A Rationale for Welder Qualification

At What Point Does a Small but Growing Fabrication Shop Need to Begin Qualifying Welders?


A: As a non-destructive testing (NDT) Level III, Materials Engineer, Certified Welding Inspector and anr American Welding Society (AWS) chair for the Qualification & Certification Radiographic Interpreters (QCRI) subcommittee, my blunt answer is, “Yesterday!”

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the encouraging—and not so encouraging—reality I’ve seen regarding welder qualification and certification in my more than 45 years in the industry.

If I had to pick one topic that smaller fabrication shop owners ask me about more than any other, its welder qualification and certification. Their questions typically revolve around one central point of contest: Why do we need to qualify our welders if we know they’re good?

From a quality assurance perspective, qualification verifies that a welder is competent to follow code instructions and has the ability to deposit sound weld metal. It’s also my professional opinion that welder qualification is an ethical requirement. How can a shop expect to be reputable if it puts welders on jobs just because they say they can do it? Not to mention the potential legal and civil liability of a weld failure. If my firm’s name is on the line, I’m going to qualify my welders.

Today, just about every taxpayer-funded project has certification requirements. Think hospitals, schools, bridges, freeways, skyscrapers, etc. Many a fabrication shop owner seems surprised when I tell them that the entity brought into investigate contractor and quality issues on such “government” jobs is the FBI. It’s quite uncommon for any non-certified welder to find his or her way onto one of these projects. That’s the good news.

The not so good news? Fabrication and erection personnel on low-profile, private-sector contracts—often part of larger, high-profile structural projects—too often lack proper weld qualifications. Next time you shop at your local mall or supermarket, consider how many sub-contracted welds could quite possibly have been done by a non-qualified welder. Not to mention the multitude of non-structural welds in our world. If you’re like me, any time I find myself behind a vehicle pulling a trailer of any size, I promptly change lanes.

Code books from the likes of AWS or ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) don’t explicitly address certification requirements, but they do include minimum qualification provisions for both in-house and third-party Certified Welding Inspectors. It is the fabrication shop owner who is required to qualify its welders for particular procedures. Basically, you have two options: Train your in-house personnel to certify based on particular code or bring in a third-party.

Big dogs like ConEdison and Lincoln Electric require welders to hold multiple qualifications and carry their company issued certification cards with them on every job. Most welding union members have scannable cards with their qualifications. This key element of a comprehensive Quality Welding Programs is understandably too costly for smaller fabrication shops to implement. However, more cost-efficient options to qualify welders are available (from CWIs like ETMS, for example) that shops of any size can afford.

I’ll wrap this up with a final thought to consider. It takes the same amount of time to do a rejectable weld as it will to do an acceptable weld. Rejected welds kill profit. In all reality, shop owners really can’t afford not to qualify their welders.

Yours in Quality First,

Generous Dave

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