A student uses one of the welding simulators in Southern Maine Community College’s new virtual welding lab in Brunswick. Contributed

Southern Maine Community College has announced it opened a new virtual welding lab that allows students to perform welding exercises on simulators while learning valuable skills to advance or launch their careers.

The simulation lab, located on the Midcoast Campus in Brunswick, allows students to practice their welding skills virtually on any of 10 welding simulation machines that can enhance their learning experience while saving on material costs, according to the college. It is the first of its kind in the Maine Community College System.

The machines were paid for using a $296,000 grant from the Maine Community College System.

“These machines take the mystery out of how students are performing because their work is measured and they can see the results on a large screen right in front of them,” Dean of Workforce Development Jim Whitten said in a news release. “The simulators provide immediate feedback, allowing instructors to help students with their welding angle, arc length, speed and other elements in a good weld.”

The college offers welding classes through its workforce training programs, primarily in partnership with businesses in need of skilled employees. The college also offers welding classes in its career skills programs and for academic credit.

The welding simulators in the virtual welding lab are known as VRTEX 360+ virtual reality welding trainers, manufactured by Lincoln Electric.

When using the machines, students wear virtual reality headsets that create a scenario with true-to-life welding sounds, molten metal, sparks and grinding while they perform welding maneuvers. When students are done with a welding exercise, the machines grade their welding technique while also recording how much material they use on every weld. The welding drills can also be replayed so students and instructors can identify what went well and wrong.

According to the college, the machines also save on costs because students aren’t wasting raw materials when first learning how to weld.

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