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Welding is the most common way of joining metal parts. In this process, heat is applied to metal pieces, melting and fusing them to form a permanent bond. Because of its strength, welding is used in shipbuilding, automobile manufacturing and repair, aerospace applications, and thousands of other manufacturing activities. Welding also is used to join beams in the construction of buildings, bridges, and other structures and to join pipes in pipelines, power plants, and refineries.
Like welders, soldering and brazing workers use molten metal to join two pieces of metal. However, the metal added during the soldering and brazing process has a melting point lower than that of the piece, so only the added metal is melted, not the piece. Soldering workers tend to work with small pieces that must be precisely positioned. Soldering commonly is used to make electrical and electronic circuit boards, such as computer chips. Brazing often is used to connect copper plumbing pipes and thinner metals that the higher temperatures of welding would warp.
Skilled welding, soldering, and brazing workers generally plan work from drawings, called blueprints, or specifications and use their knowledge of welding processes and base metals to determine how best to join the parts. The difficulty of the weld is determined by its position – horizontal, vertical, overhead, or circular – and by the type of metals to be fused. Highly skilled welders often are trained to work with a wide variety of materials, such as titanium, aluminum, or plastics, in addition to steel.
Welding, soldering, and brazing workers often are exposed to a number of hazards, including very hot materials and the intense light created by the arc. They wear safety shoes, goggles, face shields with protective lenses, and other devices designed to prevent burns and eye injuries. Automated welding is being used in an increasing number of production processes, and these machine operators are not exposed to as many dangers. In these instances, a machine or robot performs the welding tasks while being monitored by a welding machine operator.
The work of arc, plasma, and oxy-gas cutters is closely related to that of welders. However, instead of joining metals, cutters use the heat from an electric arc, a stream of ionized gas called plasma, or burning gases to cut and trim metal objects to specific dimensions. Some operate and monitor cutting machines similar to those used by welding machine operators.
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