Watch Pia as she casually puts on her AR goggles, picks up her welding torch and pulls her weld. Noise, smoke and heat–all totally absent. She’s learning her craft on a welding simulator. Something that just a few years ago would have seemed like science fiction is now commonplace. But how does virtual welding work exactly? Is the experience comparable with “real” welding, and will it improve the quality of welder training and save money at the same time? And the biggest question of all: What are the limits of virtual training?
Digitalization. It’s transforming the world. Every day it’s challenging us to keep up. It harbors unimagined opportunities and has penetrated every aspect of our private and working lives. And welding technology is not immune–over the previous years and decades a lot’s happened in the field of welder training. It’s been modernized and new standards have been set. Digital tools and apps rule the roost, and the training of new welders is now simpler and safer than ever before.
Welding simulator: What is it exactly?
Like Pia, other new starters are learning how to weld using a simulator. A welding simulator is a virtual tool on which trainee welders can hone their TIG, MIG/MAG or manual arc welding skills in a fun way. They wear 3‑D‑goggles equipped with Extended Reality, and pull their welds on a practice workpiece. Their surroundings come alive before their eyes with digital elements, making virtual welding appear more lifelike than ever.
Risk-free training on a virtual welding simulator
VR welding on a welding simulator offers one thing above all others: a safe environment. Risk factors such as UV radiation, high temperatures and welding fumes are totally absent during virtual welding. Trainee welders can get to grips with welding in a relaxed atmosphere and learn at their own pace–without any alarming distractions.
It employs the same principles as used in the aviation sector. Pilots use flight simulators, practicing countless take-offs and landings on the simulator before flying a real plane. Generally speaking, the bigger, more expensive, or more dangerous the equipment, the more sense it makes to carry out training in the virtual world. The same applies to welding technology.
What welding simulators can also do
Learning all about welding in a totally risk-free environment is undoubtedly one of the biggest advantages of virtual welding. There’s also the small matter of savings in time, money and materials. But that’s not all: Welding simulators make it really easy to check during the hiring process whether someone has the necessary manual dexterity, and to train new welders to a high level.
In addition, companies save on resources if they use welding simulators on their training courses. Whether in the vocational school or in some other institution, virtual support takes a great weight of the shoulders of the instructors, something that Nikolaus Zauner, Technical Product Manager Perfect Welding at Fronius International GmbH, really appreciates: “In practice, welding instructors do not always have the time to look after a number of students all at once. Virtual training enables new welders to apply themselves to a simulated task and then put what they’ve learned into practice. This means the simulator actively supports instructors throughout the entire process”, is how Zauner summarizes the situation. He goes on: “As a trainee, I develop in a completely different way to the classical welder training environment. The simulator is always there, it gives me instant feedback, I can check how I’m doing and make huge progress in no time at all.”
Why VR welding simulators are becoming increasingly important
The trend is clear to see: The number of welders out there is falling, and industry and workshops have for years noted a waning interest in welding among young people. Well-trained welders are some of the most sought-after professionals around the world, and are a rare find. Virtual welding simulation offer a ray of hope, as it’s modern and thus helps boost the image of the profession.
In the battle for new welders, a pinch of modernity certainly helps make the profession that bit more attractive to many young people. The simulator gives them the opportunity to see whether the trade is for them without putting themselves in harm’s way. It’s not hard to imagine them being much more hesitant about stepping into a “real” welding cell. Simulators also make learning fun, a decisive criterion when choosing a career nowadays. It’s an undisputed fact that today’s digital natives learn differently, as they are more than comfortable with digital tools, self-learning options are high on the agenda, and the fun factor must not be ignored. All these features are bundled into virtual welding simulators, facilitating access to the world of welding and preparing young people for tomorrow’s world of work in a playful way.
Bringing virtual welding to a new level
The Fronius Welducation Simulator combines theory and practice in a sophisticated overall package that raises virtual welder training to the next level. Trainee welders can learn all the theoretical aspects in the cloud and carry out all their practical sessions on the simulator.
One of the special features of this virtual welding simulator is that the entire process has been considered. Zauner gives us an insight into the new Fronius welding simulator. “The Welducation Simulator is a totally new approach to virtual welder training. We wanted to make it even more realistic, not just by the use of AR technology and its associated surprisingly lifelike welding experience, but also by integrating the preparatory and intermediate stages. Have I connected the earth? Is gas available? Have I set the parameters correctly? Steps like these are included when training on the Welducation Simulator so that trainee welders incorporate the relevant thought processes into their work from day one”. Other brand new features include varying degrees of difficulty–adding even more depth to the personalized learning experience.
A glimpse into the future of virtual welding
Welding simulators are here to stay. They have revolutionized welder training and their development is continuing. Zauner needs no convincing, “It’s basically much like using a games console. Nothing much has changed since the original version–a console or, in the case of virtual welder training, a simulator. What’s entirely different is how it’s experienced and what it enables me to do. In years gone by, the opportunities that new developments offer always appear out of reach, yet time repeatedly teaches us a lesson. Virtual training will never totally replace the classical approach, but I’m certain that it will enhance and support it. Watch this space”.
To make the learning experience even more lifelike, he can envisage having some haptic feedback, as in practice the welding torch will sometimes judder or the electrode holder vibrate. He also believes a development in the direction of 5-D to be possible; for example, smells or blasts of air. Ergonomics is another aspect that Zauner believes needs to be considered: “Welders are valuable assets nowadays. A poor body posture may eventually cause them a problem and shorten their career. This is something that could be built into virtual training so that welders become aware right from the outset about how to train particular muscle groups and think about their posture”.
Modern, highly advanced and realistic welding simulators are already with us. However, their potential is by no means exhausted and it remains to be seen what senses trainee welders like Pia will be using when experiencing virtual welding in the future.
Interested in virtual welding? We are too, so we’ve prepared some additional information for you. Check out our website to discover what’s new in the world of virtual welder training and see what the Welducation Simulator has to offer!