In the fall, South Aiken High School will introduce a new welding class, and student Corey Kirby is looking forward to the opportunity.

Thanks to Aiken Technical College, he also got a preview of the program from instructor Clint Hallman last week – not only the real thing, but a chance to practice with a virtual welding device.

Kirby and other students could wear seemingly traditional helmets, but they are actually connected to welding tools that create “weld puddles,” a small area of molten metal. All of it is simulated, and what Kirby could see inside his helmet, so could his friends on a large screen.

“It was hard to find the depth perception, but it was quite fun,” he said. “It really helps you get the basic skills.”

The students also got to take field trips to companies like TTX in North Augusta. Hallman, a longtime welder, serves as an continuing education instructor for ATC.

“These high school students are wonderful, and I was impressed,” Hallman said. “Only two had done any welding before, but I was amazed by some of the quality they came up with.”

He has worked for several construction, industrial and chemical sites – readily acknowledging he had no familiarity with virtual welding before he arrived at Aiken Technical College in February.

“I was like 'Wow!'” Hallman said. “It gives the students the opportunity to see how well the welding is done. It's not a substitute for welding, but can help you become a better welder.”

While the teenagers ultimately prefer the real thing as expected, the virtual machine can set parameters and allow them to adjust their skills on areas they might be struggling with,” Hallman said.

R.J. Cole, a rising junior at Wagener-Salley High School, considered the camp a great learning experience.

“He just saw the virtual welder yesterday,” Hallman said Thursday. “He knows how to run it better than I do.”