Kiewit Looks for New Technologies to Build Welding Workforce | MillerWelds

Kiewit Looks for New Technologies to Build Welding Workforce

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Kiewit, one of the largest construction and engineering companies in North America, tested the AugmentedArc® augmented reality system with its field supervisors as an training option to help recruit new welding operators.
Student practicing MIG welding technique on 3-D cylinder, using the AugmentedArc augmented reality system
Student practicing stick welding technique on 3-D image, using the AugmentedArc augmented reality system
Instructor observing student using the AugmentedArc augmented reality system to practice vertical up welding

One of the largest construction and engineering companies in North America, Kiewit has built an industry-leading organization by following its core values of people, integrity, excellence and stewardship.  

Kiewit’s reputation is built on this commitment to safety, quality and environmental stewardship. It’s also reflected in the organization’s diverse client list — with projects ranging from less than $1 million to more than $1 billion in building, mining, power, transportation, oil, gas and chemical, and water/wastewater.

From construction of bridges and hotels to refineries and petrochemical plants, welding plays a significant role in the deadline-driven projects that Kiewit completes. But just as many other contractors do, Kiewit sometimes struggles to find skilled welding operators given the growing labor shortage in the welding industry.

In looking for solutions to help address this challenge, Kiewit recently partnered with Miller Electric Mfg. LLC to test the new AugmentedArc® augmented reality welding system.

Training to meet a variety of needs

Among the company’s 9,600 staff and 10,300 skilled craft employees, Kiewit employs on average 400-plus welders at any given time. Kiewit trains welding operators through both in-house training programs and in cooperation with local unions in areas where projects are located.

The in-house training happens in craft academies, which are designed for beginning laborers who are new to welding. In the program, workers spend two to three weeks training at Kiewit’s facility each year for five years as they progress to become journeymen welders. Craft academies involve training in the classroom and the welding lab, and trainees spend the rest of the year working on jobsites.

“We, over the course of multiple years, teach them how to be a skilled welder,” says Tim Becker, senior technical development manager for Kiewit. “Welders are in high demand.”

Kiewit also has numerous other types of in-house training programs for various job levels and responsibilities. Corporate training conducted by the talent development department happens at Kiewit University in Omaha, for example.

There are also various technical schools for engineering and management staff. For example, if Kiewit hires a new civil engineering graduate to be a field engineer who may ultimately become a site superintendent or project manager, that employee can train in Kiewit’s technical schools in the specific trades, such as welding.

“In those programs, we’re not teaching them to be a welder — but we want them to have had the welding tools in their hands, to have had the PPE on, to complete some of the different welds,” Becker says. “They are not professional welders, but we want them to appreciate what it’s like to have the hood on.”

Testing a new training solution

During a recent Welding Management Technical School for field supervisors aimed at improving welding productivity on jobsites, Kiewit tested the AugmentedArc system from Miller. The system simulates MIG, flux-cored, TIG and stick processes, blending real-world and computer-generated images into an augmented reality environment — for a realistic welding simulation that closely resembles live arc welding.

The technology works like this: Trainees use real 3-D objects and see them overlaid with computer-generated images. A specially designed helmet uses a camera and sensor to send video and positioning data to the system computer, which processes the data and then creates a realistic welding simulation and graphic information based on the user’s actions. That information is then sent to a heads-up display and speakers inside the helmet, delivering immediate visual feedback on the user’s performance.

To the user this looks and sounds like actual welding, complete with metal workpieces, welding arcs and weld beads. However, because they are not consuming coupons, wire or gas, it saves companies money and resources. It’s like a welding lab experience without the lab.

After experimenting with the AugmentedArc system, the Kiewit field supervisors then did some live welding with Miller® PipeWorx FieldPro™ multiprocess machines. The AugmentedArc system can be used as a valuable transition tool to actual welding, so users can learn the basics of weld positioning and techniques. That benefit was mentioned by some who recently took part in the Welding Management Technical School — several of whom came to the class with little to no welding experience. 

In a post-class survey, several participants commented that the system exposed them to new skills and provided a different understanding of the actual welding process.

“I would recommend it for someone who is completely new and never welded in their life,” one class participant said. “It gives a good look as to what to expect.”

The AugmentedArc test during the training program was a continuation of the strong relationship between Miller and Kiewit.

“We use a tremendous amount of Miller equipment, and they gave us a test drive of this new system,” Becker says.

Introducing new welders to fundamentals

The AugmentedArc system uses augmented reality technology as an opportunity to introduce beginning welders to fundamental skills in a visually engaging and hands-on way — without utilizing costly resources such as welding consumables or coupons.

Traditional classrooms may not always capture the attention of students who grew up with smart technology. Innovative technology can help companies create awareness of opportunities and attract computer-savvy applicants to welding programs.

“It’s exciting technology that we think has value with new welders, and to get people thinking about welding as a career who maybe otherwise wouldn’t,” Becker says. “It’s amazing, the visualization that you see through the augmented reality helmet. You’re actually welding something that is plastic, but it gives the appearance of metal.”

The new system also illustrates that there is a place for technology in construction and the trades.

“It opens that door to how technology, visualization and augmented reality can be used in construction,” Becker says. “These technologies are very much a part of where the construction industry is going.”

For contractors and companies like Kiewit, attracting new welders to the profession and developing technologies that make it easier to recruit and train welders is an important part of meeting critical project timelines in a competitive industry. Building workers’ skills helps companies like Kiewit further their success.

“Anything that can spark the interest of younger people to go into welding — we see that as a positive,” Becker says. 

For more information on Training Solutions available at Miller, click here