Today’s employers require their welders to have experience with more types of welds than ever before. In many instances, there must also be knowledge of robotic automation, advanced welding equipment, exotic materials, specialized code certification, welding theory and welding-procedure specifications. And certified welders are in demand, prompting public, private and skilled trade schools to develop new welder education programs to deliver the workforce companies need to remain globally competitive.
Lincoln Electric is in its second century of educating future generations of welders. Our accumulated knowledge can help administrators and instructors design their own facilities. The WTTC, built by Lincoln Electric to address several objectives, was designed as a showcase to share current best practices in welding education and fume system, booth and classroom design with schools at every level. While the environment may differ, depending in part on space and equipment, Lincoln Electric can help any school system or for-profit institution customize a facility that fits specific requirements.
Here are some ways Lincoln Electric made important decisions on the design and build of the WTTC.
The WTTC contains 166 welding booths in the school and about 50 more in the advanced training center. But before every booth was built, one model was mocked up to test for different sizes and configurations. Welding school instructors were consulted for their viewpoints. The goal was to have a footprint inside the booth that delivered the most efficient workspace for instructors and students.
Many factors were considered in developing the welding booth, including whether the equipment and gas apparatus would be inside or outside. This helped decide the dimensions of the booth.
Electrical power distribution was also a key consideration. Different equipment operates on different voltages, meaning booths had to be equipped with different circuits and outlets.
The environmental fume system design and layout of ductwork to remove fume from the source at the arc was an important consideration.
There are standards for the size of the duct work, including velocity vs. gauge of the metal. Having the correct engineering work to address fume removal is an important part of a welding school design.
Lincoln Electric is a proponent of point of zone fume removal, meaning extraction units are placed within 18 inches of the arc to capture as much fume as possible. We can help welding schools with the proper environmental design to keep students and instructors as safe as possible.
After all considerations, it was decided that the dimension of the welding booth would be 6 x 7 feet.
Each booth includes welding equipment and shielding gas blenders, permitting students to work with different shielding gas mixtures ranging from 100% CO2 / 0% argon to 100% argon / 0% CO2 . By including the gas apparatus in each booth, students can progress at their own rate and booth flexibility for different programs is maximized.
The booths are set up in a pod arrangement (rows of booths), with the spine of each pod being a cinder block wall. But the dividers are removable metal walls bolted to the floor, allowing for an increase or decrease in the size and number of booths in a pod. A luxury of space is preferable to an economy of space. Staying flexible can achieve this goal.
Lincoln Electric recognizes that welding education has two equally important parts. While hands-on training is imperative, so is time in the classroom. This philosophy is reflected in the WTTC’s classrooms.
As with the welding booths, one classroom was mocked up and tables were arranged into different formations to determine the appropriate configuration. Different room dimensions were considered as well. Designers took the different teaching styles of different instructors under consideration when determining the layout. The original mockup was a larger size classroom but was reduced following this analysis, freeing up space in the building that could be used for other purposes.
The welding classroom of today is much different than that of years ago as more teachers incorporate technology into the teaching environment. Now, classrooms have to be WiFi-enabled to account for the necessary bandwidth to power notebooks, smart phones, laptops and other handheld devices used by students and instructors. The WTTC is also equipped with cell phone hot spots to assure adequate coverage.
Plus, each classroom has to be large enough for an area dedicated to virtual training. Every WTTC classroom has a VRTEX® virtual reality arc welding simulator. Lincoln Electric “While hands-on training is imperative, so is time in the classroom.” believes that a combination of traditional and virtual reality welding training gives students the best opportunity to succeed. Independent studies indicate students learn faster and certify at higher rates when blending virtual reality training with traditional training.
The eventual size of each room, 30 X 30 feet, was the subject of much debate during the construction phase. Some thought it was too large an area. But once the room was fitted with tables, a VRTEX® welding training simulator and other accessories, it appears to be the right size for the intended student population anticipated for each room As for the configuration, the decision was made to put two tables (four students sitting at each table) in each row, across three rows (24-student capacity), allowing instructors to walk up and down the aisle. Each table is equipped with two electrical outlets and two USB charging ports for students’ devices. There is enough space and flexibility to reconfigure the tables into other arrangements if and when needed. Electrical outlets for the tables are mounted in the floor providing convenient flexibility and clean power cable routing.
Close attention to whiteboard and computer monitor size and location is warranted. The school went with 70 inch video monitors. Looking back, even larger sizes could be considered for the size of room and number of students.
The decision to mock up a classroom and welding booth was important. Designers were able to test different student-teacher scenarios to ensure that each area maximized the learning environment. And by doing so in just one classroom and one welding booth, a great deal of time and money was saved on the project. One example is with the issue of welding booth lighting. When the booth was originally mocked up extra lighting was added, but as it turned out, even more light was needed. The decision was made to add more light in each booth. But that decision was made ahead of time – before more than 200 booths were built.
• Spend Now, Save Later: The goal of any construction project is to come in on budget and on time. So, it’s easy to believe that any savings during construction is a plus. That, however, can be a shortsighted attitude. For example, invest in a utilities framework that goes beyond the initial needs of the school. Eventually, your program will grow and with it, the demand for power generation and added technology. In the WTTC, all welding booths are not Ethernet-enabled, but the framework is in place to do so when the demand arises. By investing during the construction stage, considerable money is saved later when demand becomes necessity. Investing in the early stages also mitigates higher maintenance and energy consumption costs once the facility is in operation.
• Storage: As a school is built, it is natural to maximize the space for teaching and hands-on welding and forgo the proper storage space. But there can never be too much storage space, and it will fill up faster than anticipated. Consider that welding schools need to store base materials, electrodes, cutting equipment and replacement parts when considering this area. Also make sure the storage area is easily accessible for students and teachers.
• It’s not personal: Keep emotions in check and remain objective in every decision. Building a welding school is a big project that includes SMEs from many core competencies – an endeavor that can be years in the making. Some SMEs will become emotionally attached to the project and take it personally when their recommendations are not accepted. Project managers have to remind their SMEs, as well as themselves, once the building is open, no one will know who decided or completed any one specific task, no matter how large or small. The entire scope of the project will be judged as a team effort.
• Delegate: In a massive project such as constructing a welding school, there are many decisions to be made in many different areas. A good project manager will delegate authority and rely on a core team of SMEs to own certain parts of the project, while the project manager remains responsible for the overall project. Working in this fashion allows assignments in different areas to be accomplished simultaneously and reduce the potential for costly bottlenecks. Frequent meetings are a good way to ensure everyone connected to the project is on the same page.
• Buffers: It’s wise to build buffers into a construction timeline for the unexpected. There are many aspects of a build that are out of a project manager’s control, such as inclement weather, which will delay construction. By building in time for these unexpected developments at the beginning of the process, project managers can create a timeline that helps deliver a building on time and on budget.
Build a welding school with the future in mind. Remember, this is a building that is expected to operate for decades. It must be adaptable to the change – both foreseen and unforeseen – that will come about in the future. Flexibility allows the welding school to absorb these changes at a minimum cost. While not every welding school is as large or comprehensive as Lincoln Electric’s WTTC, administrators and instructors can take advantage of our expertise to design and build a facility that fosters an environment to create an industry-ready welding workforce. Lincoln Electric teams are available to consult with any customer school fume exhaust system design issues as well as welding booth design.