Oct 20, 2017

Are You Ready to be an AWS Certified Welding Inspector?

How to know if your education and work experience has prepared you to become a CWI

A higher income, new career challenges, personal enrichment, there are many reasons why after working as a welder, inspector, or engineer for a few years, many decide to solidify their passion for their profession and become an American Welding Society (AWS) Certified Welding Inspector (CWI). But once they decide they’re interested in taking the next step, many are unsure if they’re ready and what they should do next.

Should I Become a Welding Inspector?

For those focused on their long-term career plan, becoming a welding inspector might seem like the logical next step. A welding inspector has several duties and responsibilities including examining welding work to make sure it follows federal, local, and state codes; ensuring that safety codes are followed during projects that involve welding; and testing and examining welds to ensure there are no defects or cracks that can jeopardize the safety of the structure. Paul Cameron, a CWI who works as a nondestructive examination technician for Braun Intertec and also teaches several AWS Certified Welding Inspector seminars, said a good CWI candidate is also someone who has integrity, good reading comprehension, good writing skills, and is a good communicator.

What Does the CWI Exam Cover?

CWI test candidates in St. Louis, Mo., taking a practice exam during a CWI seminar.

The CWI exam is broken down into three parts: Part A – Fundamentals, Part B – Practical, and Part C – Code Book Applications. Part A is a closed-book test consisting of 150 questions that evaluate the applicant’s knowledge of welding fundamentals including terms and definitions, welding processes, nondestructive examination, procedures, symbols, calculations, safety practices, and duties and responsibilities of a CWI. Part B is a hands-on test where applicants are tested on their ability to visually identify welding discontinuities and determine acceptance or rejection of a weld. Part C is an open book test to evaluate the applicant’s familiarity with a selected code and the ability to find and apply the information.

Are You Qualified?

CLICK to view Table 1

To meet the requirements to sit for the exam, you must pass a vision test and have a combination of qualifying education and work experience, with supporting documentation. As seen in Table 1, the combination of education and work experience varies. Someone with less than an 8th grade education would need a minimum of 12 years welding-based work experience to sit for the exam, while an individual with a bachelor’s degree or higher in welding engineering or welding technology will only need a minimum of one year’s welding-based work experience. But just because you fit into the minimum education/work experience guidelines on the chart doesn’t necessarily mean you are ready to take the exam, according to Senior CWI Rick Suria.

For the past six years, Suria, who is also an AWS Certified Welding Educator (CWE) and consultant and owner of Industrial Technology & Inspection LLC, has been teaching the AWS CWI seminar, a week-long course to help prepare individuals for the exam. Over the years, he has seen many people walk into his seminar class thinking they are ready to take the test only to find out they don’t have the basic understanding of everything they will need to know to pass the exam. “A CWI is expected to have a wide range of knowledge and skills. If you don’t have a good comfort level with all the disciplines covered on the test before you walk into the seminar, you are not ready,” said Suria.

The Right Knowledge

The AWS Body of Knowledge document lists the current topics and exam book editions that candidates will need to know and reference when taking the CWI exam. AWS B5.1: 2013-AMD1, Specification for the Qualification of Welding Inspectors defines the requirements to qualify welding inspectors.

Cameron believes a candidate’s success is highly dependent on what he or she knows about the fundamentals of welding. “The thing with the fundamentals of welding…they touch every section of the test,” said Cameron.  “An example, you could get a code book or hands-on [exam] question that mentions little more than the welding electrode E7028. From that electrode designation, you would already have to know what process the question is referring to, the position limitations, and that that is a low-hydrogen process.”

Suria agrees that a well-rounded background is key, especially for someone who has only ever welded. “If you haven’t worked as an inspector, you have probably never seen the code book. If you’re just welding in a shop, you may have not ever used the hand tools required to inspect a weld. You don’t know how to use gauges.”

Hit the Books and the Web

There are several classes and seminars offered year-round by AWS as well as other training and educational institutions to help prepare candidates for the CWI exam. The AWS Welding Inspector Seminar takes places the week of the test to best help prepare candidates for success. The seminars offer expert instructors, guided instruction materials, including homework, practice exams, realistic replica training sets, a copy of D1.1:2015 for seminar/exam registrants testing to D1.1, a copy of the Code Clinic Reference Manual, and a copy of the the API Code Clinic Study Guide for registrants testing to the API 1104.

For those candidates who aren’t sure if they have enough knowledge to sign up for the seminar and exam, Suria recommends the AWS online CWI Pre-Seminar, a program compromised of seven courses designed to prepare you for the extensive body of knowledge reviewed during the live seminar. Each self-paced course is divided into interactive modules with quizzes, tests, and learning activities that map out the skills and knowledge points needed to become a CWI. “The online seminar lets you find out what you don’t know. And you don’t know what you don’t know until you find out you don’t know it,” he said. “The pre-seminar gives you a little taste of what’s going to be covered on the test, and if you have a weak background, it’s the perfect tool. CWI seminars are a refresher. It’s going to be a review, tips, questions, and answers.”

The CWI Pre-Seminar courses include Welding Fundamentals, Safety in Welding, Fabrication Math I, Fabrication Math II, Understanding Welding Symbols, Metallurgy for the Non-Metallurgist Fundamentals, and Science of Non Destructive Testing.

Suria's Test Prep Plan

During Part B of the CWI exam, test candidates use the same tools that CWIs use in the field.

To identify exactly what it is that you don’t know, Suria advises students to download their free copy of AWS B5.1: 2013-AMD1, Specification for the Qualification of Welding Inspectors and review the WI welding inspection capabilities listed in Table 1. “Identify the gaps in your knowledge and skills and familiarize yourself with them before you attend the AWS instructor-led CWI Seminar or attempt to take the exam,” he said.

Test candidates who register for the CWI Pre-Seminar at the same time they register for the AWS instructor-led CWI Seminar receive their books early. Suria recommends that these students review the online pre-seminar materials until they are comfortable with the content and then do the following:

  1. Part A Practice: Read the Welding Inspection Technology (WIT) book and do the corresponding homework in the WIT Workbook. Complete all sample test with a score of 72% or better. Do not move on till the passing score is achieved.
  2. Part B Practice: Familiarize yourself with the Part B Examination Book of Specifications. Seminar registrants receive review questions for download. These questions will help test candidates practice using the same Part B Examination Book of Specifications during the hands-on portion of the exam.
  3. Part C Practice- Read the Code Clinic study guide (D1.1 or API 1104). Complete all three sample test with a score of 72% or better. Do not move on till you are comfortable with using the code book.

Suria also tells his students not to write in the test booklets so that they can use the same sample questions to test themselves as many times as necessary. In terms of timing he adds, “Don't forget to time yourself. Try to answer each question in about 2 minutes.”

Ready, Set, Go!

Once you’re confident that you’re qualified to become a CWI, here are the steps you need to take:

  1. Visit the AWS Certification page at aws.org/certification
  2. Fill out the AWS Certified Welding Inspector Exam Application
  3. Choose an examination site
  4. Start studying.

To pass the test, you will need to score 72% or higher on each of the three test sections. You must then pass the vision screening to prove visual acuity, with or without corrective eyewear.

“A CWI certification is a well-earned achievement, it’s not given. Even if you’ve taken the test four times till you passed it, you earned it,” said Suria. “Just stay focused on the plan,” added Cameron.

This article was published in the March 2017 edition of the Welding Journal by WJ senior editor, Cindy Weihl. Become an AWS member to automatically receive your issue of the Welding Journal every month.