Industry support is vital for Australian standards

welding

Welding is an art, a skill, a trade, an engineering discipline, and a science.

Welding is the most universal process on the planet. It is crucial to the construction of essential structures like bridges and high-rise buildings, as well as mining equipment, pressure vessels and ships, and even household appliances, like stoves and washing machines.

In fact, most of the modern world contains welded materials. Crash barriers, light poles, road signs and even cars rely on welding. Welding is even used in micro-joining of medical devices, electronics and photonics. Welding is an important process that produces the building blocks for a safer and more advanced world.

A complex process delivered by highly skilled craftsmen and scientists

Welding is often mistaken as a simple process. In reality, welding involves much more than simply joining two pieces of metal together. It is a highly complex process based on science and research that requires an in-depth understanding of metallurgy and materials science, as well as enormous discipline and rigorous application of the correct processes and procedures. The engineering principles that inform the process are unbelievable. Welding requires highly skilled craftsmen, scientists and engineers who are able to solve complex problems.

The quality and accuracy of the entire lifecycle of the welding process must be carefully controlled, from design right through to inspection. This type of approach is essential because it is impossible to undertake complete verification of a welded joint without destroying it. 

Inspection after completion does not guarantee weld serviceability. 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. 

Australian and International Standards are crucial

As such, the welding processes set out in Australian and International Standards are crucial – they must be followed exactly. Standards like AS/NZS ISO 3834 Quality requirements for fusion welding of metallic materials must be implemented. Welders, welding supervisors and welding inspectors must be qualified to ISO 9606 Qualification testing of welders.

If these Standards are not followed, then there is a significant chance that a weld will fail – with possibly catastrophic consequences. Imagine the collapse of a stadium or a bridge; how many bystanders would be seriously injured or worse? 

For example, Weld Australia was retained as the ‘Engineer of Record’ by an Australian state government for a pedestrian bridge fabricated overseas. Project managers and fabricators repeatedly failed to demonstrate adherence to Australian Standards. Weld procedures were not in place, welders were not qualified, and supervision and inspection was inadequate. 

As the bridge was comprised of tubular structural steel with complex nodes, it was critical that full penetration occurred on all joints. Given the circumstances, Weld Australia was not confident that full penetration had been achieved, and we refused to certify the welding in this bridge. As a result, the bridge contract was then awarded to a local Australian fabricator who completed the welding according to Australian Standard, on time and under budget.

Australian welding Standards are often not applied in the manufacture of caravans, light commercial trailers, and even heavy industrial trailers. This is because, while the manufacture and road-worthiness of towed vehicles is covered by stringent controls outlined in the Australian Design Rules for Vehicles, welding is not mentioned at all in the Australian Design Rules. Many manufacturers do not have welding procedures in place, nor do they have qualified welding inspectors, supervisors or welders. Nor are they certified to the welding quality standard ISO 3834.

This issue poses a threat to public safety – a threat that has already caused serious accidents on our roads. In an accident involving a quad axle dog trailer (which can carry in excess of 40 tonnes) in Queensland, the drawbar became detached from the trailer frame whilst it was driving, causing the trailer to jack-knife and hit car, seriously injuring the occupants. The matter was investigated by Queensland Transport who found that there were indications of ineffective and sub-standard welding on the drawbar assembly. The penalties applied were grossly inadequate given the potential for serious injury and loss of life—all the manufacturer was asked to do was ensure that all trailers are checked for cracking and ineffective welding in the future.

Maintaining standards: A collaborative industry effort

It is for this reason that Weld Australia has taken responsibility for maintaining Australian Standards and managing the adoption of International Standards related to welding. 

Standards are developed, reviewed and revised over many years by a few dedicated volunteer engineers and tradesmen who are enormously experienced in the design and construction of welded structures. In this way, the accuracy and validity of technical data and specifications contained within Standards is indisputable. 

The work of Weld Australia has made Australian welding Standards some of the best in the world. Our team of experts has honed ISO Standards so that they are applicable to the needs of Australian industry. We have pinpointed where international Standards can offer a solution to a local problem, as well as where there are gaps to be bridged between European and North American Standards and our local conditions. Our experts have worked extensively with Standards Australia to determine how welding Standards need to be updated to move the Australian welding industry forward, ensuring international competitiveness at all times. The Weld Australia team has made an invaluable contribution to the field and worked to reduce the bureaucracy usually associated with Standards.

When Weld Australia first started working on Standards Committees over 30 years ago, there was a significant number of large manufacturing and fabrication companies that sponsored their senior management and engineers to participate in Standards Committees. There was no issue finding volunteers to work on Standards Committees because the maintenance of Standards is so vital to industry. 

These days, it’s far more difficult to find anyone with the time and experience to participate in Committees, let alone people who are sponsored by their employer to participate. 

Weld Australia, and other like-minded industry associations, are undertaking a huge amount of critical work for industry and yet, some of the biggest players who take advantage of this work simply do not participate or contribute. Some of the industry’s largest companies, who rely on Standards the most, refuse to support the participation of their own staff in Standards Committees. 

Standards exist for a reason; to ensure public safety. When it comes to welding, we cannot simply wave a magic wand and make a weld safe after the fact. When applied properly, Standards ensure that fabricated structures meet all design criteria, are fit for purpose, and remain structurally sound for the entire lifecycle of the asset. For all these reasons and more, industry needs to support the maintenance and development of welding Standards or, at the very least, support their own peak body so that we can continue with this critical work. 

To get involved in Australia’s welding Standards Committees, contact Weld Australia via office@weldaustralia.com.au.  

To join Weld Australia, visit weldaustralia.com.au/membership