are associated with personal preference issues. Some people just like to have the flexibility to “do their own thing” when needed.
Once this trend runs as far as it can, the situation will arise where most employment is out-sourced and employment relationships become casual. The main function of the traditional employers will be to manage their “one-man contractors", not their employees.
Welders are not new to temporary or contract based employment. In fact, it has been around for a relatively long time. One of the reasons that welding is well suited to this working model is that it is a skill based job. A skilled welder can very quickly become productive when moving between employers. The ways of working are relatively standard between different employers, and the processes and equipment are also relatively standard.
Having said this, there are major concerns and opportunities within the welding industry to streamline this process. These are opportunities for adding value and ensuring quality outcomes by matching the Welder with a specific set of skills and experience with the right welding jobs.
Let us imagine a world where we integrate the ideas regarding the commoditisation of engineering, the use of artificial intelligence and the “privatisation” of employment. In such a world, we start seeing that every Welder is in effect a one-man business. What opportunities are presented by a need for Welders to manage all their own systems?
In this future reality, you as a Welder may need to have the tools, systems and the ability to not only perform the welding, but also the control functions such as quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC) around the welding operation. The Welder of the future will in all probability be a one-man welding solutions provider to companies that want to only worry about the project management functions, not the technical details.
Can you see the steps that you need to start taking to prepare yourself for this future? We will certainly expand on these ideas in future editions of The WelderDestiny Compass.
If we look at the world of the Welder, and we ask what durable transactions are there that needs to be recorded, and retained for record?
The first one that comes to mind is material control for materials used in critical applications. Being able to record the flow of materials all the way from the mill to the finished product, will be a huge boon for the engineering industry in general. If it becomes clear that a certain batch of welding electrodes had deficiencies, it would theoretically be possible to trace them down all the way to the end products in which they were used.
There are also a lot of welded products that need to be “registered” for safety reasons. Think of pressure vessels or airplanes. Instead of the myriad of local registers kept by state or national regulators, a central blockchain of pressure vessels (or airplanes) could be kept, so that their origins and movements can be captured and stored on an ongoing basis.
By how much will regulators reduce their employee numbers when this technology takes hold? How much safer would industry be if the records of such products are totally transparent and essentially incorruptible?
If you as the Welder of the future will be taking a central role in the quality control of welding work, then the materials control aspects will in all probability also be part of your responsibility. As such, blockchain technology could very easily become an everyday tool in your job.
What other transaction are you involved with that could benefit from the use of a blockchain type ledger?
Instead of having large engineering corporations that employ huge numbers of people shuffling papers, operating manual systems or welding, the engineering corporation of the future will be fluid in nature.
It will have systems that have standardised interfaces, so that it can interface with suppliers, contractors and customers’ systems on the fly. Automated planning systems will decide how much of what kind of service is needed for the next “production planning cycle.” The automated systems will then find the most suitable suppliers and niche solopreneurs to provide the required services as required.
We have previously discussed how Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be central in how this all plays out. As Welders, we cannot possibly do everything ourselves, but with the aid of our own personal AI’s, that can interface with every other AI as needed, the details will be dealt with behind the scenes.
Clearly, the more we can offer in terms of niche areas where we can be effective within the welding game, the more work will flow our way. The more self-contained our service offering becomes, the better our chances of getting the work.
Where we now have a welding supervisor to tell us what to do, in the future our AI will provide us with that information, as obtained from the central planning system of the engineering corporation. Where we had an army of quality control (QC) people to monitor and test and record and file, our AI’s will collate the evidence on the fly and provide the necessary QC output with minimal intervention from ourselves.
Information such as welding amps, voltages, heat inputs, cooling rates, maximum inter-pass temperatures etc. will all be collected by connected sensors and shared via the “Internet of Things” to be stored in “the cloud” for subsequent retrieval should there be any need for the information. (e.g. when something goes bang or collapses!)
Obviously, this level of automated interfaces will not happen overnight, but we need to appreciate that we have already entered the change process. During this change process, we need to be able to keep up with technology and developments. We need to understand the fundamentals that underpin the science of welding, because we will need to know when the machines are making a bugger-up, and they most certainly will! No change happens without pain or mishaps.
But the most important factor is to develop the skill, which IS THE ART OF WELDING. When all is said, and done, that artful skill will be the differentiating factor that will gain you, the Welder, the juiciest work at the best remuneration.
