A whole new weld

From dirty and dangerous to clever and clean: How welding is evolving and the job opportunities it presents…

Light bulbs. Bikes. Bridges. Wind turbines. Diverse in scale and function; common in their production. Whether giant structures built to withstand harsh conditions or small intricate devices made with surgical precision, they all rely on welding and joining technology. And as this century-old process continues to transition to a digitalised one, its (easily overlooked) importance in our daily lives is only set to increase.

A changing art form
Traditionally, welding was a craft to be mastered. An art form passed on from expert to apprentice. It required specific training to learn and practice the skills, which then had to be regularly refreshed. Today, however, like many similar industries, welding is being shaken up and restructured by innovation and modernisation. Processes that were previously carried out by hand and judged by the human eye are gradually being turned over to computer programs and robots. “Dirty, dark and dangerous has long been replaced by cool, clever and clean,” says Frank Steller, Head of Market Development for Manufacturing Industries at Linde Germany.

In fact, as the classic practice of welding melts down, it is remoulding into a much broader field known as joining technology. Joining specialists carry out a hugely diverse mix of joining processes, including gluing and mechanical joining. They also work with design technology such as additive manufacturing (3D printing). “Additive manufacturing is currently experiencing a boom similar to that which we saw when laser technology was first introduced,” Mr. Steller explains. The options, both in terms of materials and processes, are only set to increase.

Growing with the flow
One man who has witnessed the changes is Franz Wimmer. Having started out as a welder at Linde 25 years ago, today he is a welding supervisor. Based in Schalchen – a one-of-a-kind engineering plant in Bavaria, Germany, that designs and manufactures components and complete modules for numerous applications in process plants – the projects he works on are huge. “The gas liquefaction plants we produce can weigh between 100 and 200 tonnes,” he tells us. For him, digitalisation has brought many improvements, from equipment to protective clothing, but also a need to understand the new technology. Asking Mr. Wimmer what has kept him in the field for so long, he tells us: “It’s an interesting job and with Linde you have the chance to see the world.” He also explains how proud he feels when customers are satisfied or when he reads about the plant and his work in the newspaper.

How to join the club
“Tech-savvy youths should be very excited about the new possibilities available,” says Mr. Steller. The job descriptions for joining specialists have completely changed, requiring completely new skill sets, new qualifications and interdisciplinary knowledge. “The welder of yesterday is not the welder of tomorrow,” he explains. “In my vision, and that of many others, the future welder will be an operator of many complex interconnected machines, bringing together the most modern technologies to join the newest materials, introduce new applications and bring the robotics trend further forward.”

And yet, despite the many exciting opportunities in the field, there is currently a shortage of applicants for open and new positions. It seems the reputation and image of the welding profession have been slow to catch up. For those eager to learn more about how to start a career in this evolving field, there are many ways to do so. Through the diverse apprenticeships at Linde, such as a plant mechanic, specialist metal technology or mechatronic technician, newcomers will also be introduced to the world of joining technology. With the help of skilled and experienced instructors — not to mention state-of-the-art technology — all apprentices have the chance to experience first-hand what a career in this innovative industry has to offer. If you want to take the initial steps to becoming a qualified expert, you can find all the information you need on our careers page.