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National Welding Month: Welders play vital role in AEDC mission

Pipefitter Billy Joe Emberton places tack welds before completely welding a flange onto a section of pipe, March 4, 2021, at the Model Shop at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn. April is National Welding Month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jill Pickett)

Pipefitter Billy Joe Emberton places tack welds before completely welding a flange onto a section of pipe, March 4, 2021, at the Model Shop at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn. April is National Welding Month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jill Pickett)

Dustin Williams, right, a pipefitter, holds a flange in place as fellow pipefitter Billy Joe Emberton places tack welds, March 4, 2021, at the Model Shop at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn. April is National Welding Month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jill Pickett)

Dustin Williams, right, a pipefitter, holds a flange in place as fellow pipefitter Billy Joe Emberton places tack welds, March 4, 2021, at the Model Shop at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn. April is National Welding Month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jill Pickett)

A weld completed by an Arnold Air Force Base craftsman secures a flange to a pipe elbow the Model Shop at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn., March 4, 2021. April is National Welding Month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jill Pickett)

A weld completed by an Arnold Air Force Base craftsman secures a flange to a pipe elbow the Model Shop at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn., March 4, 2021. April is National Welding Month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jill Pickett)

Pipefitter Billy Joe Emberton places tack welds before completely welding a flange onto a section of pipe, March 4, 2021, at the Model Shop at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn. April is National Welding Month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jill Pickett)

Pipefitter Billy Joe Emberton places tack welds before completely welding a flange onto a section of pipe, March 4, 2021, at the Model Shop at Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn. April is National Welding Month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jill Pickett)

ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. --

Welding is the process of using high heat to fuse metal together. At Arnold Air Force Base, the headquarters for Arnold Engineering Development Complex, there are boilermakers, pipefitters, ironworkers, sheet metal workers and machinists in the Model and Machine Shop who specialize in the skill of welding.

In recognition of the folks who possess this ability, the American Welding Society, or AWS, celebrates National Welding Month each April to bring awareness to the industry and its available career paths. According to the AWS website, welding careers play an integral role in keeping people safe and advancing the quality of life across the globe.

Warner Holt, group manager of Manufacturing Services for AEDC, agrees that the welders at Arnold have an important job, ensuring that not only test is supported, but supporting operations by building new infrastructure or repairing existing infrastructure, among other tasks.

“Whenever our customers in the mission areas across the base need items fabricated to facilitate testing, whether the item is large or small, they will typically reach out to us at the Model Shop first about getting it done because they know we can get it done in a timely manner and at a competitive cost,” Holt said.

The 40 welders in the Model Shop are spread across different craft sets, but all support testing and general operations at Arnold. This number does not include those in maintenance and operations crews scattered around the base who are also capable of welding, as required.

The welders on base are able to perform various types of welding, including Tungsten Inert Gas, or TIG, a method of welding in which the arc is maintained by a tungsten electrode and shielded from the access of air by an inert gas. They also conduct Metal Inert Gas welding, or MIG, a method in which the filler metal supplies the electric current to maintain the arc. Like TIG, in MIG welding, the arc is shielded from the access of air by an inert gas, usually argon.

“Stick welding” is another form of welding performed here. This method is a manual arc welding process that uses a consumable electrode covered with a flux to lay the weld.

The welders carry out these processes on different types of metals, including aluminum, stainless steel and carbon steel.

Like many skilled laborers, one doesn’t become a welder overnight. Welders typically complete an apprenticeship program, classroom instruction and fieldwork before taking on a job welding fulltime.

Each welder in the Model Shop is required to first pass a welder certification test as a condition of employment. As part of the test, the welder is required to perform a weld joining a couple of test pieces together. Once the weld is complete the weld is examined by our non-destructive testing inspectors to determine if the weld meets all applicable requirements.

“Through the duration of their employment, welders have to maintain certification,” said Brad Reid, Manufacturing Services deputy manager. “Certifications are based on the material to be welded and what welding technique will be used. Maintaining the certification consists of performing welding while you are here.

“A code on the timecard system tracks what and when each employee welds. This data is used to verify that the welder has performed a certain welding process. We call that information the Welder Continuity Report.”

Some of the ways that Model Shop welders support testing at Arnold is through the fabrication of piping, meshes and other items used in test cells across base. The products needed depend on the type of test and the facility in which it is conducted. The pipe used for one test may not work for a subsequent test within the same facility, meaning the welders are regularly called upon to make the necessary alterations.

The welders fabricate as much as possible in the Machine Shop based off of the plans provided. But, if needed, Model Shop welders do go out into the test facilities to make final positional welds and modifications to the product. 

Reid said base operations could not be accomplished without the welders’ essential work.

“You can’t maintain and build this place without our welders,” he said. “So in addition to National Welding Month, we like to recognize our welders and all our skilled craftsmen year round for all the hard work they put in supporting the AEDC mission.”