When it comes to welding helmets, it pays to consider them an investment. Helmets can cost as little as $50 to upwards of nearly $3,000. The cost is directly related to the helmet’s features and if the welder feels they are worth the price. Some features that affect the cost are their construction, whether they are auto-darkening and their optical quality for clarity. Kevin Beckerdite, global product manager, PPE, ESAB, recently took some time to discuss ESAB’s welding helmets and his thoughts on what’s important for this vital piece of PPE.
WP: Let’s start with the features that are important for proper helmet fit for safety and comfort.
Beckerdite: The key to safety starts with comfort. The best safety is achieved through comfortable PPE.
All welding helmets have headgear with an adjustable ratchet strap and a headband going over the top of the head. Because this headgear is in direct contact with the welder, it’s a great place to provide better comfort. ESAB adds cushioning to the occipital lobe (back “cradle”) area to reduce pressure points and increase stability on its Sentinel welding helmets. It helps to wear sweat absorbent terrycloth-type material on the front of the headgear, especially in hot environments.
Next, it’s important to consider the adjustability of the headgear. A standard three-point contact welding helmet offers basic adjustments for circumference and height, but headgear like ESAB’s five-point adjustable system allows far greater customizations for fit and feel. This type of system adds additional depth adjustments as well as fore/aft and angular adjustments. A customized fit allows the helmet to feel balanced and provides less fatigue.
In addition to headgear comfort, welding helmets need to feel as light as possible. Today’s ADF (automatic darkening filter) technology is lighter and much improved but still adds weight. A well-engineered helmet negates the additional weight of the ADF with a properly balanced design. The best helmets fit as close to the welder’s head as possible, allowing for more clearance in tight-space welding environments.
Welding helmet shell design is often overlooked as a critical part of the overall protection package that a helmet delivers. Overhead welding is a challenging activity, and the last thing a welder wants is a hood that allows easy collection of hot material, causing burnthrough on the shell. Therefore, a smooth shell with minimal steps and angles allows fewer opportunities for slag and material to catch and burn.
The shell material is also a critical consideration. It must pass impact standards, but it also needs to be lightweight and compact. Ideally, the material is softer and more flexible, allowing more longevity in tough conditions. However, If welders are doing extensive overhead work, they should use a fiberglass “pipeliner”-style passive helmet.
To be effective, welding helmets must block a large amount of light radiation from the weld arc as well as provide impact protection from sparks, slag and grinding activities. Therefore, ventilation is difficult to achieve while still meeting all the certified safety criteria. Many welders utilize a powered-air purifying respirator (PAPR) system to prevent inhalation of harmful fumes, but also to provide a constant flow of fresh air. Helmets like ESAB’s Savage PAPR system provide this protection, as well as vent the air down over the welder’s face. This provides the ultimate fresh air ventilation.
Regarding lens clarity, what features are important in preventing eye fatigue and accurate color tones?
The European EN 379 Standard provides an excellent and quantified rating system to eliminate ambiguity around optical performance. The standard breaks optical performance into four categories with a rating from 1 to 4, with 1 as the highest rating. These categories, identified by each position in the rating class, include “optical class,” “diffusion of light,” “variations in luminous transmittance” and “angle dependence on luminous transmittance.” These are technical categories, and when measured, tell the welder how the helmet will perform under certain conditions.
The EN 379 standard states that the highest optical classification is 1/1/1/1. ESAB’s new Sentinel A60 provides an optical quality rating of 1/1/1/1 for a distortion-free view. And ESAB’s new OpTCS broad-spectrum light control technology and True Color view provide a clearer distinction between the arc, weld puddle and heat-affected zone.
The superior optics help welders keep the weld puddle centered in the joint, keep the electrode on the leading edge of the puddle, position a cutting torch more accurately and do it all while reducing eye fatigue. The result of having the highest EN 379 optical rating, combined with a true-color filter designed for less eye fatigue, is that the welder has the most accurate picture of the weld as it is happening.
Regarding field of vision, is a larger viewing area always better?