Does this picture scare you, or excite you? Do you hope to ride out your days before the change hits like a storm at sea, or do you want to start preparing your boat to be the most seaworthy possible?
The most obvious introduction of augmented reality (AR) within welding is in the training environment. Imagine the savings and safety improvements possible if most engineering students can be taught to weld within a virtual environment.
There are already a number of providers of AR systems within the Welder training space. One of these is the ARC+ welding simulator. I have not actually used this system, so this mention should not be seen as an endorsement, but if you are interested in this kind of thing, their website will be a good place to start.
Another obvious application of virtual reality in welding is the simulation of jobs that may have very restrictive access conditions. A model of the job can be created on a 3D modelling software platform, and then the output from this model can be used to create the virtual environment for the welder to simulate the welding job.
Previously we have considered how additional sensors will be integrated into the welding set-up to gather additional quality control data. Another very exciting possibility of the AR technology, is to integrate the welding sensor data into a real-time visual feedback to the welder. As an example of how this could work, let us surmise that an infrared (IR) camera is monitoring the weld during the welding process. If porosity is introduced into the weld, it will have a different temperature to the rest of the weld metal. The computer monitoring the IR video feed (based on artificial intelligence) will detect this difference in temperature and highlight it in a different colour within the Welder's video feed of the weld. Let us say with a blue spot. While the temperature anomaly associated with the porosity will be transient (probably gone within a second or less) the computer will continue to show the porosity as a permanently different coloured spot on the weld. The welder can then stop welding and return to perform the grinding necessary to remove the porosity.
Note how this could very easily be integrated into a welding helmet that uses two stereo cameras to show us what we are looking at, rather than a darkened glass. Once we have welding helmets working on this principle, we can integrate almost any application and additional data into the Welder's field of view. When you break the arc, the screens will automatically lighten to show you an undarkened view of your surroundings. This is similar to the auto-darkening helmets of today, but based on a technology that will enable huge integration with any relevant data technology.
You, the Welder, will have constant feedback within your welding helmet of all the relevant welding parameters (volts, amps, travel speeds, heat input etc. will be displayed like with a head-up display in a fighter jet) overlayed with any additional sensor feedback that is monitoring QC functions.
If you think this is so far in the future that it is not worth worrying about, then I believe you are wrong. Strictly speaking, all the technology I have described is already available. It is just not portable enough to be practical. All that is needed is for this to become cheap enough for it to become freely available. My guess... I give it 5 years. Within 10 years, I think this type of functionality will become relatively commonplace.
Are you one of the Welders excited to embrace this technology, or are you afraid of how it will shake your world? Remember... For salvation, we need to move beyond fear.
The ability of being able to “look” into a metal may not be as far off as you may think. For a while now, LASER ultrasonics has been used under certain circumstances.
In LASER ultrasonics, a laser pulse heats the surface of the material locally, which results in a very rapid expansion and then rapid contraction of the surface. This rapid expansion and contraction results in an ultrasonic pulse being introduced into the material.
Another laser detects the returning ultrasonic vibrations, which can then be interpreted much like conventional ultrasonic signals. The advantages of laser ultrasonics are that it is a non-contact form of ultrasonic testing and it can be done at very high temperatures. Besides giving dimensional information on the interior of the weld, it can also give grain size information.
Surface dimensional measurements using lasers is also a technology that has been around for quite a while. It is often used to measure any surface material loss due to corrosion, or to perform dimensional measurements for weld fit-ups inside pipelines. If these two laser techniques are combined into an augmented reality (AR) system for the Welder, then the following becomes possible:
While the technology is already present to perform each of these operations in isolation, the ability to scale it down and to integrate it into equipment that is portable enough for the Welder to use out in the field, is the big challenge. As Moore’s law tells us, it will only take a few years for this miniaturization problem to be solvable. The real problem is that there are not enough people with the necessary skills to work on these problems to develop the practical tools that we can use out in the field.
Do you want to be part of the team that brings this technology to fruition? If so, do you have the necessary skills? If not, how can you change that?
In our articles, we have discussed a number of really exciting technologies that could become available to Welders in a real-time setting within the foreseeable future. Technologies such as augmented reality, chemical analysis, dimensional measurements through lasers, ultrasonic testing through lasers, grain structure analysis through lasers, heating and cooling rates through infrared cameras and just good old visual analysis through ordinary video feeds.
