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.
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?
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.
A case of negative perceptions
Another issue outside the welding industry keeping young candidates away is a deep-seated negative view of the profession. Many believe welding is a low-level occupation filled with days of repetitive and monotonous tasks. Others envision welders working in dirty environments amid noxious fumes and unbearable heat. Still, others focus on the hazards associated with welding, such as burns from molten metal, exposure to UV radiation, or electrical shock. All of this, they believe, comes with low pay and little chance of career growth.
Changing these misconceptions is an essential first step in addressing the welder shortage.
College or trade school?
For many high school graduates, the path to a lucrative and rewarding career led them to a four-year college. And although that was the best choice for some or even most of them, there is little doubt that a percentage of those college graduates landed jobs they were ill-suited for or unhappy with. And those promises of endless weeks of hefty paychecks never materialized.
How did that happen? Although it’s easy to blame the high schools for eliminating industrial arts courses from their curriculum, schools have not abandoned the pathway to the trades and welding careers. Instead, they have consolidated their resources by sending students to local vocational education centers where skilled trades, such as welding, are taught by instructors with previous hands-on experience.
These so-called “vo-techs” also stay updated with technology in a way that individual school districts cannot because of budgetary constraints. Anyone working in manufacturing can attest to the relatively recent changes in equipment in the machine trades and automobile repairs, and welding is no exception.
The question is whether the skilled trades are being promoted vigorously in school systems as a viable career where young men and women, fresh out of high school, can learn a skill that could lead them to $100,000 per year in some industries. Meanwhile, skilled welders only need six months to complete their initial training, and many can work as apprentices and get paid as they learn, entering careers paying upwards of $100,000/year in some industries.
The re-birth of the apprenticeship program
Once widespread in the United States and the industrialized world, apprentices are hired by an employer and become both workers and students. The apprentice receives on-the-job training (OJT) from experienced mentors and a Related Technical Instruction (RTI) program for formal skill building in the classroom.
Apprentice programs are designed in various ways. For instance, some are set up with three or four days on the job and one or two in the classroom, while others require full-time work with two evenings at school. Employers expect apprentices to be somewhat productive from the start of their tenure.
According to 2020 data and statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, more than 221,000 individuals entered apprenticeship programs in the U.S. Over 636,000 apprentices were in the process of getting the skills for a new career in welding and other manufacturing jobs while earning money to build financial without accumulating student debt.
The good news about these programs is that there were 26,000 registered apprenticeships nationwide. Around 3,140 were established in 2020, representing a 73% growth from 2009.
As the four-year college remains entrenched in school systems, parents, and students, few are seriously promoting apprenticeships as another possibility toward a successful career. Suppose policymakers believe apprenticeship programs might be part of the answer to the labor shortage. In that case, they should earmark funds to market the programs and require government agencies to introduce them in their bureaus.
Overcoming the negative perceptions of the skilled trades
Even with the technological advances associated with welding and other skilled trades, and many young people entering them are out-earning their college-graduate counterparts, the trades are not seen as “cool” career paths by many. And that negative image, especially in welding, remains an obstacle preventing welding from becoming a more conventional career instead of an undesirable job.
Even though there are thousands of job openings for welders starting at $30 per hour and up, parents and students see welding as a career that confers a lower status than a college degree. Many do not understand that learning a trade through a vocational-technical education or an apprenticeship program could also set the stage for a college degree later.
One strategy to combat the welder shortage
As the welding industry struggles to find more skilled welders, another way is emerging that could make it possible to meet the industry’s needs with fewer workers: automation and robots. Although the need for welding is not declining, human interaction might be changing and making welding more appealing to young people raised on technology.
At first blush, programming robots to weld seems like the perfect solution, but it is not that straightforward since the upfront capital required for industrial robots must be justified. And welding is a low-volume business in many cases, and companies cannot validate the investment in automated equipment.
Also, after replacing human workers with robotics, you eliminated some of the need for welders and introduced a new requirement: skilled workers trained to operate and maintain the robots. In other words, the skills shortage remains but in a specialized area of the business.
Even if robots have the artificial intelligence for skilled labor, trained welders will still be needed on the shop floor to take care of equipment breakdowns and keep production moving.
What about cobots?
