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A Career in Welding Engineering
The American Welding Society reports that 95 percent of the products surrounding you on a daily basis have been welded. The products range from the very small, like microelectronics, to the very large, like ocean-going ships and everything in between from bicycles, lawn movers and refrigerators to automobiles airplanes and bulldozers.
Welding engineering is more interdisciplinary than most engineering fields. In choosing the materials for fabricating a structure, a welding engineer is a materials engineer who must understand how steel or aluminum responds to the heat and stresses of welding. In choosing a welding process, the welding engineer must understand the effects of welding parameters on material properties. Plus, the welding engineer must understand how to design a component knowing that welding processes can dramatically change material properties. Furthermore, the welding engineer must know how to nondestructively evaluate weld properties without destroying the part. A welding engineer also serves as an electrical engineer to design, build and troubleshoot automated welding equipment. Welding Engineers generally cover the areas of welding processes, metallurgy, design and nondestructive evaluation. Welding processes are very complex. For example in processes like arc, laser and electron-beam welding, the four states of matter (solid, liquid, gas and plasma), coexist simultaneously. Some materials, like steel, are easy to weld while others like titanium are very difficult to weld.
Designs that are suitable for welding by a human may not be suitable for welding by a machine. Design for welding is an important and often overlooked consideration.
Structural engineering is a critical and specialized discipline, but, since most structures are welded, welding engineers have a hand in this field as well.
Since the structures built are subject to environmental degradation in ways that depend on welding, a welding engineer must also be, to some extent, a corrosion engineer.
After a weldment is completed for new fabrication or repair, the welding engineer must answer the question: “Is this weld fit for its intended purpose?”
To answer that question the welding engineer must use nondestructive evaluation techniques such as visual, dye-penetrant, magnetic particle, ultrasonics and x-ray to interrogate the quality of a weld. As you progress in your career you may decide that you want to focus on and become an expert in a specific area of welding engineering including processes, metallurgy, design or nondestructive evaluation.
Research & Development
As our knowledge in all fields of engineering increases, the welding engineer can become involved in research and development to deepen the understanding of what actually happens as a weld is made. Welding Engineers can use advanced physics and mathematics to develop models and simulations of many aspects of welding to gain an understanding of things that can be neither directly observed nor measured.
Welding engineers typically do not weld on a daily basis. In fact, a welding engineer is involved in removing the welder from the actual point of welding, for example, using robotics. Removing a human welder from the point of welding is difficult because it is difficult to get a machine to mimic the sense and skilled of a highly qualify human welder.
How much do you like hands-on work? Traditionally, welding engineers are welders to a greater degree than mechanical engineers are mechanics, or electrical engineers are electricians. Many welding engineers got their start as welders, or worked their way through college as welders. This is true even within the upper reaches of the welding research community, where many Ph.D.s began their careers as welders. Within the welding community, this kind of experience is highly valued. Welders in the field are highly skilled, and an important part of a successful fabrication project. Being able to understand and communicate with them is an important engineering skill.
Having the rest of a standard engineering undergraduate background in design, materials, mathematics and other basic sciences also allows you to communicate with engineers in other specialized disciplines, and to understand codes, drawings, economics, and other subjects essential to completing large, expensive projects efficiently.
Degreed welding engineers are rare. There are not many WE programs in the US, far fewer than you will find for mechanical, civil, chemical, or materials engineering. Yet it's often the case that welding is such a critical part of a fabrication project that a Welding Engineer must be designated. Sometimes it's a Mechanical or Metallurgical Engineer who has a passing familiarity with welding, and your manager one day calls you in and says, “Congratulations, you're the Welding Engineer for this project.” Many companies or large projects would love to have degreed Welding Engineers on staff, but there are not enough to go around.
In other words, Welding Engineers are in demand.
With this scarcity of degreed Welding Engineers comes opportunity to belong to a relatively small technical community. The language spoken is not exactly a secret code, and there are no secret handshakes, but welding engineering is specialized. Most members of the community know each other— there has always been a social network of welding engineers, and that network is reinforced through professional meetings and conferences.