By Dennis Klingman, Manager, Technical Training, The Lincoln Electric Company
Nearly 3,000 square feet of school’s new facility dedicated to welding lab and classroom area
Why would a commercial electrician need welding skills? This is the question many asked Terry Akins, an Instructor with the Kansas City Joint Apprenticeship Training Center (KCJATC), in Kansas City, Mo., as he lobbied to add welding to the course curriculum and dedicate a portion of the Center’s new addition to the skill.
As a 16-year veteran in the field, Akins knows how important welding can be to the electrician on the job site. “Today there are many pre-manufactured fittings for electrical work, but they are expensive. With welding skills, an electrician can fabricate his own fittings, saving money and hence making his contract more competitive. Usually, when an electrician needs some simple welding work done on a job, he would have to subcontract it to another tradesperson. If the electrician can do the welding himself, it means he is more productive for his customer,” said Akins.
According to Akins, having welding capabilities makes an electrician more employable. In Kansas City at any one time, there are approximately 250 electricians looking for work. If the job specifically calls for someone with welding skills, that immediately brings certain names to the top of the list.
It was this logic that convinced the KCJATC to set aside 2,800 square feet of its new 20,000-square-foot addition to welding, including a classroom facility and a lab area outfitted with the latest equipment from The Lincoln Electric Company. The school, which services members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local #124, has nearly doubled its space with the addition which opened in September 2002.
Each year, more than 600 students take advantage of the training offered by KCJATC. The types of programs offered at the Center, include:
Nearly 1,000 potential students apply every year for the coveted 80 openings in the Apprenticeship program. Students can either select the Inside Wireman track for those interested in commercial industrial wiring or the Telecom program which focuses on computer networking, fiber optics and teledata. Both are five-year programs with students working during the day and taking classes in the evenings. Courses include DC/AC theory, National Electrical Code, OSHA, PLC, motor controls, transformers, conduit bending, blueprint reading and many others.
Recently, the Center has teamed with local Metropolitan Community College to assist apprentices in earning a college degree. Those completing the KCJATC Apprenticeship program can now apply 45 hours toward an associate’s degree. This means apprentices only need to take an additional 17 hours to receive a degree. Some of these extra courses are even being offered as electives at the center, including classes such as labor history, physics and computers.
After the Apprentices complete their five years of on-the-job training and classroom instruction, they are classified as Journeymen. The KCJATC offers a number of programs for Journeymen to update their skills. According to Akins, many attend classes in the latest technologies such as fiber optics, transformers, computers and motor controls as well as to brush up for the Master Electrician exam.
Welding is currently an elective course offered for Journeymen, but it will become a part of the fourth year apprentice wireman in the 3rd quarter, 2003. To date, one welding course has been offered which is called Basic Sheet and Plate. Each day, the program consists of a 30 minute classroom session learning welding theory, followed with three hours of hands-on welding time in the lab.
Although IBEW supports welding on a national level, Akins believes KCJATC is one of only a handful of the union’s training centers across the country currently offering this elective. He also estimates that only five percent of the current IBEW membership nationally have welding skills and many of those will be retiring in the near future. For these reasons, he is a strong advocate of adding welding training and encourages other IBEW training facilities to do the same.
On the Job Welding
Typical items an electrician would weld in a normal day’s work include brackets for light fixtures and transformers; as well as hangers for cable trays, duct and conduit. Composed of mild steel, these fixtures can range from 11 gauge to 3/8″ thick.
Since most of the welding performed by electricians on the job is manual Stick (SMAW), the Basic Sheet and Plate course offered at KCJATC focuses on this type of welding. In fact, during the 12-night course, only a portion of one night is devoted to MIG skills. During every class, students weld a project meant to hone their skills and give them practice welding in a different position. To date, twenty journeymen have taken this course.
Because of the hands-on time required with each student, KCJATC tries to keep the classes small. “With this type of skill, you have to spend a lot of time with each person individually,” noted Akins.
For its new welding facilities, the center has 10 welding stations featuring Lincoln Electric power sources. When asked why Lincoln units specifically, Akins had this response. “My first welder was a Lincoln and over the years, I have come to expect top-quality machines from the company,” explained Akins. “I am impressed with their facility in Cleveland and their efforts to keep manufacturing in the U.S.A.”
In addition to the equipment, Akins cited another reason why Lincoln was the only brand he considered for the new Center. “Through Lincoln’s involvement with the Skills USA Vocational Competition and the annual National Training Institute for IBEW instructors, I have gotten to work with Dennis Klingman. He and others at Lincoln, including Scott Skranjc, Bob Simmons and Rob Dickerson, have always bent over backward to help us and make sure we have what we need. It is this outstanding service that made me only look to Lincoln for outfitting our center.” Lincoln also provided training materials to KCJATC for the new course.
The majority of welding performed in the Basic Sheet and Plate course is completed with Lincoln’s Square Wave™ TIG 175 PRO using the SMAW process in the Stick mode. These machines are lightweight and portable and have an arc that is easy to start – making it the perfect machine for beginners.
Akins notes that the Square Wave TIG 175 PRO also offers an infinitely adjustable, or continuous, amperage range. This means the amperage can be fine-tuned while welding; an attractive feature especially when welding thin materials that can be more likely to burnthrough.
“The Square Wave is absolutely a great machine, top notch. So good that I bought one myself,” said Akins. He plans to start teaching electricians the TIG capabilities of this machine in the soon-to-be-offered Advanced Welding course.
Although only a small portion of the beginner’s course is devoted to MIG (GMAW) welding, the KCJATC purchased Lincoln’s SP-135 Plus compact wire feeder / welders, which are used by students primarily in the flux-cored self-shielded (FCAW-S) mode. Like the Square Wave TIG 175 PRO, this SP model has a continuous control range.
To complete the equipment, KCJATC has selected a Pro-Cut® 55 plasma cutter, which can be used to create holes for conduit or cabling. The school also uses oxyfuel cutting equipment from Lincoln division Harris®-Calorific. All consumables used by the center are also Lincoln, including Fleetweld® and Excalibur® stick electrodes and Innershield® wire electrodes. Local distributor Kirk Welding is instrumental in ensuring the center has what they need to keep running.
“Our students have been very impressed with our welding facilities and the Lincoln machines,” notes Akins. “Because of the interest in welding courses to date, we plan to add another advanced welding course in the near future so electricians can further their skills and make themselves even more marketable.”