The manufacturing skills gap in the U.S. could result in 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030, according to a new study by Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute. The cost of those missing jobs could potentially total $1 trillion in 2030 alone. Manufacturers are increasingly looking to solutions like robotics and automation to bridge the gap.
Because welding is an essential part of manufacturing, many concerns are focused on the welding industry, which has been facing a shortage of workers for several years. The American Welding Society, an organization supporting the welding industry and its workers, predicts that the country’s workforce will need 400,000 welders by 2024.
Along with machinists, carpenters, and other tradespeople, the versatile, skilled welder who can handle several welding methods has suddenly become a scarce commodity. The demand for skilled welders has been outpacing the supply and continues unabated, leaving many wondering what happened.
What’s causing the shortage of welders?
The causes of labor shortages in welding and other skilled trades can be attributed to several factors, but one of the primary causes stems from an aging workforce. Older tradespeople, many from the so-called baby boomer generation, are reaching retirement age faster than companies can replace them.
Over half of all skilled trades workers are 45 or older, and predictions indicate there will not be enough new workers to fill these openings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for welders are projected to grow two percent from 2022 to 2031, considerably slower than the average for all occupations.
Despite limited employment growth, about 47,600 openings for welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers are expected each year, on average, over the decade. Most of the openings will result from the need to replace workers who either retire or find different occupations.
However, although an increased rate of retirements might be the leading cause of fewer welders, it certainly isn’t the only one. (more…)
When selecting a welding power source for your garage or jobsite, the first place to start is usually determining which processes will be used most often. If you plan on switching between semi-automatic processes such as GMAW (MIG) and manual processes such as GTAW (TIG), you may want to consider a multi-process welding machine. This is because these power sources can switch between constant current (CC) and constant voltage (CV) outputs with the press of a button.
If you plan on doing TIG welding almost exclusively, renting a dedicated TIG welder may be a more attractive route. While you lose some versatility, a dedicated TIG welder typically offers an improved feature set for TIG than is available on many multi-process power sources. For example, alternating current (AC) output is critical for easily welding aluminum and magnesium. On dedicated power sources, AC output may even be square wave and have variable balance for improved arc stability and improved fine-tuning of the arc characteristics, respectively.
A Little Secret
Did you know that even dedicated TIG welding power sources are, in a sense, “multi-process”? This doesn’t mean you’ll be able to easily switch between TIG and MIG with good results; wire-fed processes such as MIG or flux-cored arc welding (FCAW) require a constant voltage output for reliable operation. But stick welding performs best with the constant current output produced by dedicated stick and TIG welding machines. This means that, if needed, you can attach a stick welding electrode holder in place of the TIG welding torch and produce high quality welds.
Why Use a TIG Machine for Stick Welding?
There are two primary answers to this question: speed when infrequently welding thick materials and convenience when performing infrequent field repairs.
Welding Thick Materials
TIG is a comparatively low deposition-rate welding process. It can be used for welding thick materials with minimal preparation, but high amperage is typically required which necessitates the use of larger (and pricier) welding power sources and water-cooled torches. Using a smaller power source requires that thick materials be beveled for good joint access and that additional filler metal is added a dab at a time.
When a particularly thick weldment is to be welded, stick may be worth considering due to its higher deposition rates and good penetration characteristics for a given amperage. This means that the job can be completed with good quality in less time. Of course, it is important to balance the need for post-weld cleanup (slag and spatter removal) against the time savings afforded by the improved deposition rate.
Field fabrication and repair welding is often more involved than welding in the shop environment: the weld joint may be located outside, with less-than-ideal equipment access, and/or some distance from mains power. TIG is often not the first choice of process for these applications. This is primarily due to the shielding gas that is required. Shielding gas cylinders must be transported relatively close to the workpiece and the shielding gas itself is susceptible to disruption in drafty environments.
Instead, the self-shielded processes—like stick welding—are preferable since less effort is required to adequately shield the weld from the atmosphere. Since both TIG and stick welding utilize a constant current waveform, the only additional equipment required is an electrode holder and enough weld cable to provide good electrode and work connections.
You spend most of your time welding relatively thin aluminum sheet metal, but you have a need to weld a thick aluminum plate onto a piece of equipment that can’t be easily transported to your shop. You rent a generator and gather your equipment. You could use TIG, but as mentioned, shielding gas can be quite inconvenient in the field and you are looking to cut down on welding time.
