The importance of welding quality control

June 6, 2023
Some uncomfortable conversations and a few extra steps can help protect against an unsafe vehicle leaving the shop.

We all have different ideas of what quality control is. Whether it’s the burden feeling of someone checking work over our shoulder, or elaborate checklists or software, we must verify whatever standard we’re trying to set and reduce liability. It is also a widely held belief that quality control means only verifying the craftsmanship of a product. It can also mean improving efficiency through these steps that get implemented, particularly when we dive into one of the more challenging technical hands-on skills in a body shop, welding.

As I've traveled around the country, I’ve found technicians have often viewed maintaining welding quality control as a burden because of the extra steps needed.

Who wants to dress more of a weld, or worse, regrind and reweld more than needed? But by evaluating your shop’s procedures and developing a quality control process, it no longer becomes just about how good of a weld it is; it can also become a matter of how safe and efficient your technicians can work through welding the vehicle. Once we reset their process, it becomes second nature. When done right, welding quality control may have the added protection against a bigger danger of an unsafe vehicle leaving the shop, especially if quality control is lacking in multiple areas.

Just because you can, should you?

Before quality control can truly begin, we need to ask ourselves if we should even be welding on the car.  Additionally, exactly where and what types of welds are to be performed and the processes that will be used. A “quality” weld with absolutely no defects and ready to be bragged about with pictures on social media could still end up being a complete disaster for that specific situation. It all begins with the welding procedure for that vehicle. Automotive manufacturers have very specific guidelines on how to fix their car they designed and tested. Our opinion ends there. Some think weld-through primer should be used on every single repair, and that is not true unless the manufacturer calls for it and specifies which product is to be used. Another example is adding additional welding joints, such as a backing sleeve, which may not be called for unless that procedure requires it. The liability will fall on you if you stray away from the manufacturer’s repair procedure. This isn’t working on a classic or custom show car; we’re talking collision repair. If the vehicle fails to perform safely in another accident, do you want to tell the customer, or even worse, a judge, you customized a standard repair? Quality technicians can perform great welds, but we should be asking ourselves if we should and how by seeking the OEM repair information for each repair area, for each specific vehicle.

Shop infrastructure

The shop needs to be properly set up before it even takes on the job and dispatches it to the technicians. Otherwise, what sometimes happens is this is shoved down the line of repair and the shop doesn’t catch until it’s too late that it shouldn’t have done the repair or is even capable of the correct repair. I’ve observed cars torn down on the frame rack, for the shop to later realize it is not capable of doing a safe repair in many facets of the repair. The scary part is what happens next is the unsafe repair sometimes knowingly gets pushed through. A little work up front on the check-in process, whether that’s front office estimators or back-of-house estimators, should be to determine if the shop is capable of the repair before tearing into the vehicle.

Areas to consider:

  • Should you take on the job or not? This can be tough for shops to turn down, or away to a competitor, if we find out we’re not capable of doing the welding repair. Whether it’s pride or customer loyalty, it’s all valid to want to still fix their car. Is the liability risk worth it of doing an improper repair? We may not be set up to perform repairs for every brand and type of vehicle. It also may not be worth the investment in time and money to purchase welding equipment or train employees if it’s a limited repair for your shop, such as aluminum welding. It’s fine to humbly decline a job.
  • Does your shop have any required OEM certifications that may be required to perform the repair? Some manufacturers may not grant access to the welding procedures unless you are certified. Just because you can acquire those through someone who does have access, you may still not have protection against liability because of additional requirements that the OEM may have.
  • Can you buy the parts? Some certifications are required by the OEM as a checkpoint for repairers by not allowing uncertified repair shops to purchase structural parts or more. You can’t weld a new panel if you can’t buy it, and even if you somehow acquire that panel through unauthorized methods, you may not be able to warranty it.
  • Do you even have the welder the manufacturer requires to perform that specific repair? An OEM may specify brands and models for which it grants approval for a specific welder, or it may provide a range of specs that the welder must meet. You can have the most expensive and brand-new machine on the shop floor, but if it’s not approved for that repair, you are opening yourself to liability. Even if the welder is correct, is it actually set up with the right parts? I’ve encountered brand-new machines with mismatched physical parts, and the ones with computer programs can be set on the wrong parameters. You can be a rockstar welder, but if the equipment is mismatched or in need of maintenance, that is going to be difficult to show your skillset. Is the welding wire the right type or even good? (figure 1)
  • Does the technician have the skill set needed to perform the required welding? Who is going to do the job in the shop if all the preceding checkpoints for shop infrastructure are good? All too often, the job is simply dispatched to a technician with the mindset that he or she will fix it all. But the technician may not even be a good welder. None the less have the technical requirements if they’re supposed to be certified for that welding process or OEM requirements. Also, just because THEY ARE certified, it may still be good to know how your techs’ skill sets compare. For example, one technician may be the better aluminum welder, even if everyone else in the shop passed a welding test for it.

