Monday | 13 August, 2012 | 1:52 pm

Learning by example

By Gretchen Salois

Accessibility allows welders to log on and learn at the click of a mouse

August 2012 - Sometimes following written instructions doesn’t yield expected results. Frustration stemming from lack of understanding or questions left unanswered can leave welders at any proficiency level frustrated. Wyatt Swaim, a veteran GTAW welder who has worked on an array of alloys for military-grade aerospace projects, NASA and car racing industries, offers welders of every level advice and methods in web episodes as Weld.com’s Mr. TIG.

Launched in 2011, Weld.com gives fabricators an outlet to research machinery as well as methods to master welding techniques. Forums allow for an interactive exchange where registrants can ask questions and have them answered by experts as well as fellow welders. For those looking to improve their technique or fix a complicated problem, many turn to the instructional videos demonstrating step-by-step processes on the website.

With more than 35 years of fabricating experience, Swaim began his welding career in 1973. His career escalated in 1975 when he became involved with the Space Shuttle Program at NASA. In 1986, Cleveland-based Lincoln Electric hired Swaim as a consultant. There, he helped provide fabrication support for the motorsports industry for organizations such as NASCAR, NHRA and Indycar. “It all started with my involvement in helping design welding machines for Lincoln,” Swaim says. “As I did demonstrations, I had tons of questions.” Swaim says he focused on GTAW “because it’s a clean welding process and involves every metal that’s weldable—from scientific grade to the guy in the garage fixing a hot rod,” he adds.

Swaim’s expertise started in the aerospace industry after leaving his hometown college at Arkansas City Junior College, which today is known as Cowley College, Arkansas City, Ark.  He says accumulating skills was easy working on projects for the U.S. military or NASA. “Many of the top-secret aircraft we worked on used technology that wasn’t released to the public decades or longer later,” he says. Lincoln got involved in the racing world at Indy and Swaim found himself working race after race once it became clear his welds were well executed.

A new platform for expertise
Each web video is available on Weld.com and Swaim will answer questions from welders, another benefit to the hands-on learning process. Weld.com is launching its next phase, first reclassifying videos and making it easier for people to search for specific topics of interest. Registering will also be easier as users can sign in through their Facebook or Twitter accounts.

The site’s Apples to Apples section, which provides product comparisons of welding machines and wire feeders, for example, also will include segments on safety equipment and consumables, says Todd Clouser, marketing and social media specialist at Weld.com. In an unbiased approach, “we’ll take all the manufacturing specs of different machinery and line them up for readers to look through,” he adds.

The site’s platform allows people to register and leave reviews for different machines, sharing their opinions with other readers. “We want to provide just the hard, cold numbers,” says Norm Sted, director of marketing and sales. “We want to give people the ability to leave their five-star ratings and also leave any comments.”

Segments like “Mr. TIG” provide an open-ended dialogue between users. “Just like any forum, people can start threads, comment on other people’s threads or even show off a weld they are proud of,” Sted adds.

As viewers continue to turn to Swaim for his tips and expertise, he says the learning process is always changing. “It’s nonstop. There’s a market for every metal,” Swaim says, adding a material like 4130 chrome-moly, used in the missile defense industry, now is used for race car frames. “We’ve gone the full gamut. People are using methods discovered for the military and aerospace industries for go-kart frames.

“Titanium used to be untouchable by the average human and now we’re welding golf clubs out of it,” he continues. “Welders didn’t used to be able to restore cars with TIG welding because it was too expensive and people didn’t want to pay $4,000 to fix one part of their car. Now that same process would only cost someone $800. It’s a lot more reasonable.”

The “Mr. TIG” feature on Weld.com will grow as viewers ask questions and share their own projects online. “We get a lot of our ideas from questions viewers ask,” Clouser says.

Sted adds soon welders will have the ability to view the instructional videos using their smartphones, another feature to make the material more accessible. “If that welder is not near a computer, but has a smartphone, they can access these resources right then and there,” he says. MM

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