This subject has many sides and opinions. Understand that mine is solely based upon my limited experience in specific industry sectors and is just an opinion.
This is a complicated question and I am sure has been discussed in offices, shops, and construction sites. I will give a little background and discuss a few of my thoughts on the topic. Comments are definitely welcome or links to other articles/posting with alternate opinions. There is no right/wrong here.
My Background and Experience
I have been a welder for over 37 years at this writing. I 1st became a CWI in 1990. I started inspecting many years before becoming a CWI as an HT-4956/55 in the US Navy. Our quality system had an allowance for shop QAI (Quality Assurance Inspectors).
I have gone back and forth in some form welding, inspecting or teaching over the years. I have never been “outstanding” at any one of em but could get by for the most part. All of the experiences are great. But at no time while working as an inspector has my decision about the acceptability of a weld been based upon my welding skills (or lack thereof). No amount of welding experience changes the acceptance criteria for a project. be it in a negative or positive manner.
My ability to strike an arc has been utilized while filling a job function as an inspector but it was not related to me being able to determine a weld meets or does not meet requirements. It was more useful for those “Well you just weld it” moments. Though me being able to weld may help welders better accept my comments (Especially when I share information with them as to the hows and whys), it does not affect the weld I am looking at. Even if they are a better welder than I and the weld is something I myself couldn’t even do, acceptance criteria is acceptance criteria.
As a welder, my knowledge as an inspector was not utilized to make my decisions about what was acceptable or not. The QC inspector is that person (if there is one there). I go with the flow for the most part and try to do what is expected as a welder. I have made welds that were not “up to speed” for the project. Though I try to meet the quality requirements for a specific project, if there is no interest shown by the company as to my quality, I will weld right along with what is going on around me. And sometimes, I get wrapped up in production as a welder and may not spend as much time on the “craftsmanship” issues. If the company doesn’t give me a WPS or requirements, I may even do a stringer bead cap on one side and a weave on the other. Sometimes those things are above and beyond the code, and sometimes they are less than the code. I am paid to do what the company tells me. Sometimes my judgment is off though. Maybe more on that later as I have been recently fired from a welding job for “quality issues”. Read this if you don’t mind coming to know my shortcomings.
What Skill does it bring?
For those thinking an inspector must be able to weld, I wonder what specific skill gets applied during the inspection process? Is my hand eye coordination needed? Is it just my ability to “understand” what the welder goes through? If I’m a bad welder can I still be a good inspector or must they both exist in synergy and as one develops, the other magically increases also?
Does an Air Traffic controller need to know how to fly? Is there a decision that the person could make while controlling many planes in which they could apply their “piloting skills”? What if they weren’t a very good pilot? Or better yet, would you like Chuck Yeager to sit in for your Air Traffic Controller as your plane approaches Hartsfield Airport?
In almost all cases, an inspector will be criticized for his or her inabilities. The same goes for a welder too. Its my opinion that the inspectors that “don’t have a clue” that are on the job are not those that have never welded but those who never “inspected” before becoming a CWI.
In our world desiring “credentials”, we often put the cart before the horse. We require someone to be “certified” before they can actually do the work. Then the moment they are “certified” we magically expect them to be proficient just because AWS says they are. They never perform an actual inspection until AFTER the magical blessing!
Here is ONE THING that I think being a welder MAY bring to the qualifications of an inspector. If a person has been trained as a professional welder and not only has the hand/eye skills to weld but also has been introduced to fundamental concepts such as metallurgy, welding symbols, welding process variables, WPS’s, qualification requirements, terms/definitions, weld defects, code requirements and a few other topics. These topics are core to many concepts related to inspection. If they have learned about some of these topics, observed inspectors in different scenarios applying this knowledge, and been directly involved with repairs and discussions with inspectors, they are at a great advantage to that person that has “been around” welding for xxx years and has a degree in something that might be considered related.
Maybe The Opposite Should be Considered
A welder by no means needs to be a CWI however having a familiarity and understanding of the terms, acceptance criteria, and any special project requirements can be helpful. However in some cases, a welder may not know what is required until he or she has made a few welds and discovers the QC Inspector wants something slightly different than the last project. A welder should be trained to know as much about inspection and quality as the QC inspector. Why do we not focus on sharing information with the welders as opposed to the “top secret” info being contained on papers only available to management?
What about the cases where the slickest welder is made the inspector. He has never cracked a code book, read a project specification, or written a report. But he “welds so good”. Next thing you know, he is applying various welding requirements to a project that may not even apply. Possibly running up costs or even affecting quality. Though we like for everything to look like its the highest in craftsmanship, the reality is that sometimes the costs are really the “bottom” line provided the minimum quality requirements are met.
I cannot speak for the entire industry but the “Norm” for a welder actually getting a copy of the WPS is that they do NOT. A few companies, this is not the case. In some companies, I have seen freshly laminated WPS’s posted on the columns during the audit and when asking the welder specific questions about them, you could tell they were freshly coached.
To make a generic implication that a persons ability to inspect is based upon their ability to weld is false. People will often tend to criticize any other person that is in a position in to evaluate their work. My ability to pass a CWI exam many years ago without any “CWI Courses” was based upon a great deal of knowledge I acquired as a student-welder. Most of the BOK for the CWI fundamentals section was something I thought was “common knowledge’ to all professional welders. Having my welds inspected and performing inspections before becoming a CWI was a great asset to learning. However as my welding skills have dwindled slightly because of vision and getting old and fat, my inspection skills have continued to grow.
Companies need to verify the abilities of both their welders and inspectors. If your organization is relying on a piece of paper as the sole verification of a persons fitness for a position, you get what you deserve.
Comment, of course, are welcome.