Your TIG welding power source provides an additional benefit: AC output. This allows you to not only perform stick welding but use aluminum stick electrodes which are typically designed for AC output only. This combination will help you complete the job quickly and get back to your typical welding operations.
In short, using a TIG machine for stick welding is perfectly reasonable for the occasional field repair or when an occasional job requires tackling particularly thick base material. The capability is inherent to the constant current output of the machine; it is not using the proverbial “wrench as a hammer”.
So, rent a TIG welder for your next project with the knowledge that you aren’t pigeonholed into a single process. But remember, if stick welding is the only process you intend to use, the feature set of an advanced dedicated TIG welder may be a source of unnecessary cost. When selecting the best piece of equipment for your application, be mindful of how much of your time will be spent with the primary use while staying mindful of alternate uses.
Pound for pound of filler metal used, MIG welding (Metal Intert Gas, also known as GMAW) is one of the most popular welding processes. A key contributor to the success of the process is its versatility: it can produce high-quality welds with good productivity on a range of material thicknesses and compositions.
MIG welding uses a continuously fed wire electrode to transmit the welding arc and provide filler metal into the weld joint. The weld is protected from the atmosphere by an external shielding gas whose specific composition is often determined by the application, although as the name implies, it is largely inert.
Shop Fabrication & Manufacturing
Because shielding gas is required, MIG is not commonly used for field fabrication and repair since providing protection from draft and breeze is time-consuming and can be difficult. Instead, self-shielded processes such as FCAW-S or stick welding (SMAW) are more popular.
The welding filler metal used may be solid or tubular. Tubular MIG welding wires/electrodes are often known as metal cored wires: they are a hollow tube filled with metal alloys. These tubular filler metals have some advantages over solid wires, such as potential deposition rate/productivity, although at the expense of per-pound filler metal cost. Metal cored wires are especially common in the fabrication of heavy equipment components and structural members.
Both solid and metal cored wires produce little to no slag, post-weld clean-up time is minimal, meaning parts can often be sent to downstream processes such as painting using only a light scrub with a wire brush. This makes the process very attractive for applications that demand high productivity, such as manufacturing. (more…)
Welding is a process that uses electricity to generate extreme and localized heat to melt metal and fuse it together. Melted metal is molten liquid, albeit temporarily, which can cause problems.
One of the most significant challenges of welding that you might not consider if you’re new is the position in which you’re welding. A “standard” weld is horizontal and flat. You can move your welding gun over carefully positioned metal for maximum ease of access.
What happens, though, if you need to weld the side of a surface, or even overhead?
All sorts of issues can crop up when welding out of position. Foremost among them is gravity. When welding vertically, your weld pool can sag out of place, leading to a loss of filler material, uneven welds, drips, and weakness in the finished product.
Overhead welding is even worse. Not only can the weld pool drip, but it can also be dangerous if it’s above you and molten metal drips down onto you. That’s one of many reasons why the proper safety equipment is 100% required for any welding you might do.
There are many considerations to make when you’re welding vertically or overhead. Specific welding rods don’t work in vertical or overhead positions; for example, they create weld pools that are too fluid and will drip out of place.
Sometimes there’s no way around it. Shipbuilding and various construction welding applications are prime examples. It’s not as though you can rotate a ship to weld the hull. Right?
Most of the time, the first step in a welding project is positioning your workpieces as conveniently as possible. That means rotating, moving, and repositioning the pieces you need to weld to get them in the right place.
Depending on the job and the scale of the materials you’re working with, this may be easy or complicated. Large, heavy pieces of metal require manual repositioning, which may require more than one person to move the pieces. Accessing the area that you need to weld can take time and effort, even after the parts have been rotated.
Thankfully, modern technology has gone a long way toward solving these problems. That’s where a welding positioner comes into play.
What is a Welding Positioner?
Welding positioners are specialized tools to help maneuver, rotate, and reposition the items you’re welding, to put them in an ideal position, no matter how large or unwieldy they are.
A positioner is not to be confused with a welding table. Welding tables are typically heavy metal tables that you can adjust in height for comfortable welding. You can clamp your working pieces to the table, often using magnetic clamps, but there’s only one position for those pieces.
A welding positioner is more advanced. Like a welding table, welding positioners have a metal surface that you can use with magnets to attach pieces you’re going to weld together. Unlike a welding table, they can be angled and rotated while holding your working materials firm.
