Thursday, April 26, 2007

Taking the Plunge into Underwater Welding

This is just some reading I found. It talks about the school that I am going to be going to in May. This might just give you a little more of an idea of what it is all about =)

One of the most specialized and important of all commercial diving skills is underwater welding. The Association of Commercial Diving Educators holds Associate Membership in ADC, and offers many choices around the U.S. for prospective students who wish to enter the industry. Mary Ruth Johnsen takes a look at the College of Oceaneering's underwater welding program.
Popular culture portrays commercial divers as rugged individualists, cowboys in wet suits who work hard and play even harder. When they're not finding ancient wrecks loaded with treasure or battling sea monsters, they're foiling the plans of criminal masterminds and discovering the lost city of Atlantis. All this, of course, with only a minute of air left in their scuba tanks.
In reality, commercial divers, including underwater welders, are trained to work as part of a team, in constant communication with their partners on the surface. And for safety reasons, nearly all commercial divers around the world use surface-supplied air rather than self-contained underwater breathing apparatus (scuba).

Underwater welding fascinates even the most experienced members of the welding industry, as clearly evidenced by the large crowds who gather each time it's demonstrated at the AWS Welding Exposition. For while, in principle, underwater wet welding resembles welding in air, it's performed in a vastly different environment, an underwater world few members of the welding industry will ever get to see.

One place where students can learn the skills for that world is the College of Oceaneering in Wilmington, Calif. Located at Los Angeles Harbor, the school is accredited through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and is a member of the Association of Commercial Diving Educators. Enrollment averages 300 a year, with a capacity of 450. The school operates in five-week cycles - every five weeks a new class begins and one graduates. Students learn the basics of surface-supplied air diving during the first 30-week academic year, then undertake 20 weeks in one of three specialties: Weldtech, the underwater welding and cutting program; Spectech, the underwater inspection program; or Medtech, in which students become certified emergency medical technicians and receive training in the hyperbaric treatment of dysbaric illnesses.
The first-year curriculum includes classes on the physiological effects of underwater activity on the human body; bosun skills such as line handling, rigging and ship's husbandry; maintenance of the diving equipment; hyperbaric procedures and chamber operations.

Another key element is diving safety. Ernest Barton, the school's director of training, explained that basic safety procedures are taught during the first five-week segment, and continue to be emphasized throughout the entire program.

The school features a competency-based curriculum, Barton said. In other words, each five-week block sets up what will happen during the following five weeks, and students must prove they've mastered certain skills before they're allowed to progress.

All students, whether they plan to enter the Weldtech program or not, must take 60 hours of welding training outside the school at an approved facility. Before they can enter the program, Weldtech students must also complete the AWS D1.5, Bridge Welding Code, 2G welding requirements. Nearly three-fourths of the college's students fulfill their welding requirements at the nearby San Pedro-Wilmington Skills Center, a vocational school operated by the Los Angeles Unified School District. College of Oceaneering Welding Instructor Duke Ogden said he has also made arrangements with 17 other regional occupation programs throughout California to provide the training students need to fulfill their prerequisite.

Barton also said that at the end of 1998, the school added a short introduction to underwater welding and cutting to the first academic year, a move which he believes will result over time in more students' selecting the Weldtech specialty because they will have a better understanding of what the program will entail and what occurs during underwater welding. While underwater welding and cutting methods have been used for new construction such as installing new offshore structures, subsea pipelines, and harbor facilities, they are most often used for maintenance and repair applications. These include repair of damage caused by corrosion, fatigue, and accidents to offshore structures such as oil platforms; repair and replacement of damaged subsea pipeline sections; repairing holes in ship hulls or to hulls and pontoons of semisubmersible drill ships; and repair of corrosion or collision damage to harbor facilities. Underwater welders are in demand in industry, Ogden said. "They've got over 4,000 platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and over 13,000 miles of pipeline, and it's all made out of steel," he said. "You've got vessels, barges, platforms, and diving equipment. Everything is made out of steel and in a marine environment things always need to be cut, repaired, and welded." Nearly all of the College of Oceaneering's Weldtech graduates will take jobs in the offshore oil fields of the Gulf of Mexico.

