May 27, 2008
Skilled, responsible welders can be expected to perform tasks to which they are accustomed very well. But when a brand-new project comes in, management should be careful not to give welders responsibilities they are not prepared to take. They need more than encouragement and sympathy.
Management is best described by the functions it wields, including a certain list of activities for the purpose of achieving a goal. Industrial companies flourish or fail depending on the results of their management operations.
Companies with welding departments, big or small, should have welding management in place to organize and administer the work coming in and the products going out. It helps if the welding manager is knowledgeable about welding. He need not be able to handle a torch, but he should have a basic understanding of the process.
The person covering this function in the past, especially if he was an old metallurgist with decades of experience under his belt, may have been laid off long ago during company restructuring and cost cutting. Perhaps a younger manager with no knowledge of welding stepped in, mainly to hire welders when required (if they are somewhere to be found) or to fire them when necessary.
There's nothing wrong with this scenario, provided the new "welding decision-maker" knows his own limits and asks of the welders only what can be expected from them.
Once in a while I get a letter from a welder who introduces himself and asks for some technical help. This generally is a nice, refreshing experience, and I try to do my best to come up with some meaningful suggestions.
I recently received such a message from a person with years of experience as an industrial welder who shared his problem. The company he works for has taken on a new project that requires a demanding welding job. The material, the thickness, and the requirements all are new to the welder. He asked me how he should tackle the work.
First, I must say that I was impressed by this welder's personality. It was readily apparent from his letter that he is a conscientious and motivated worker who is keenly interested in and loves his work. He takes pride in his profession, wants to make successful welds, and is loyal to his employer.
Although he has confidence in his own knowledge and experience, his healthy common sense led him to ask for advice. All of these qualities that came through in his writing instilled me with great respect for this person, even though I don't know him personally.
But I have to ask: Where is the welding management?
Somebody should advise this honest welder that he cannot shoulder a responsibility he is not equipped to take upon himself. If he isn't fearful of being laid off, he should ask management to provide him with precise instructions in the form of a welding procedure specification (WPS).
Moreover, if he gives his best effort to succeed at the project, he should not be held liable if it fails. But who is going to tell a manager such a thing if he is unable to understand it on his own?
Another case comes to my mind. A welder wrote about his experience as part of a welding team assembling a cab. The team misplaced an element. Management held the workers responsible for the extra work required to correct the mistake and penalized them.
In my opinion, this is not acceptable. Any item should be designed for errorproof assembly. It is the designer's responsibility to make incorrect assembly impossible by design. At the very least, corresponding elements should be clearly marked for correct assembly.
Any conceivable aid should be put in place to free welders from the risk of making assembling errors and being penalized. But again, who is in charge of welding management? Who is going to tell the managers?
If you are not convinced that good management is critical to a successful welding operation, read "Welding management—Demystifying an executive's traditional viewpoint," by Jack Barckhoff, P.E. This article can be found along with others written for management on the American Welding Society's management page.
Also read "Welding watch—Managing your welding operation: The basics of welding management," originally published in Practical Welding Today® and reprinted on thefabricator.com.
Elia E. Levi is a welding consultant. Comments can be sent to the author by using the form available at http://www.welding-advisers.com/and clicking on the Contact Us button.