Teaching New Welders to Improve Quality and Productivity

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

For companies faced with training new welders, it is important to instill good habits early in the process. Doing so helps ensure the welders are well prepared not only to create quality welds, but also to contribute positively to the operation’s productivity. It can also help the welders gain the confidence they need to become increasingly proficient.

Following are 10 important things to teach new welders, to help them improve their skills and stay safe in the process.

1. Make safety a priority

It is critical that welders protect themselves from the heat and electricity generated by the welding process with the proper personal protective equipment (PPE). The arc is dangerous to both the eyes and skin. PPE includes: flame-resistant gloves, safety glasses, a welding helmet and a long-sleeved welding jacket. Flame-resistant clothing and steel-toed shoes are also recommended. Both the American Welding Society (AWS) and OSHA offer guidelines for PPE for specific environments.

Be sure to use enough ventilation, local exhaust at the arc, or both to keep the fumes and gases below the Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL)/Threshold Limit Value (TLV)/Occupational Exposure Limits (OELs) in the breathing zone and the general area. Always train new welders to keep their heads out of the fumes. Explain the importance of reading and understanding the manufacturer’s instructions for equipment, your company’s safety practices, and the safety instructions on the label and the material safety data sheet for the filler metals being used.

Image of a novice welder in front of a work truck
For companies who find themselves faced with the challenge of training novice welders, it is important to instill good habits early on in the training process.

Routinely check for proper ground connections and stand on a dry rubber mat (indoors) or a dry board (outdoors) during welding to minimize the possibility of electrical shock

2. Install consumables properly

Good conductivity (the ability for the electrical current to flow along the welding circuit) helps gain good weld quality. New welders should always install their consumables – diffusers, nozzles, contact tips – according to the manufacturer’s recommendation, making sure that each component is securely tightened. In a gas metal arc welding (GMAW) operation, for example, the connection between the GMAW gun neck and diffuser needs to be secure to prevent shielding gas leaks. Secure connections also provide the surface area necessary to carry the electrical current throughout the GMAW gun to create a stable arc. Good connections also help prevent weld defects, support consistent productivity and reduce the risk of premature consumable failure due to overheating.

3. Cleanliness is critical

Dirt, oil, grease and other debris can easily enter the weld pool causing contamination that leads to poor weld quality and costly rework. Excessive oxidation and moisture can compromise quality weld. New welders need to learn proper cleaning procedure for the base material they are welding. In some cases, wiping the base material with a clean, dry cloth may suffice. However, welding on aluminum, for example, requires the use of a stainless steel wire brush designated for aluminum to clean out the joint before welding. A wire brush removes dirt and any of the oxides that may still reside on material surface.

Regardless of the material, it is important to follow the proper instructions for cleaning before welding.

4. Always follow welding procedures

Welding procedures are the “recipe” needed to create consistent welds and should be followed at all times. The procedures for a given application have been carefully determined and qualified by experts to ensure that the recommended parameters are capable of yielding the desired results. Weld procedures include the required shielding gas mixture, recommended gas flow rate, and voltage and amperage ranges. These procedures also provide information on the type and diameter of filler metal to use, as well as the proper wire feed speed in the case of a GMAW or flux-cored arc welding (FCAW) application.

5. Understand the importance of filler metals

New welders can benefit from familiarizing themselves with the attributes of various types of wires, including flux-cored and metal-cored wires, as well as the techniques for welding with each type. For example, they should learn whether their filler metal requires a “push” or “pull” technique. Following old adages like, “If there’s slag, then you drag,” can help; it indicates that flux-cored wires, which produce slag, should be operated using a pull technique. New welders should also become familiar with the manufacturer’s specification sheet for additional operating recommendations.

Learning to handle and store filler metals properly is also critical for new welders to learn. They should always wear clean gloves when handling filler metals and if they are responsible for storing them, should do so in a clean, dry environment.

6. Stay comfortable

Keeping cool and comfortable during the welding process can help welders lessen the chance of injuries associated with repetitive movement and reduce overall fatigue. When possible, new welders should learn to minimize cumulative strength moves, material handling or constant motion. They should also use a GMAW gun with a comfortable handle and cable style, as these factors contribute to the equipment’s maneuverability. New welders should be encouraged to play an active role in improving workspace ergonomics. Typically, the more input a welder offers about the job, the more satisfied he or she will be. Plus, that involvement can help ensure greater safety compliance and lower workers’ compensation costs for injuries.

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7. Know the material properties

Every material has different mechanical and chemical properties. Helping new welders understand the difference between materials — particularly how they react to heating and cooling — is a key component of training. For example, austenitic stainless steel conducts heat at around half the rate of mild steel, but has a much higher rate of thermal expansion when welded; it also has a more localized heat affected zone (HAZ) that can lead to buckling when the weld cools. Welders who are aware of such properties can take precautions such as clamping to prevent distortion. Similarly, many materials require pre- and post-weld heat treatments to control the cooling rate and prevent cracking. When welders are familiar with such material attributes, they’re better prepared to make necessary adjustments during the welding process.

8. Visually inspect the welds

Knowing how to conduct an accurate visual inspection of a completed weld is the first step in quality control. It is also the quickest and least expensive method of inspection. New welders should learn how to identify weld defects that have porosity, for example, since the presence of this weld defect on the surface often indicates a similar problem throughout the weld. Identifying the defect early on helps prevent the time and cost associated with other testing methods, including x-ray or NDT (non-destructive testing) inspections. Other defects that new welders should learn to identify include lack of penetration (high, ropey welds), excessive penetration (sunken welds) and undercutting (characterized by a notch in the base material). It is important that welders inspect for weld cracks, which are among the most common weld defects to occur.

9. Learn how to troubleshoot

Identifying and rectifying welding problems quickly is a key skill for new welders to learn. Good troubleshooting skills not only help reduce downtime, but they also contribute to good weld quality and productivity. Such skills can also help reduce costs associated with rework. New welders can benefit from learning how to adjust gas flow rates properly and/or identify gas leaks in order to solve instances of porosity. They should also know how to make adjustments to amperage and voltage settings if they encounter issues such as lack of penetration, excessive penetration or undercutting. Identifying welding problems associated with worn consumables is also important, since poor conductivity can result in an unstable arc and lead to a variety of weld defects.

10. Maintenance makes a difference

From the power source to the GMAW gun and consumables, every part of the welding system requires maintenance to keep it operating efficiently and effectively. New welders should become familiar with proper maintenance procedures — preferably preventive ones — as part of the ongoing upkeep of the entire welding system. Regularly checking that the connections throughout the length of their gun or torch are tight is important, as is visually inspecting the front-end consumables for signs of wear.

In the case of a GMAW gun, the welder should replace nozzles or contact tips that have spatter buildup on them to prevent issues such as poor gas coverage or an erratic arc that will likely lead to weld defects. Welders should regularly check the power source, primary power line, gas cylinders and gas distribution system to ensure that they are working properly. They also need to replace faulty gas regulators or cables and hoses that show signs of wear, cracks or damage.