With a positioner, you can attach your working pieces to them and rotate and angle them so that welding horizontally and flat is faster, easier, and safer:
- First, secure the workpiece on the table and make sure it is stable and secure.
- Then, switch on the drive system and set the rotation speed, tilt angle, and other settings as needed.
- Once your pieces are in position, use a welding gun to perform the welding.
- After completing your weld, switch off the drive system and remove the workpiece from the table.
Welding positioners are handy tools for a variety of welding applications. They can save welders time and effort by ensuring they only need to move the welding gun instead of repositioning the entire workpiece multiple times. Additionally, using a welding positioner can significantly improve the accuracy of welds, leading to higher-quality results with fewer mistakes.
Welding positioners come in various sizes and configurations; having one of the appropriate sizes for the projects you typically take on can be extremely useful for your workshop.
What Are the Different Types of Welding Positioners?
Like anything in this world, welding positioners come in many different forms.
The simplest welding positioners include stands, clamps, and mounts. These allow you to hang, adjust, rotate, and position materials you’re planning to weld, but they require manual adjustment of the pieces rather than the table itself. They can be similar to jack stands or arm mounts, with two or so parts of articulation to make positioning your work surface as accurate as possible using simple mechanisms.
Slightly more advanced welding positioners are heavy-duty tables with robust mechanisms, often using gearing rather than manual adjustment and repositioning.
Sometimes, you can use built-in clamping mechanisms to attach your project materials. Other times, you need magnetic clamps. Either way, these positioners have high weight capacities, allowing you to easily position and weld materials anywhere from 300 lbs. up to 10,000 lbs.
Obviously, at higher weights, you’re no longer using manual control to manipulate your project; the welding positioner typically has motorized controls.
The most advanced welding positioners are no longer tables or work surfaces. Instead, they’re large and complex machines. These machines are more like workshop installations than they are workspace tools. However, they enable many valuable features, such as computer-controlled rotation and movement, and even automated welding you can program into the machine. These features allow you to create more complex welds around surfaces that need to be rotated and highly accurate, even welds.
Welding automation is often used for extremely large, very complex, or frequently-repeated projects, and it’s a little outside the scope of today’s post, so we’ll bypass the details for now.
What Are the Benefits of Using a Welding Positioner?
Welding positioners have many potential benefits, some of which you might not think about at first glance.
- Welding positioners make welding easier. Have you ever heard the phrase “work smarter, not harder”? Welding positioners are an excellent tool for working smarter.
- They allow for faster, easier repositioning of items being welded.
- They make it easier to weld consistently across a surface, with less need to reposition.
- They minimize the risk of welding out of horizontal positioning, which is more challenging.
Instead of precariously balancing or securing pieces in awkward positions before welding, a welding positioner allows the welder to set up their work surface for maximum ease of use.
- Welding positioners also make welding safer. The more you contort or hold an awkward position to weld, the more dangerous it is. The same goes for welding in enclosed spaces, at awkward angles, or where weld pools can drip dangerously from above. A welding positioner eliminates nearly all of these risks when used correctly.
- Welding positioners facilitate greater access to tools and processes. Since some forms of welding cannot be done in overhead or vertical positions, and many fillers, electrodes, and other types of welding equipment can’t be used in vertical or overhead positions, using a positioner enables a wider variety of known and “easier” options for creating a join.
Many beginning welders train almost exclusively on horizontal welds, so they will be what you are likely most familiar with. Using a welding positioner allows you to adjust the items you’re welding to ensure that you’re working on a horizontal bead, even if you will position the finished product vertically or overhead.
- Welding positioners reduce strain on the welder. Welding can be taxing work. Staring at exceptionally bright arcs of electricity, positioning yourself over material and holding a careful position, and moving with constant speed and precision are all very difficult to maintain for minutes (or longer) at a time. It’s even more challenging if you’re welding at an awkward angle or out of position in some way.
Again, while this may be unavoidable in some situations, the ideal is to use a welding positioner to minimize the strain welding places on your body and mind, allowing you to weld more, longer, and at a higher average quality level.
- Welding positioners increase throughput. All of the above combine to make welding more manageable and faster. That means each welder can work more quickly, accurately, and longer without making mistakes due to fatigue. These benefits make it an excellent addition, particularly to fabrication companies and manufacturers, but it can also benefit hobbyists and artists.
