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Welducation simulator

Answers to the skills shortage Harald Langeder joins us for a chat

Harald Langeder has been a firm fixture at Fronius for more than 30 years. As Chief Technology Officer, he is a member of the Management Board, so not only did he witness the dynamic growth in recent years, he also played a role in its development. In his dual role as Global Director Research & Development, he is also responsible for the fate of what he calls his “home port” in the Business Unit Perfect Welding. Langeder is particularly concerned about the shortage of skilled workers and how Fronius Perfect Welding intends to address this in the future.

The decision to start an apprenticeship as a low voltage electrician – the typical modern-day electronics technician – was what brought Harald Langeder to Fronius in 1988. It wasn’t long before he switched to Battery Charging Systems, where he co-developed the first charging-start devices. In the following years, his career led him back to the Business Unit Perfect Welding, where he carried out duties as project and development manager, before eventually taking on the technical management for all of Research & Development as CTO. In this interview, he talks about the symptoms of the shortage of skilled workers, what answers Fronius Perfect Welding has in store, and what it takes to be a satisfied and, above all, happy welding specialist.

Fronius Perfect Welding has been in the midst of a dynamic growth process for years. One factor that eventually limits the continuous demand for new specialists is the available pool of workers on the market. Vacancies and how to best fill them must be questions that you see yourself confronted with as part of the Fronius Management Board, is that right?

Yes, that is absolutely correct. The shortage of skilled workers has been a huge concern over the last 18 to 24 months in particular. Previously, it was more the availability of components and the supply chain, but over the last 2 years it has definitely been the shortage of skilled workers. Industry chatter confirms that there is a shortage of skilled workers everywhere. Current studies also back this up with figures. For example, a study from summer 2023 shows that two out of three Austrian companies currently have problems finding employees. To be specific, all the companies where welding is the core task are, of course, also affected. On the one hand, this may be due to the fact that the training systems for these professions are not up to scratch, but on the other hand, it may also be down to the active workforce. In short, there are fewer and fewer people available in the labor market. So, at Fronius, we strongly believe that we must focus on increasing efficiency when it comes to the shortage of skilled workers. On the one hand, we want to speed up training, but on the other hand, we also want to design our devices so that they are as intuitive as possible. If I can shorten the training time and then use easy-to-operate welding systems, which have a short learning curve, then I am still productive and efficient as a company, even if there are a few vacancies. Wherever there are no specialists available, we aim to counteract this with automation.

This all sounds very plausible in theory – but how exactly is Fronius helping?

To answer this, I need to give a little bit of background first. In German, “skilled workers” are called “Fachkraft”. At Fronius, we like to divide this term into the two words Fach and Kraft. Whereby Fach stands for the know-how, experience, and skills of the employees and Kraft represents, so to speak, the work force, i.e., the amount of people available.

So how exactly are we helping? First, let’s look at the skills: This is about training a manageable number of the available specialists faster and better, while also supporting them in the best possible way. In order for them to tackle their daily tasks more easily and enjoyably, we need to train them even better, we need to support them, and we need to make their daily tasks – such as handling the welding torches – as easy and convenient as possible. We follow the principle of ‘minimal training time, maximum handling’ and we work closely with our customers to develop corresponding solutions. As far as the lack of work force is concerned, wherever there is a shortage and vacancies cannot be filled, we solve it with automation. Automation can make things significantly easier in areas where it is not yet so well established.

Going back to the breakdown of the word “Fachkraft” that you mentioned, what specific solutions does Fronius offer to counter the lack of know-how and experience?

Virtual welding test
One of these solutions is definitely the new Welducation Simulator. This welding simulator makes it possible to learn the welding process in as realistic a manner as possible. It makes it easy to evaluate a person’s manual skills for welding during the recruitment process or to train new professionals at a high level. The Welducation Simulator reduces the time required, the use of materials is significantly reduced and so it increases efficiency enormously. The simulator displays the component and the resulting weld in the 3D glasses, which are equipped with augmented and virtual reality, and simulates them when guiding the trainee’s hand. In addition, this simulator also has a ‘Ghost’. This is a virtual welding assistant that indicates whether you are holding the welding torch correctly and guiding it at the right speed. This gives the trainee additional support. From a general perspective, the Welducation Simulator is also an attractive tool to elevate the skilled trade of welder to a modern, attractive, and above all, safe level. As much as 80% of the component training can take place on the simulator.
Weldcube navigator
Of course, the symptoms of the shortage of skilled workers continue in manufacturing, which is why it is also important for us to further reduce the complexity for our customers. And this is why we offer the WeldCube Navigator. This enables the entire welding task to be divided into sequential work steps, while at the same time ensuring that they are carried out in accordance with standards via the correctly assigned welding parameters. If an error occurs, the process is interrupted immediately and the welding coordinator is informed before subsequent errors occur.
Dynamic Wire usage
Another equally innovative solution is our TIG DynamicWire Welding Package. Due to the experience and dexterity required, TIG welding is and will remain the absolute pinnacle for manual welders. Just think, you have to guide the welding torch with the arc with one hand and then you have to manually feed the wire at the right pace, usually with your other hand. This is very difficult and requires a high degree of skill. That’s why we have developed the TIG DynamicWire Welding Package. What is it? I would call it “CMT for TIG manual welding”. We have integrated dynamic wire control—in other words a wire advance and a wire retraction—depending on the welding parameters and the manual guidance of the welding specialist. This makes it much easier for inexperienced people to create a very good, almost perfect TIG weld.
CWC-Cobot use

Needless to say, we aim to support our customers with the best possible solutions even when we have vacant positions. And the most important aspect, when trying to counter the shortage of skilled workers, is automation—so that I don’t need so many skilled workers. As we briefly discussed earlier, Fronius also offers cobot cells. Cobot cells are equipped with collaborative robots that allow human and machine to work very closely together. They are also characterized by the fact that they are very easy to use and can be easily adjusted to handle new tasks. This makes the cobot a very good choice as a first step into the world of automation, especially for small and medium-sized companies. Not least because the use of cobot cells is economically profitable even with small batch sizes.

Fronius Welding Automation is also creating products and solutions for individual welding systems through to entire welding cells. Depending on the customer’s wishes, we can draw on our modular system to create an excellent individual solution for our customers using many standardized components. Here, we assume overall responsibility starting with the idea and provide a project manager who, in close consultation with the customer, takes all wishes into account and manages the project until it is handed over. One thing is always a primary concern: the perfect interplay of functionality and cost effectiveness. Anyone who would like to see our robotic welding cells for themselves will have the opportunity to do so from September 11 to 15 at the SCHWEISSEN & SCHNEIDEN trade show in Essen.

These fascinating insights make it clear that Fronius does not take the shortage of skilled workers lightly. As already mentioned, there may be several reasons for the shortage of skilled workers. Perhaps some future welders have simply not yet discovered their potential. What do trainees need to bring to the table in order to enjoy working with welding technology and find a fulfilling job?

That’s a very good question—especially about it being “enjoyable”. So it doesn’t hurt to have, well actually it’s essential to have a basic technical understanding. But you can learn that. If you’re someone that hasn’t learned a technical profession, then I think that you can also acquire a good basic understanding of working in welding technology via access courses. But that’s just one aspect. In my opinion, it’s much more important that the proverbial sparks fly. 

» You have to have that fascination for welding, for working with physical forces or melting metals, or in very general terms for working with these natural forces. So if you have that passion, then you have the most promising basis for gaining a foothold in welding technology. «

Harald Langeder
Harald Langeder, Chief Technology Officer





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