"The Weldtech program's objectives are fairly straightforward," Ogden said. "To train student diver/welders in topside and underwater welding to a degree of proficiency that, when they leave the program and compete for entry-level jobs with a diving contractor, they possess the fundamental skills and requisite mental attitudes to be of value to their employer." The school doesn't train students specifically to be underwater welders, emphasized both Ogden and Barton. Instead, it produces entry-level workers who possess skills that will help them advance more quickly up the career ladder. "What's really important from our point of view," Barton said, "is that a motivated student can come out of here with some outstanding certifications to have on his résumé."

At the pierIn large part, the college's administration has given Ogden a great deal of leeway in setting up the Weldtech program and he operates it much differently from the other specialties. Medtech and Spectech students spend 15 or more of their final 20 weeks at the school in a classroom setting; Weldtech students spend theirs in the water. During both academic years, classroom students normally attend school twice a week, either Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday, and usually from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Weldtech students also go to school two days a week, but their day begins at 5:30 a.m. and ends 12 hours later. They often come in on off days to practice as well.

The reason? Partially to give the students more time in the water and partly to simulate on-the-job working conditions as much as possible. "Offshore everything is a 12 hour shift, midnight till noon or noon till midnight," Ogden explained. "The sooner they get used to doing that, even for two days a week, then it doesn't come as a shock when they're on the job."

Approximately one-fourth of the college's students select the welding program. School officials and students alike consider Weldtech the college's most demanding program physically. The long hours spent in the water scare some students away from the program, Barton said, but attract others.

Students Chris Moore, Sean Hall, and Raul Cardoso said they chose the Weldtech program in part because of the extra time spent in the water practicing. There were other reasons as well. Cordoso said welding caught his attention in high school. Although he didn't get the opportunity to take a welding class then, he knew if he got the opportunity he wanted to learn to weld. Moore said since he had worked in the construction industry previously and also liked to dive, the Weldtech program allowed him to combine both interests. "I worked in a supermarket," Hall said. "I wanted to do a job not everybody did."

At the time they were interviewed, the three students were seven weeks away from their graduation from the Weldtech program. "My friends in the other programs are sitting in a classroom all day," Moore said. "We're getting almost like hands-on experience." Hall added, "This program builds a strong work ethic. We have to get to work early in the morning. We have to dress properly."

Once the welding students begin their final 20 weeks, all of their time is spent at the harbor at the school's welding pier and barge. The pier features three underwater cutting stations and the barge contains five underwater welding stations. Since the 17-foot (5m) deep welding stations are suspended off the bottom of the harbor, there's always some movement, again helping to simulate real-world situations. The murky water offers limited visibility and the water temperature can drop below 45 degrees F (7.2 degrees C) during the winter.

Students spend their first three weeks learning underwater cutting using both exothermic and tubular steel electrodes. Assignments include cutting 3/8- to 1-1/4-inch plate and pipe diameters up to 24 inches. The fourth week is spent welding topside. From week five until the end of the program, the students concentrate on underwater welding. "That's when they're on the welding barge," Ogden said. "They'll weld underwater usually between six and seven hours a day, and they will also weld topside another three or four hours a day either practicing for their unlimited test or welding on projects."

Ogden is the college's sole welding instructor, although another welding instructor fills in whenever Ogden is on vacation or out of town. He also utilizes a welding tutor, a student paid through a work study program who helps the other students with their topside welding. The student, who must have a 3.5 grade point average or higher and be a top welder, usually works as a tutor during his or her final two or three months in the program. Ogden teaches the students fundamental principles and basic techniques for wet welding using the shielded metal arc process (SMAW), the most commonly used underwater welding process. The in-water practical training involves fillet welding in the flat, horizontal, vertical, and horizontal positions. The goal is for students to complete the AWS D3.6M-99, Specification for Underwater Welding, 3F and 4F welding requirements. Most of the students will do so, but it is not a requirement for graduation. The students also work on a variety of projects for the school, the Los Angeles Harbor Department, and others. Again, the idea is to make the students work together as a team - reading blueprints or working from oral instructions, deciding how to do the job, correcting their own mistakes, and communicating with their classmates who come in on the alternate class days and who are at various skill levels.

