Community College Stays on the Cutting Edge with Robotic Welding

Community College Stays on the Cutting Edge with Robotic Welding

Print Article
Welding students at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nevada, cover the basics of the major welding processes — from flat surface welds to lap joints, pipe-to-plate and open root. The college works to stay up to date on new welding technologies, including a recent expansion into robotic welding with the addition of a robotic cell from Miller. Read more about this growing program and how it’s preparing students.

After winning the state skills competition in Nevada two years in a row and going on to nationals, Trenton Schoppe proved early on that he had exceptional welding skills. He got his first welding job when he was still in school and went on to work full-time in the industry for more than 12 years. After working on everything from pressure vessels and bridge forming to natural gas, utility work and custom jobs as a foreman, he discovered what he enjoyed even more than welding was sharing the skills he had developed with others.

In addition to teaching the other welding operators on the various jobs he oversaw, he spent his free time volunteering at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, Nevada. After volunteering there for more than a decade, Truckee Meadows asked Schoppe to become a full-time instructor and certified welding inspector (CWI).

“It’s really fun to watch people who want to learn something new and to be able to share that information with them. You’re sharing a tool with people that they can use for the rest of their lives,” Schoppe says. “And sometimes they come back and show you that they’re using what you taught them, which is so rewarding.”

Now, as an instructor at Truckee Meadows, Schoppe has an opportunity to teach as many as 200 students of all ages and skill levels, per semester. About half of the students who attend classes are already working in the industry and the other half are new to welding.

The college instructs students in stick, MIG, TIG and flux-cored welding processes, as well as oxy-fuel cutting and welding, carbon arc cutting and plasma arc cutting. Students are taught to weld flat surface welds, T-joints, lap joints, butt joints, pipe-to-plate and V-grooves in all positions using each process. 

The typical progression is to weld each joint with the following filler metals in each position: American Welding Society (AWS) E6010 and E7018 stick electrodes; ER70S-6 solid wires (.035-inch diameter); E71T-1 gas-shielded flux-cored wires (1/16-inch diameter); E71T-8 self-shielded flux-cored wires (.072-inch diameter); ER308 stainless steel solid wires; and ER4043 aluminum solid wires. Students also gain experience welding open root passes with E6010 stick electrodes, ER70S-6 solid wire as well as ER70S-6 and ER70S-2 TIG cut-lengths.

In addition, Truckee Meadows students can take independent study classes so they can work on advanced techniques relevant to whatever industry they are most interested in.

One unique offering that Truckee Meadows Community College introduced in 2014 is an accelerated summer program that offers 19 credits of welding in just 10 weeks and requires students to study 10 hours per day. The college also offers an open entry/open exit policy that allows students to start and stop their studies at any time.

“Our program is really flexible. We try to accelerate students through the program based on their level of ability and build them up until they’re ready to move on to the next level, because everyone learns at their own pace,” Schoppe says. “Our school also works hard to stay up-to-date on new industry technology. In fact, we just purchased the Miller robotic cell and look forward to offering robotic classes soon — hopefully next semester.”

A few local companies in the Reno area that use robotic welding, including Jensen MetalTech, learned that Truckee Meadows acquired a robotic cell and are already interested in sending students there to take classes.

“When it comes to robotic welding, a lot of students say, ‘That’s going to take my job someday.’ But it’s really not,” Schoppe says. It's estimated that for every four robotic welders utilized at a company, there is one skilled welding technician operating those machines. The higher the skill level a welding operator obtains, the higher the salary achievable. “It’s just another opportunity to learn another skill and be of more value to our employers. It’s also a way for America to continue to be competitive with outsourcing.” 

More manufacturers are moving to the Reno area following the announcement that Tesla Motors is building a massive battery plant just outside of Reno, about 20 minutes from Truckee Meadows Community College. Students are already talking about the potential employment opportunities, Schoppe says.

“Most of our students usually have a job by the time they finish our program,” Schoppe says. “Last summer we had 20 students, which is the max we’ll take, and 19 out of those 20 were employed full-time by the end of the program — and half of those came back for additional training.”

Schoppe says his advice to aspiring and professional welders is the same: “Accept every opportunity you get to try something new.”

“A lot of students ask their employers, ‘What do I need to do to improve? What can I learn to become more valuable?’” Schoppe says. “I encourage all of my students to ask their employers this throughout their careers.”

The welding program at Truckee Meadows has a large shop with several Miller machines, including XMT® multi-process welders, DialArc® stick welders, and a number of Dynasty® TIG welders, including 350s, 280s and 200s.

“The XMTs are pretty awesome. A lot of people like those and they’re pretty popular in the industry, too,” Schoppe says. “But all of the students love the Dynastys. They are known as the ‘Cadillacs of TIG welding’ around here.” 

Published: April 21, 2016
Updated: February 5, 2020