- Welding positioners can enable automation. As mentioned in passing above, welding positioners can also be attached to computerized systems and used to facilitate welding automation. Whether this means a fully automated system that consistently welds on its own every time, or just a computerized set of angles, rotations, and positions for a manual welder to handle, it streamlines the entire process.
With all of these benefits, it’s no wonder that many businesses, factories, and other facilities commonly needing to weld materials will invest in welding positioners.
Are There Drawbacks to Welding Positioners?
There are a few relatively small drawbacks to using welding positioners, though most aren’t really drawbacks, just considerations.
- First and foremost is the price. While a basic desktop welding positioner costs a few hundred dollars, bulky, high-capacity or computerized welding positioners can cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. Full turn-key automated welding systems are the pinnacle of welding technology.
- A second consideration is all of the extra space that a welding positioner takes up. All but the smallest welding positioners are large and often heavy machines. They must be heavy to hold large and awkward pieces of metal to weld them in place without wavering or falling over.
Some shops need the floor or desk space to dedicate to a welding positioner. Those who can find the space often find it’s a worthwhile tradeoff, so again, this isn’t purely a drawback, merely a consideration to remember. Of course, the equipment necessary to reposition materials for welding without a positioner often takes up even more space, so that a positioner can be a net increase in floor space in some cases.
- The more computerized and automated a welding system is, the more specialized the operation of the machine will be. If you’re a welder used to welding manually and you don’t mess with computerized systems, this can require a steep learning curve to operate appropriately.
On the other hand, an automated system is unmatched for bulk welding and consistent throughput.
How to Use a Welding Positioner Properly
While every welding positioner is unique and will have its user guide, there are some generalized tips you can use to make sure you’re getting the most out of your tools.
Here are our tips for first-time users of welding positioners:
- First, always pay attention to the center of gravity for your weldment. Welding positioners are generally built to be heavy and have a low center of gravity, so large and awkward weldments are still balanced or counterbalanced such that they stay in place. However, particularly large, heavy, or awkward weldments can cause problems if it isn’t balanced correctly yet on the welding positioner.
- Similarly, remember the weight capacity – both vertical and horizontal if necessary – for the welding positioner you’re using. Some have low weight capacities, such as a few hundred pounds, so overloading them will risk sagging out of position or even a sudden, catastrophic breakage.
- Make sure you’re attaching your weldment correctly, as well. Many welding positioners are metal and can accept magnetic clamps, but they also have mechanical clamps and mounting holes for additional support. Make sure your weldment is firmly in position before starting the weld.
- Finally, make sure to use a welding positioner properly with the equipment you’re using. For example, you may need to ground your welder in a particular fashion. Your welding positioner may have a dedicated place for attaching your ground; similarly, securing it in the wrong place can risk damaging any motors or electronic components that help the positioner function.
Does a welding positioner sound right for your project? If so, we have a wide variety of positioners of all shapes and sizes available for sale, lease, or rent. Depending on your needs, there will be something for everyone in our catalog.
Moreover, if you need help with what you need, feel free to reach out and discuss it with us. Our experts are standing by to offer any assistance we can. Whether you need a small-scale positioner for hobbyist projects or an industrial, automated, turn-key solution to spin a factory into working order, we’re here to help.
Plasma cutting is a fast, reliable, cost-effective, and downright simple way to slice electrically-conductive metals. But, Hypertherm SYNC Technology makes plasma cutting setup far easier and more efficient.
Learn how the Hypertherm’s next-generation smart plasma can improve your workflow, make cutting and gouging metal easier and faster, and how you can track the usage of the machine.
Why Choose a Plasma Cutter To Cut Metal?
While plasma cutting has a few safety considerations, like protecting from electrocution, eye and physical injuries, toxic fumes, and fire hazards, it’s one of the most accessible manual and automated metal-cutting methods.
Plasma cutters are lightweight and portable thanks to their IGBT-inverter cores. Therefore, cutting metals on-site is straightforward. In addition, it’s often not necessary to make any metal preparation, especially if the plasma cutter supports a pilot arc. You can cut painted, dirty, oily, or rusty metals because the pilot arc doesn’t rely on the contact between the nozzle and the workpiece to establish an arc.
You’ll achieve the best results with conductive metals. So, you can easily cut plain carbon steel. But the plasma cutting process also works with stainless steel, aluminum, brass, copper, and other conductive metals that cannot be cut with oxy-acetylene.