“Two areas that have tremendous potential in America are in Gas Metal Arc Directed Energy Deposition (GMA-DED) and collaborative robots (cobots).”
Executive Director & CEO,
American Welding Society
1. Could you brief us about yourself? What made you choose welding and automation as a career?
My name is Gary Konarska and I am the Executive Director & CEO. I received my Bachelor of Science – Industrial & Operations Engineering degree from The University of Michigan. As I was completing my degree, I realized that I was seeking more of a dynamic career rather than that of a traditional, plant-based industrial engineering role. The opportunity to join The Lincoln Electric Company as a Technical Sales Representative was the perfect place to start as it allowed me to apply my industrial engineering learning around process optimization, with the variety of what a sales role brings. Since Lincoln Electric was the leader at the time in arc welding automation, I had the opportunity to learn about automation from the very first days of my career. My first exposure to automation was during the sales training program where I performed a process optimization cost reduction project inside Lincoln Electric’s global HQ factory by transitioning from a crimping process to a robotically welded part.
2. Can you brief us more on your profile?
I have spent more than 22 years in the welding and automation industry, most recently working for The Lincoln Electric Company, where I last held the role of Vice President – Global Automation and was responsible for 13 automation sites around the world. Throughout my career I have focused on sales, strategic planning, and international business. I spent time living and working in Singapore with The Lincoln Electric Company (Asia Pacific) PTE Ltd., as Managing Director – Southeast Asia, South Korea, and Taiwan. I was responsible for all commercial activities in the region, as well as a welding consumable manufacturing plant in Indonesia. Prior to that role, I was based in Shanghai, China, as Director of Business Development, where I led core business functions including export and import sales, a robotic automation P&L, product management, marketing communications, service, and a welding technology center. I started my career as a Technical Sales Representative in Seattle, WA, USA and then Tampa, FL, USA.
3. Since you hold a vast experience into the Welding and Automation industry, can you share some of the interesting learning’s so far?
I still find it fascinating that even though semi-automatic wire fed processes, such as GMAW and FCAW-GS were invented more than 70 years ago, that every fabrication facility that can use these processes still does not use them today. It is a small investment in equipment and training with a huge return on that investment, when compared to SMAW. In the automation industry, the rapid adoption of collaborative robots in welding and cutting was accelerated due to the pandemic
4. Apart from Lincoln Electric, which other companies have your worked with?
I worked for nearly 20 years for Lincoln Electric prior to joining the American Welding Society. While it was one corporation, each set of experiences were completely unique. My first seven years as a Technical Sales Representative taught me a tremendous amount about the welding ecosystem – education, manufacturing OEM’s distribution channels, and end-user customers. Every day I was in a different type of end-user facility, trying to help them improve their welding productivity. The next ten years of my career I lived as an expatriate in either Singapore or China. This was totally different than the mature business model of the US. During those ten years I was in some of the largest welding facilities in the world (e.g. Hyundai Heavy Industries in Ulsan, South Korea) and supported every type of welding segment, from Automotive to Construction Machinery to Nuclear power plant construction. The last three years at Lincoln I was part of the Automation group, which was totally different than the welding products business since it was an engineered-to-order business with a longer selling process and longer manufacturing times.
5. You currently hold a position as Executive Director & CEO of the American Welding Society. What are your plans for the betterment of the institute?
The mission of the American Welding Society (AWS) is to advance the science, technology and application of welding and allied joining and cutting processes worldwide, including brazing, soldering, and thermal spraying. We continue to advance this mission by expanding our products and services to meet the needs of the welding community. One of those major areas is in Education. We have an extensive portfolio of online learning courses that are self-paced, available 24/7, and can be taken anywhere in the world. We have also added Online Live webinars as well as continue to hold in-person seminars and conferences on industry-impacting topics.
6. Can you please discuss with us more on the role of American Welding Society for the upliftment of welding industry in America?
This is one of the most important roles AWS plays and is something that I am especially passionate about. We are focused in two major ways to uplift welding in America: building more awareness and improving the accessibility of welding education. To build more awareness, some of our major initiatives are the Careers in Welding Mobile Exhibit, very active social media campaigns, careersinwelding.com, Metal America on our YouTube channel, and weldingdigest.org. We are trying to connect with the next generation of welding professionals where they are. From an accessibility standpoint, this is the primary focus of the AWS Foundation. In 2022, the AWS Foundation will award more than USD 2 million in scholarships to attend a welding training or engineering program, issue more than USD 400,000 in Welding Workforce Grants to schools, and support four PHD graduate research fellowships for USD 140,000. The impact of the AWS Foundation’s work has more than doubled enrollments in welding training programs across America.
7. The institute is constantly working to develop the qualification and certification, and national policy on welding system. Elaborate.