Today’s trend is that a larger viewing area is better for the welder. However, the ADF accounts for a large percentage of the welding helmet’s overall cost, about 60 to 70 percent. Therefore, it is important to consider if the extra size is necessary in helping the welder achieve the best weld. In practice, a welder is focused on the area nearest to the arc or weld puddle, followed by what is in front of the arc, as well as what is directly behind the arc and weld puddle.
Most welding activities are done in a west-to-east or east-to-west manner, rather than a north-to-south or south-to-north direction. So, it makes sense to have a viewing area that extends in a horizontal or landscape pattern close to 2:1 versus a vertical, portrait pattern. The new Sentinel A60 works to maximize the usable viewing area that a weld needs, without the excess cost associated with a poorly designed viewing area that a welder doesn’t require.
What are the important features to have with ADF technology?
The shade of lens is indicated by a DIN rating, which is a German industrial standard that classifies light filtering levels. A clear lens has a DIN 0 rating, and as the numbers go up, the lens gets darker and blocks additional light. Fixed-shade auto-darkening helmets, such as ESAB’s Swarm A10, typically come in DIN 11, which is a happy medium for most welding processes.
More advanced, variable-shade helmets with ADF technology will allow active shade selection from as low as 5 all the way to 13 – effectively addressing the widest range of welding activities. These more advanced offerings have additional sensors. Sensors are what allow the ADF to “see” the arc so it knows when to activate and turn to its darkened state.
Typically, four sensors are used in premium welding helmets, so they can pick up arc radiation from a broader work area or an area where obstructions may exist. These ADFs also allow welders to adjust delay and sensitivity. Adjusting the delay allows the welder to “dial in” the time it takes for the ADF to go from a darkened state back to a passive or light state. This comes in handy when the weld process induces excessive light for a longer period of time after the arc is turned off. In this situation, the welder can make the delay longer, reducing eye fatigue.
A sensitivity setting is also a critical feature in welding helmets with ADF technology. Adjustable sensitivity allows the ADF to activate differently given the amount of light produced by the arc or by ambient lighting conditions. For example, if the process is lower amperage TIG welding in a dimly lit work area, the sensitivity should be turned up higher, allowing the ADF to trigger under low light conditions.
If the opposite is true, for example, a stick welding activity in daylight conditions, the sensitivity should be turned to a lower position to avoid inadvertent ADF activation, which can be caused by exposure to sunlight. These features allow for a customized experience so a welder can perform their best.
All ADFs require a power source to operate. The most effective and economical way to power an ADF is by using a primary power source from coin-style 3-V lithium batteries. Typically, an ADF requires one to two of these inexpensive batteries.
To help preserve battery life, a solar panel is installed. The solar panel provides some supplemental power to the ADF, but sometimes, its primary function is to actually preserve battery life by putting the ADF into sleep mode when not in use. When the welding helmet is stored at the end of the day, perhaps put into its protective bag, the low light condition to the solar panel tells the ADF to sleep, thereby preserving the battery.
What are some final thoughts on selecting a welding helmet?
The sheer number of adjustability accommodations allow the welder ultimate control over their welding helmet and how it enhances their ability to create a good weld. This includes adjustable shade selection. For example, the new Sentinel A60 can be adjusted in half-shade increments and can store shade, delay and sensitivity settings, so all the welder has to do is call up the saved setting for any particular weld type and start welding. This saves time and increases their productivity.
Also, an external grind mode button maintains a passive shade of 3 for fit-up or grinding, eliminating the need to lift the hood or switch it out for a grinding face shield.
Overall, regarding safety, purchasing a welding helmet from a reputable company that has met the standards and certifications required for welding safety is the best bet. Determining which advanced technologies are worth the extra money per the welding application is a personal choice. Ultimately, comfort, balance and weight as well as the visual, shade and clarity levels are important, as are the sensors and overall shell protection. Finally, adding a belt-worn PAPR unit to a PAPR-ready helmet is the most common solution for respiratory safety.