What happens when all of this data is uploaded as part of the internet of things to the cloud? What happens when this data is available on an internet platform that can aggregate and mine that data from thousands of Welders making millions of welds?
What happens when the data from mechanical testing is integrated with the real-time data captured by Welders?
If this volume and quality of information is available for a modest price, does it even make sense to qualify welding procedures anymore? Err.. probably not!
In this new era, what is the barrier to entry for even small welding businesses into very high value and advanced welding markets, especially those associated with maintenance and other field welding activities? A very low barrier indeed.
Just as you and I provide Google with the information to enable products to sell to their clients, future “welding data” platforms will use Welders as the source of products to sell right back to the Welders and the welding industry.
When a job comes up to perform some welding repairs on a difficult to weld material, we won’t even have to qualify a procedure. We can just pay a nominal amount to our “welding information supplier platform”, and we will be provided with a procedure based on all the relevant data in the database. Information that is based not only on one-off procedure qualification tests, but also on thousands of real welds out in the field. Based on the success or difficulties experienced by hundreds of welders, through the welding of thousands of welds, the optimum procedure can be drawn up.
This procedure can be downloaded directly to your personal artificial intelligence (AI) assistant who will not only guide you through all the necessary parameters, but will also be recording the production weld in real-time for quality control purposes, and off-course… To use that information to further refine the procedure for the next user.
I am sure that you can see how many business models that are currently empowered by welding codes and regulations will be impacted negatively and how new business models based on information will be established. Not to mention how the fabrication codes will have to change!
While many people will fear this new reality, because they suspect that their jobs will no longer be safe, this reality breaks down the barriers for small businesses and free-lance solopreneurs to carve out their niche, and thrive in the new era.
Are you equipped for the new era?
Some people operate quite well in a more formal educational setting. Some people seem to only learn in an experiential setting. "Book learning" is just not for them.
Because welding is a skill based profession, many Welders are already on a "self-directed" learning curve. While some Welders do a formal apprenticeship which would include formal classes and written exams, many Welders have no such formal qualifications. They learn practical welding and then pick up the rest of the knowledge they need, by asking other people, or doing short courses or doing their own enquiries. Like reading WelderDestiny!
Strictly speaking, someone could become a decent welder by just following YouTube videos, practicing welding and reading information available on websites like WelderDestiny. This would however be an unusual situation. A much more common situation is when people become Welders by attending practical welding classes, and then learning the more theoretical aspects in an informal setting.
In this self-directed educational aspect, Welders are ahead of the curve when it comes to learning. The aspect where they are probably not getting enough exposure, is in furthering their education to be able to make the most of the new machine age. In this regard we need to get moving before the arrival of AI, so there is no time to waste!
Below I list some typical skills and knowledge that I believe a Welder will need in the future:
I am sure that there are many more skills and knowledge that will make you a better Welder in the machine age, but the list above is a good starting point for the future.
Here at WelderDestiny we are committed to equipping you, the Welder, with the necessary skills and knowledge to thrive in the new era.
I believe that we will get to a situation where almost all welds have a lot of data concerning their variables recorded during production, and this information will be made available for analysis. The more data there is for analysis, the better our understanding of what the effect of the welding variables are.
Under this scenario, it then becomes possible to develop a WPS with a much higher probability of success than from a single welding procedure qualification test coupon. When statistical analyses show that WPS’s based on a lot of real-time welding data is a lower risk methodology than the traditional qualification process, then traditional qualification processes will no longer be used.
So, what will the new process be? I suspect it will be something along the following lines:
For this process to work, there still needs to be a quality assurance and quality control process in place, but the emphasis will be a lot different than is currently the case. In a future edition of The WelderDestiny Compass we will think through how the new quality assurance process will look.
Looking at the process described above, we can see that the skill base of the Welder will need to be quite a bit different to that for current Welders. These changes will not happen overnight. They will take decades rather than years, but if you are a welder under the age of 40 years old, then you will feel the full force of these changes before you retire.
Are you looking forward to the coming changes?
Within decentralised manufacturing facilities, most welding will be done by the robots in any case, so that does not change much from the current manufacturing model. What does change is that such fabrication facilities will invariably need support services. Part of those support services will be welding related.
As the advantages of being close to your customer base starts to override the cost advantages of having global scale manufacturing facilities, such decentralized manufacturing facilities should mushroom all over the world where the necessary infrastructure and customer base exist.
