Certified Welding Inspectors (CWIs) who have been certified by the American Welding Society or other international bodies tend to be considered experts in the welding industry. They certainly should be experts in visual inspection and in the interpretation and application of welding codes and standards; however, this does not necessarily mean they are experts in other welding topics. Unfortunately for CWIs and for those who hire CWIs, there are several misconceptions of the role and level of expertise of these individuals.
For the purpose of this article we are talking about CWIs that
- Work exclusively as third party certified welding inspectors
- Work for a contractor and perform their inspector duties solely for that contractor
- Work as a welding consultant
In order to pass the Certified Welding Inspector exam candidates must have knowledge of several topics including, but not limited to: welding processes, metallurgy, welding symbols, NDE test methods, destructive testing, welding performance, heat control, reports, records, safety, brazing, soldering and cutting.
Whenever we get approached with the question “Should I hire a CWI?” we always respond with another question: “What do you expect out of your CWI?”
There are many misconceptions about what a CWI is qualified to do or at least should be able to do. There are also misconceptions about his or her level of authority. Below are some of the most common:
- CWIs are trained to perform the duties of a welding engineer; mainly the development of welding procedures. Many CWIs have a welding background, meaning they can weld. Many can develop procedures on carbon steel since this material is very forgiving. However, when you get into other materials such as the many aluminum alloys, nickel alloys, stainless steels, titanium and even high strength steels, the need for understanding the metallurgical properties of these materials becomes very important. As mentioned above, CWIs must have basic knowledge of metallurgy, but certainly not to the degree that a welding engineer must have when developing welding procedures.
- CWIs are skilled welders – being a certified welder, or even just a welder is NOT a requirement to becoming a CWI. It certainly helps, but if you look at the AWS requirements for CWI certification you’ll notice that being a welder is not necessary. In the field this leads to many disputes, one of the most common being the complaint from welder: “How can he/she reject my weld but can’t tell me what I did wrong or how to fix it?” Remember, a CWI is an expert in visual inspection of welds and in the interpretation of codes. Why a weld cracked, why the weld was excessively convex, why there was lack of penetration or why there was porosity is certainly not something that the CWI must be able to determine.
- CWIs are the only ones with the authority to qualify welders or welding procedures – this is a big one. AWS welding codes such as AWS D1.1 allow anyone to qualify a welder so long as they follow the requirements of the code. CWIs are typically the ones that do this because of their intimate knowledge of welding codes. But whether you are using AWS D1.1, D1.2, D1.3, D1.6 or any other code, anyone is authorized to perform the qualifications. This is why we developed and published Qualification of Welding Procedures, Welders and Welding Operators (for AWS D1.1). Please note that we are talking about qualifications, not certifications. The certification of a welder must be performed by at CWI at an AWS accredited test facility (ATF).
- CWIs are experts in all welding areas – many times CWIs get called into helping with failure analysis, production issues and many other problems involving welding operations. Although many have knowledge and experience to help determine possible causes they are certainly not trained in how to analyze fracture surfaces, how to determine what could have gone with material selection or even determining if there was an issue with welding design. These are areas that some CWIs may know about, but certainly not the majority.
- CWIs make good welding consultants – this again has to do with the areas in which they are experts. A CWI can be a consultant when it comes to following codes and standards. But without any other training or other areas of expertise a CWI cannot help with every aspect of welding operations.
- CWIs cannot be questioned – unfortunately some CWIs are intimidating. After all, in some cases they have the authority to stop a project due to a simple discrepancy with the applicable code. More often than not, it is they who determine if a welder is qualified to weld and thus can affect someone’s employment. If there are ever any questions as to why something is rejected you always have the right to ask the CWI to show you why. To show you where in the code it states that whatever he or she found is rejectable. Remember, the CWI does not have the final authority; this belongs to the engineer in charge of the project. The engineer can look at the reasons why a CWI rejected a weld and still approve it without having to reweld or repair. Of course, the liability falls on the engineer (or his company) and not on the CWI at this point.
The purpose of this article is not to discredit CWIs. CWIs are some of the most accomplished professionals in our industry. The misconceptions mentioned above must be brought up because they end up causing a lot of grief and a lot of time and money wasted. Remember, CWI is just a certification; it does not define the capabilities of the individual. It’s just like dealing with your friendly certified public accountant (CPA). He or she may be give you financial advice, this advice may be excellent, but a CPA is not required to be a financial planner, so you may need to take this advice with a grain of salt.