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Virtual welding simulators to help fill skilled trades shortages

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Adam Smyth is helping Hamsa Ali learn how to weld, and they’re not melting any metal to do it.

“So right now, he’s a little bit off on his angle, so if he rotates his wrist to the right a little bit, and move a little bit closer, he’ll be in the green. Now he can pull the trigger and do the weld,” said Smyth, while watching Ali weld using virtual reality (VR).

Stratford’s Technical Training Group (TTG) is one of the first in our region to use a Virtual Reality Welding Simulator to train students in the precise art of melding metal. With a VR attachment to the front of the welding helmet, and some specially designed hardware, anyone can learn the intricacies of welding, without actually having to melt metal.

“This is good for any age group. We can take it to trade shows, or schools, and have kids of any age try it, and see what welding is like,” said Smyth.

The Canadian Welding Bureau says the country needs to fill 20,000 to 30,000 welding positions due to retirements, in the next decade.

Most of those recruits will have no previous welding experience, and welding practice can be expensive.

“Raw materials is always a huge thing. That’s already expensed to the customer. Small and medium sized businesses can’t afford to expense extra raw materials out to do that preliminary training,” said Larry Livingstone, chair of the Huron Manufacturing Association.

A virtual welding simulator in use at Technical Training Group’s shop in Stratford on March 22, 2024. (Scott Miller/CTV News London)

The VR welding simulators are the newest offering from Huronia Welding and Industrial Supplies in Goderich, which just started selling the Lincoln Electric and Miller Electric Virtual Reality simulators this month.

“It’s not brand new technology, but it is brand new for us, and we’re one of the first ones in Canada that are able to do it,” said Huronia Welding salesperson, Nathan Swartz.

For Huronia Welding owner Doug Fines, virtual reality is not something he thought he’d ever be in the business of, but desperate times call for innovative measures.

A virtual welding simulator in use at Technical Training Group’s shop in Stratford on March 22, 2024. (Scott Miller/CTV News London)“We need the welders, so we need to build that skill set, to ultimately use the products we sell, too,” said Fines.

At the Technical Training Group, where they provide apprentice and pre-apprentice skilled trades training, the VR welding simulator is already being used on a daily basis.

“It has indicators right on the screen. How far away you are from the plate, the angle, your aim, and where the weld is actually going on. It gives you an indicator of what your travel speed should be to keep you in line with things. It’s quite amazing, really,” said TTG Welding Instructor, Adam Smyth. 

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