We think the welding industry could be a lot better

Let’s discuss training, innovation and getting better as welding professionals

What types of innovations and changes are actually impacting the welding world right now?

It seems like no matter what the innovation is, that the welding world always seems to go back to Old School technology for training, teaching and advancing high level hands-on skills.

The goal of this article is to explore innovative concepts that have the potential to revolutionize the welding world, but which never seemed to catch on. Additionally, this author is going to rant a bit. I think we sometimes make our own lives harder as welding professionals by being a bit too closed minded, or having defeatist or gatekeeping attitudes. 

Technology innovation in the welding world… or not

We teach, we train, but is it as efficient as it should be?

A lot of the contrarian views about how technology plays into building a more robust welding training and teaching experience, center around a lack of efficiency in the innovation or technology that underlies the potential revolution. This author would argue however, that some of the difficulty in advancing technology in teaching and training of welding skills and advanced continuing education in the welding world, is actually caused by other variables outside of the inefficiency of utilizing technology.

Innovation is scary, especially when we don’t have a big budget of time or money

Here’s an example: a lot of the time new innovation is expensive to adopt. Not because it’s actually expensive if it were brought into the mainstream or if there was proper marketing budget or understanding of the technology behind the push to bring it to market. Instead, it’s sometimes because the developers have some idea in their head that requires them to be unflinching about the go to market price or the actual value of the offering on the market. 

Now, in some cases there is a hefty, real cost of doing business. No one here believes that someone should work for free or that they shouldn’t be paid for research development and out-of-pocket costs to bring a product to market. The problem is more often than not, that those who are trying to “innovate” are overcharging because they have been sold the idea that they need to charge a specific price point to prove a concept, or to recoup funds and justify the hours required to bring a product onto the market.

This is especially true for development of virtual programs which offer real potential to improve training and development in the classroom environment. It’s an unspoken rule that software has a major profit margin relative to other types of innovation and this concept can lead to huge differentials between the actual cost of development and a market price that is palatable. 

Just because you’ve spent $20,000 on a product to bring it to market doesn’t mean that you need $20,000 per license for your virtual welding trainer in order to make it a viable product. R&D costs shouldn’t be targeted for recapture on the first sale. A viable product should forego the instant recapture of funds in favor of sustainability and long-term value on both sides of the equation. 

Why does a software engineer get paid more than a skilled welding professional anyways?


And that very concept (we must get paid a certain amount up front just because) may be an issue that carries on into the welding world in general. While this article is not about pricing or what pricing should be for skilled professionals in the welding world, it does feel like some imbalance exists, and some exploration is in order here. 

That imbalance between what a software development engineer might get as a salary versus what a 10- year veteran welder should be paid as an employee, or charging as a business owner for real world hourly or salaried work makes a lot of small and medium sized businesses in the welding space unsustainably high priced. That is: we have this idea that we shouldn’t sacrifice what we are worth to allow for better adoption, or stronger job inflow. 

No one is saying to undercut what you’re worth, but rather, to have a big picture mentality. If you can make more money by being somewhat more reasonable in the short term, and booking more work on a per client basis, it’s almost always worth discounting the first wave of work to some extent. Yet, we don’t do that typically, and it DOES sometimes alienate clientele. 

While it is true that if you look at a relative value comparison between a career that requires soft skills and desk work, and a career that seems to be much harder and requires real world skills in a hands-on fashion, they should be basically equal. And they aren’t. Which makes people who have chosen blue collar type work feel like they’re underpaid even though they work just as hard if not harder, and have just as much professional knowledge in their brain as their white collared contemporaries. 

Again this is not about whether welding professionals deserve to be paid a higher rate for their skilled labor, rather it’s about understanding how to price a product or service in a real world mainstream marketplace, such that the product is sustainable long-term.

Twin Angel Welding is a Welding Services Company based in Pella, Iowa, with a diversified offering and workforce. We can help you with your welding project today. 

Why aren’t we being smart about how we “go to market” in the welding innovation space?


For some reason many innovators in the welding world, even large companies like Hobart, Miller, and Lincoln do seem to overcharge for groundbreaking developments that could be multi-million dollar or even billion dollar revenue streams if they could be properly brought to market. What do we mean by “overcharge”?

An example would be laser videography equipment that can show a human welder in real time what’s happening beneath the arc, in the puddle of the weld, and with their tooling. It shouldn’t cost $15,000 to $25,000 for equipment that is essentially built from off the shelf electronic components. Such a tool offers unique insights, and shortens the learning curve in just about all instances where it could be deployed, especially when there is a real world need for certified welds. In aerospace or high stress material fabrication scenarios, it’s difficult for lower skilled employees, even those who have certifications and proper training to understand exactly what’s happening when they can’t see it through the lens of their helmet.

