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$1.7 million grant buys WMCC an advanced welding lab & mobile lab

September 18, 2013
BERLIN — The welding program at White Mountains Community College has been transformed, thanks to a $1.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Three brand-new environmentally friendly "virtual" welding machines allow students to learn welding techniques "without any scrap and with no stick, no flux, and no plate," explained Trade Act Adjustment and Community College Career Training (TAACCCT) grant coordinator John Holt of Dummer during a Wednesday afternoon tour.

Twenty-four new state-of-the-art welding booths, each outfitted with its own flexible fume extraction arm, piped gasses from a central location, and brand-new equipment, were being used for the first time that afternoon by 19 students. Each welding student has his or her name written on the inside of a booth, making that person responsible for keeping it clean and work-ready.

New booths are also being set up for plasma cutting and grinding, a Computerized Numeric Controlled Plasma Cutting table, and an automated Oxy cutting and welding machine plus other modern welding equipment and additional software. "We were able to select the best equipment offered by the two major welding equipment manufacturers: Lincoln Electric and Miller," Holt pointed out delightedly.

A community Open House to show off the new equipment will be held from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 9.

"Our three virtual welders are the cornerstone of our new advanced welding lab," Holt said. "Although nothing can replace 'hands-on' learning, research shows that using virtual welders improves students' technique and they learn both faster and better. Students can practice basic techniques with immediate feedback on speed, body position, angles and so forth. Virtual welders engage students and, if two students are working together, they're likely to stand around and talk about welding, analyzing their results. And there is really no time wasted in setting things up, as there is in a regular welding booth.

"When you flip down the virtual hood, the room around you disappears and you are in a simulated Motorsports Garage. It also scores your welds against American Welding Society (AWS) standards," Holt explained. "These units motivate students to stay engaged in their own learning." Safety is emphasized in all areas of welding, he added.

A new Mobile Training Lab is now being fabricated at Mobile Medical International Corporation (MMIC) in St. Johnsbury, Vt. (www.mobile-medical.com). "This unit will be housed in a 50-foot trailer that was custom designed by MMIC with six welding booths, its own generator, a fold-down table for cutting and grinding work outside, and a classroom area with a virtual welding machine.

"The mobile lab is designed for on-site custom training and will be used at our Littleton campus to offer a SMAW (stick) welding program on evenings and Saturdays," Holt said. "The program will start on Oct. 28 and run three nights a week for about four hours and on Saturday for eight hours." The shortened program will provide basic SMAW safety, theory and practical welding skills as well as an introduction to oxy cutting and beveling.

A second program will run in the spring 2014 and will expand upon those skills and prepare students for an AWS structural certification. These programs will be the same credit-bearing courses that students take in the Welding Technology program spread out over a longer period in Berlin, Holt explained. Students can receive financial aid for these basic skills courses in a high-demand field in which many skilled welders are now reaching retirement age.

"Last summer (2012) we had 18 graduates, all of them passed the externally administered ASME Pipe Certification Test and 17 of them had welding positions within weeks of graduation," said lead welding instructor Michael Pike in a prepared statement. "And these are good jobs starting between $17 and $20 an hour, many with benefits." Two adjunct instructors also teach welding: Gerry Therriault and John Mullins.

The two-semester daytime Welding Technology Certificate program at the Berlin campus began on Sept. 3, requiring on-site attendance of between 20 to 25 hours weeks, in which students also take math, blueprint reading, and theory. Upon completion, students have the opportunity to take an AWS test for structural welding certification. Many of the students continue over the summer for the Pipe Welding Certificate.

For more information on the Welding Technology program or the shortened courses in Littleton, go to www.wmcc.edu or phone the admissions office at 752-1113, ext. 3000.

A 10-person NH Works tour held on Thursday, Sept. 12, included a MMIC tour in St. Johnsbury to see the mobile lab under construction and a tour of the new equipment at WMCC's Berlin campus.

The funds for WMCC's new welding lab came through a Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) Grant. The Community College System of NH as a whole was awarded nearly $20 million through the TAACCCT grant to provide updated skills and training in Advanced Manufacturing. WMCC concentrated all its funds on the welding program, making it a "destination" program not only for area students but also for students from around the state.

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