When local community college students lay down their first line of molten metal, it may not be with a live torch next semester.
For the first time at Southwest Colorado Community College, students will have the opportunity to practice with a virtual welder that will allow them to see the metal bonds forming through a computerized hood without bodily risk and without metal waste.
"It's a lot like a video game basically," said David DeLozier, the head of the welding department.
As the student wields the torch, the machine can show the student exactly how it should be held, down to its angle and distance from the joint. This helps the students master basics faster.
"It's proven ideal for welding theory," DeLozier said.
It also offers various virtual worlds, such as construction zones, that mirror real world working conditions.
One of the main reasons, DeLozier pursued grant funding for the tool was its ability to assess student performance. He is now able to walk away and let them work alone. The computer stores key information about a weld so instructors can review and assess students' work and growth over time. The new learning tool was acquired through a $53,000 Perkins grant, a federal program that funds vocational programs.
The department also acquired a $10,000 surface tension transfer welder this semester. It is an advanced tool that students will use in the last semester of the two year welding program.
DeLozier believes that SCCC is the only public college to own one.
The new machine is faster, cleaner and produces higher-quality welds than other machines and is just as easy to use, DeLozier said.
"I think it is the future of pipe welding," he said.
DeLozier joined the faculty about two years ago. Since then, he has changed the curriculum to align with the National Center for Construction Education and Research, so students can be prepared to find work across the United States.
Although there isn't a large local demand for welders, there is a need for welders in the oil and gas industry, especially in Texas and Louisiana.
"Generally in the United States, education can't keep with demand," he said.
SCCC's program currently has 23 students enrolled in the program and room for 30.