Metals Tech. high tech! New VR welding trainer saves money and time

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Robert Jennings
  • 442d Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Pilots no longer have a monopoly on high-tech simulators. Welding training at the 442d Maintenance Squadron’s Metals Technology shop just got a boost into the 21st century.

Based on conversations on the Metals Tech. SharePoint site, other Metals Tech. shops around Air Force Reserve Command had been using a virtual-reality welding trainer, the VRTEX 360, for some time, and Johnathan Shellhart, a machinist with the 442 MXS, began researching it.

“Our shop chief reached out to us and asked us to get him some information on it,” Shellhart said. “I provided that to him.”

The squadron has purchased the trainer, which uses sensors on the welding gun and the training stock to tell the user how well the welding job is going.

Using the trainer allows the shop to completely eliminate the waste that goes into training people to weld properly. A single sheet of the titanium material used in training costs approximately $5,000.

“The machine is $40,000,” said Cameron McWilliams, another machinist with the 442 MXS. “It’ll pay itself off in one week’s time.”

The machine also saves time in training, because it eliminates the prep work that goes into setting up an actual weld and allows members to build muscle memory much more quickly than if they had to set up a new weld between each pass.

A screen allows the person conducting the training to set up the scenario. There are multiple scenes in which welding can be performed, including a desert deployment and an auto shop. The trainer puts on a headset that gives a full three-dimensional view of the chosen scene, including the stock and the welding gun, which has four indicators that help the trainee position the gun for optimal welding. In addition, the trainer mimics the sound of welding, changing the pitch depending on the welding gun’s distance from the stock.

The primary drawbacks the Metals Tech. shop has seen are a slight jitter in the view when the trainee’s head moves, and minor difficulties fitting glasses into the headset.

After the weld is complete, the machine gives a line graph showing the position, angle, speed, and distance throughout the weld. It also gives a score out of 100 for the quality of the weld, which helps the Metals Tech. shop to certify its members on the task.