When you visualize robots in an industrial setting, there is a good chance you’re thinking about the behemoth welding robots in a cage in an automotive plant. There’s a reason they are isolated and fenced in away from humans: they are extremely dangerous and do not collaborate with their real-life counterparts in the plant.
Although many corporations still use those industrial goliaths, technological advances, including safety features, sensors, controls, and smaller components, have resulted in smaller robots that fit comfortably and safely with human coworkers.
Named collaborative robots (cobots, for short), these versatile and less-expensive machines are making robotics accessible to nearly any manufacturer looking to do various tasks, including welding.
Because of their intuitive software, cobots have fewer programming challenges, while integrated safety features allow them to work side-by-side with human workers. Cobots can be reprogrammed to do another when one welding operation is completed, making them flexible and cost-effective.
Do cobots have a future in welding?
Considering the advantages of cobots and the demands of the welder shortage leads to the conclusion that cobots could help the welding industry. However, implementing the solution will require significant capital expenditure from manufacturers, extra floor space, and trained programmers.
In some cases, weld shops could set up the cobot at an existing human welding station without making large-scale alterations or taking up precious floor space. Another benefit of using cobots is their ability to produce longer, continuous weld seams up to four feet long. That’s about twice as long as a human welder, reducing all those stops and starts and creating higher quality welds.
Despite rumors to the contrary, cobots are designed to supplement welders, not replace them entirely. Instead, their small footprint and agility make them ideal assistants for performing repetitive or dangerous tasks.
In addition to helping ease the welder shortage, the growth of cobots on the welding shop floor could also persuade millennials to consider a career path that was once regarded as unsuitable.
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 a 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.
The MIG welding process is used for welding carbon and low alloy steels, aluminum, and stainless steel. This means that it is common to industries ranging from boat and shipbuilding to chemical refineries.
Compared to steel and stainless steel wire, aluminum MIG wire takes special care in order to feed properly. Purpose-built components such as Teflon guides and liners, U-shaped drive rolls, and push-pull or spool guns are designed to help feed aluminum wire with less difficulty.
Filler metals for stainless steel welding are available in a wide range of alloy compositions ranging from the most common austenitic alloys (for example, 308L for welding 304/304L) to more exotic duplex stainless steels. MIG welding wires are even available for nickel super alloys, although many of these are tubular metal cored wires.
Thin & Thick Materials
MIG welding is frequently used for welding thin materials thanks to the availability of small diameter wires—0.023” to 0.035”—and pulsed waveforms. Both wire and waveform help provide a stable arc at the low amperages needed to produce a high-quality weld without burn-through or excessive weld size. Thin materials welded with MIG are often encountered when manufacturing automotive components. However, MIG is also an excellent process for the garage and home hobbyist.
MIG welding also exhibits good deposition rates and good performance at medium-to-high amperages, which means it is a popular choice for thick materials in addition to thin ones. Because the process is more easily observed during welding and used handheld than “faster” processes such as submerged arc, one could argue that the process is much more versatile and allows tackling a complex assembly with a single process. However, when thick metals must be welded out-of-position frequently, the gas-shielded flux cored welding (FCAW-G) process is preferable, since the slag offered by these consumables facilitates welding at amperages that help ensure good fusion along with good productivity. Fortunately, MIG equipment is often suitable for FCAW with only a change in filler metal and drive roll type.
An advantage of welder rentals is the opportunity to accomplish the task at hand with the equipment best suited for that task. If you don’t expect to weld thick material all the time, you can utilize heavy-duty equipment only when needed without the ROI demand and capital commitment of outright purchase. This is of extreme benefit to job-shop fabricators who can encounter everything under the sun, or field fabricators who may spend most of their time with an engine-driven unit but are able to utilize MIG infrequently, yet capitalize on higher productivity.
As mentioned, out-of-position welding may not be preferable for many MIG welding applications, but the process has exceptional performance when placing an open-root root pass on tubes and pipes. Because of the low amperages used, this may be done easily in- or out-of-position. Newer power sources have modified waveforms that help further the ease-of-use and weld quality root pass welding.
MIG welding may not be used for higher amperage fill and cap passes on pipes in a fixed position, but it is extremely popular when the pipe can be rotated. Typically, pipes ranging in diameter from 2-24” are welded using MIG, although there is some overlap with other processes at either end of this range.
