Welding program adds virtual reality simulators
Delta College instructors are teaching students how to weld in less time, while saving money and reducing waste.
The College recently purchased eight virtual-reality welding simulators to train students interested in the trade. It is part of a $320,000 upgrade in the Technical Trades and Manufacturing Division at Delta.
With a virtual reality welding system, students must learn how to replicate how a real machine is set up before they can weld. According to welding assistant professor Jim Proctor, students have to know how to enter the type of material, gas flow, amperage, voltage and wire-feed speed before they can use the welding torch.
“If the students’ settings aren’t correct,” Proctor said, “it won’t let them progress.”
The simulator presents the virtual weld on an adjacent monitor and gives a score based on several factors, including travel speed, torch angle and arch length. Faculty can adjust the settings to make it easier for beginners and more difficult as a student progresses.
“Students are going to take their skill level that much higher,” Proctor said. “B students are going to become A students. A students are going to go above and beyond that weld.”
While there’s still a need for actual arc time, the virtual welders will reduce the cost of excess metal waste and energy. But the biggest savings, according to Proctor, is in time. Students are more likely to get it right quicker when performing a real weld.
“In a typical lab setting, when students are getting their first initiation in welding, they make mistakes,” Proctor said. “They get the metal, set the booth up correctly and get electrodes and consumables.
“On the virtual welder, if they make a mistake, they push a button and start again,” he said. “The amount of repetition is tripled in an hour.”
Five of the simulators are mobile and can travel to career fairs and educational events. They were used during Delta’s summer camps and are expected to be a part of the upcoming STEM Explorer vehicle, a 38-foot mobile laboratory with the latest technology that will reach out to middle and high school students in the Great Lakes Bay Region.
The Lincoln VRTEX 360 is a larger model of the mobile version and provides more options, including connecting it to a projector or big screen television so an entire class can see what’s going on under the helmet.
“Everyone that has used them, loves them,” Proctor said. “From someone who’s never welded to guys that weld for a living.”
Students in Delta’s welding program can earn a one-year advanced certificate or a two-year associate’s degree. The associate’s degree is recommended for those seeking advancement into managerial positions. It also is a launch pad for a bachelor’s degree in welding engineering technology. Delta has a transfer agreement for this program with Ferris State University.
Either way, in a job market where many college graduates struggle to find suitable jobs, Delta-trained welders are forging solid, good-paying careers across industries.
The U.S. Labor Department estimates the number of welding jobs will grow 6 percent by 2022. Some of these jobs will stem from the need to replace aging workers. Others are needed to help repair and build the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, according to the American Welding Society.
The median annual wage for welders in the U.S is $36,300. That means the lowest 10 percent earned less than $24,720 and the top 10 percent earned more than $56,130.