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What It Takes to be a CWI

Who is the American Welding Society’s Certified Welding Inspector? Put simply, he’s an individual with at least 5 years’ experience in the welding industry who passed the AWS CWI exam. He could have a background as a welder or an NDE technician, he might have a 4-year degree in engineering, he may have been working in quality control or been a project manager on industrial projects. He may work on the right-of-way laying a pipeline or a shutdown in a refinery or a fabrication shop building pressure vessels or the construction of a skyscraper.

No matter his background, the welding inspector should bring “KASH” to his employer: Knowledge, Attitude, Skills and Habits. He should have knowledge in the applicable codes and standards, various welding processes, basic metallurgy, and different types of examination techniques. His attitude should be fair, impartial, and professional at all times. His skills should include being able to read drawings and fill out weld maps, use weld inspection gauges properly, evaluating examination results and maintain accurate records. He should habitually act with integrity, be consistent in his decision making, and communicate clearly.

Being an inspector is an extremely ethical job. As a CWI, you may get pressured to allow a repair where it is not permitted or pass your friend’s weld test when it is visually rejectable. It is your responsibility and yours alone to preserve your integrity in these situations, even when you want to help a friend out or get a project done on time. As the author Isaac Asimov said, “Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what’s right.”

The American Welding Society has two documents that detail what it entails to be a welding inspector. They go in depth about the responsibilities of the inspector and the examination process. The B5.1: 2013 Specification for the Qualification of Welding Inspectors and the QC1:2016 Specification for AWS Certification of Welding Inspectors are both available to download for free at: https://www.aws.org/store/page/bookstore-free-downloads

The first step to becoming an AWS CWI is to submit your application. You will need to document your 5 years of experience in the industry. Any time spent in a trade school or college welding-related program counts as half that time in experience. For example, a 2-year Associates degree in Welding Technology counts as 1 year of experience. You will also need to have your current employer verify that you do indeed work where you say. Lastly, you will need to get your eyes checked and have the optometrist fill out a Visual Acuity Form. You must be able to read Jaeger Number 2 letters from 12 inches away, with or without glasses or contacts. A copy of your driver’s license or other government ID and a passport style photo (note: do NOT use your passport) must also be attached to your application. All these documents can be found at: https://www.aws.org/certification/documents.

Once your application has been approved, you will need to pass 3 separate examinations, each with a 2-hour time limit. The first part, Part A, is the Fundamentals. It is 150 questions covering 14 different subjects involved in weld inspection. These are called the Fundamentals because they are exactly that; fundamental. They are the basic building blocks of being an inspector and everything else gets stacked on them. These are the different subjects and their approximate weight on the exam:

Definitions & Terminology 12%
Welding Processes 11%
Symbols 10%
Weld Examination 10%
Welding Performance 9%
NDE Test Methods 9%
Heat Control & Metallurgy 8%
Reports & Records 7%
Safety 6%
Destructive Test Methods 5%
Duties & Responsibilities 5%
Cutting 4%
Brazing & Soldering 4%

The second part of the exam, Part B, is the Practical. It is 46 questions and involves an imitation code book, plastic weld replicas, a book of fictitious welding procedures and welder qualifications, and a tool kit. This part of the test involves cognitive reasoning: the ability to take information and draw a conclusion. In other words, you can’t just memorize “2 + 2 = 4”, you have to be able to reason out “The code says undercut shall not exceed 6% of the pipe wall thickness and the question asks if this pipe replica is acceptable, so I need to measure the wall thickness and calculate what 6% of that is.”

The final part of the test, Part C, is the code portion. The AWS assumes that if you can navigate and interpret one code book you can navigate and interpret them all. Thus, they offer Part C on various AWS, API and ASME codes. The vast majority of CWI candidates use either AWS D1.1: Structural Welding Code – Steel or API 1104: Welding of Pipelines and Related Facilities. The D1.1 exam is currently using the 2015 edition and 1104 uses the 21st edition. One code is NOT easier than the other! I have heard many, many people say “1104 is easier because it’s smaller.” While it does have fewer pages than D1.1, the 1104 exam has 10 more questions than the D1.1 exam so they are equally difficult. You can highlight, underline, and make all the notes you want in your code book up until the day of the exam. You are not allowed to write anything in your code book while taking the test.

When you sign up to take the CWI exam, you will register to take the Practical on a certain day at an approved AWS location. The Practical will be administered by an AWS proctor, with a paper test booklet and a ‘bubble’ answer sheet. You will have 60 days from that day to go to a Prometric testing facility and take the Fundamental and Code portions on a computer. There are Prometric sites all over the USA and the world. The AWS will give you a link that allows you to schedule your exams with Prometric. The Fundamental is completely closed book; just you and the computer. For the Code, you can take your printed code book in and there will also be a searchable PDF on the computer. You can schedule to take both Part A and C the same day or on different days.

To successfully pass the CWI, you must get a 72% on each of the 3 exams. If you do well on two parts – say, Part A 90% and Part B 85% – but fail Part C with a 60%, your total average is above 72% and you’ll only have to retest Part C. If your total average is below 72% – say, 75%, 73% and 60% – you will have to retake all three parts. If you do not get the required 72% but get a 60% or above, the AWS will make you a Certified Assistant Weld Inspector. CAWI’s are not allowed to work on their own and must be supervised by a certified inspector. You are allowed three retests within three years after your first exam date.

The CAWI is only valid for 3 years and cannot be renewed. The CWI certification is valid for three years. At the 3- and 6-year intervals, you will have to submit another visual acuity form to the AWS and pay the renewal fee. At every 9-year interval, you will have to show at least 80 PDH’s (Professional Development Hours) or retake the Practical Exam. At least half of your PDH’s have to be earned within the last year before your renewal. You may also take the Senior Certified Weld Inspector exam.

Now you know all about what it takes to become an AWS CWI. If you are still planning to go through with it, you should become an AWS member. Members save money on code books, reference materials and the cost of the exam. More info can always be found on the American Welding Society’s website.