Improving the programOgden is currently working on a few changes to the program, changes that will also provide opportunities for the inspection students. A one-ton steel mock-up installed adjacent to the welding barge will give students who have obtained their 3F wet welding performance qualification exposure to making a simple underwater repair instead of working only on test coupons.

Working from a blueprint, students will fabricate either a scalloped split-sleeve patch or a full split-collar patch. They will then install the patch on one of three types of tubular members: vertical, horizontal, or vertical diagonal. Once the root pass is welded, students from the Spectech program will perform a magnetic particle inspection and the welders will have to grind out any discontinuities/defects. The patch will require a minimum of three weld passes. Once welding is completed, a final magnetic particle inspection will be conducted. Again, any defects will need to be repaired.

Currently, students learn only underwater wet welding, but Ogden plans to add a dry welding component to the program to expose the students to the characteristics of dry underwater welding under pressure and to help them understand what it takes to support a dry welding project. Students are designing a dry welding habitat that will be installed near the wet welding repair mock-up. Taking a mini-saturation chamber that had been in the college's "boneyard" for many years as the basic shell, students will modify it into a vertical chamber, open on the bottom, and with a constant LP air bleed to equalize inside/outside water pressure.
The goal is for each student to weld a 1/2-inch thick, single-V-groove plate coupon using E7018 electrodes. The Spectech students will perform a visual inspection and then two specimens will be cut out for a root bend and face bend test. Testing will be performed on the welding pier using the student-fabricated bend testing jig.

Ogden said if he could change anything else about the program it would be to make the school day even longer to give the students more time to practice and have them go more days a week so they could get out in the field and at work sooner.

Job placementAlthough the school runs its own placement service, with a placement rate of more than 90 percent, Odgen does his own placement relying on the contacts he's made in his 35 years in the commercial diving industry. Almost all take jobs in the oil industry in the Gulf of Mexico. "The obligation I have with my students is that on the first day of my class I let them know that I've got a job for them when they graduate, so they don't have to worry," Ogden explained. "They graduate on a Friday night. I expect them to leave midnight Friday night so they can be in Louisiana at 7:30 on Monday morning to hire on and go to work."
Again, what Ogden is promising the students is an opportunity for an entry-level position, not a job as an underwater welder/diver. That promise comes with an obligation on the part of the students as well. Once they leave the program and begin working in the industry, Ogden expects them to help out the next batch of students coming from the college by offering them a place to stay, helping ease their way through the hiring process, or showing them the ropes in other ways.

Of the nearly 300 students who graduated from the Weldtech program during the five-plus years Ogden has taught there, about 10 percent have left the diving industry. Another 45 percent have "broken out" of their entry-level jobs and are now full-fledged commercial divers and underwater welders.


captain corky said...

What does that job pay an hour, like a 100 bucks or something?

Chucky said...

I'm sure I will not start out at that, but yes. I don't see why I wouldn't be able to make that.

Oh and working 12 hour days, 5 days a week.

So yeah.

whimsicalnbrainpan said...

That sounds so cool!

Anonymous said...

My husband graduated under Duke Ogden in 1995...he's still working. You do't make 100 an I was a commercial diver in the gulf of Mexico..we started out tending at 8 or 9 dollars but that was 10 yeas ago you're probably making 12 now? It's not a family orientated job...just FYI. Good luck with school you must be far into it now. Say hi to Duke from Scrawny Ronnie

Joshua said...

Hey. Duke hasn't been at this school for a few years now. Most of the places start ya out at 16 - 16.50.

I just got about 23 weeks left. I can't wait.


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