Welding Education: A Bachelor of Science in Welding Engineering and what it can do for you
If you were to reduce the welding process to its core elements, you would discover the process is all about physics—as in the science that explains matter, gravity, velocity, chemistry, biology and the universe at large. Physics is the science that explains the properties of the “physical” world; physics is at work around us all the time, governing the actions and reactions of the world in which we live.
Physics also happens to be the science that explains how and why welding works, as just about everything in welding can be reduced to core scientific principles defined by physics. The practice of Welding Engineering is the study and practical application of Welding Science.
Welding Engineers study the physics of welding, in an effort to understand how and why the welding process works. The primary purpose of this study is to create new codes and procedures for new welding applications, and to update existing codes and procedures to account for changes or adjustments to existing welding applications. Welding Engineers are responsible for all of the research and study that goes into creating the formally published manuals of codes and procedures that govern nearly every welding process and application.
In basic terms, welding engineers study things like:
- The physics behind the process by which two pieces of metal are physically bonded together, i.e. how metal is welded
- The physics behind the process by which Oxygen and Acetylene Gas are combined to create a superheated flame to melt and bond two individual pieces of metal together
- The physics behind the process by which electric current is used to create a superheated arc to melt and bond two individual pieces of metal together
- The physics behind why certain joints work (or don’t) when welded using certain metals
Understanding and explaining the physics at work in the welding process makes it possible to predict how certain metals will react when used with a particular welding process or for a specific application. All of this information is compiled and used to create the formal codes and procedures that govern how specific welding processes should be used for specific applications. The work and study conducted by Welding Engineers is used to determine how welding is used in the manufacture of cars and other products that include metal, and how welding is used in the construction of buildings, bridges and other steel or metal structures.
As I’m sure you can imagine, your typical community college or trade school welding program doesn’t really delve too deeply (if at all), into the physics or the science behind welding. Even an Associate’s Degree (AA) in Welding Engineering only covers 1/3 to 1/2 of the math (calculus) and physics (more calculus). If you want the real deal of a complete education in Welding Engineering, a full Bachelor’s of Science is the only way to go.
Attending a four year college and earning a BS in Welding Engineer is pretty similar to pursing any other engineering degree. Your course of study begins with a focus in the fundamentals; math (as in heavy-duty calculus) and physics (which also involves a lot of heavy-duty calculus). Once you complete your core engineering requirements, you branch out into more welding specific studies, including material science (the science of creating physical materials – metals, plastics, ceramics and composite materials) the physics of joint construction, and the chemistry and physical properties of metallurgy.
Generally speaking, a BS in welding engineering doesn’t include any actual hands-on welding training, unless you elect to take a practical welding course. And even then, it’s nowhere near the level of applied instruction you would receive in a typical welding certification focused trade school program.
Additionally, only a few colleges offer formal and fully accredited Bachelor of Science in Welding Engineering programs:
- The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio
- Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Michigan
- LeTourneau University, Longview, Texas
Ohio State University’s program being the oldest and most-well respected.
OK, you’ve spent four years of your life and untold thousands of dollars earning a Bachelor’s degree in Welding Engineering, and what now? A degree in welding engineering opens the door to a variety of career opportunities in manufacturing (the automotive industry being a chief employer of welding engineers), research and development (R&D), and the development of welding equipment.
Every time a new manufacturing process (that involves welding) is created or updated (or altered in any way), the corresponding welding codes and procedures must be evaluated, adjusted and revised accordingly. And it’s the Welding Engineer’s job to do the research and make the necessary assessments to develop and publish updated codes and procedures.
A welding engineer’s expertise may be employed in pure R&D, as a part of developing a new manufacturing process or updating existing manufacturing processes, or simply to update the codes and procedures once a new manufacturing process has been completed and introduced into production.
A welding engineer’s knowledge of the physics behind welding processes are also applicable to developing and engineering welding equipment, making their expertise relevant to welding equipment manufacturers. This is a highly specific industry, however, with a relatively small pool of job opportunities.
So what does your investment of time and money in earning your welding engineering degree entitle you to in terms of monetary compensation? Right out of the gate, a welding engineer has a pretty serious leg up on your average Certified Welder, with a median yearly salary of just over $80,000. Another benefit is the “white collar” nature of engineering jobs, which means you don’t have to get your hands dirty or put yourself at risk by engaging in the physical act of welding. A welding engineer is required to expend a great deal of brain power, but not the real sweat of physical labor involved in actual welding.
As with most engineering jobs, however, welding engineer’s salaries tend to top out at a certain level, and unless you move up into a management position, which usually means your job has little to do with engineering, or you start your own business, you’re not going to see your yearly income increase much above $100k.