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Ai Aiguo: A Welding Craftsman of the Nation

Source: Science and Technology Daily | 2022-05-12 09:49:37 | Author: LU?Zijian

Ai Aiguo (right), welding consultant at Xiangtan Iron & Steel Co., Ltd. of Hunan Valin, is discussing welding skills with colleagues in the laboratory. (PHOTO: XINHUA)

By LU Zijian

President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory letter to the First Innovation Exchange Conference for Craftsmen of the Nation in Beijing on April 27, calling for contributing wisdom and strength to high-quality development and the implementation of the strategy to build the country into a leader in manufacturing.

    Not long before this, a celebration was held to honor ten craftsmen of 2021 by the All?China Federation of Trade Unions and China Media Group. Among the ten is Ai Aiguo, welding consultant at Xiangtan Iron & Steel Co., Ltd. of Hunan Valin.

    Despite being feted by his peers and given titles like "Han Wang," which literally means "King of Welding," Ai said, "Fame doesn't help. It is one's capabilities that matter when solving problems."

    Breaking technological bottlenecks

    Ai has paid his dues and long proved his expertise in the art of welding.

    As early as the 1980s when he worked for Shougang Group in Beijing, Ai ever managed to ensure that there was no leak in the 30,000 cubic meters oxygenerator, which was the largest oxygenerator in the world at that time, during the deep cooling oxygen generating process.

    In the witness of international institutions in the industry, Ai's efforts made it possible for Xianggang Iron & Steel to produce high heat input welding ship series steel, after performance detection of steel welding and post-welding  in 2020.

    But Ai's most unforgettable experience was the research and development of welding for high-strength engineering machinery and wear-resistant steel  [1,100-MPa level high-strength steel], which had to be imported with insanely high prices that time.

    The higher the steel's strength, the lower its weldability will be, said Ai. This also means it is difficult to avoid weld defects.

    After selecting countless materials, adopting numerous techniques and conducting incalculable experiments, Ai and his team finally lifted the tensile strength of their domestically produced steel from 690 MPa to 1,100 MPa, reduced the product weight by over 15 percent, and extended the body durability by more than 50 percent. And it cut the cost of steel by nearly 66 percent, from 30,000 RMB per ton [imported steel] to 12,000 RMB.

    Hard work and learning

    Ai’s achievements can be put down to dedicated learning and hard work over 50 year period.

    “It is easy to learn how to weld, but it is difficult to uplift one’s skills to a high level,” said Ai, adding that there is no short cut and only practice makes perfect.

    One year after Ai entered the factory, he began to learn welding. Later he also took on electric welding. Though his skin was often burnt by the arc light, he never thought to give up learning.

    Apart from practicing at every opportunity, he also didn’t neglect theoretical knowledge. The notes he wrote exceeded 100,000 words. At the age of 58, he started to teach himself to use a computer. His experience on innumerable projects and materials used are now stored in dozens of categories and thousands of folders in his computer.

    Even now, after half a century in the welding industry, Ai always does some research before offering solutions to problems presented to him. When asked why, he said, “I could lag behind if I stopped learning welding for a single day, and previous experience of mine can only be used as a reference.”

    Paying it forward

    As a welding master, Ai does not keep his skill to himself, but rather transfers it freely to a large number of apprentices.

    For the past decades, Ai has nurtured more than 600 welding technicians. He has taught over 80 percent of the senior welders in his company, some of whom have already been recognized by the State Council and gone on to receive national honors for their skills. Many of his apprentices have also become key members in the  welding groups of other enterprises.

    Since 2003, Ai started to offer free lessons to jobless workers and young people from the rural areas during his spare time.

    Many of the apprentices did not have a solid foundation of welding knowledge or practice. “We couldn’t even make a straight weld,” said former apprentice Liu Siqing. “Master Ai would teach us step by step if we still didn’t get it after he explained several times.” Liu also said that he will still turn to Ai for help when he encountered problems with sophisticated welding techniques.

    After his retirement, Ai was invited back to his company as a welding consultant. He is now still working on the frontline and teaching his skill to apprentices.

    “Skills, are to be passed on,” he said.

Editor: 湯哲梟

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