Training and resources available

What is available in the shop for technicians to know what a quality weld even is? How can they practice becoming better to verify their skills, whether good or bad? It’s imperative to provide them with the right training resources. This could include in-person classroom or hands-on shop training, virtual courses, or simple training books. Resources include OEMs, welding equipment manufacturers, such as Lincoln or Miller, continuing education companies, or your local traditional technical college. Here at Fuzarc, we travel across the country to do in-person training, or we also offer remote training solutions. A lot of techs prefer a hands-on approach. Plus, at times as technicians we’re working alone. No one is usually shadowing our every move to see any room for improvement or correction. This lack of oversight happens as we become better and more established technicians, as the thought is we should just “know” how to do our job. Quality control is also verifying skill sets and helping when needed. We’re auto body repair technicians with a vast area of skill sets, not JUST with the title of a welder who only welds day-in and day out-as his or her primary job task. So, actual welding time may be limited to only when doing repairs that don’t take very long. Continuing to practice and finding ways to do that in the shop is needed, whether it’s giving technicians the time to do so on their own or setting up instruction for them to practice their craft. It cannot only be when they’re sent to a welding test every couple years or only getting a quick welding setup rundown every so often when a distributor drops off a new piece of equipment.

Start with the technicians

Most technicians don’t want to do a bad job. It’s usually the exact opposite. They take pride in their work and want a quality and proper repair too. Poor-quality welds can be due to shop infrastructure, the lack of knowledge of what makes a quality weld, or a mixture of the two. Giving the technicians the proper know-how and resources is the best bet to manage quality weld repairs, let alone the rest of the repairs we’re having them perform.

Oversight quality control capture

While I believe quality control starts with the technicians, I’ve seen too many times people know there is a bad technician performing welds that will require the involvement of the manager or shop lead to verify they pass muster. But even the ones we do know are performing quality work will require the same verification This isn’t babysitting or constantly watching over someone’s shoulder; it’s checking the process, especially before it continues down the repair line so it can be identified before the vehicle is ready to be delivered. Have a system in place, whether it is someone besides the person doing the repair comes and checks out every welding repair before the vehicle moves to the next repair step or it’s someone randomly auditing every couple repairs. Some technicians know their welds aren’t quality and you’ll see a grinder, seam sealer, undercoating, etc. in their hand just as fast as they drop the welding torch in order to hide them from others. Make it a culture that it’s acceptable to be checked and that we all want to improve.

Photo documentation can be useful. This can be captured by the person doing the welding to cut down on the need to wait for others to continue. Store it in the repair order files or a separate shop system for review. This can even prove at a later date that you did quality repairs once it’s covered up with parts and paint.

Correcting problems

We can set up the shop and have checks and balances in place all we want, but problems are bound to happen. Does the technician have the know-how and available resources for corrective action when a weld goes bad? This sometimes goes back to simply not knowing what is wrong because of a lack of training. Remember, most of us don’t intentionally want to do a bad or partial quality job. Unfortunately, problems arise because we’re trying to push the job out quicker in the name of productivity, and we settle for a mediocre repair. Even after the welds are dressed and we realize the welds are incomplete, are we going to break out the welder and everything that goes with that? Sadly, sometimes no, and the poor-quality welds get covered up by various products, never to be seen again until the next unfortunate accident or an inspection. And this is where problems need to be addressed. Having the established training resources, such as past welding notes from past training or seeking additional training resources as discussed before, will be beneficial to circle back to help correct problems.