With more than 100 years as an industry icon under its belt, Lincoln Electric is solidifying its commitment to welding education with its new Welding Technology & Training Center. Located across the street from its headquarters in Euclid, OH, the two-story, 130,000-square-foot facility is home to the latest tools and tech in the welding industry.
“All our customers are excited to see the Disneyland of welding,” boasts Lincoln Electric manager of technical services Jason Schmidt during a recent IMPO tour of the facility. “Everyone knows there is a need for continuous professional development and training, and we want to be their resource for that.”
Lincoln Electric got its start in education back in 1917 when called upon by the U.S. Army to train enlisted men in welding in order to maintain equipment during World War I. The war ended before the trained servicemen made it to Europe, but it was such an effective program that Lincoln Electric decided to keep the program going, and the welding school has been going strong ever since.
“Although the school hasn’t always been in the same facility, it is the oldest continuously running welding school in the world,” says Lincoln Electric marketing communications specialist Greg Coleman.
The school has trained more than 100,000 students since its start, and if the most recent expansion is any indication, the company won’t be slowing down anytime soon.
A Peek Inside
The new state-of-the-art training center opened its doors to students in early January 2018, and a waiting list to enroll is already growing.
“Our senior management made a decision to invest $30 million in education and a new welding school,” Schmidt says. “We wanted this to be the showcase education and training capital of the world for welding.”
The new facility doubles Lincoln’s previous welding education capacity. The building features a virtual reality training lab with 10 VRTEX Virtual Reality Web Simulation Trainers, 166 welding and cutting booths, six seminar rooms, 13 welding school classrooms, a 100-seat auditorium, an atrium and a reception area.
The addition also allows Lincoln Electric to bring testing in-house with an accredited testing facility. Schmidt says the school previously had to send tests out to a third party at an added fee. Bringing it in-house allows Lincoln Electric to internalize those costs.
“The students will also be able to have their results within a day, maybe hours, instead of weeks,” Schmidt adds.
During IMPO’s tour of the school, Schmidt showed off some of the welding booths complete with the latest in Lincoln Electric technology ready for students to use. The previous welding school held 100 welding booths — 66 percent fewer than the new one.
“We sell a lot of the products in these booths and we want to show people how to use them and how we recommend they be used,” Schmidt says.
One feature Schmidt is especially proud of is Lincoln Electric’s quiet fume extraction equipment that exchanges contaminated air with clean filtered air. As an added bonus, heating costs will remain stable. Instead of extracting the fume from the welding booths and exhausting it to the outside, Lincoln Electric uses technology that cleans the air and keeps it inside the building. Utilizing this green technology will allow the weld school to control costs and keep the space comfortable for students.
“These are all hooked into the central filter bank,” Schmidt explains, motioning to the dozens of welding booths. “There are arc sensors on the arm itself, so if there is only one person welding, only one arm will be on, so it is less stress on the motor. When they are all on, it will ramp up and there will be more airflow.”
While each booth is set up for a certain process, each welding machine is multipurpose to provide for more flexibility “All of this was designed in the event that technology changes we want to have the ability to change on the fly and adapt within this space,” Schmidt says.
In addition to hands-on education, the Lincoln Electric Welding Technology & Training Center will also utilize blended welding training — a hybrid of virtual reality and actual welding. In 2010, Lincoln Electric participated in an Iowa State University study on the effectiveness of integrating VR with hands-on training. The results were remarkable. The resulting report showed that the study saw a 23 percent decrease in the total training time needed for the VR group, as well as a 42 percent increase in overall certifications.
Schmidt says although the VR training will never give someone the complete experience of welding, it does provide enough education for students to understand how to view the weld puddle, gain muscle memory and develop technique. Schmidt became convinced of the technology when a computer programmer for the company Lincoln Electric was working with tried his hand at the real thing.
“We took him over to the welding lab and he actually placed a decent weld down the very first time he's welded, and it was all based on the VR training that he's done,” Schmidt says. “He’d never welded before that, except in VR.”
Lincoln Electric has been using blended training for about 10 years, however, the new training facility provides space for more VR simulators. Sarah Evans, Manager of Sales and Marketing for Education at Lincoln Electric, says incorporating VR into training also increases efficiency from a machines perspective.
“By utilizing the VRTEX machines throughout the school, we are going to save on metal, gas and consumables — on all the things that you need to weld,” Evans says.
Having students new to welding start off on the VRTEX also provides an additional safety benefit.
“Walking up to a welding booth for the first time can be intimidating with the spatter, fume, and darkness under the welding helmet,” Coleman adds. “It’s great to be able to get people to understand the concepts and the movements before they actually step into a real welding booth.”
Commitment To Training
Along with the new training center’s opening, Lincoln Electric also announced its newest education initiative — the Lincoln Electric Education Partner Schools (LEEPS) program. This multi-tiered program supports welding instructors at every level — from junior high school to technical college and beyond. At each level, participating instructors may obtain Lincoln Electric qualifications and other benefits by meeting specific program requirements. In addition, schools that meet key requirements may become Authorized Training Facilities, authorizing the school to run Lincoln Electric seminars. LEEPS keeps instructors current and relevant within the welding industry by integrating a professional development system into the program. This provides value to both instructors and administrators at participating schools.
“The manufacturing industry will need skilled and knowledgeable welders in the years and decades ahead,” says Jason Scales, Lincoln Electric’s business manager, education. “Lincoln Electric is committed to supporting and advancing welding education. The LEEPS program is a critical component in the ongoing process of preparing educators for advancing welding’s future.”
In addition to the one-week to 20-week comprehensive welding courses, the new Welding & Technology Training Center will foster professional development in the industry by providing industrial training programs and specialized training programs for customers.
“What we want people to understand is that we are opening the doors of this education facility with a mindset of having a group of courses, but those courses might not be the same in six or 12 months,” Scales says. “We ask, ‘what does industry need and what can we provide to help perpetuate industry?’ If that means we have to have a quick reaction, provide training, professional development, we're going to do it. No questions asked. There really isn't a secret, we're just not afraid to explore what we don't know and what the industry needs to learn.”