Story and photos by SW2 David Miller, Underwater Construction Team 2
(160429-N-ZZ999-001) Construction Mechanic 3rd Class Ryan Filo, assigned to Underwater Construction Team 2, performs a weld for his Lloyd’s Register certification test, April 29. Seabees from UCT 2 completed the certification testing to further their underwater welding capabilities.
Welding on a surface is an art form, and to master it takes years of practice, patience, and perseverance. A proficient welder must constantly monitor travel angle and speed, work angle, puddle control, arc length, and several other variables to produce a quality surfacing weld.
When welding underwater, these difficult variables are compounded by water, ocean current, low visibility, and working with an exposed electrical current.
A dozen Seabees from Underwater Construction Team (UCT) 2 completed a wet welding course at the International Diving Institute (IDI) in Charleston, South Carolina, April 29. Of the 12, only two had surface welding training via Navy “A” School beforehand, so there was a lot to cover for everyone to pass the rigorous commercial certification.
“I didn’t know much about welding prior to attending the course, so I was a little nervous going in,” said Construction Mechanic 3rd Class Andersen Gardner.
The course began with a period of instruction in the classroom that covered the basics, such as rod positioning, travel speed, and general welding terminology. This laid the foundation for what’s involved in joining two pieces of metal together. Following the classroom instruction, it was time to enter the tank and apply the theory to practical application. The UCT technicians quickly realized that this was not going to be easy.
“The Lloyd’s welding certification process at the International Diving Institute was a challenging course that really tested the abilities that we advertise as a unit,” said Builder 1st Class Christopher Chilton, Construction Dive Detachment Bravo leading petty officer. “After the first day, I was almost certain that I was destined to be a tack welder.”
For the next two weeks there was intense hands-on training and coaching from the IDI staff while in the water, which helped immensely to improve everyone’s skills. Time in the water varied by person and day, but generally ranged from 45 minutes to more than three hours per day.
“Some guys pick it up really quickly and are ready to test out by the end of the first week. Others slave over it until the very end and just don’t quite make it,” said David Ring, IDI lead instructor and hands-on coach for the team from UCT 2.
“Welding isn’t really for everybody, Ring added. “Those who are detailed oriented and can become machine-like in their movements are usually the ones that end up going out into the world and getting paid extremely well for it. If you can’t constantly repeat what you did, then this is a hard field to break into.”
(160425-N-ZZ999-001) Steelworker Second Class David Miller, assigned to Underwater Construction Team 2, performs a fillet weld in the vertical position while pursuing his Lloyd’s Register welding certification, April 25.
After days of incremental improvement for some, or leaps and bounds for others, it was test day. The certification test involved welding two pieces of half-inch steel plates together to form a “T” shape in the vertical position. This is referred to as a 3G fillet weld. Participants had to weld a root pass (a pass that initially joined the two plates together), and then weld two cover passes on top of the root pass (passes that further fused and solidified the bond between the plate metal and root pass). After completion of the first test project, they would have tenders on the surface retrieve the test piece via bucket, and have the weld inspector scrutinize the weld for any surface imperfections.
“Too much buildup of weld material means a fail. Not enough weld material means a fail. Putting the right amount of weld material but having undercut on the sides of the weld equals a fail. Any piece of slag that is embedded in the weld face is a fail. Not running your weld material all the way down the plate equates to a fail. The criteria that we go by is extremely detailed, in order to ensure that those who actually become certified can produce a weld that will be impeccable time and time again,” said Ring.
If the piece passes a visual inspection, then it moves into destructive testing and an acid test.
The destructive testing is referred to as a break test and is completed by placing the piece underneath a shop press. Pressure is then applied to the piece until it breaks in two. The two fragments are retrieved and the inside of the weld is examined for any imperfections such as slag inclusion or incomplete fusion.
The acid test is performed while the break test is being performed. A small amount of acid is applied to the piece to reveal where the heat-affected zone is. While too much heat in the weld makes it become too brittle and can break relatively easy, not enough heat and it won’t be able to withstand possible forces applied on it, due to the incomplete fusion of the metals. If there is any failure at any point during the inspection process, the diver then gets one more chance to weld a test piece in order to become certified.
According to IDI, the average failure rate of those trying to become Lloyd’s Register certified is 66 percent. Of the 12 personnel who attended the wet welding course, all received the American Welding Society D3.6:2010 certification, and eight received the Lloyd’s Register certification. That is a 75 percent passing rate, which reflects the hard work and perseverance of all those who attended the course.
“It was awesome to have the opportunity to train at IDI’s facilities where you have everything you need, including the instruction to make you competitive in a tough field of work to try to break into,” said Builder 3rd Class Sean McHugh.
UCT 2 provides construction, inspection, repair, and maintenance of waterfront and ocean facilities in support of Navy and Marine Corps operations. Underwater construction technicians have the unique ability of providing shallow and deep water repairs, as well as being a highly skilled construction force.