You can see why Chicagoans affectionately call this metallic masterpiece of welding the bean.

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Welding in Industry (and Art!)

­N­early half a million welders are employed in the United States [source: U.S. Department of Labor]. Although the U.S. Department of Labor expects the welding profession to grow slowly, the agency foresees tremendous opportunities for good welders due to a short supply. In addition, many welding processes can't be automated; even those that can still require a welder's expertise for setting up and inspecting the process.

­Most welding jobs are related to manufacturing in many different industries. Automakers, ship builders, commercial construction, bridge building -- the list of welding applications goes on and on. Welders can get certified at institutions like the American Welding Society, although some companies devise their own certification methods.

Like any profession, welding offers a wide variety of pay. While welders make around $15 an hour on average, those with specialties and experience can make much more. Underwater welders, for instance, can make upwards of $100,000 annually [source: University of Phoenix]. Though most welders are men, thousands of women make their living as welders, too. Women welders played key roles in shipbuilding during ­World War II, for instance.

One of the more interesting uses of welding comes from the art community. So­me of the first examples of welding ever discovered were pieces of art, like the Iron Pillar of Delhi in India and golden bowls and goblets dating back more than 1,000 years. Structures like St. Louis' Gateway arch (630 feet, or 192 meters, tall and made to last 1,000 years) and Brussels' Atomium (a 334-foot, or 102-meter, high tribute to the atom) illustrate how far the art of welding has come.

­The tradition of artistic welding remains strong as welding makes creating massive sculptures weighing several tons a possibility, even for individual artists. Though artists make up only a small segment of the welding industry, they can display welding's potential for millions to see.

Keep reading for more links on welding and cool tools you might like.