As the welding industry deals with the labor shortage, two bustling schools in Texas are thriving as they train the next generation of welders.
One way to help new welders develop their skills faster is by choosing equipment that is easy to use and allows them to learn the multiple welding processes they need in the industry. The equipment must also be reliable — since busy welding labs are no place for breakdowns.
That’s why Blinn College and the Houston campus of Tulsa Welding School (TWS) rely on versatile and dependable equipment and consumables from Miller, Hobart and Bernard.
“I have 316 welding booths out there and 316 students welding. I cannot have a welding machine go down. I depend on reliable products,” says Casey Stafford, regional director of facilities for Tulsa Welding School and Technology Center, the Houston campus of TWS.
Having the right equipment is critical to keeping students productive in the lab — similar to how equipment is critical to productivity on the jobsite or in the shop. This also means providing students with new technology that is easy to use.
“We’ve got to keep our equipment up with the latest in technology. We’ve got to know that we’re meeting industry standards,” says Dickie Jones, welding program manager at Blinn College. “I can't use 10-year-old technology to train with when they walk out into the field or go to a fabrication shop after graduation and everything is new.”
Get a look inside these two successful welding programs and learn why they use Miller® welding equipment, Hobart® filler metals, and Bernard® Semi-Automatic MIG Welding Guns with Bernard Centerfire™ Consumables in their labs.
Tulsa Welding School
At the Houston campus of TWS, the culture of graduation starts on a student’s first day. When students get their photos taken for ID badges, the school also snaps a picture of them in caps and gowns, holding diplomas. These photos are framed and displayed in the hallway between classrooms. Students take that memento when they graduate.
“It’s so they can envision themselves being a graduate,” says Stafford. “We’re here to change these students’ lives and help them any way we can. We want them to be successful.”
TWS — the largest welding school in the country — launched in 1949 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and in the past 20 years has added campuses in Houston and Jacksonville, Florida. The school enrolls thousands of students, with the Houston campus alone averaging about 1,100 students at any given time.
The campus runs morning, afternoon and evening sessions from 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. every weekday. With 316 welding booths, 36 instructors and an overflowing parking lot, the school is a hub of activity from morning to night.
Students typically complete the certificate program in seven to eight months, taking six courses covering stick, TIG, MIG and flux-cored welding. Electives on stainless steel, aluminum and downhill pipeline are also offered, as is an optional 10-week pipe fitting course. Students spend one day each week in the classroom and the remaining four days in the welding lab.
“We try to have a real industrial standpoint on why we teach certain things,” says Casey Conrad, lead welding instructor. “We really are strict on fundamentals, because fundamentals are extremely important to be successful.”
The Blinn College District offered non-credit, continuing education courses in welding for many years. Leaders at the two-year college wanted to take the next step and establish an associate degree in welding. This meant designing a curriculum, hiring instructors, and establishing a dual-credit program with local high schools.
Blinn’s two-year welding degree program launched in January 2016 on the Brenham and Bryan campuses with 23 students. Four years later, enrollment is nearly 140 students and there is a wait list. To meet growing demand, Blinn is partnering with the Texas A&M University System to double Blinn’s welding booths at a soon-to-be-opened facility on a new shared campus.
“Our future’s very bright. I think our limit is what we set on ourselves,” Jones says. “We can grow as big as we want to grow.”
Blinn wanted its degree program to meet rigorous standards and be known for producing tested graduates. The curriculum was designed to meet National Center for Construction Education & Research (NCCER) standards, so graduates leave with a degree and NCCER certificates of course completion and transcripts confirming skills and abilities — documents that students can use when applying for jobs.
Students learn the range of processes, including stick, TIG, MIG and flux-cored welding. Additional courses cover blueprint reading, weld testing and inspection, and uphill and downhill pipe welding. Students are tested in code welding to meet AWS and ASME standards.
“Welders are tested and held to a standard that very few people are,” Jones says. “We build a level of confidence that makes our students feel good about what they’re doing.”
Outfitting a welding school
In addition to choosing welding equipment that’s durable and reliable, the schools also want to provide equipment that students will actually be using when they get out on the job.
“It would be doing the students a disservice to have them using a machine that is different than what they're going to use in industry,” says Blinn instructor John McGee. “When I choose welding equipment, I want my machines heavy duty. I want them extremely relevant and I want them to be consistent.”
In the welding labs, some machines might run 10 to 15 hours or more a day, and students may play with settings and push parameter boundaries as they learn.
Both TWS and Blinn College use multiprocess welding machines in their labs, including Miller Dynasty® 280 DX, XMT® 450 CC/CV and XMT 350 CC/CV welders. Multiprocess welders deliver versatility and can save space compared to using separate machines for different processes.
“If I buy these machines that will do every single process, I can shrink the booth size,” Stafford says. “I don't have to worry about moving students throughout the lab as they progress in the program.”
With the Miller welders, the schools also use Hobart filler metals, including FabCO® Excel-Arc™ 71 gas shielded flux-cored wire and 6010 and 7018 stick electrodes, along with Bernard Semi-Automatic MIG Welding Guns and Centerfire Consumables.
Welders that are easy to use
TWS graduate Brody Meyer loves the Dynasty 280 DX Multiprocess welder because he can easily switch from stick to TIG to MIG to flux-cored welding. A wireless foot pedal provides control for TIG welding, and the Dynasty 280 DX pairs with a wire feeder for MIG and flux-cored welding.
“For whatever process I want to weld, I push a button and it’s right there ready for me,” Meyer says. “It’s fast, it’s simple.”
Simplified interfaces on Dynasty and XMT welders are good for new welders just learning the processes, and they offer fast changeover.
“For students who don't have any experience, it's very easy to pick up,” says TWS student Mitch Brandel. “It's only two buttons you really have to push and you're good to go.”
Many of the students at TWS and Blinn start the programs with no welding experience.
“Miller is one of the best welder-friendly machines,” says TWS instructor Greg Langdon. “It doesn’t take long for a student to really catch on and figure out the machine.”
Good weld quality
Students and instructors also like the smooth, consistent arc performance and quality they get from the XMT and Dynasty machines.
Excellent arc performance is one feature that makes the XMT family among the most popular in the industry. XMT welders have for decades set the multiprocess standard in shop and field applications.
“When I first used the XMT 450, I was amazed about how smooth it welded,” says Blinn student Lane Robertson.
The smooth arc and bead quality are something students immediately notice.
“I use the XMT every day,” says Blinn student James Anderson. “It always looks clean. It always gives you that pleasing-to-the-eye look.”
The Blinn students use XMT 450 and 350 machines for most of their multiprocess welding and Dynasty 280 DX machines for precision TIG work, learning how to use heat sinks and weld extremely thin materials.
At TWS, students use the Dynasty 280 DX for much of their multiprocess welding in the lab. The machines let them fine-tune parameters and offer AC TIG, pulsed capabilities and high-frequency arc starts.
“My favorite feature is the dig function,” TWS student Phil Welch says. “Instead of just turning my heat all the way up and making my stuff super-hot, I can penetrate with less heat so I’m not distorting my metal.”
Successful welding education
Welders can learn the craft in many ways, including on the job, in a trade school or in college.
At Blinn College and Tulsa Welding School, the successful programs share several common denominators: Experienced instructors, a thorough curriculum covering welding fundamentals, and ample hands-on time in the lab with reliable, easy-to-use equipment.
School leaders also know they can rely on partnership and support from Miller to answer questions and help keep them on the leading edge of welding technology.
“We really wanted the absolute best and good, solid, reliable machines that didn’t frustrate students,” McGee says.