Fabrication: OK, now I can weld, how do I build something?
Give it a little thought, and you will figure out pretty soon that not everyone that can tighten a nut on a car assembly line can make a good mechanic. The same is true for welders. Not everyone that can lay a welding bead down is a person that can fabricate. "Huh?, What’s that?, Come again?" you say. It's true. You will find that many welders can run a beautiful bead on a pipeline or in the welding shop but do not possess the skill set to be a good fabricator. You’ll find many good fabricators owning their own successful welding businesses with very few free minutes in a day because of projects standing in line to be completed. If that sounds like something you'd want to do, you may be asking: What’s the difference between a welder and a fabricator? For starters, most welders don’t own their own business. A welder simply takes the TIG torch, or MIG gun, and lays a bead where he is instructed to. It may or may not involve being able to read a set of plan blue prints. A fabricator, can see the overall picture by visualizing the project, analyze the problems surrounding the project, formulate a plan to solve the problems, implement a solution, and finally put it together so that it works, correcting any problems in the final product as it you go. It may sound as if a fabricator is an engineer. Well, yes, to an extent, that is true. Depending upon the scale of the project and risks involved, it may be best to leave the overall design to a certified engineer. However, basic training, education and welding experience can teach a person a lot about design so that he /she can work as a seat of the pants engineer on non-vital projects. Quite a number of old fabrication/ welding shops are owned and operated successfully without the benefit of a staff engineer. Though, the very same old shops are wise enough to know when to employ the services of a real engineer as well. However, whether it is in industrial maintenance, ship yards, or in the field a welder will always be valued by his company, but a fabricator will be respected by fellow welders. To become a seasoned, fabricator, one must be able to problem solver. He/she must be able to solve issues in manufacturing by looking at something, and foreseeing problems with designs or order of assembly of parts…and being able to work the issues out. A lot of problem solving ability comes from experience. But another part of it comes from logical reasoning and deduction skills. If you possess these skills, then it is of great benefit in fabricating. Also another aspect of fabricating, will involve basic mechanical ability. If you’re good at fixing things, and creatively working out solutions by improvising, then this too will be of benefit. Of course, being able to weld and put your ideas and thoughts into action is the last stage of fabrication. Drawing out a plan, revising it, working through possible conflicts and making adjustments on the fly all are essential to fabricating, but if it cannot be manufactured correctly due to lack of skill, this is as serious of an issue as any other deficiency. There is something intimate about taking your idea, working through it and putting it into existence…It’s a pity not be able to properly complete the final stage of fabrication. If you are weak in the welding area, get more training, or seek guidance. The final fitting up stage can often teach you more about whether you are a good fabricator or not. A part that won’t fit, or a weld that you can’t get to, is inarguable evidence that you and you alone goofed. But a smooth easy joining of the parts, and the metal, is a great confidence and experience builder. So, back to the title question, how do I become a fabricator? Well, even if certain skills are lacking, its likely they can be developed. Even college courses in reasoning and logic can help. Experience Is probably the best and most painful teacher, but it’s doubtful that very many good fabricators started out very good at all. Being observant of other people’s mistakes is probably a number one tool that you could possess that will help you become a better fabricator. If your desire is to move beyond the label of “welder”, then becoming observant, and taking notice of different ways that there are to do the same thing, and observing the varying degrees of efficiency of each way to solve a problem, will take you a long way down the road to being able to call yourself a fabricator.