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Welding prodigy ignites a glowing legacy

By Meng Wenjie and Liu Kun | China Daily | Updated: 2024-01-24 06:16
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Sun Jianjun (left) instructs two apprentices on welding techniques. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Despite his young age, 27-year-old Sun Jianjun is a seasoned welder with nine years of experience.

In April 2015, as a high school student, Sun moved from his hometown of North China's Hebei province to Wuhan, the capital city of Central China's Hubei province. At the age of 18, he decided to pursue further studies at a welding training institution linked to an iron smelting company.

Starting as an apprentice, Sun faced challenges in mastering the fundamentals of welding. "With no prior experience, it took me almost a month to learn basic operating techniques," he recalled.

Welding also comes with challenges, especially when certain methods require welders to assume uncomfortable positions, such as squatting or standing directly under the weld, risking burns from molten iron. During his early days of acquiring a proficiency with welding, injuries were almost inevitable due to the high temperatures and the arc light which caused burns on Sun's neck, legs, and eyes.

"But with proper handling, the risk can be mitigated," he said.

Sun's hard work and intelligence led to rapid progress, and he soon mastered various welding techniques. From 2015 to 2017, he actively participated in competitions at municipal and provincial levels, honing his skills through rigorous training.

In October 2018, he contributed to a construction project in Bangladesh under the Belt and Road Initiative where he met great challenges.

The project had a substantial workload and significant technical demands. The relatively underdeveloped local infrastructure and frequent power interruptions during the local rainy season also slowed down the project's progress.

"It averaged over 10 power outages each day," Sun recalled.

To meet the project's deadline, Sun and his colleagues frequently worked overtime into the evening.

"The arc light during welding attracts numerous mosquitoes and insects that can get through our clothing," Sun said. "We had to wear full protection and wrap ourselves tightly, even in the tropical heat."

Over the course of this four-month project, Sun and his colleagues had little time for rest. Ultimately, they completed the work on schedule and ensured that all the products fulfilled the quality assurance and aesthetic criteria.

Despite the challenging conditions, Sun gained substantial experience. "I've never worked on a major project like this before, so my welding skills have greatly improved," he said.

After returning to China, Sun started engaging in nationwide welding competitions, including the first National Skills Competition.

In the brief three-month training period before the competition, Sun had to spend over 12 hours every day in rigorous practice.

In the competition, Sun demonstrated his expertise by finishing three different sections within nine hours while adhering to strict criteria. To assess the internal quality thoroughly, judges employed specialized non-destructive testing equipment that could uncover flaws not visible to the naked eye.

"These flaws in the weld are not apparent to the naked eye, but they can be detected using this specialized equipment, which evaluates a welder's proficiency in the welding process," explained Sun.

Appearance was also an important factor. The height and width of the weld had to meet specific parameters.

Even though welding might seem simple, Sun explained that it involves various fundamental theoretical knowledge, including electricity, mechanics, and materials science.

He achieved an impressive fourth place in the competition's welding section, earning the title of "National Technical Expert".

Sun's welding expertise was also acknowledged by his company. From 2019, he took on the role of mentoring and training apprentices. So far, Sun has had over 10 apprentices, most of whom were born after 1999.

Under his guidance, these young craftsmen have all achieved honors at or above the municipal level.

"The demanding nature of welding work is often perceived as unattractive by many young people," Sun said, expressing his concern. But he remains hopeful about engaging more youngsters in the industry.

He highlighted the importance of welding for the country's development, ranging from crafting everyday items to the construction of high-rise buildings, ships, automobiles, and airplanes.

"China is a manufacturing powerhouse, and welding is a significant part of the manufacturing industry. So, there is a substantial demand for young talent," he said, adding that the involvement of the younger generation is essential for driving progress in automation and digitization within the industry.

He mentioned that government initiatives, like supporting the National Skills Competition, can effectively encourage young talents to enter the field.

"There are similar skill competitions at different levels in various provinces and cities across the country, making sure that truly skilled young people can be recognized and appreciated," he said, emphasizing that one's academic background does not restrict the potential of those committed to their craft.

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