The time was right to ramp up the facilities at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) for the Aviation Maintenance Science (AMS) degree program. Aircraft like the new 787 Dreamliner from Boeing are increasingly designed and built with exotic lightweight materials and space-age technology. The type of complicated compositions going into today’s aircraft require that the top welders of the future be trained and educated on the latest welding technology. ERAU and Miller Electric Mfg. Co. have partnered to bring state-of-the-art technologies to the welding lab.
Isaac Martinez is the program coordinator for ERAU’s AMS program. Martinez was part of the team of professors and instructors who designed and developed Embry-Riddle’s new aviation complex, featuring the Miller Welding Lab, at its Daytona Beach, Fla., campus. The complex, opened in September of 2011, features the latest welding technology and equipment manufactured by Miller.
“Support from Miller has been great. The Miller sales team has been instrumental in making sure we got the training necessary to get going. They helped with setup, and worked hand in hand to develop a new training approach for the students,” says Martinez. “The feedback from students is awesome. Thanks to the equipment, the students have the opportunity to develop skills most did not know they had. Miller personnel ensured that we had the training and equipment we need to be up and running.”
The focus at Embry-Riddle is on the maintenance of the entire aircraft. By the time students graduate, they will understand nuts-to-bolts how to inspect, maintain and repair aircraft, including the importance of good welding. They will recognize the dynamics and stresses that are at play every time a plane takes flight. The welding instruction is a key part of the overall education at ERAU.
The arrangement inside the Miller Welding Lab includes the Millermatic® 350P Aluma-Pro™ aluminum-welding package for aluminum and stainless applications. The Diversion® 180 and the Dynasty® 200 DX with foot pedal control introduce the student to inverter-based TIG technology.
“TIG welding is usually the biggest challenge for our students. It is where the welder is given the most control over all aspects of the entire operation,” says Martinez. “My methodology of instruction progressively takes the student from simple to difficult. I start with the Diversion 180, where most of the settings are automatically set for the student in order to develop confidence in his or her ability to TIG weld. I then progressively rotate them to the Dynasty 200 DX. They are given a familiarization tour of the machine given its complexity and allowed to weld.”
And something as simple as a tungsten sharpener has changed the dynamics of the class as well. No longer are instructors spending time manually repairing or struggling with equipment. The sharpener has cut down prep time by half.
When it comes to MIG welding, the students have found a favorite in the Millermatic 211 Auto-Set with MVP. The students appreciate the ease of use and the interface that allows them to get to the welding.
“The students instantly fall in love with the Millermatic 211. MIG welding is made easy; the techniques quicker to learn. The Auto-Set takes away the guesswork, they feel like welding experts sooner and they want to weld everything in sight,” says Martinez. “The Miller equipment we have now allows us to show them the latest technology the students could be working with in the field.”
The MVP (Multi-Voltage Plug) system allows instructors the ability to connect to common power receptacles (120 or 230 volt) by simply choosing the plug that fits the available receptacle. The MVP means the Millermatic is portable and flexible going from the classroom to the tarmac, without concerns about the power source.
In the hangars, and away from the main air filtration system, a FILTAIR® 130 portable fume extractor is hard at work. The school fields several operational aircraft that give the students the opportunity to work on functional aircraft. It’s here where the faculty has implemented the compact and powerful FILTAIR 130 fume extraction system to provide a clean and safe environment for the student welders.
ERAU graduates find jobs at highly sought-after aerospace leaders like the Boeing Company, General Electric and Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation. Often these students will find even more opportunity to weld with their employers, and quite often those employers will offer advanced certifications that will take the student to the next level of their career.
“The welding challenges in the aviation industry surround the needs of the industry: the need for power and strength within a lightweight framework. Tensile strength must be high but the materials lightweight — these complicated materials can be difficult to weld,” says Martinez. “Materials like titanium can be brittle and difficult — we are teaching these students to understand the individual welding challenges associated with today’s hi-tech aerospace metals.”