The process in which AWS creates our products and services are all market-driven, and volunteer led. What this means is that the welding community identifies needs of new standards or certifications, and then AWS plays the key role of convening Subject Matter Experts to create a product that serves this need. It is a unique system and extremely effective. This means that AWS products are made by the welding community, for the welding community, which makes them especially relevant.
8. What type of international standards for welding quality management are been practiced in America? The ISO 9001 overall quality management is very common in America, but oftentimes is not specific to welding quality management. Therefore, AWS developed the Certified Welding Fabricator, which recognizes select companies who have the resources, procedures, and personnel to apply a quality management system to the welding fabrication activities. This is important as welding is a unique process that must have specific focus for a company to ensure a safe product.
9. What is the role of institute towards Welders Skill Development? We provide accessibility to more than 1,000 students each year to be able to afford to attend a welding program. In addition, we have created the Fundamentals of Welding Curriculum which adhere to the AWS SENSE guidelines, which was created in the mid-90’s to help ensure the quality of welding curriculum within education institutions.
10. What is your say on the quality, environment, health, and safety in Welding?
Operating the welding process safely should always be the number one priority of any company or individual. Through our Safety & Health Committee, we ensure that there are guidelines for the safe operation of the welding process. We have created a tremendous number of safety-related resources that are free of charge (https://www.aws.org/standards/page/safety-health-fact-sheets) and also offer our “Safety in Welding” training course free of charge (https://awo.aws.org/online-courses/safety-in-welding/).
11. What welding safety measures are considered in America?
I believe that America has some of the safest welding practices in the world. This is led by US manufacturers recognizing that the safety and health of their employees is good for business. There is also a reasonable regulatory environment to ensure companies are providing a safe environment. Welding is a safe process if performed properly and with proper training, the workforce can operate confidently and safely.
12. Can you describe on the welding market scenario in America?
The welding market in America has gone through consolidation over the years. The three largest welding companies in the world (by revenue) are now headquartered in America. This shows the innovation and access to welding talent is strong in America. With that said, many international manufacturers of welding equipment and consumable continue to successfully enter the American welding market. This is good for the global welding community as it continues to drive new products and technology for everyone in the world to benefit from.
13. How is the demand and supply scenario?
Like all parts of the world, the last two years have been especially challenging on the supply chain. For example, it is amazing how many individual components go into manufacturing a welding machine. These components are sourced from all over the world, and if missing just one component, the assembly can not be completed. I witnessed this first-hand where a manufacturer partially assembled machines and stored them until that final missing component could be installed. These supply chain challenges have forced all manufacturers to rethink where they source their products from and I think will have a lasting impact on the overall supply chain in America.
14. What new technologies have been introduced in the country, especially when welding is concern?
Two areas that have tremendous potential are in Gas Metal Arc Directed Energy Deposition (GMA-DED) and collaborative robots (cobots). GMA-DED is an Additive Manufacturing process that allows users to build complex shapes at large-scale. This technology is still in its early days of commercialization and there continues to be exciting developments of how GMA-DED can revolutionize lead times as well as rapid prototyping during the research & development process. Next, cobots are making automation accessible to welding facilities that traditionally were locked-out of robotic automation. High mix, low volume manufacturers believed that the programming time and tooling costs would lead to too much downtime of the robotic system. Cobots have made programming much easier and when combined with a modular tooling table and clamps, are quick and easy to set-up for small batch manufacturing.
15. What major challenges does the welding industry in America face? What can be the ways to resolve the same?
America has been facing a skilled labor shortage from quite some time. While the efforts until now of AWS have helped to prevent the welder shortage from getting worse, we must continue to do more to help the welding community. Two areas we are putting more focus on is automation and productivity. We will do more to promote the adoption of welding automation to be another solution to the welder shortage. Through our D16 series of standards on robotic arc welding and expanded programming, such as our Automated Welding & Sensors Conference in October 2022, we will support the welding community in the safe adoption of welding automation. Further, we have recently expanded our training offering related to productivity. We launched the Solution Selling for Welding course that teaches those in the sales field the fundamentals of welding along with a solution selling methodology. We also recently launched Lean Management for Welding Productivity. In addition, we have had the Certified Welding Supervisor (CWS) program for many years, which in my opinion is one of the best products that AWS offers. A CWS can enrich any welding operation through better management of resources, improved productivity, and increasing profitability.
16. Closing note?
AWS recognizes the important role we play in the global welding community, and we want to continue to expand access to our products and services throughout the world. The vision of AWS is to be the preeminent global resources that enables welding professionals and the industries they serve to protect and improve lives. Through wonderful opportunities, such as working with Weldfab Tech Times, to increase the awareness of all that AWS offers will only further advance the global welding community.