The welding classes launched in 2001 at Mahany Welding Supply in Rochester, New York, were so popular that owner Michael Krupnicki had a vision to create a separate state-of-the-art training center to serve not only professional welders, but also the general public.
That vision became a reality in 2012 when the distributorship opened the 5,000-square-foot Rochester Arc + Flame Center (RocAFC) next door — the only facility of its kind in the Northeast that offers a wide range of training classes in welding, glass, metalsmithing and jewelry making.
Among its many classes, the center offers one-day, entry-level classes in MIG, TIG and stick welding on Saturdays; advanced courses that meet every night of the week; and for-credit college classes in conjunction with Monroe Community College (MCC) and the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). Its crown jewel is a 20-week, 360-hour welding and fabrication certificate in partnership with MCC. The center also offers a variety of other programs, including a 120-hour pipe welding certificate, DOT qualification preparation, custom training and even merit badge programs in welding for Boy Scout troops.
Since its inception as part of Mahany Welding Supply through its current location at RocAFC, the center has trained more than 4,500 welders of all levels. It currently has 16 welding booths filled exclusively with machines from Miller Electric Mfg. Co., and there are plans to more than double the size of the center before the end of the year by adding another 6,000 square feet.
The center has 16 Millermatic® 211 MIG machines and 16 Dynasty® 210 TIG machines. In addition, the center has a Millermatic 252 MIG welder and a LiveArc™ welding performance management system that helps provide accurate and cost-effective training for students.
“One of the things I really like about using Miller® machines as far as training goes is they’re quality machines,” says Michael Cherre, an instructor at the center. “They’re not going to have an issue in the middle of class, because it’s reliable equipment.”
Krupnicki, the executive director and founder of the center, said having exclusively Miller equipment also adds to the center’s prestige.
“For folks to come in and see a privately owned shop like this that’s decked out with brand-new, state-of-the-art Miller equipment — it’s good for business,” Krupnicki says.
The planned addition will not only allow the center to better handle class demand, but it will also give students and community members more space to work on projects of all sizes.
“We will have an open floor plan so they can work on big stuff like a small airplane frame or a large sculpture,” Krupnicki says. “It will also give us the option to bring in larger pieces of pipe or skids for a pipe welding class and become more of a fabrication shop.”
Given its current setup, the center typically limits classes to 16 students so each student has his or her own booth and machine. The school also has a policy to add an instructor whenever a class has more than eight students.
“We like to give everyone that signs up for one of our classes the maximum amount of welding time possible,” Cherre says.
The center’s 360-hour program offers classes in TIG, MIG and stick welding, plasma cutting, safety and other subjects, and is designed to help students get entry-level welding jobs — and receive an OSHA 10 card. The program has a greater than 85 percent placement rate, and more than 120 local companies have hired graduates.
“In the last six years, our graduates have added about $8 million to the annual local payroll,” Krupnicki says. “We created that program with the local community college, and it’s been very successful in helping out a lot of local companies — and individuals.”
RocAFC also prides itself on actively responding to local industry demand for whatever classes are needed within the community.
“One of the benefits of being privately owned is we can move on a dime with these requests,” Krupnicki says. “We can literally have a program ready in a week, if somebody needs it.”
For example, the center offered a special class in pipe welding and another class in bridge welding for students from the local Department of Transportation.
“If we have a large enough demand for any specialized course, we will do what we can to facilitate that demand,” Krupnicki says.
Additional points of differentiation that set RocAFC apart: the center is never short on materials, always has the latest equipment and has the built-in advantage of having a welding supply store next door.
“Our school always has the latest equipment, and we trade out every six months,” Krupnicki says.
In addition to the benefit of having a welding distributorship next door, Cherre is not only an instructor but also a service technician, so he can easily troubleshoot when necessary.
“We can roll a bottle of gas over, or if a MIG machine has a bad gun, I can run next door and get a new one and have the machine back up and running within minutes,” Cherre says.
Another key differentiator is that RocAFC is big on hospitality. Day-long classes have coffee and donuts in the morning and catered sandwiches at lunch, while pizza is a common at evening and collegiate classes.
“I think that goes a long, long way with people having a good experience here — how we treat them,” Krupnicki says. “I don’t want to sound too cliché here, but we really do have wonderful people at all levels in the organization that are passionate about what they do. It’s absolutely true.”