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Increased sustainability and lower costs may not seem like a compatible couple. But thanks to some innovative thinking and state-of-the-art tech, teachers, business owners and welders are forging a new, virtual way to accomplish both at once. Here’s the rundown on how virtual reality plays a role in welding, why it’s important, and how you can get in on this growing tech trend.

What is VR welding training?

In virtual welding, a VR headset, equipment simulators and other haptic-feedback devices, such as gloves, combine to create a digital, immersive environment that places the user inside various welding processes, joint positions and other situations they might face on the job. Much like entertainment-based VR games, the welding simulators can keep “score” of various performance factors, such as machine setup, speed, body position, or weld quality, provide real-time haptic feedback, and even recreate the sounds of an arc welder and the surrounding shop floor.

Who can use VR welding training?

VR simulators can be beneficial across the welding industry. In classrooms, for example, students can learn and practice in a safe environment while receiving real-time feedback from not only their instructor, but also the program. During the hiring process, a VR welding simulator can be used to assess an applicant’s skills. In addition, professional welders can use VR apps to learn or perfect new skills, or even practice for an upcoming tricky job.

VR training promotes sustainability, lowers cost

One of the biggest advantages of VR welding training is its virtuality — instead of burning through real-world consumables or raw materials, the user can just reload ad infinitum. For students or novice welding professionals, the chance of production-stopping mistakes are reduced to zero. The same goes for injury, too — the risk associated with the high heat of arc welding is reduced to zero. And, because of its similarities to a video game, VR training can also eliminate fear of real welding equipment.

Using a virtual environment also means eliminating the potential for harming the real environment. VR welding apps eliminate fumes, gas by-products, nanoparticles and other by-products that can harm either the welder or their surrounding workspace. This, along with reduced energy consumption, can greatly help lower an operation’s carbon footprint.

Is VR worth it?

VR welding simulators can cost anywhere from $5,000 to upwards of $50,000, so it’s important to weigh the cost of one large investment vs. the costs associated with training waste and risk of injury. In a 2012 Iowa State University study that looked at welding students who learned using a mix of VR and hands-on training found that the total equivalent cost savings — including materials and training time — equaled $2,680.46, or $243.68 per student. (Read the entire study here.)

It’s also important to consider your end goal — are you hoping to expand your workforce with new employees, teach your current employees new skills, or a little bit of both? Another study, conducted by the Australian Department of Defense, found that for novice welders using a combination of VR and real-world instruction saw equivalent or better training outcomes than live training alone.

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