Within the general public and even, at times, in the welding industry, there’s a lack of understanding about what a welder does. A common misperception is that anyone who works with metals is a welder, but this is inaccurate.
The welding industry encompasses a broad spectrum of positions and skills, but typically includes a helper or apprentice, a welder, and the fitter or fabricator. Depending on the product of each particular industry or business, each of these positions will be encouraged to develop a specific set of skills and standards of quality to be effective for their role.
Here’s what each role encompasses:
Helper – A welder’s helper prepares material and brings fitted parts to be welded. With supervision, a helper may do grinding and weld preparation; they’ll typically be supervised by a fabricator or welder. This is usually the least technically skilled position, but helpers are learning to weld by being in a welding environment and directly observing fabricators and journeyman welders.
Welder – The job of the welder is to verify drawings and/or instructions from a supervisor on which standards or process are applicable, determine settings on equipment, identify the metal or metals being joined and essentially manipulates a molten puddle of metal to join metal, typically on a molecular level. This is the position that will generally have the most variation both in technical skill level and in salary. For instance, fast-paced manufacturing of a single product of no specific standard or minimum in-house quality control, welding the same items throughout the day with no changes required will be considered low-skill welding. Pressurized vessels, aircraft manufacturing, gas/petroleum industry, or certain types of structural welding will require a welder to be keenly aware of specific standards and parameters of quality, maintain documentation, have very accurate eye-hand coordination, at times weld in awkward positions, and to be aware of surrounding safety issues. These are considered highly skilled workers with pay to match their abilities.
Fitter / fabricator - A fitter/fabricator typically has good welding skills combined with the ability to interpret drawings and blueprints, familiarity with tolerance standards for particular fabricated items and is very proficient with welding symbols. A fitter/fabricator often has machining skills, too. They’ll generally be responsible for correct lay-out, checking that parts are formed or cut to correct dimensions. They often work in conjunction with a helper and welder to assemble a particular item and hold it together by tack welding and bracing, then pass the item onto the welder for welding.
My experience in the past few years has been that more companies are preferring that the fitter/fabricator will also take on the job of final welding. Though each of us in the welding industry may not be a “welder” or have the same level of skill, we should all be aware that we each play an important role in the process of fabricating an item, providing a workforce for our industry and providing income for our families.
Photo courtesy of: JFKielyConstructionCo