Back in October, the American Welding Society brought a large promotional truck over to the 2013 Maker Faire in NYC. Once inside, visitors had access to welded sculptures, information about career opportunities, and the opportunity to try their hand at arc welding.
The welding wasn’t real of course. Lincoln Electric had brought over a couple of their VRTEX 360 virtual reality welding machines.
I spoke with a local representative of the American Welding Society, who said that these virtual reality welding trainers are commonly used in the US military as a way to determine which candidates are most suitable to continue onto welding training.
According to the AWS rep, these welding simulations can be used for training, but are commonly used for testing.
I convinced my wife to give it a try first, and she donned the uncomfortable and vision-blocking welding helmet, which has two small LCD screens that show the same information as on an external screen.
The virtual welding software scores you based on bead accuracy, probe angle, and speed. The display even simulates sparking, and according to Lincoln Electric is can also simulates slag, pipe grinding, and weld cooling.
When used for training or testing purposes, instructors have their own display, which highlight different failures or deficiencies, such as poor bead placement, incorrect weld sizing, excess splatter, porosity, slag inclusions, and convex or concave bead profiles.
Here’s what it looks like inside the helmet:
How much does all this cost? According to Google, about $50K per complete VRTEX 360 package.
Using the VRTEX 360 virtual reality welding trainer was a pretty neat experience. I scored a bit higher than my wife did, but she’ll argue that it’s because I skipped putting on the helmet and only watched the overhead display.
Simulated welding isn’t a substitute for hands-on welding experience or training, but it seems like it could be useful for initial/beginner training.
Maybe it even demystified welding for some of the kids and adults who packed into the small AWS trailer. Many of those who experienced the Lincoln Electric welding trainer probably learned and thought about welding more in 5 minutes than most people do in a lifetime. At the least, everyone seemed to be having fun.