Learning That Learning Works:

Morrow County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, Angela Powell, experiences the Lincoln Electric Vrtex 360 to preview MEP at Columbus State maintenance welding training program.
(All images provided by MEP.)

With more than 22 years at Ohio’s Columbus State Community College (CSCC) and three years as the director of the Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) located there, Jeff Spain combines a dedication to training with an expansive love of learning that is serving his organization’s mission well. He described that mission as “one partner, multiple solutions.”

That mindset is particularly critical as Ohio and the rest of the country emerge from pandemic restrictions and the attendant shifts in defining meaningful work — the so-called “Great Resignation.”

“At the beginning of the pandemic, we quickly realized in-person training would be difficult,” Spain said. “We started online training and started building a network of partners for content and experience. Now as pandemic pressures are easing, we’re re-incorporating in-person learning back into the mix. We’re learning that online learning works and that having a classroom portion tied to it works better. ”

Training Deliverables:

Midwest Acoust-A-Fiber (MWAAF), located in Delaware, Ohio, is a major Tier One supplier to the automotive industry. It supplies engineered acoustic and thermal protection products designed for cars and light-vehicle models around the world. MWAAF describes itself as a high-volume manufacturer using a wide range of materials: fiberglass, foam, cast PUR foam, resinated cotton, PET felt, aluminized steel, stainless steel, aluminum and E-glass, both alone and in varied combinations.

The company found a need to increase the number of trained associates available to perform structural welding functions, particularly important in maintaining MWAAF’s numerous production operations. They came to MEP for training help, saying their preference was that training and development be conducted at MWAAF and at times convenient for each shift.

Spain and his team responded with a training proposal centered on MWAAF’s maintenance welding functions. The program outlines how to achieve proficiency in:

  • Welding and safety procedures.
  • MIG operation basics and setup.
  • Review of the welding equipment used at MWAAF.
  • Discussions about the repair process.

Since MEP’s welding development solution included welding theory and hands-on skill practice, it proposed a combination of computer-based training, using a virtual welding simulator, and on-site welding instruction on MWAAF equipment.

Computer Training Integrated:

The online computer-based portion of the training involves students receiving an online access code that will link to the program’s theory components.

“The MEP at Columbus State has a partnership with Tooling U-SME to provide technical training materials,” Spain explained. “Online training from CSCC and Tooling U-SME offers a quick-start progressive roadmap that allows manufacturers to build career paths for their employees.

This online training enhances hands-on training to create a job progression plan requiring minimal upfront preparation. Training is efficient, practical, and developed with input from manufacturing experts. We have identified approximately 6 hours of online content that will be available to students before and during class. ”

Virtual Welding, Actual Experience:

The course also includes time on a virtual welding simulator to practice specific welding techniques and to better develop and enhance the muscle memory needed for consistent superior welding.

The simulator includes a uni-gun that adapts to SMAW, GTAW, GMAW and FCAW welding. Together with the GTAW filler metal drive and adaptive foot pedal, the result is a realistic portrayal of the look, feel and action of actual guns and torches. Students can:

  • Practice flat and horizontal welding on mild steel, aluminum and stainless steel.
  • Respond to an incredibly realistic weld puddle that is visually and audibly responsive to operator behavior. This helps welders learn when to adjust their technique. If an improper move is employed, welding discontinuities appear.
  • Track and score key weld parameters including work angle, travel angle, travel speed, distance and position.

Students meet for a total of four in-person class sessions and two out-of-class sessions, resulting in 18 hours of instruction — approximately six hours of theory paired with 12 hours of hands-on instruction and application. On-site, in-person training was proposed to take two hours per day once a week. Out-of-class online sessions would be available 24 hours a day, beginning two weeks before the first on-site training day. These sessions would remain open for an additional two weeks following the final day of on-site training The training’s final three on-site sessions include lessons within the plant using MWAAF welders on scrapped material.

“The entire program was designed around achieving Acoust-A-Fiber’s objectives, yet allowing students to learn at their own pace,” Spain said. “Everybody’s different. Asynchronous learning: [a general term describing forms of education, instruction and learning that do not occur in the same place or at the same time] works well for some, and others respond well to conventional methods.

“Learning is definitely not one size fits all.”

How Did the Program Work Out?

Spain called it “a legendary experience.” While numbers still have to be reported back to MWAAF, new maintenance welding associates translate into enhanced company productivity and reduced equipment downtime, creating an upward spiral of achieving new sales, retaining existing accounts, cost savings and improved competencies and turnaround.

“The program generates tremendous value and significant ROI,” he said.

Would Spain tweak the program with any lessons learned?

“Incorporating the manufacturer’s equipment earlier in the process would strengthen the connection to what they need to achieve,” he noted. “Then back to the classroom.”

MEP at Columbus State instructor and MWAAF employees celebrate a job well done! Picture includes Dustin Homes, Steven Breckenridge, Robert Ashburn, Gabriel Guerrero, and MEP at Columbus State instructor, Steve Owens.

An added note: Spain said the virtual welding simulator, part of Tooling U-SME’s ULINC content provided by Lincoln Electric, is “the coolest video game I ever played.”

Given that the skilled worker shortage remains a significant battle to win, the past two years have seen a fundamental shift to employee retention as opposed to employee recruitment.

Said Daniela Villaca, human resources manager at MWAAF: Beyond the obvious benefits of providing employees with the knowledge, skills and abilities to do their job better, investing in training and development with Columbus State has been another way to show our commitment to our team. In addition, it has had the added effect of decreasing turnover and increasing employee engagement. ”

For more information on Tooling U-SME, go to toolingu.com. For more on the Ohio MEP, visit the Ohio State Department of Development at https://development.ohio.gov/business/manufacturing/ohio-manufacturing-extension-partnership.

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