While we have used the automobile industry as an example, it will probably be one of the last industries to decentralize. Earlier adopters would probably be industries associated with appliance manufacturing, plumbing supplies, recreational items, toys etc.
On a local basis, the amount of support services for such manufacturing cells will greatly expand. The services we are looking at would be services that would be too costly to incorporate into the manufacturing cell itself, or for maintenance of the manufacturing cells.
Trades associated with "hardware" and maintenance would in all probability experience an increase in workload rather than a reduction in workload under such an economic model.
In short, introducing robots into manufacturing has the potential to not only decentralize manufacturing, but also decentralize the support functions. This may lead to increased demand for artisan services with the right knowledge and skills. Most probably on a "contracted-in" basis.
Be one of the Welders with the right knowledge and skills before the trend becomes obvious!
Within the nichetopia economic model, (here is that link again...) just about everyone becomes a solopreneur. It also means that you have more control over your lifestyle and how your income is structured and perceived within the economic system. It will allow you to become much more tax efficient.
The medium to long term result of those changes will in all probability be the tremendous rise of consumption taxes.
Counterintuitively, to be successful within the nichetopia model, you need to multi-skill. The multi-skilling becomes much simpler due to the assistance rendered by artificial intelligence (AI) and the associated technologies. None-the-less, you as a Welder will need to broaden your understanding of how the world works, and how things affect each other. You can leave the details to the AI to sort out!
As mentioned in a previous edition of The WelderDestiny Compass, you need to know what questions to ask the AI. That is only possible if you know what the right issues are.
Do you know the basics about non destructive testing? Do you know the basics of metallurgy? Do you know the basics about arc physics? Do you know the basics about mechanical design and stresses and strains? Do you know the basics about information technology? Do you know the basics about economics?
You do not need to be able to make calculations, merely understand the issues from a conceptual point of view. The AI will do the calculations when needed. The software designers will make the application of the concepts intuitive.
Now is the time to get on board this constant learning train. Once the train leaves the station, catching up will be difficult, if not impossible.
Already there are businesses out there that have managed to code useful applications that can be the basis for a service to be sold commercially. One such company brings together people that need a lot of computing power, with people that have spare computing power.
Imagine your computer is only used for a couple of hours a day to access newsletters or social media. The rest of the time it is pretty much idle. You can make that idle time available to somebody that needs it. Say a researcher that needs a lot of computer power to run a complex computer model. Instead of buying a supercomputer to run the model, the researcher can purchase the computer power from hundreds of people like you that have made their computers available.
That's cool, but not necessarily directly applicable to welding. There is however another application that is very much in our field.
There is a company that has developed a logistics platform for tracking goods as they are sent around the world. Now it would become entirely apparent in a "tamper proof" environment, when your material order has been sent, and you would be able to track it all the way from source to you.
Imagine how this impacts safety critical materials like plates, pipes, flanges and welding consumables used in pressure equipment or the aerospace industry. We can start seeing how a final Manufacturing Data Record (MDR) can be "self assembled" with total tamper proof transparency.
I doubt that the present system allows for this level of functionality, but it is only a matter of time. Maybe you are the one to add that functionality?
Looks like an opportunity to me!
Neil quotes a statistic that there will be a shortage of 400 000 welders in the USA by 2024. Obviously this number is based on a whole lot of assumptions which may or may not play out. None-the-less, the principle is sound. It is not possible to grasp experienced welders out of thin air.
Neil's answer is higher productivity and automation. In particular Neil is drawing attention to the great gains possible with K-TIG welding, but the principle is universal. There are many ways to improve productivity.
I agree that these will be the answers to any manpower shortage, but they will naturally flow from the economic realities. Supply and demand dynamics will ensure that Welder pay rates will increase if there is a shortage of Welders. With the increase in Welder rates, more jobs will "qualify" for automation.
These are dynamic economic forces that will largely balance each other out:
It is not possible for anybody to give a clear timeline for how these things will play out. Despite this uncertainty, what is clear is that if you as a Welder can gain the skills, knowledge and experience that increases your productivity and ability to fit into many different niches, you will be at the top of the list when work is being handed out.
In this regard, there is a critical question to ask yourself: Do I have 10 years' experience, or 1 year's experience ten times over?
What are you doing to make sure that you are at the top of that list?