Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers weld or join metal parts. They also fill holes, indentions, or seams of metal products, using hand-held metal joining equipment.
Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers typically do the following:
- Study blueprints, sketches, or specifications
- Calculate dimensions to be welded
- Inspect structures or materials to be welded
- Ignite torches or start power supplies
- Monitor the welding process to avoid overheating
- Maintain equipment and machinery
Welding is the most common way of permanently joining metal parts. In this process, heat is applied to metal pieces, melting and fusing them to form a permanent bond. Because of its strength, welding is used in shipbuilding, automobile manufacturing and repair, aerospace applications, and thousands of other manufacturing activities. Welding also is used to join steel beams in the construction of buildings, bridges, and other structures and to join pipes in pipelines, powerplants, and refineries.
Welders work in a wide variety of industries, from car racing to manufacturing. The work that welders do and the equipment they use vary with the industry. Arc welding, the most common type of welding today, uses electrical currents to create heat and bond metals together—but there are more than 100 different processes that a welder can use. The type of weld normally is determined by the types of metals being joined and the conditions under which the welding is to take place.
Cutters use heat to cut and trim metal objects to specific dimensions. The work of arc, plasma, and oxy–gas cutters is closely related to that of welders. However, instead of joining metals, cutters use the heat from an electric arc, a stream of ionized gas called plasma, or burning gases to cut and trim metal objects to specific dimensions. Cutters also dismantle large objects, such as ships, railroad cars, automobiles, buildings, and aircraft. Some operate and monitor cutting machines similar to those used by welding machine operators.
Solderers and brazers also use heat to join two or more metal objects together. Soldering and brazing are similar, except that the temperature used to melt the filler metal is lower in soldering. Soldering uses metals with a melting point below 840 degrees Fahrenheit. Brazing uses metals with a higher melting point.
Soldering and brazing workers use molten metal to join two pieces of metal. However, the metal added during the soldering or brazing process has a melting point lower than that of the piece, so only the added metal is melted, not the piece. Therefore, these processes normally do not create distortions or weaknesses in the piece, as can occur with welding.
Soldering commonly is used to make electrical and electronic circuit boards, such as computer chips. Soldering workers tend to work with small pieces that must be positioned precisely.
Brazing often is used to connect cast iron and thinner metals that the higher temperatures of welding would warp. Brazing also can be used to apply coatings to parts in order to reduce wear and protect against corrosion.
Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers held about 357,400 jobs in 2012. The industries employing the most welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers in 2012 were as follows:
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Welders and cutters may work outdoors, often in inclement weather, or indoors, sometimes in a confined area designed to contain sparks and glare. When working outdoors, they may work on a scaffold or platform high off the ground.
In addition, they may have to lift heavy objects and work in awkward positions while bending, stooping, or standing to work overhead.
Injuries and Illnesses
Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers are often exposed to a number of hazards, including very hot materials and the intense light created by the arc. They wear safety shoes, heat-resistant gloves, goggles, masks with protective lenses, and other equipment to prevent burns and eye injuries and to protect them from falling objects.
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration requires that welders work in safely ventilated areas in order to avoid danger from inhaling gases and fine particles that can result from welding processes. Because of these hazards, welding, cutting, soldering, and brazing workers have a rate of injuries and illnesses that is higher than the national average. However, they can minimize injuries if they follow safety procedures.
Most welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers work full time, and overtime is common. Many manufacturing firms have two or three 8- to 12-hour shifts each day, allowing the firm to continue production around the clock if needed. As a result, welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers may work evenings and weekends.
Training ranges from a few weeks of technical school or on-the-job training to several years of combined technical school and on-the-job training.
Formal training is available in high school technical education courses and in postsecondary institutions, such as vocational–technical institutes, community colleges, and private welding, soldering, and brazing schools.
Courses in blueprint reading, shop mathematics, mechanical drawing, physics, chemistry, and metallurgy are helpful.
An understanding of electricity also is helpful, and knowledge of computers is gaining importance as welding, soldering, and brazing machine operators become more responsible for programming robots and other computer-controlled machines.
In addition, the U.S. Armed Forces operate welding and soldering schools.
Although numerous employers are willing to hire inexperienced entry-level workers and train them on the job, many prefer to hire workers who have been through training or credentialing programs.
Because understanding the welding process and inspecting welds is important for both welders and welding machine operators, companies hiring machine operators prefer workers with a background in welding.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
The Institute for Printed Circuits offers certification and training in soldering. In industries such as aerospace and defense, which need highly skilled workers, many employers require these certifications. Certification can show mastery of lead-free soldering techniques, which are important to many employers.
Some employers pay the cost of training and testing for employees.
Detail oriented. Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers perform precision work, often with straight edges and minimal flaws. The ability to see details and characteristics of the joint and detect changes in molten metal flows requires good eyesight and attention to detail.
Manual dexterity. Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers must have a steady hand to hold a torch in one place. Workers must also have good hand-eye coordination.
Physical stamina. The ability to endure long periods of standing or repetitious movements is important for welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers.
Physical strength. Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers must be in good physical condition. They often must lift heavy pieces of metal and move welding or cutting equipment, and sometimes bend, stoop, or reach while working.
Spatial-orientation skills. Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers must be able to read, understand, and interpret two- and three-dimensional diagrams in order to fit metal products correctly.
Technical skills. Welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers must be able to operate manual or semiautomatic welding equipment to fuse metal segments.
The median annual wage for welders, cutters, solderers and brazers was $36,300 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $24,720, and the top 10 percent earned more than $56,130.
Wages for welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers vary with the worker’s experience and skill level, the industry, and the size of the company.
Although most welders, solderers, cutters, and brazers work full time, overtime is common. Many manufacturing firms have two or three 8- to 12-hour shifts each day, allowing the firm to continue production around the clock if needed. As a result, welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers may work evenings and weekends.
Employment of welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2012 to 2022, slower than the average for all occupations.
Employment growth reflects the need for welders in manufacturing because of the importance and versatility of welding as a manufacturing process. The basic skills of welding are similar across industries, so welders can easily shift from one industry to another, depending on where they are needed most. For example, welders laid off in the automotive manufacturing industry may be able to find work in the oil and gas industry.
The nation’s aging infrastructure will require the expertise of welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers to help rebuild bridges, highways, and buildings. The construction of new power generation facilities and, specifically, pipelines transporting natural gas and oil will also result in new jobs.
Overall job prospects will vary with the worker’s skill level. Job prospects should be good for welders trained in the latest technologies. Welding schools report that graduates have little difficulty finding work, and many employers report difficulty finding properly skilled welders. However, welders who do not have up-to-date training may face strong competition for jobs.
For all welders, job prospects should be better for those willing to relocate.
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