Why aren’t there affordable real-time welding cameras yet?


Sometimes welding jobs require many hundreds or thousands of hours on a specific type of job in order to get the gut feel that you need to know that you’re making the weld properly. If you had a camera that could show you in real time where you’re making mistakes, or where you need to make improvements. Or even if it’s just recorded and played back 5 minutes at a time – the exponential benefits to shortening the learning curve would make just about any budget for any project, a fraction of what we bid for as business owners now. That could mean bigger profits, better efficiency, or a larger total of work performed which are all huge benefits to employee and employer. 

And yet, there are no relatively inexpensive cameras that can be deployed on mainstream welding torches or other tooling to give us these insights. Even if they were priced at $5,000 per machine, there are real world applications where the amount of labor that can be saved in onboarding a new welder, or even an experienced welder is immense.  On

Boarding efficiently into a specific project that has very tight guidelines for the actual welds would translate to massive savings in materials, and lead to a reduction in potential concerns with stress/breakage/fusion. 

Additionally, it would generally serve to shorten the learning curve allowing exponential growth for the welder themselves as they move on to other projects. A more complete and more efficient welder is an asset we all want more of, and commands a better wage. 

For high level welding on exotic materials or for unique applications having a $5,000 or $8,000 camera as opposed to a $15,000 or $25,000 camera could mean massive windfalls for the business that could now book progressively more difficult and exotic welding jobs. 

That’s not to mention the benefit to the welder as an employee who is now better able to deploy techniques or learn on a curve that significantly cuts down material wastage and time. Now: instead of spending months or years to be an expert on a specific job which may end after a multi-month or multi-year contract never again to be performed, a welder and the business that employs them could have properly on-boarded welders. This also offers significantly lower cost basis on materials, wire, electrodes, tungsten and other consumables including noble gasses, time, and prep.

Unfortunately the innovation in the space always seems to get hung up on the fact that it’s usually the smallest businesses that are innovating first, and they don’t have the cash flow, or the mindset, or the experience in bringing products to market. Inevitably, this means that the company is unable to properly bring the innovation to the welding space. 

Couple that with international corporate espionage and other concerns that come along when trying to be innovative in an industrial space, and you have a lot of fear, uncertainty and doubt about bringing innovation to a space that desperately needs to be innovated on several levels.

Welding talent (innovations) should drive the innovations more often than just seeking better efficiency in finishing projects


As a company that firmly believes that hands-on, people-centric welding has a future and should have a future, it’s difficult to watch most welding specific industrial fabrication turning to robotic or machine run welding and fabrication.

As you’ll see in other articles that we are covering in this welding blog, there is so much innovation that seeks to cut out the actual human element of the welding process. 

We believe that this is a backwards way of thinking about efficiency in the welding industry. There are plenty of innovations that we can imagine that enhance the ability of an individual to overcome efficiency constraints in human welding. 

Of course, we’re not going to argue that certain fabrication tasks, including factory-specific techniques that focus on a small group of SKUs are more efficient when using a human rather than a robot. That’s where factory automation, and robotic welding DOES make sense most often. But the innovations we see most often, typically try to center around production fabrication. And, while that’s important, it’s not going to solve many of the in the field real world welding tasks that will still be existent in the future.

So, why do we as welding professionals revert to old school ways of accomplishing tasks – specifically training and development?


So what’s the point of all this rambling? We (as authors of this now lengthy rant) think that there are hang-ups that stifle innovation in the welding space because we’re constantly looking for ways to get more efficient at solving a specific problem, and we’re (as business owners and welding professionals) too set in our ways to avoid going back to old school training techniques because they do, in-fact, work. 

The problem with old school techniques is they are expensive, they waste a lot of materials and consumables, and they require a longer timeline then some of the innovations we can imagine that could push new professional welders forward. 

Yes we do want machines that can weld an inch thick without having any difficulty bridging the gap or fusing the materials together, but we also want to be able to employ properly skilled humans to continue to do things that humans are better at doing than machines.

Not every welding job is welding a 6 in thick steel, nuclear reactor core. We’ll leave that to the robots now that we have specific technologies coming on the scene that can concentrate plasma arcs and ensure that there are no voids possible, that can realistically heighten the chances of failure on those welds. 

Twin Angel Welding is a Welding Services Company based in Pella, Iowa, with a diversified offering and workforce. We can help you with your welding project today. 

To what extent are we too complacent with mediocre training programs in the welding industry?


