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Moving Weld Management from the Desk to the Desktop

Part 1. Computers as Welding Expert Systems

Welding engineers have managed welding procedures and welder performance qualifications using computers for some years now. Engineers now readily access vital information - no more searching through piles of paper. They can easily develop procedures and qualifications through on­screen editing, get advance warning of expirations and produce a professional-looking document in the end. Most fabricators now have local or wide area networks so sharing information between key personnel is easier than ever before. Computers can integrate management of procedures and qualifications with production weld information and quality control (QC) data, and so the benefits abound.

Computers have always been good at storing, sorting and searching through large amounts of data, making them suitable for pure database applications. Such applications have required the user to know certain parameters, with little or no help from the software. In welding, such systems have been used for managing welding procedures and welder performance qualification. But, to date, most have had limited, if any, expertise in welding.

The problem with building expertise into software it is necessary to have a deep understanding of both software development and the technology being computerized. In the welding industry, this includes metallurgy, engineering, production, quality control and standards. Standards are
particularly important, as many aspects of fabrication are specified via national and international standards, such as ASME IX, AWS D1.1, EN 287/288 AND ISO 9000.

Software houses with no depth of welding expertise or engineers with no depth of software development skills both find it difficult to develop expert welding systems. It may be possible for individual engineers to develop software, but long-term support is difficult at best, and in most cases impossible. For storage of large amounts of information, where considerable time is invested in entering the data, long-term support is critical.

In addition, most existing software systems in the fabrication industry are tools for individuals, not for large parts of organizations, because, until recently, most organizations have simply not had the infrastructure to allow information to be distributed electronically. E-mail has helped change this. Electronic mail has driven most fabricators to use local and wide area networks. These networks make it possible to share welding procedures or welder approvals across a company via a multi-user software system.

The management of welding procedures is one of the most time­consuming jobs of a welding engineer. Creating, verifying and approving new procedures and checking, adapting and approving existing ones take a ling time. Plus, searching for existing procedures for new production welds requires expert skills. Consequently, this was one of the first welding engineering tasks to be computerized.

The first welding procedure database management systems were simply electronic filing cabinets. They used the speed of data sorting that computers could offer to make searching for existing procedures much quicker. Documents could be copied and edited to create new documents quickly and easily. What they could not easily do, however, was help the welding engineer create new procedures for new application.

The sources of such information are wide and disparate. They comprise standards (welding and application), consumable and base material handbooks, technical literature; most difficult of all to computerize is experience. To build all this into a computer program would be impossible without a wide knowledge of the sources available.

After-reading activity

True or false?

1. There are a lot of computer programs for welding engineers.

2. It is more important to have a deep understanding of software development than the technology being computerized.

3. Most existing software systems in the fabrication industry are tools for large companies.

3. The first database management systems could not create new procedures for new application.

Part 2. Weldspec 4

Taking all this into account, The Welding Institute (TWI), Cambridge, U. K., and C-spec, Pleasant Hill, California, have collaborated to develop a new version of Weldspec. Weldspec 4 has been designed to help the welding engineer write and draft new welding procedures while still giving the benefits of speed and editing of existing procedures in Microsoft Windows®. The software comes from many backgrounds, including the following:

- Worldwide welding and application standards from such organizations as ASME, AWS, European standards and API;

- Industry practice in developing, qualifying and using welding procedures;

- Typical interactions between customer, fabricator and inspector;

- Welding engineering and metallurgy;

- Software development and knowledge representation techniques.

Software so vitally based on knowledge and recommendations from standards needs to be frequently updated; indeed, ASME IX is updated annually. Because anything hard coded within software is difficult to change, Weldspec's knowledge base is stored externally to the main program so it can be modified.

Managing welder performance qualifications (WPQs) is very similar to welding procedures: Both are designed by standards. Variables that must be recorded, the extent of approval given by a test and the destructive and nondestructive examination (NDE) regimes are specified in national and international standards.

However, unlike welding procedures, WPQs are only valid for a specified time without practice or additional testing. Certificates expire, so the fast sorting capability of computers is even more beneficial. By integrating another program called Welderqual 4 with Weldspec 4 to share a database of welder details, WPQs can be created directly from welding procedures.

An integrated software system such as Welding Co-ordinator can help. Welding Co-ordinator is designed to be used live to manage fabrication as it is progressing. It is usually based around an electronic weld map, weld data sheet or weld schedule, into which data are entered as welds are designed, engineered, welded and tested. The weld map would also usually have some space for approval, either weld by weld, or once a project or structure has been completed. The Figure below shows a detail of a typical weld map for a fabricator in the power generation industry.

Data are usually entered into the system from four functions, as follows:

At the design stage, where information such as the weld ID number and other design parameters (material type, thickness, joint type, etc.) are entered.

At welding engineering, where a procedure is assigned. It may also be possible to identify suitable welders or classes of welders qualified to make the weld, although this is more likely to be done at the production stage. At production, where the completion of a weld is registered (usually by entering the date) and visual inspection carried out and approved.

At quality control, where acceptance of the weld is registered. This may be simply by typing test report numbers into the system, or it may be done with live links to electronic NDE reports.

The system also gives instant progress reporting. Anyone with access to the system can see how fabrication is progressing. This may be simply by looking at the weld data sheet on screen or by explicitly programmed progress reports. These can identify bottlenecks (by, for example, comparing the number of welds competed with the number of weld radiographed), or help to produce reports for stage payments in large projects.

It also provides automatic assignment of welding procedures and welder. If enough information is supplied at the design stage, the system searches through a database of procedures for suitable welding procedure specifications (WPSs). This may be a single WPS of a number from which to choose from, with a click of a mouse button. Having chosen a suitable WPS, the system searches through WPQs for qualified welders. If necessary, the system can list welders in order of their certificate expiration dates; with those due to expire soonest at the top of the list; so maximum benefit can be made of extending their qualification.

The system can also produce reports on repair rates per welder (to identify training requirements), by procedure (to highlight defect-prone procedures) or by any other measure, providing the relevant data are recorded.

It also automatically generates document packs on completion of a project. A very time-consuming task manually, it's again ideally suited for computerization. With the click of a button, the system can print the weld maps for a project, along with all the WPSs used (with backup procedure qualification records (PQRs) if necessary and all the WPQs, which are updated automatically based on satisfactory production welds. In addition, if

NDE specifications have been used to report testing, the system can print relevant NDE reports as well. This information can also be archived on CD.

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It can also instantly trace production welds to the information backing them up. If the inspector wants to see a WPS that was used on a weld, or proof that the welder was suitably qualified, this can be done with the click of a button. This can be especially useful while inspection a structure after a number of years of service. If a defect is found, the engineer can access the original WPS, for repair purposes, or the NDE report, to see if evidence of the defect was present at testing.

Answer the following questions:

1. What can Weldspec 4 do?

2. What are the main sources from which Weldspec 4 originated?

3. How can Weldspec 4 be updated?

4. How is data entered into the system?

5. In what ways can the system produce reports?

6. What time-consuming tasks can Weldspec 4 perform with a click of a button?

7. What is the difference of a usual welding software from an expert system?

8. What, in your opinion, computers will never be able to do in welding?

Writing

Imagine you are given a task by the head of a big welding company to make a research and decide whether it’s worth while introducing computers into the production process. Write a report to your boss mentioning the following points:

- What kind of software is available for welding engineers?

- How can welders get access to welding related information?

- How can computers improve the work of welders?

- What welding procedures can be best computerized?

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