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Local 597 Opens New Pipe Fitter Training Facility, Outfits 100 Welding Booths With Stick/TIG Welders From Miller

Simplicity, flexibility of CST™ 280 inverter meet needs of apprentices and journeymen

In an era where the media reports weekly about the financial struggles of working-class Americans, UA Local 597 is doing something positive. This Pipe Fitters Union recently opened its 198,000 square-ft., state-of-the-art Pipe Fitter Training Center in Mokena, Ill., about 35 miles southwest of Chicago (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1. UA Local 597 believes its new Pipe Fitter Training Center, with 198,000 sq. ft. of classroom and practical space is the finest facility of its type in the United States or Canada.

Of all the welding trades, pipe welders are generally regarded as the most skilled. Typical work involves welding pipe for power plant, petrochemical and processing facilities, and these welds must meet strict codes and quality standards, such has having every single weld visually inspected, radiographed (x-rayed) and ultrasonically tested for defects.

Welding Training Tools

John Leen, training coordinator for Local 597, sums up the facility's mission by saying, "It's our job to provide a premier training facility and equip it with the best tools of the trade offered in the industry. We produce competent, confident journeymen with superior skills. Failure is not an option!"

Half of the Center is dedicated to classrooms and offices, while the other half is a "practical area" that features all of the equipment used in the field to fit and weld pipe.

With approximately 650 apprentices and 450 journeymen using the facility at any given time, Local 597 needs welding equipment they can count on six days a week, seven hours per day (the long hours are required because apprentices must fit in training and classroom time on top of working 2,000 hours a year with a contractor that sponsors them). In addition, Local 597 also wants its training equipment to be relevant. They want to train apprentices and journeymen on the same type of equipment encountered on a job site. For that reason, Local 597 outfitted all of its 100 welding training stations with CST™ 280 Stick/TIG welding power sources from Miller Electric Mfg. Co.

The CST 280 features advanced inverter technology that makes it extremely powerful (a 5 to 280 amp welding output) yet lightweight and portable (41 lbs.). Local members can easily hand-carry this inverter around a large facility or job site, but still have the power to weld with a 3/16-in. diameter Stick electrode. Its small size also frees up space in the welding training booths (see Fig. 2). In addition, inverter technology provides the best arc starts and arc performance.

Fig. 2. Not much larger than a briefcase, Stick/TIG inverters such as Miller's CST 280 free up a significant amount of space in this welding training booth (and will fit in tight spaces on job sites, such as welding boiler tubing inside a power plant).

"The superior performance of an inverter makes it easier for apprentices to make a successful weld. Its more forgiving of their mistakes, but it also helps journeymen take their skills to a higher level," says Neal Borchert, business development manager for Miller.

A five-position process selector knob gives the CST 280 a level of simplicity and adaptability not found on any Stick/TIG welder in its class. To TIG weld on any type of steel, operators simple set this knob to the "TIG" position. To obtain "soft" and "stiff" arc characteristics with the two most common types of Stick electrodes used for welding pipe, E6010 and E7018, operators select one of the four other settings.

"Operators know that they prefer a soft arc for welding in the flat or horizontal positions or on fillet welds, but they want a stiffer arc with more directional force for welding open root passes or in tight corners," Borchert explains. "With the turn of one knob, the CST 280 automatically creates the optimum dig setting and volt/amp curve for the type of electrode being used. Other welding machines force the operator to adjust additional controls, and that can confuse a beginning welder."

Bill Enright III, a welding instructor with Local 597, reports that, "The apprentices have adapted very well to the CST 280s. They experimented with the different arc characteristics, learned which settings work for them and they're doing fine."

In addition to Stick and TIG welding, the Training Center also teaches MIG welding and oxy-fuel brazing, welding and cutting. To meet these needs, the Center purchased several Miller XMT® 350 CC/CV inverters with a dual digital 70 Series wire feeder and Bernard® Q™-Guns with Centerfire consumables, three Miller Dynasty® 300 DX AC/DC, TIG/Stick welders, one 25 kW water-cooled induction heating system, 40 Dual-Guard oxy-fuel torches from Smith Equipment and 100 Smith dual flow meters (one for each welding booth. With a dual flow meter, one meter regulates shielding gas to the TIG torch and the other regulates the gas for purging the inside of pipes).

A Great Career

To make the career attractive, the UA invests heavily in training, spending more than $125 million per year on training for its apprentices and journeymen. The effort of UA Local 597 are just part of that national effort, but a big part: Local 597 is the largest Local welding process piping in the country, with more than 6,000 members in the Chicago area. To train its members, Local 597 believes it built the finest training center ever built in the United States or Canada, and the governor of Illinois agrees.