Sometimes, we just need a welder that can weld beyond a single certification, when put on the spot in the field. Sometimes we need a welder that’s as good on stainless as they are on cold rolled steel. Sometimes welders in the field need to understand how to braise something but also how to weld exotic materials. That learning curve needs to be shortened. 

Not every training program is going to be robust enough to train every welder in enough welding skills in a short enough amount of time, and with the rising costs of education in the United States it becomes very difficult to employ the amount of staff needed to properly ensure newly minted welders are getting that kind of varied and comprehensive education in the classroom.

Another major issue as we’ve seen come into existence in the past decade or so, is the rising cost of materials, and the increasing fervor with which ecological or “environmentally sound” material practices are implemented at the corporate level. 

Additionally, there is the difficulty of pleasing all of the stakeholders involved in projects that professional welders might be a part of. 


We as welders: we like the old school ways of teaching


And, when we teach welders the old school way there’s a lot of wastage. When we increase the learning curve or the timeline to teach skills we increase the amount of materials and the amount of wastage that needs to be factored into the equation to ensure a proper understanding of material properties by the welder. Sometimes the book learning is not enough. 

While it’s important that every professional welder understands the machines they’re working with; the settings and the specific technology that can accomplish specific tasks, there is still a gut feel that’s necessary as well. That is something that usually takes a long time to teach and really is difficult to teach in an institutional/classroom setting at all. Sometimes experience trumps everything. Experience means increasing failure and hands on usage of materials basically.

So, why don’t we see more innovation that seeks to put the human at the center of the professional welding equation, and also seeks to make a marketable mainstream service or product that can be deployed across the wide breadth of the welding industry?

Again, this author believes it’s mostly about small-minded mentalities, and believing that you have something more than what you do, as the potential innovator. 

How many units has Miller managed to sell to training institutes of their virtual reality welding training tooling? Not as many as they’d like. That’s because it’s expensive.

Okay, so why hasn’t the much more palatable price tag of the less corporate, software-based systems that use inexpensive hand tooling to essentially provide the same training and development helped those products, taken off as well? Because they, too, are overpriced in a relative value perspective. The benefit you get from using the Miller (just one example) tooling is significantly better than most of the software-based programs. And yet, even though the Miller system is five times more expensive generally, the cheaper competitors still don’t offer a value that feels good enough in the gut.

Let’s circle back to the difficulties we face when we don’t think about the welding industry from a long-term sustainability perspective


So why haven’t we developed cameras with off-the-shelf electronic components that can do similar things to some of the high priced laser-guided cameras that allow us to image in real time the actual welding process? 

Some of it has to do with patents, some of it has to do with the lack of an understanding of how to put together the software, and the mechanical, and the fabrication of these different parts which are required to take a product to market. 

But some of the companies that do these types of products are shooting themselves in the foot it seems as well, as the high price tags just don’t make sense. 

If enough units were sold you could sell it at several hundred dollars a unit and still make money, but because it’s so highly priced initially, so many people who have small businesses (or even larger businesses) that rely on large volumes of professional welding labor have already decided in their heads that such an innovation doesn’t make sense for their specific needs. 

That decision is usually based just on the value proposition. Is it worth putting a $15,000 to $25,000 camera onto a torch that only one welder can use at a time? 

If it were possible to get that price down to $5,000 it might make sense to outfit three, or four, or five units in a production welding environment. 

If you could get that price down to below $1,000, or even $1500 to $1800, you could probably justify it in most factories at every welding station. Instead: we’d rather alienate the buyers of our products and services, the upcoming professional labor. In doing this, and in making such short-sighted decisions, we severely handicap ourselves as business owners because we’re too worried about spending the extra money to shorten the learning curve and help craft better employees.

And, while this article might be more of a rant at this point, some of the difficulty lies with the way that training is done in the real world while trying to groom talent and teaching them how to understand the welding processes. 

If we as teachers and trainers are (even subtly) nuancing the way that we communicate with our trainees such that we give them some sort of cynical or personal viewpoint, without instead teaching them how to make good decisions or understand how to innovate in their own heads, we’re actually hurting the ability for our businesses to scale and for innovation to bloom.

We tend to be quite set in our ways as welders. We like the way we do certain things; we like the way we learned the processes ourselves – we pass these proclivities onto our welding mentees. 

And, sadly, we kind of do this gatekeeping thing where we require those we’re training – to do it the way we were taught – to keep us in our comfort zone. We’d rather be comfortable, than to do our best to create the finest possible professional welder we can, while they’re under our tutelage.

Are we systematically creating welding professionals that are constantly looking for greener grass?


