The shortage of skilled labor, including welders, is a challenge on many construction and pipeline job sites. One remedy is for contractors to take advantage of better welding technologies and processes to help the workforce already on the job site to improve productivity, safety and quality.
“Good productivity requires a list of several things, including quality, efficiency, safety and the welder producing more without putting much strain or fatigue on their body,” says Danny Mortensen, segment manager for ConFab, Miller Electric Mfg. LLC. “But it comes down to throughput. How many inches of weld, or how many pounds per hour, can a welder feasibly put down?”
Typically, transitioning from stick or TIG welding to MIG welding on the job site is one way that contractors can improve productivity. MIG welding provides significantly higher deposition rates and travel speeds while still producing high-quality welds.
“Stick and TIG welding come with some limitations, such as changing out the electrode fairly often,” Mortensen says. “Moving to MIG welding provides the ability to reduce that downtime for changing electrodes as well to move into some advanced processes such as Miller’s Regulated Metal Deposition (RMD), a modified short-circuit MIG welding for root passes, or pulse welding for fill and cap-type passes. These provide even greater deposition and are easier for welders to be trained on and to use.”
However, MIG welding is a more complex process that requires more equipment.
“When you get into the world of MIG welding, you add in the wire feeder or delivery system,” he adds. “Sometimes, you need a shielding gas and gas flow is important. Even if you’re using flux-cored wire, the additional slag requires prep and cleanup. Also, some of the biggest challenges on job sites involve being able to set up the wire feeder and MIG gun correctly. The wire and feeding tension must be correct. Proper-sized liners, contact tips and nozzles all play into producing a quality weld.”
Mortensen emphasizes that all of these decisions are affected by the circumstances of the welding job.
“If you’re going to be moving from joint to joint and have small little welds to do, stick welding might be much more efficient,” he says. “But if you’re going to be in there a while putting down 20 lbs. of material on a beam, you’re going to MIG weld because you don’t want the stub ends and changeover times that you get with stick welding. For ultra-high purity welding, TIG welding might be the best for you. Or, you might move to an advanced process like RMD. You really have to gauge how much welding is to be done and how long it will take to really get full picture of productivity.”
Other ways to increase productivity and ensure greater safety include the use of remote control technology for welding, which today provides even more advancements.
Typically, remote control technologies require a weld cable and an additional control cable, which offers the ability to set weld parameters and make changes at the wire feeder or the remote control for stick and TIG welding.
“The control cable, or brain cable, allows you to have remote control at the point of use,” Mortensen says. “The problem is it is a smaller gauge wire and can get damaged easier than the weld cable.”
An even better way is to allow weld parameter adjustments without a control cable. Miller Electric’s Arc Reach technology eliminates the remote control cable but not the remote control function. The weld cable is also the control cable for point-of-use control.
Although Arc Reach and other similar job site technologies have been available for a while – Arc Reach has been available for about seven years – “it’s still not being adopted by everyone,” Mortensen says. “The welding industry is fairly slow to change. They tend to only try something new if they see someone else doing better with it. But technology like Arc Reach is being put into more power sources and is starting to become an industry need rather than just a unique option. And we’ve been adapting it and expanding the accessories to make it even more necessary.”
Either type of remote control technology provides welders with the ability to set weld parameters at the joint. Reducing trips to and from the power source provides many benefits for greater productivity and safety. One of the biggest issues with job sites is if the welders have to work far away from the power sources. More time spent in their work envelope keeps them safer and welders appreciate making fewer fatiguing trips to and from a power source.
According to Mortensen, industry averages for weld parameters changes for the average job generally take about 15 min., and welders typically do four of those per day. That translates into one hour a day the welder is walking around the job site just to adjust parameters. At a $45.00 labor rate, that’s about $11,250 a year wasted walking around making changes.
Remote control at the weld joint also eliminates the temptation on the welder’s part to settle for less-than-optimal weld parameters, resulting in better welds and less rework.
“When parameters aren’t quite right, some welders might go ahead and make it work,” Mortensen says. “They might go slower and put down multiple passes because they don’t want to have to take that walk. With remote control technology, they just reach over to make an adjustment, eliminating that potential quality issue.”
Also eliminating the control cable reduces cable management and maintenance. These costs can add up on job sites that have multiple welding machines. And it means one less thing that has to be carried out to the job. Less clutter also helps improve welder safety by minimizing trips, slips and falls.
Miller Electric has other Arc Reach tools in its toolbox, as well. The Arc Reach Smart Feeder brings RMD processes to the field in a suitcase-style feeder.
Arc Reach technology is included in some Miller engine-driven welders as well as plug-in inverter welders to maximize a fleet of equipment. For job sites with shore power, the welders only need the inverters but they can still use the same feeders and remote controls that give remote access with engine-driven welders.
A new development with the Arc Reach line is a 7-kW induction heater system for preheating on weld joints. Induction heating is becoming more of an industry standard to preheat weld joints versus flame or resistance heating. Flame is quick to set up and easy to use but there are obvious safety concerns. Resistance heating is a controllable method but is a little more intensive to set up.
With induction heating, the setup time is quick and nothing else heats up but the structural member itself. Time to temperature is drastically faster. The heater is an easy-to-use, portable solution that is just another tool to keep the welder in their work envelope.
Other Arc Reach advantages include Adjust While Welding, which allows the welder to make parameter changes while the arc is on. Cable Length Compensation automatically adjusts voltage based on weld cable length, so the voltage set is the voltage that is provided – even hundreds of feet away from the power source.
Mortensen concludes by noting his belief that one of the biggest problems with welding on job sites is misconceptions.
“Welders might have heard or seen something that didn’t go quite right and they attach a stigma to it that it’s a problem or issue,” he says. “It might have happened five, 10 or even 20 years ago. Welders have to notice the industry is evolving and be more open minded. They need to understand we manufacturers want to help them be safer and make high quality welds as well as be productive.”