The Future of the Welding Industry
Part of the reason is that most developments focus on technical improvements which contribute to increased productivity and quality in the manufacture of welded products. There are increasing moves towards de-skilling, manipulation and automating the welding process as well as having greater control of the welding arc. The technical focus of welding is already at a high level and it is increasing. There are many issues in the macro-environment to deal with, but welding remains a challenging and exciting industry to be in and offers a wide scope of national and international career opportunities.
Teaching and training for the welding industry is also facing changes. We have to address the traditional but still important skills and knowledge requirements but we also have to address the areas of future growth and development. An important part of the challenge in training is the introduction of new training methods. These are increasingly important, especially as it costs approximately R 1000 per day to train a welder and this excludes the cost of depreciation and any possibility of profit for future investment.
Amongst the latest developments in teaching techniques are the welding simulators used for training welders. It is a matter of time until the price of simulators comes down to the level where they eventually become the foundation model for all basic welder training. In other areas, e-learning is also starting to find application and there is an improving amount of well-developed visual material suitable for this type of training. In a technical field such as welding it is certain, at least for the immediate future, that e-learning will need to be blended with face-to-face teaching time, but we are not at all far away from the point where laptops or tablets are an essential student tool. For the Southern African Institute of Welding (SAIW), the development of e-learning material and its introduction into our courses are amongst our next most important steps in making sure the Institute can keep abreast of industry needs.
Whilst there are many changes in the industry there is one underlying factor that permeates every facet of welding and that is safety. It has to be kept in mind that there are two aspects of safety; the safety of the welding operations and the integrity of the welded product. In the former case it is possible that, with the developments taking place, the hazards may change and can even be lessened; but they exist, either in the process of welding or in the environment in which welding is used. At SAIW, safety has always been an integral part of all courses. Currently, however, more attention is being paid to ensure safety officers and safety specific personnel have the knowledge needed related to welding operations and a new safety course is being launched to assist in this process. In the latter case of integrity of welded product, it is tackled through many avenues. Training courses are constantly updated and research and development is on-going. The new testing laboratory at SAIW is testament to how seriously SAIW and the industry are taking quality and the resultant safety in welding.
There is also an increasing use of quality programmes and certification. SAIW Certification has certified over 55 companies over the last couple of years and is receiving new requests for certification regularly. This indicates that quality and integrity have become areas of focus in industry. To achieve improved quality and integrity requires more qualified people to be involved in the manufacturing process and industry is well served by training institutes fulfilling the theoretical and practical training needs of technical people – the Universities of Pretoria and Witwatersrand, SAIW and other International Institute of Welding (IIW) Approved Training Bodies.