How can we convert the gamer generation into a skilled workforce? Lincoln Electric might have discovered a good way to attract the next generation of skilled workers. Intrigued by the Ms. Pacman-size gadget that simulates the welding experience, but without the gas, without the fumes, without the sparks and without the safety issues, I arranged for a tour of six community colleges to demonstrate this technology to employers, educators and students.
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The VRTEX 360 that Lincoln Electric introduced to the marketplace has gained significant traction in the education field in just two short years. Jeff Martin, a Lincoln Electric representative, said Iowa State University conducted a test in which 18 students were taught welding through the normal eight-week process. Another group of 18 students started off on the VRTEX 360 simulator and transitioned to a regular welding process. This group scored better on the welding tests and completed the program in only four weeks.
Chris Cesaro, welding instructor at Richmond Community College in Hamlet, North Carolina, commented, “This can be an excellent tool to attract students that normally would be fearful of welding, help them master the fundamentals and then learn real welding.” Also, he calculated that the savings of gas, energy and metal consumables would more than pay for the system in a just a few years.
Mariah, a student at Fayetteville Technical Community College, Fayetteville, North Carolina, said, “I was scared at first, but after playing with the VRTEX 360, I really enjoyed welding, and now I’m interested in learning more.” Later, I received a note from Ed Dent, department chair industrial technology/welding instructor at Bladen Community College in Dublin, North Carolina, which I’ve included below.
“Today’s welding students grew up in a technological age where computers, computer games and simulations are the norm. Welding students from Bladen Community College in Dublin, NC, were given the opportunity on Friday, March 4, 2011, to view and participate with virtual welding simulation technology. Jeff Martin and Kevin Shaffer of Lincoln Electric, along with Joel Leonard representing BRAC RTF, visited the college campus and presented to our students the VRTEX 360 Virtual Reality Arc Welding Trainer.
“Students were eager with wide-eyed anticipation. Friday is an off day for our welding students, but our facility was full of welding students wanting to see and try virtual welding. These students listened to the Lincoln presentation and could hardly wait to participate. Many students tried the virtual welding technology, and during this process you could see eyes totally focused on the student welding (virtually in the classroom) at each rotation. The unit also allows the entire class to see how well the individual student is doing by projecting the same image on the screen. The virtual welding process can be an individual experience or a class experience.
“Students get to see the same variables needed for a good weld and the entire class can participate in coaching one another to achieve those values. This allows the student to gain valuable shield time while in the classroom. Additionally, students can log time on the various variables if they need practice without going through the labor- and time-intensive preparation of steel to practice upon.
“Our students made many favorable comments of this virtual system, and my consensus of their views was that this technology would be a good addition to the Bladen Community College welding program. The instructors at Bladen Community College try to instill into the welding students that to be successful they must be thinking welders having the ability to critically view situations and establish a process that clarifies their goals or the goals of the job by assessing, evaluating, implementing and reassessing the needs of given situations. The technology of the VRTEX 360 seems to be a great aid in allowing welding students to expand their critical thinking skills through a quick response simulation that inspires one to improve their cognitive and application skills.
“You see the green side of virtual welding immediately. You have of course the savings created by not using your base materials, consumables, gases and electricity. With virtual welding you don’t have the fumes from cutting and welding or the heavy particulate matter from grinding and polishing steels for the actual welding process. Additionally, safety issues of virtual welding versus shop welding are a positive for all concerned.
“I’ve been in welding education for 30 years, and I believe that to become a welder you must have many hours of welding practice. I have been skeptical of virtual welding, but one must realize that virtual welding does not replace real welding. Virtual welding is an enhancement to real welding and can be used to better prepare the welding student to gain application skills before entering the shop. I see the virtual welding process as a method of allowing students quicker gains in skill level with much less frustration as they practice to become a professional welder.”
With more innovative tools such as the virtual simulator Lincoln Electric provides, great strides in reducing the negative effect of the maintenance crisis might be achieved.
E-mail Contributing Editor Joel Leonard at firstname.lastname@example.org.