SYRACUSE — Though evoking thoughts of a science fiction movie or space age technology, virtual welding is, in fact, quite real. And it is being used as part of the Pathways career and technical education program at Wawasee High School.
A state grant enabled the purchase of a Lincoln Electric Vrtex 360 virtual welder at a hefty price tag of $48,000, or the equivalent of two automobiles depending on the model. Admittedly, the grant was pursued because there would not have been enough money in the budget to purchase the virtual welder.
Termed a training tool by Jesse Kimmel, welding instructor, the virtual welder simulates an actual welding experience. “It (welder) can see what you did wrong,” he said.
The virtual welder settings can be adjusted such as for gas level, wire feed speed, location, type of welding and more. The “welder” wears a helmet typically used for welding, but also fitted with “eyes” that see the same exact image as shown on the computer screen. Whoever is monitoring the screen can see how the welder is doing and what needs to change or be adjusted.
Each welding experience is scored and Kimmel is able to download the scores off a flash drive. The welder practices on what is known as a coupon, but not something used to save money. Rather a coupon as it applies to welding is simply the item or piece practiced on.
The Vrtex 360 can not only teach students how to be better welders, but can also save money and resources. “We can teach kids to weld without wasting materials,” such as gas or equipment, Kimmel said.
It also allows for students to practice welding on their own without necessarily having adult supervision. Something it can’t do, Kimmel said, is imitate welding burns or the sparks flying.
Jon Everingham, Pathways director, said welding incorporates academics such as physics, chemistry and math. He also noted the virtual welder will be used to promote the welding program even to middle school students. It has the capability to be projected on a large screen so students can see what it is like to weld.
The $95,000 grant from the state also allowed for the purchase of more welding equipment such as booths and shears, which has not arrived yet.