Students in Lyndon Institute’s welding program, and adults in the school’s Continuing Education program, have received a new tool to improve their skills. The school has installed a virtual welder that provides students the chance to refine their technique without the expense of gas, wire or other raw materials. The only other similar machine is at the Burlington Technical Center.
The majority of the cost for the $49,000 machine was covered by several grants. Continuing Education Coordinator, Doug Pilotte wrote one grant to the Vermont Department of Labor for $19,694 and Twila Perry, Assistant Head for Special Education and Technical Education, received a $28,000 equipment grant from the Agency of Education. The balance of the cost was covered by the school’s welding budget.
Manufactured by Lincoln Electric, the VRTEX 360 virtual welder allows students to refine their technique with numerous configurations for flat, horizontal, vertical and overhead situations using flat plate, tee joint and groove joint coupons. The unit also offers a variety of pipe options. The machine is currently set up to simulate welding with carbon metals (steel). Upgrades to the system could offer aluminum and stainless steel and tig welding.
The operation of the welder is similar to a common video game. A welding helmet offers a virtual display and speakers in the helmet offer audio cues to the welder. The display also helps students set the proper work angle, travel angle, and travel speed. All of these factors are displayed as a final grade. A tolerance-to-load factor is also available. Adults with no gaming experience, or welding experience, can easily work the machine.
A pair of wands synched to the computer and virtual display allow students to replicate several different types of welding. A monitor on the machine delivers real-time action so that an instructor can offer pointers during the process. A 50” monitor will be installed to facilitate classroom teaching with the system.
Melissa Tyler, LI’s welding instructor, has been introducing students to the machine. “Their welding ability has already improved because of the ability for students to practice on the virtual welder. Their beads are better,” says Tyler.
Pilotte sites specific situations in which he believes the virtual welder will prove its worth. Someone new to welding, student or adult, can practice proper techniques without all of the sparks and heat associated with welding. The sparks and heat are often a deterrent to someone seeking to try their hand at welding
Local businesses will also benefit. Pilotte is working with businesses to offer the welder as part of a program to help improve their workforce. Welders must be certified for every type of welding project they work. This can be based on the type of stock, thickness of the stock and whether or not they are working horizontal, vertical or overhead. This machine offers practice time to gain experience without the expense of materials.
The economic impact for the virtual welder was evident in just the first few days. According to Tyler, had the students been using new stock for practicing all of the welds made on the virtual machine to date, the cost of the steel would have been over $1,000. Time is also saved. As an example, two of her advanced students were working on overhead projects to weld two 3.5”x7” plates together at a 90 degree angle. A student working with a conventional welder took the same amount of time to complete one weld as a student using the virtual welder to complete five welds and receive immediate feedback.
Perry offers another perspective on the addition of the virtual welder to Lyndon Institute’s Career and Technical Education department. “We are hoping that the virtual welder will encourage more students to try welding. We are also hoping that it will allow adults who would like to be certified in welding an opportunity to practice at a lower cost. The virtual welder allows us to reach more potential welders.”