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By Gretchen Salois

Deanna Postlethwaite, marketing manager of the automation division at The Lincoln Electric Co., Cleveland, explains how virtual-reality technology can help train welders

postlethwaiteApril 2011 - FFJournal: How and why was virtual welding technology developed?

Postlethwaite: The original product was developed in coordination with the Navy Joining Center, Edison Welding Institute and VRSim. The goal was to come up with a solution to reduce welding defects in critical welding applications like submarines welded at Electric Boat Co., a subsidiary of General Dynamics Corp. VRSim, a virtual-reality company based in Connecticut, designed SimWelder to meet those needs. Lincoln purchased the intellectual property for the welding portion of SimWelder and continues to have a development partnership with VRSim on the Lincoln Electric Vrtex 360.

Lincoln Electric and VRSim made dramatic changes to adjust the system. The team changed the way the product looked and behaved, ensuring instructors and operators would train and learn how to set up, interact and weld as close to real welding as possible. It was placed in a real welding machine case and includes the steps necessary to set up a real welding machine, according to a welding procedure specification. We also focused the team of Lincoln Electric and VRSim on creating a realistic welding puddle in order to teach students what to look for while welding.

Welding training has and always will be a large part of what Lincoln Electric is. The James F. Lincoln Foundation is dedicated to the idea of trying to continue the art and science of welding. The baby boomer generation is getting ready to retire, and we need more welders to take those places. The marketplace needs well-trained and well-versed welders.

Q: How was this technology tested to ensure virtual-reality skills translate into real-life welding knowledge?

We're trying to assure people that we're not trying to replace welding training. Rather, we want to enhance it. With a blended training approach, students either can begin on the Vrtex 360 initially or after they have been in the welding booth. If students get into a project that is difficult during classes, such as overhead welding, they can come and try it on the Vrtex 360, which allows students to position themselves and complete the welding virtually, checking for accuracy.

A study by Rick Stone, Ph.D., at Iowa State University, takes groups of people and compares those who learned without the aid of virtual reality and those that had a blended learning approach. It found the blended learning group actually had higher pass results and they learned faster and used less materials. We can take welding and train both functionality and the basics on a system where students can see and hear a simulated welding puddle and clearly identify when and where they may have made an error. An instructor in real time can instruct the student how to correct technique and improve their welding results. The Vrtex 360 also can aid in learning proper welding skills with visual cues or aids that show when they are welding properly.

Q: Why go to virtual technology now?

The idea behind the Vrtex 360 is to engage and inspire the next generation of welders. These new welders can be today's youth, but it is also a popular second career because it is a valued, skilled trade. Lincoln is looking for ways to interest people with a product that's not only fun and exciting but something that uses similar technology to what they see and use today. We feel this technology will inspire young people to get interested in welding.

We also want to assist the people doing the training with a tool and program that helps them do their job. We're looking to reduce costs by eliminating the need for consumables and coupons while minimizing waste. We also have added tools to the Vrtex 360 for the instructor to use as training aids to calculate cost reductions, provide student reports and to reinforce the skills they are presenting in the classroom and the welding booth. We see and hear feedback indicating the approach will have a significant and positive impact on training. FFJ

Interested in purchasing reprints of this article? Click here

Sources

  • The Lincoln Electric Co.
    Cleveland
    phone: 216/481-8100
    fax: 216/486-1751
    www.lincolnelectric.com

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