There are numerous career opportunities in the metal fabrication industry, from engineers and material handlers to inspectors and CNC operators, and more. But the one profession that first comes to mind for most is welders.
The technical skill and necessary training for welders can vary greatly within the industry, however. In particular, precision welding requires the greatest proficiency.
Is precision welding a good career choice, and how far can a welding career take you? Let’s take a look at what you might expect.
Precision welding is an advanced fabrication process that joins metal parts together while maintaining extremely tight tolerances. It is the most precise, clean, and time-consuming method of welding and typically uses gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW), also referred to as TIG welding.
In welder lingo, “laying the perfect bead” could be seen as precision welding, but there’s much more to it than that. Precision welders may need to conform to strict geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T) specifications and weld components that measure within less than a millimeter of the stated dimensions. Achieving these tight tolerances can be challenging, even for the most experienced welder, due to how various metals perform when heated. Some, like aluminum, have a propensity to experience shrinkage, weld cracking, or other dimensional variances.
Precision welders also need to understand and follow complex blueprints and weld maps that identify the number and location of welds and help ensure a repeatable process from one piece to the next. They also need good interpersonal skills to collaborate with engineers, project managers, and quality control specialists to develop the best path forward on a project and achieve the desired results.
RELATED: The Importance of Weld Mapping in Precision Metal Fabrication
The types and sizes of projects that require precision welding are wide ranging. It is often required on very small parts like semiconductors and microchips where robotics are most often used due to their miniscule size. Larger components may also require precision welding.
Such is the case with most items produced at Fox Valley Metal-Tech. This includes complex electrical enclosures built for the Department of Defense (DoD) for use on naval vessels. Due to their size combined with extremely tight tolerance requirements, almost all welds are done by hand, Precision welders take great pride in being able to achieve impeccable craftsmanship and work with their hands to deliver such precise results.
To be considered among the upper echelon of welders, there will be numerous welding codes and standards that need to be complied with. Additionally, you need to have completed training and become certified. Fortunately, many custom metal fabrication companies offer training as part of their development programs. Though a welder may not have extensive training or skills when hired, they can often work their way up the ladder (and the payscale).
Welder certifications are an indication of a welder’s capabilities and proficiency. Two major certification programs in the precision welding industry are American Welding Society (AWS) and Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA). AWS is often required for work on commercial industry projects whereas NAVSEA certifications are typically required for defense contracts. Each has their own training requirements in addition to performance-based tests and experience hours. If you’re considering a career in welding, ask the potential employer about their training programs which can lead to opportunities for advancement.
RELATED: Understanding AWS and NAVSEA Welding Certification Requirements
When choosing a career, there’s more to consider than competitive wages and the benefits offered by an employer (insurance, retirement plan, PTO, profit sharing, etc.). Some modern metal fabrication companies have invested in climate controlled shop floors with A/C to make for comfortable working conditions. They also place a strong emphasis on safety.
College isn’t for everyone, especially when it comes with significant student debt. If a person is willing to learn a welding profession through an employer, oftentimes the company will provide tuition reimbursement. They gain the benefit of on-the-job training, no college debt, and competitive pay to launch their careers.
Salaries are important, of course, and welders can expect to earn between $18 – $28 per hour, with the most elite certified welders being the top earners. Some metal fabrication companies also have attractive sign-on and annual bonuses in addition to other perks.
There’s great pride in being able to take a hunk of metal, lay a beautiful weld, and turn it into something functional and oftentimes beautiful in the eyes of many. It truly is an art. There are some misconceptions about the metal fabrication industry that have led some to dismiss it as a potential career path. Others believe they don’t have the necessary skills or training to even apply at a custom metal fabrication company.
For the types of weld procedures and specialty projects produced by Fox Valley Metal-Tech, few have all the experience and skills they’ll need right out of the gate. That’s why we offer robust training and certification programs in addition to mentorship and development opportunities.
If you have a general understanding of welding, a steady hand, and an eye for detail, you may be an ideal candidate. Just as important is an eagerness to learn and a collaborative attitude.
Precision welders are in high demand and can look forward to a long, sustainable career. Fox Valley Metal-Tech in Green Bay, Wisconsin is a growing company with a strong pipeline that offers numerous career opportunities and benefits, including desirable hours and no mandatory overtime. Explore our current job openings below and reach out to talk through whether our team is where you belong.