Welding and metal fabricating may be hands-on skills, but before students handle the heavy-duty machines, they’re now able to practice and refine those skills in virtual reality.
Bay Link Manufacturing, a company/education collaborative made up of Green Bay Area Public School District juniors and seniors, recently purchased an AugmentedARC augmented reality welding system made by Miller Electric in Appleton. Bay Link Manufacturing Coordinator Andy Belongia believes Green Bay West High School is the only school in the region to have the system.
“It’s a way for people to be exposed to welding without the dangers,” says Belongia, who heads the program, which is housed in a former automotive shop space at Green Bay West. “It gives you a really good experience.”
The system is similar to a VR game — where a student wears a headset, sets the project specifications, holds a wand and simulates welding in AR. It especially helps with hand-eye coordination, Belongia says.
Bay Link, which was founded six years ago as a collaboration among the Green Bay schools, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and the NEW Manufacturing Alliance, purchased the $25,000 tool, using its funds as well as those from other school departments. The portable device can be taken to area high schools to train students.
“I felt it was a worthwhile investment,” says Belongia, noting that Manitowoc Cranes uses a similar AR tool to train its workers.
Students apply to work for Bay Link, which teaches about 25 students per year in morning and afternoon shifts. The company also operates in summer. Through the program, students learn skills in welding, machining and fabricating, as well as business skills (accounting, bidding) and employability skills, such as timeliness and collaboration. They are also eligible to receive college credits from NWTC.
Bay Link is more than just a training ground, however, Belongia says. The students create products for local companies, such as drain covers for Georgia-Pacific Corp. and machine parts for Hudson-Sharp Machine Co., Nature’s Way and KI. The companies pay Bay Link for the products and services. The money goes back into the program and funds scholarships.
“Bay Link has been a great addition to our supply chain since they first approached us with the program,” says Todd M. Weix, order executor for Hudson-Sharp in Green Bay. “This is a great program to get involved with that gives students the ability to grow and experience real-life manufacturing situations that they will need when they decide to take that next step and look for a career of their own.”
In addition to doing real-world work, Bay Link prepares students to fill the huge shortage in manufacturing roles. “We’re providing a service, but it’s making for better experiences for the future,” Belongia says.
“Every year, I have manufacturers calling me,” he continues, to hire students right out of high school or to fill apprenticeships. “Almost every one of my students goes on to some kind of manufacturing.”
Lindquist Machine Corp. in Green Bay is one of those manufacturers looking for employees.
“Bay Link Manufacturing has been a go-to vendor for Lindquist Machine Corp.,” says Mark Kaiser, Lindquist president and CEO. “Not only have we benefited from quality parts delivered on time, we are actively developing our workforce of the future.”