be encouraged to not only pick up new tricks, but to
offer their own.
“Everybody can come here to transfer knowledge,”
Scales says, “and then go back and improve productivity.”
They will experiment with which lab exercises work, which
don’t, and how to balance the theoretical (aka boring)
classroom work for a group of largely hands-on learners.
Recommending the right equipment and curriculum
for different industries and regions will also be top of
mind. The needs of automotive-heavy Michigan aren’t
the same as an Alabama’s, which has more aerospace.
“A lot of instructors will say they buy equipment just
because that’s what their predecessor taught them,”
Schmidt says. “They really haven’t figured out a way to
utilize the newer technology to what it’s capable of.”
This starts with the VRTEX 360, created in 2009,
which allows users to get comfortable with technique
and accrue that all-important muscle memory from the
repetitive motion, all while not burning any real materials
(or their instructors). The welding stand is adjustable for
several different types of welds and positions, and keeps
track of a student’s passes.
“They are getting instant feedback that tells them
what to correct,” Schmidt says. “And the instructor can
monitor and see how well they’re doing. That way they
can correct their issues a lot faster.”
An Iowa State study has tested the efficacy of VR weld-
ing using the VRTEX and recommends its use for new
and veteran welders to ensure high quality.
The next phase, using the REALWELD, eases welders
into using live torches to master stick, MIG, and flux-cored arc welding, while still tracking progress. With
several students doing lab work at a time with one
instructor, the REALWELD acts as a teacher’s assistant,
tracking weld speed, angles, aim, contact tip to work
distance/arc length, and position in the weld. These
can all be checked by the student or teacher on the
It’s not just the innovative machines that will speed
up certifications and knowledge transfer. Lincoln engi-
neered every inch of the welding booths to ensure plenty
of personal space, and fabricated patented weld tables
that can transform with a series of pins and collars to
replicate the difficult welding scenarios, like lying on
“We can put students in very uncomfortable posi-
tions to weld, like they would do in the field,” Scales
A submerged arc station, which was not set up yet,
will also be adjacent to the long rows of bays.
Overall, there will be hundreds of pieces of equipment
new and old that can be set up to fit any training need,
although we didn’t see a giant aquarium tank for the
lucrative world of underwater welding, where salaries
for experienced divers can float around $100,000/year.
Lake Erie is less than 2 miles north, so maybe a field trip?
The plan, Schmidt says, is to also roll out alpha and
beta units of new products for the students passing
through to work with, which could have an immediate
impact on the industry via more optimized machines.
“We will be able to discover and can address new fea-
tures to new products that will advance our technology
that much faster,” Schmidt says.
With the first students at the center only now learning
the basics, it will be many months before they start filling
some of those vacancies, and it will be even longer before
Lincoln-trained teachers can implement the methodol-
ogies and best practices to affect sweeping change of
the industry. But if it works—and that can be quantifiably
measured by comparing time to certification and quality
of welds—this could be a system every other maligned
trade, from machinists to electricians, may want to emulate to solve their share of the skills shortage.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, GO TO:
The VRTEX ENGAGE virtual reality training
system is a highly advanced “Guitar Hero” for
new welders to acclimate to proper techniques
prior to expending real materials.
The welding center has 166 welding booths, each
with an arc sensor that signals the damper to
open, so the fume extraction system isn’t using
more power than it needs.