As the nation’s skilled tradesmen and women enter their sunset years, demand for young welders continues to grow. While apprenticeships and other on-the-job training remains essential, the next generation of welders has something their predecessors didn’t: virtual reality welding machines.
High schools and community colleges across the country are investing in these computerized welding tools—but exactly how effective are they? We explain below.
How it works
Virtual reality welding works similarly to a video game, except instead of a typical gaming console, the user grips onto a faux welding gun. And instead of staring at a TV screen, the trainee looks through virtual reality goggles built into a welding helmet.
Teachers and employers select from a range of welding scenarios, allowing students to practice different types of welds on a plastic joint in front of them. Nothing is actually welded, but students can view their simulated welding work in real-time through their goggles and again on a computer monitor after each simulation is complete.
Virtual reality welding: pros and Cons
It’s cheaper. Despite the large upfront cost, virtual reality welding is cheaper in the long-run. Without the need for scrap metal, fuel for the welding machine and a fully equipped workspace, virtual reality welding eliminates many of the costs associated with training.
It’s safer. The usual risks associated with real-life welding—burns, visual impairment, gas inhalation, electric shock, etc.—are nonexistent when using a virtual welding machine. However, this can be a double-edged sword by creating a false sense of safety.
It’s more versatile. Not many welding apprentices can boast that they’ve welded atop a towering skyscraper. But thanks to virtual reality, they can! Virtual reality machines allow trainees to “weld” in a number of settings that wouldn’t otherwise be available.
It’s easy to view mistakes and correct errors. Following a welding simulation, trainees receive detailed feedback on their work, making it easy to identify and improve areas of weakness.
- It’s intangible. When you weld in a fictional setting, the fruits of your labor are also pieces of fiction. While real-life welding gives you something concrete to use (or at least show off to your friends), virtual reality welding leaves you empty handed.
- It may make you feel woozy. As with any virtual reality game or tool, there's always a small risk that the user may experience motion sickness. As virtual reality technology gets more sophisticated, this is less likely, but it still can happen.
- It’s just not the same. Nothing can replicate the true welding experience. Although virtual reality machines are a great way for trainees to practice and perfect their skills, it only works as a companion to hands-on, real-life welding.
Beyond training—a tool for employers
Virtual reality welding machines aren’t only useful for training, but also as an aptitude testing tool for employers. Increasingly, fabrication shop bosses are asking prospective employees to showcase their skills on virtual machines as part of the application process.
Virtual reality welding makes screening far more efficient, particularly as a way of narrowing down candidates during the first round of interviews.
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