Welding is the most ubiquitous process on the planet. It is fundamental to the construction of bridges, high-rise buildings, mining equipment, ships, and even household appliances, such as fridges and washing machines, writes Geoff Crittenden, CEO of Weld Australia.

Next time you’re driving down the road, take a look around you: crash barriers, light poles, road signs, the re-bar in the concrete bridge, even the very car you’re driving. All of these elements rely on welding.

Welding played an enormous role in the second industrial revolution. Without welding, we wouldn’t have the modern motor car, high-speed trains, or jet planes. We wouldn’t be able to generate power. We wouldn’t have advanced manufacturing facilities. Our world today simply wouldn’t look the same.

Welders build the very world in which we live.

However, it’s not just the pervasive nature of the welding process that makes it so essential – welding is also vital to the strength of Australia’s economy.

Essential to employment

Australia’s welding and fabrication industry is responsible for the employment of more than 78,900 people, 91% of whom are employed on a full-time basis. While not an absolute, part-time and casual roles are more likely to be more insecure than full-time roles, and do not always afford employees with the same types of benefits. Generally, full-time, high-quality roles reflect a stronger industry and greater competition for employees. With an overwhelming percentage of Australian welders employed on a full-time basis, it clear the industry is strong, and an essential provider of secure employment opportunities.

Essential to innovation

Australia’s welding and fabrication industry is highly diverse, with a large number of businesses that boast a total output capacity of more than 1.6m tonnes per annum. Approximately 94% of businesses operating within Australia’s welding and fabrication industry are small enterprises with less than 20 employees.

Small businesses are an important source of innovation in Australia’s economy. With a proven ability, capacity and agility to respond to changes in today’s competitive global marketplace – particularly when compared to their larger competitors – the role of small businesses in boosting innovation, productivity and efficiency is vital. Through innovation and expansion, small businesses are a solid source of employment and competitive edge for Australia’s economy on the world stage.

Essential to downstream industries

With its highly diverse profile, welding is critical to myriad aspects of Australia’s economy. It is a key player in various economically significant downstream and related industries. In Australia, three industries are the main consumers of steel fabricated products, comprising almost 90% of all demand. These industries are:

  • Construction at 50.3%
  • Manufacturing at 20.5%
  • Mining at 17.2%

Combined, these three industries purchased over $11.6bn of steel fabricated products in 2013-2014.  The construction, manufacturing and mining industries are all essential to the strength and prosperity of Australia’s economy and, without welding, none of them would be able to operate.

Since around 2007, the construction industry value add has grown at 3.8% per annum. Based on data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, employment in the industry has grown from around 933,100 persons to nearly 1,098,500, making construction the single-largest employing industry in the Australia economy. The construction industry generates over $360bn in revenue, making it responsible for around 9% of Australia’s GDP. And welding is an essential input.

Manufacturing directly and indirectly employs over 10% of the Australian population. With manufacturing industry output amounting to over $110bn annually, this is equivalent to approximately 6% of Australia’s GDP. And welding is an essential input.

Historically, the mining industry has been important to Australia’s wealth and prosperity – a trend that continues today. Mining contributes approximately $248bn per annum and employs over 350,000 people. And, of course, welding is an essential input.

The role of compliance

It is because of the all-pervasive and essential nature of welding that compliance is so vital.

Welding is often mistaken as a simple process. In reality, welding requires immense skill. The engineering principles that inform the process are unbelievable. Welding requires both highly skilled craftsmen and scientists who are able to solve complex engineering problems.

Welding requires strict adherence to all applicable Australian standards. It is impossible to undertake complete verification of a welded joint without destroying it. Unfortunately, inspection after completion does not guarantee weld serviceability. As such, quality must be built into the welding process, right from the very beginning.

Welding must be done correctly the first time. A weld cannot be adjusted once it is complete. The only course of action is to scrap the weld entirely, and start again. As such, the welding processes set out in Australian and international standards are crucial – they must be followed exactly. If they are not, there is a significant chance that a structure will fail.

The problem is, a huge proportion of welding in Australia does not comply with Australian standards. This is because welding is an extremely forgiving process. With a bit of practise, just about anyone can join two pieces of steel together. The thing is, these pieces of steel might stick together for five, 10 or even 20 years – but they might not. And when they fall apart, someone invariably gets hurt.

In Australia, you’re not allow to drive a car, connect a gas pipe, or install a new light fitting without a licence. Yet you can fabricate and erect enormous steel beams, construct a bridge for thousands of cars to travel across every day, or fabricate caravans to be towed down busy highways – all without a license. It defies all health and safety requirements. It defies logic.