The AMS program prepares students for a career in repair and maintenance in the aeronautics industry. The school goes a step further, thanks in part to Miller, and gives the students a hands-on experience that is unique to the industry, providing graduates an edge in the employment marketplace.
ERAU is one of the few schools across the nation that makes the AMS program part of a degree. The student is given a well-rounded education that includes managerial and practical education outside of the necessary mechanical skills. The comprehensive education attracts students, but most still enroll in the program for the practical experience they will receive in areas like welding.
“We have 21 professors with over 600 years of combined experience,” says Martinez, “with general, commercial, manufacturing and military experience that ensures quality instruction for the students. Miller equipment is a feather in our cap; students are leaving here now with a more in-depth understanding to establish a career. Welding is a big part of it.”
The 250 students enrolled in the program are what the Federal Aviation Administration calls Part 147 students. Part 147 is a federal aviation regulation that incorporates a curriculum composed of general, airframe and power plant subjects necessary to prepare a student for certification testing. The certificate authorizes the applicant to operate as an aviation maintenance technician on general and commercial aviation aircraft.
Not only AMS students are looking to repair and maintain aircraft, but future pilots and engineers are lining up for the classes to better prepare themselves for the many facets of the aviation industry. They are attracted by the opportunity to do hands-on work. Martinez believes the pilots become better pilots when they not only understand the operational parameters of the aircraft they are flying, but also possess an in-depth understanding of its mechanical capabilities.
“They are better at what they do when they understand the internal workings, when they can take an aircraft apart down to the last bolt. These airplane structures are always evolving and making use of different technologies, weight to strength ratio improvements like on the 787,” says Martinez. “It’s the composite materials and employing titanium, the welding of titanium – knowing how to weld this material is a crucial bit of knowledge these young people need to know.”
The reputation of ERAU drew 21-year-old sophomore Connor Kahnle to the Florida campus from his home in Montana. He has found the Miller equipment perfect for an experienced welder like himself — he did fab and artwork in high school — but also a good fit for the novice. Many of the students entering into the program have never welded. They are moving from theory to practice.
“All the machines are priceless for learning to weld. You can see all the pictures and video you want, but until you pull the trigger and strike an arc you don’t really understand,” says Kahnle. “The Miller machines allow us that hands-on ability to grow quickly thanks to the ease of operation — the ability to set your weld and begin to gain confidence in welding.”
Miller Historical Connection
The connection to Miller does not stop at the welding lab door. Aeronautics graduate student Nathan Mulder is the grandson of Allan Mulder, Miller’s very first, and for a length of time, only engineer. Miller Electric Mfg. Co. was incorporated in 1935. It was the following year that Alan Mulder invented the very first high frequency-stabilized AC industrial welder, making AC welding practical for use in factories and construction.
Allan Mulder continued to be a key partner in the success of Miller over the years leading the engineer teams and then eventually heading the company as CEO. Alan retired in 1992 after a 57-year career, but you can bet his influence on how the company does business, and the excellence and reliability of Miller products is based in the nearly sixty years he dedicated to the company.
Nathan Mulder, who aspires to work in aviation control or operations when he graduates this year, found out about the Miller equipment incorporated into the school program through a very excited roommate.
“My roommate is thrilled to go to class, he loves the equipment,” says Mulder, “and he keeps reminding me that he will always be Blue.”
The Mulder family, including Nathan’s father, Terry, served Miller for many decades. Terry Mulder worked 30 years at Miller retiring as senior buyer in the purchasing department after Illinois Tool Works (ITW) purchased the company in 1992. Terry started out on the assembly line right out of high school and ultimately served on the Miller board of directors during the 1980s.
Nathan Mulder is an aeronautics graduate student with an eye on the piloting and design of aircraft. He doesn’t have the opportunity to work with the Miller equipment with his educational track, but you can bet that Nathan Mulder has an extra bit of pride every time he nears the welding lab at Embry Riddle. And you can bet the students inside the lab get a state-of-the-art education that will prepare them for the rigors and materials of the aeronautics industry.