For a company that already had a shortage of skilled MIG operators and low welding production rates, UpRight Inc., a manufacturer of aerial lifting platforms, faced an even bigger challenge when management decided to increase production rates starting in January of 2000. To ensure it had the skilled welders needed to tackle the increased workload, UpRight started its own Welding Training Center. Fully equipped with the same Lincoln Electric CV-655 power sources, which are used in its Selma and Madera, CA plants, this Center has trained more than 130 operators since opening in the summer of 1999.
This training extends to both new hires with little or no welding experience and current employees looking to brush up on their skills. The Training Center has allowed UpRight's welding department to keep up with the tremendous growth rate for its products such as scissors lifts, straight boom lifts, articulated boom lifts and telescoping material handling products. For employees, the training means increased skills, a more defined career path and sometimes better pay.
"We didn't start out intending to build our own Welding Training Center," said Tom Gless, Welding Engineer with UpRight, Inc. "But when management first started to take aggressive steps to increase production, I began a survey of technical training centers within a 150 mile radius. What I found was that most centers surveyed did not teach the skills necessary for production welding in our plants. What these facilities were teaching was short arc MIG welding on thin materials at low amperages, much different than what we do at UpRight which is spray arc transfer MIG on heavy plate with large diameter wire."
Since the company's welding skill needs weren't being met by external sources, UpRight decided to start its own Welding Training Center. "I started developing a curriculum which would teach the MIG production skills needed in our plants and presented this to management," says Gless. "Once management gave their approval, we assembled a Welding Training Center in 18 days. We moved fast because we really needed to find and train people quickly to get ready for the ramp-up in production. This quick turnaround was only possible with the help of local Lincoln representative Walt Aviko."
Potential students are recruited in two ways: first, directly by UpRight's human resources department and, secondly through the services of temporary agencies in the area. When new employees are hired at UpRight, the first step is often to send them through Assembly training. This began as a two to three day class to teach employees the skills necessary to work on UpRight's assembly line. These employees are then put on the assembly line to learn about the product and become familiar with the operations of the plant.
If employees are interested, they can be sent to the Welding Training Center. There the employees learn spray transfer MIG in both flat and horizontal positions. The Training Center began by being equipped with 20 stations that each had a Lincoln Electric CV-655 power source and LN-10 wire feeders. In this way, students use the same equipment they will be using in the shop environment. They also use the same .035" and .045" wire with tri-mix shielding gas used in production. Although there is classroom instruction, most of the time is spent hands-on learning how the machines actually operate. Students must pass skills tests and take written assessment tests. The training focuses on joints similar to those welded on the production floor. This makes for very effective learning so good students can become good welders in less time.
How long a particular student attends classes in the Welding Training Center is his or her own ability. All students start out together and then after a certain point, they can proceed on a self-paced basis. The operator teaches himself or herself a new skill then progresses to the next level or learning objective. Most students spend an average of four weeks in the Training Center. An increase in pay is a possible benefit for an operator learning as much as he or she can at the UpRight Welding Training Center.
"We have had both new employees and current employees attend the Training Center," remarks Gless. "It is sometimes easier to train a new operator safe techniques than to break a more experienced welder of bad habits he or she may have picked up."
Gless was the only instructor when the School started in August 1999. Since that time, two additional instructors have been hired. Class sizes are kept small, 32 students or less so each has personalized instruction. To date, eight classes have graduated from UpRight's school.
When asked if the Welding Training Center has accomplished what it had set out to do, Gless answers positively. "With this Center we are doing what we had difficulty doing before, which is create good production MIG welders for our own company. They understand how to set the machines and know how to weld. They even know how to troubleshoot if there is a welding problem and can correct that problem themselves."
But, the big test was whether the Training Center has helped meet the production needs. "Before we started the school we had fewer welders than necessary. Once the training center began we were able to provide the number of welders necessary," comments Gless. "This is a huge accomplishment for our company. In order to compete, companies should consider creating their own training facility - I would recommend it to anyone facing the same challenges we did. Management is very impressed with what we've been able to accomplish, and we wouldn't have been able to do this through traditional hiring methods."
In addition, the Welding Training Center has helped employees feel like they now have a defined career path with our company. This may have played a role in helping us increase retention rates."
UpRight's products are supplied primarily to rental equipment agencies and contractors. The UpRight Training Center uses CV-655 power sources from Lincoln that were purchased a year ago. Why did UpRight choose Lincoln's CV-655? Gless explains, "The CV-655s are larger than our previous power sources and able to handle larger wire diameters. Currently 80 percent of our wire is .035" in diameter and the other 20 percent is .045". In the future, we may want to start using .052" and more .045" to provide higher deposition rates, more volume and ultimately, higher production rates. Typical power sources can't handle a wire diameter such as .052". Also, typical machines can't provide the excellent spray transfer as does the CV-655."
Using spray arc transfer helps UpRight eliminate grinding of spatter typical with other MIG transfer modes, which also helps to speed up production rates. Typical welds made at UpRight are carbon steel fillet welds on 70,000 psi tensile strength material. The thickness of the material ranges from .083" to 3.5".
Lincoln's CV-655 is especially designed for high amperage/high duty cycle, industrial MIG welding applications. It delivers 650 amps and adequate voltage for spray transfer at 80 percent duty cycle. According to Gless, the unit can handle high travel speeds and creates good deposition rates. He also notes that the machine is superior to previous machines in ruggedness and reliability.
"One option I really like with the CV-655s is that they offer me the ability to lock out certain parameters," reports Gless. "In this way I know that our operators weld within a range of parameters and that they are getting good weld penetration and better bead appearance." Also with the LN-10 wire feeder, the drive rolls click into place, they can be adjusted and tilted out easily. And, the drive rolls don't need to be changed with a wrench - the welders can do it themselves, which means less downtime.
"Lincoln has been working to be a single source equipment supplier to us and has been a tremendous help in standardization of our equipment to the CV-655s and LN-10s," claims Gless. "They've been good on the follow through, maintenance and support. I'm impressed with Lincoln. We did look at the competitors, but I didn't see a company as devoted to service and willing to go the extra mile."
To encourage further training, UpRight will be developing different welding classifications. Those already trained will then have the opportunity to go back to the Training Center and learn additional skills, such as repair welding or lead manufacturing welding. Gless also says that UpRight will look to keep improving its welding procedures, which may include more robotic welding in the future. All this will help UpRight increase its worldwide business in Europe, South America, Pacific Rim and the U.S.
Originally Written 8/4/00