In part one of Why a Certified Welding Supervisor Really Matters industry veteran Jackie Morris began to walk us through the manufacture of a tank in order to highlight the mistakes that cost fabricators of welded products millions of dollars in lost revenue every year. When we last heard from Jackie, our tank had made its way through the cost estimation, planning, and production phases of the manufacturing process. At that point, our foreman’s lack of training and reliance on unproven strategies had already taken us over budget and our tank now requires a fair amount of rework.
The foreman says that the blame actually lies with other phases of the manufacturing process. We already discovered that there is plenty of room for improvement in the estimation and planning of our tanks, but is there any truth to our foreman’s claim that poor design engineering, inadequate welder training and “over-inspection” by the quality team are the real reasons we find ourselves losing money? Let’s look at each of these in turn.
Designing for whom?
Our foreman may have a point about the weld design. Design engineers rarely talk to people who are going to be doing the actual welding, nor are they likely to be any more familiar with the Welding Procedure Specification than the foreman. In many instances, the entire weld design process is done in complete isolation from the realities of production.
As you can imagine, this can easily lead to some costly mistakes. For example, a welder may deposit a weld that is fully compliant with the designer’s intent. However, when the welded part is machined to serve its final purpose in the overall construction of the product, the weld throat is reduced beyond acceptable limits and the part has to go into the rework bucket or the scrap pile.
Obviously if the designer were more familiar with the production process he could account for the machining and make sure that an adequate weld throat is maintained after metal removal. However, don’t expect the weld designer to come to you. According to AWS B5.9 Specification for the Qualification of Welding Supervisors, it’s the welding supervisor’s job to communicate to liaison and create feedback loops with the design engineer.
Ready or not
Unfortunately, our foreman may also be right about inadequately trained welders. Welder training may seem like a fundamental part of any welding operation, but entry level welders are often put to work without the necessary skills to produce quality welds according to strict budgets and deadlines.
Most companies view entry level training as a series of tasks: get the welder in the door, get him to pass a drug test, and then have him certified. Without the proper experience, however, certification can only go so far in preparing welders for specialized tasks. When the time comes to weld our tank, their certification experience on an 18” coupon won’t be enough to ready the welder for the awkward positions and unfamiliar equipment that he is required to use to get the job done.
Put this improperly trained welder under the supervision of a foreman who cannot give his team welding parameters based on the applicable WPS and you can just see the overwelded, reworked and scrapped parts piling up. The remedy is clear. Have a skilled welding supervisor use the WPS to train welders to the specific parameters and quality expectancies of the job at hand. Then, have him systematically monitor and evaluate welders so that he can guide and measure improvements in performance.
Our foreman claimed that “over-inspection” might be to blame for our budgetary woes. Well, he may be right, but the root cause is really a lack of experience and poor policies. You see many quality departments seldom know or communicate the applicable code or acceptance standard! Instead they leave the outcome of in-process and final inspections to over-zealous client representatives who invariably direct loads of acceptable welds to the rework pile.
Unfortunately, other efficiency eroding practices often plague even relatively proficient quality departments. For example, they rarely consider “overwelding” a quality issue and they often allow poor fitting because they assume the welder can weld excessive gaps. Both practices dramatically increase welding costs and may compromise the serviceability of the welded work.
Even when issues like these are flagged, many quality departments seldom know the cause or the remedy. They rarely audit welders or the parameters of the WPS and let welders repair defects however they choose. Left unchecked, this situation inevitably leads to financial ruin.
Now, it’s up to the Certified Welding Inspector to determine if welded assemblies conform to acceptance criteria, but a qualified welding supervisor can use the applicable WPS and codes to establish welder performance standards and accountability measures so that all welding meets the specified requirements before inspection is initiated. In other words, a qualified welding supervisor will identify and remedy costly issues like overwelding and poor fit-up so that the quality department doesn’t have to deal with them in the first place.
Moreover, since a properly trained welding supervisor knows how to apply the requirements of codes and standards, he can work with inspectors to make sure that the welded work is not “over-inspected”. That is, he can ensure that welds are measured against the applicable codes and not the sometimes overzealous or misinformed expectations of client representatives.
Back to our Tank…
So our tank makes it through the perils of the flawed production process and is ready to be air tested. Ideally, the tank shouldn’t have any leaks, but in our case the tank has 40. Consequently, we let the air out of the tank, fix the leaks, re-pressurize and retest. Of course, this time we expect to find no leaks, but given that our welders are not properly trained, informed, monitored, or held accountable for working to WPS-mandated variables, we really shouldn’t be surprised to find that we now have 70 leaks. So we simply repeat this process several times before all the leaks are finally fixed.
This unfortunate practice is called “chasing a leak,” and it’s flourishing in fabrication facilities where I inspect welds. Sadly, many shipyards are hiring what they call “specially trained tank tester welders” to fix leaks, instead of mounting an investigation into the production flaws at the root of the problem.
That investigation would reveal that no one had communicated, taught, or held the welders accountable for using the proper amperage, wire feed speed, voltage, arc length, and other variables listed in the applicable WPS. To make matters worse, we’d find that there is no defect repair procedure in place. Instead, welders are allowed to fix defects in any manner they choose. The end result is financial disaster.
Of course, our tank could have been built to code according to a budget and timeline that would have guaranteed a reasonable profit. It’s simply a matter of working smarter, not harder. A Certified Welding Supervisor can identify and eliminate each crimp in the production line so that things are done right the first time. From developing relevant footage charts to optimizing the advantages of welding processes, a CWS can impart the training, practices and supervision required to ensure quality and productivity.
And that’s why a CWS really matters.