Governor Rod Blagojevich honored Local 597 as part of a dedication ceremony for the Mokena facility, saying, "What makes us competitive is the skill of our workforce, and we always must maintain excellence and leadership in that. That's what this training center that we dedicate today is about. It's about making sure that all of you who are studying to be pipe fitters can get the kind of training that you need, the state-of-the-art training, so that you can be the best in the world at what you do, continue to be those who are driving our economy and making our businesses be so successful."

UA General President William P. Hite also helped dedicate the new facility (see Fig. 3). "It's important that we keep abreast of the latest technologies in our industry, so that we can compete against anyone," Hite said. "Everybody knows it's a global economy. Training facilities such as this separate us from the non-union element and make us competitive in today's market. Words can't describe the pride that I have in the officers and members of this Local union, to you the apprentices, and what you've accomplished here. Everybody should be extremely proud."

Fig. 3. "It's important that we keep abreast of the latest technologies in our industry, so that we can compete against anyone," said UA General President William P. Hite, speaking at the dedication of the UA Local 597's new Pipe Fitter Training Center in Mokena, Ill.

Mike Arndt, UA Director of Training and a member of Local Union 597 since 1966, is extremely proud of the new state-of-the-art training center and the commitment his brothers and sisters have shown to training. He stated, "The UA is leading our industry in training a skilled workforce with world-class expertise that is second to none, and Local 597 is in the vanguard."

Skilled Workforce

In addition to the its extensive equipment, Local 597 offers superior training programs, which include a five-year apprenticeship program, journeyman training, organized instructor training and certification programs. Many Local 597 members come out of the apprenticeship program skilled in pipe fitting and pipe welding with the Stick (SMAW), TIG (GTAW), MIG (GMAW) and flux cored (FCAW) processes. They can also return as journeymen to hone their current skills or acquire new ones. Local 597 also has pipeline jurisdiction for gas and petroleum work, as well as HVAC work.

Apprentices attend school one day per week for five years before completing the training program. While potential members receive a written aptitude test and oral interview, welding skills are learned.

"All we need are people who have a great desire to learn our trade," says John Leen, training coordinator, Local 597. "We will teach them the necessary skills to be marketable."

For men and women coming out of the armed services, Local 597 supports the Helmets to Hard Hats program (www.helmetstohardhats.org), which offers training to men and women in the building and construction trades and then helps to place them into the workforce.

Radame Melendez, a third-year apprentice with Local 597, served in Kuwait, Iraq in Operation Enduring Freedom as a mechanic in a transportation unit. When he returned after 18 months, he sought work and found the Helmets to Hard Hats Web site. Believing that acquiring pipe fitting skills presents more of a challenge, and with the desire to be the best, Melendez entered Local 597's five-year apprenticeship program.

"Pipe welding is more of an art form," says Melendez. "It's a highly skilled trade. This isn't just welding with a pipe machine, or soldering and brazing. Pipe welding is a highly skilled tool for pipe fitters to have."

"When Radame completes the five-year apprenticeship program, with a welding background and welding certifications through the United Association, his chances of being employed are greatly increased," says Enright, the welding instructor. "Welding will open up a lot of doors for him and get him into a lot of jobs that require highly skilled welders. Radame will be looking at a very bright future in our trade, especially here in the Midwest."

Quality Welding Instruction

Although he's too modest to admit it, Bill Enright III is a master artist, except that Enright helps apprentices work with welding electrodes, not paint brushes. Enright, a welding instructor with UA Local 597, has 37 years of experience. Each day, he tries to share a little bit more of that experience with those learning to weld at Local 597's new, 198,000 sq. ft. Pipe Fitter Training Facility in Mokena, Ill. (see Fig. 4). A significant part of the value in becoming a union member is the opportunity to learn from instructors like Enright.

Fig. 4. Local 597 instructor Bill Enright III (left) shares some of his 37 years of welding experience with third-year apprentice Mike Martin during a written and oral critique of Martin's welding this day.

"Students ask me how come I always answer their questions with another question, and I tell them it's because I want them to become good problem solvers," he says. "When you're out in the field, rarely is someone there to look over your shoulder and guide you out of a jam. As instructors, we train apprentices to analyze their mistakes, uncover the reasons for them and learn how to fix them."

Enright tells apprentices to develop a checklist in their head of things that produce an inadequate weld. Items include things such as the heat (amperage/voltage) level, electrode angle, travel speed, body mechanics (correct body position is hugely important), or the depth of the Stick electrode in the joint.

Below are just a few of the Stick welding tips that Enright shares with apprentices (editor note: all of the below may be attributed as quotes to Enright):

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