Improving productivity, ensuring the best quality and reducing costs are all important factors to help welding operations provide the best — and most timely — service and products to their customers. Many factors play a role in reaching these goals, including employee training, filler metal selection and storage, as well as the investment in quality equipment and new technologies. Here are some key tips to help welding operations meet their goals while gaining that competitive edge.
PROPER FILLER METAL STORAGE AND HANDLING
Storing and handling filler metals correctly can help shops gain the best performance and minimize costs. Damaged filler metals, including stick electrodes and solid or tubular wire, often cause poor weld quality that ultimately leads to expensive and time-consuming rework. Keep filler metals in the best condition by wearing gloves when removing them from packaging or preparing them for welding, and store them away from water, oil, grease and dust from cutting processes.
Mild steel and low alloy cellulosic stick electrodes, such as American Welding Society (AWS; Miami, FL) E6010, E6011, E7010 and E8010, can be stored in open containers at room temperature in a dry environment; reconditioning of these products is not recommended. Oven storage and reconditioning temperatures for other stick electrodes can range from 100 deg F to 300 deg F, depending on the type of product.
For example, mild steel stick electrodes should be stored at 100 deg F to 130 deg F and reconditioned at 250 deg F to 300 deg F for one hour, whereas low hydrogen electrodes should be stored at 250 deg F to 300 deg F and reconditioned at 500 deg F to 800 deg F for one to two hours. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for storing and reconditioning stick electrodes.
Tubular wires should be stored in their original, intact package in a dry, enclosed environment, preferably at a constant temperature. Temperatures between 40 deg F and 120 deg F and a maximum of 80 percent humidity are recommended to protect these products from damage. Wire that has been exposed to colder temperatures should be allowed to acclimate to within 10 deg F of the weld cell before being used. Doing so prevents condensation should the package be opened in a warmer environment.
At a minimum, welding operators should cover the wire spool with a plastic bag when leaving it on the feeder overnight. A better practice is to remove the spool from the feeder, place it in a clean plastic bag and close it securely for storage in a clean, dry area.
WELDING OPERATOR TRAINING
Investing time and money into training can yield significant long-term benefits. Welding operators benefit individually from process and equipment training, and in many cases, it can also help them optimize the overall welding operation for greater efficiency. Training opportunities are typically available through equipment and filler metal manufacturers or welding distributors. In some cases, a local technical college may offer training for specific applications. Proper training takes a commitment on the part of the company and employees, but the investment can pay off by reducing downtime and inefficiencies, and by improving the quality of the end product.
A clean, comfortable and compliant work environment is key to happy and healthy employees. Reducing weld fume is important in any welding operation. Selecting the best solution for weld fume management depends on cost, space and the actual welding applications involved. Every welding environment is different and should be inspected by a qualified industrial hygienist to determine the appropriate course of action.
Modifying the welding process by changing the base material, wire or gas can help reduce fumes. Teach employees proper weld positioning to minimize exposure to the weld fume path and when necessary, implement source capture systems or fume exractors. These systems are designed to draw weld fume away from the operator’s breathing zone and keep the facility cleaner. If the above measures aren’t enough to address safety and compliance issues, using personal protective equipment, such as Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPRs), air supply helmets and half-mask respirators is the best option.
It’s important to select the best filler metal and equipment for the job, and sometimes this means making a bigger investment. While up-front cost savings are tempting, cheaper isn’t always better. Consider the total cost of using a particular filler metal, as opposed to the per-unit cost. Higher quality filler metals can often minimize labor costs, provide better weld quality and increase productivity. The same considerations are true when selecting power sources. Less expensive machines may not offer the longevity of more expensive, quality equipment, resulting in higher and more frequent replacement costs or more downtime for maintenance.
Having the right weld data can help fabricators improve the efficiency of a welding operation.Today, many welding equipment manufacturers have embedded weld information management capabilities directly into power sources to simplify deployment and management. In some cases, it is possible to retrofit the power sources. Newer weld information management systems are cloud-based, allowing information access via a standard Web browser.
Weld data can range from measurements of arc-on time and deposition rates to the gathering of information on welding current, voltage, wire-feed speed and more. Companies can use this information to identify possible variances and understand the true cost of the welding operation, with the ultimate goal of using that information to increase productivity, improve quality, streamline training and lower operating costs.
These tips may involve an investment of time, effort and resources, but they can pay off in the long run for welding operations that use a variety of welding processes and equipment. Fabricators should remember that implementing any improvements in a welding operation isn’t a one-time event — it’s important to monitor any changes to make sure they continue to benefit the welding operation.
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