And that speaks to other issues in the professional services space, especially when it comes to skilled labor at the level of most professional welders once they’ve gained a certification or two. 

It’s easy to job hop when the money is good, and while many of us will tuck tail and come back to a business we left for greener pastures sometime before, we’re causing an unsustainable professional environment that makes it difficult for small businesses to stay in business. 

It also makes it difficult for us to have stability long-term. The problem is: we have a lot of people who go through ROP or other basic training, and think that they can command pricing that is commensurate to somebody with five to six, or even 10 times the experience as a welder. 

Not only that: to justify the high costs of schooling and materials and consumables, and the difficulty of proper mentorship, as teachers and trainers we push this narrative forward by teaching new welders that they shouldn’t sacrifice their pay, their comfort or their benefits for anything.

In some states a new welder without any certifications can sometimes get $50 plus dollars an hour, whereas a similarly skilled employee in another state might be right at the federal minimum wage level. 

We’re constantly pushing (whether inadvertently or whether we know what we’re doing), these new welders to try to game the system and push up the value of their skills to an unsustainable level. This is true across a lot of industries, not just welding. 

But it is a major issue for the welding profession because we are facing existential difficulties in some ways. Some of the problems we face on the human capital side of the welding industry are intensified by the fact that lower cost robots are coming online every day, and it’s very easy to pay a software development team one time to develop a program or series of programs that can lower the total labor cost over the life of a robot welding installation. 

This means we are essentially putting ourselves out of business as a profession, because we are losing the forest for the trees. We are thinking about lowering today’s costs of doing business, without constructing new c\hannels of value creation for long-term stability. 

We need to be thinking about all these things as we push for innovation. But we also need to be thinking about these things as we train the next wave of professional welders. We need to stop gatekeeping, we need to stop romanticizing the old school way of doing things. 

This old school way inadvertently makes a lot of the learning curve much more elongated, and a lot less efficient, while wasting significant materials in the process. We say – sacrifice a bit of comfort to build better horizons for our future as an industry. 

Twin Angel Welding is a Welding Services Company based in Pella, Iowa, with a diversified offering and workforce. We can help you with your welding project today. 

Let’s wrap up this long-winded ‘what’s wrong with the welding industry’ rant


Let’s circle back regarding the welding innovation issues that we think are most pressing in the current environment of professional welders. Let’s talk a little bit more about why it’s so difficult to innovate in the welding space. 

Consolidation and difficulty in producing annual recurring revenue that helps to build small companies into larger companies, makes it really difficult for smart welding professionals to continue to be innovative, especially in a mainstream capacity. 

When companies like Miller and Lincoln and Hobart, which are largely owned by public corporations who have much larger bank rolls, are the competition, it makes it really difficult to even get out of bed from an innovation perspective. 

Furthermore, it’s difficult when you’ve been trained as ONLY a welder, and not as a welder… and a software engineer… and a machinist… and a marketer… and a business manager and are still expected to make a product that can go directly to market successfully. 

It’s why we should be (as small and medium business owners in the welding space) doing our best to recruit, train, and retain the best talent possible and give them the tools to continue to develop other aspects in their professional capacities. 

That isn’t to say that every welder needs to be a marketer or understand digital marketing or SEO, or product design. But it is to say that teams should be communicating properly, managers should be looking at ways to enhance the soft and hard skills of the employees that they manage. Business owners and large team facilitators, trainers, educators, recruiters, and management teams should also be looking at ways to help make a more well-rounded employee, not just a skilled laborer who does production work at a single stall with an exact setup and no opportunity for upward movement, or free thought. Countless are the anecdotal stories of welders losing the passion they had 3-4 years ago, stuck on a factory production line, without any input in the product or the innovation.

Again this isn’t an argument trying to persuade you to be less efficient on your production line, or to overpay welders so they can learn while on the job, only to go where the grass is greener once they have a new set of skills – that you helped to give them. 

This is to say that we have real sustainability issues as a professional skilled piece of the workforce as welders over the next 10 years. And, after that decade, it’s going to be even more difficult to find the right employees, let alone to stay in business and have actual profits in the welding sector.

And while I hate to admit it, robotic welding and computer aided fabrication, cutting, production and specific production line welding will become a larger and larger part of every professional welding business over the next several years. 

By the way, this author is all for innovation, efficiency and saving money, while producing a higher quality product at a lower total cost to the market. But humans still matter in the professional welding space, and it’s one of our goals to be able to ensure that that can happen for as long as possible. It’s why we consider different concepts like this on our website blog and we hope that it gets you thinking as a reader, a potential innovator, or as an end user of products that are built by the human capital employed in the welding profession.