Automation & Mechanization
MIG is one of the most popular processes for automation and mechanization. This is largely because the process is “semi-automatic”, allowing ease in programming and obtaining a high operator factor. The MIG welding torch is quite light, allowing ease of mounting to a range of robot arms. Special power sources offer improved ease of integration into the robotic system and welding cell, high amperage output and duty-cycle for improved travel speeds and uptime. Large drums of wire can be used to minimize downtime spent changing filler metal packaging.
MIG welding supports such a vast array of industries and applications that the ones mentioned above are by no means an exhaustive list. Instead, take these examples as inspiration to how MIG can be implemented into your operations. If you aren’t sure of the best route, contact us today to learn more about selecting the best welding equipment for your particular application. Our expert staff can also provide insight to productivity enhancing accessories, parameters, and techniques to ensure that your time spent MIG welding is successful!
Having the right welding equipment is only one ingredient required to make the best welds. Having access to the various methods of testing welds is also important. Welds are often tested when developing a procedure and occasionally in-process as a form of quality assurance. Hardness is one property of a completed weld, heat-affected zone, or unaffected base metal that may be analyzed.
Why Test Hardness
Hardness is an indicator of metal microstructure, which impacts how suitable a material or heat-treating process is to an application. In the world of structural welding, avoiding brittle microstructures is preferable, since excessively hard metals are not typically as ductile or tough as softer metals. Hardness may be desirable when welding certain metals, such as tool steel and hardfacing alloys. Through experimentation or modeling, hardness test results can be correlated to estimated properties such as strength—in the case of tool steels—and abrasion resistance—in the case of hardfacing alloys.
How is Hardness Tested? What Are Scales?
Rockwell Hardness Test
The Rockwell hardness test uses a calibrated instrument that measures the depth of an indent into a material when applying a load through an indenter predetermined by the testing scale. A harder material will provide a shallower indent while a softer material will provide a deeper indent. There are over 15 scales that govern testing ranging from plastics and coating to metals and ceramics. The most common scales for the steel industry are B and C. B is suitable for many lower-strength carbon steels, but C may be needed for high-strength, higher-alloy, and high-hardness metals.
All of these “scales” implement various indenters that, as the name implies, make an indent in the material surface. However, consistency in the shape, size, and material of the indenter is critical to achieving consistent results. Also important is the magnitude of the load and the time dedicated to applying the load. Since so many variables must be controlled, experimental test methods are standardized using various scales. The particular “scale” of the testing gives meaning to test values.
Softer materials, depending on composition, may fall within the E, F, G, or H scale. Again, each scale is an indicator of the test conditions that make the test results meaningful. A 65 Rockwell C-scale material is much harder than a 65 Rockwell B-Scale and may register “off the charts” of Rockwell A-Scale.
Vickers & Knoop
These two test methods are grouped together due to their similarities, but each test still demands conformance to its specific test method/specification. Both use a diamond indenter cut into a diamond shape and is used as an indenter. Here, the dimensions of the indent are used to correlate to hardness. Like the Rockwell test, a softer material will leave a deeper indent having a larger footprint.
A key advantage of both test methods is that very small indenter sizes can be used. Small indenters mean small areas of analysis; the test can be used to target specific areas where microstructure transformation and refinement may have occurred. Often the test equipment consists of the load application apparatus as well as a microscope having an eyepiece used to help measure the minuscule vertex-to-vertex distances needed to calculate the indent area.
For the Vickers hardness test, the scale most commonly used when analyzing carbon and low alloy steels in the HV10 scale, which indicates that a 10kg load is used. Other scales commonly used in the Vickers hardness test employ loads ranging from 1 gram (for very soft and/or very thin materials) to 30 kg (HV30, for very hard materials).
The Knoop hardness test also uses a diamond-shaped indenter which is used to correlate indent dimensions to hardness values. However, the indenter shape and load applied is well suited for thin materials and/or treated areas of minimal thickness. Values resulting from Knoop testing are indicated by placing “HK” after the calculated value (example 250HK). Like the Vickers test, accurate measurement of the indent is critical to achieving consistent and accurate results, so the equipment usually integrates a microscope for analysis.
Brinell testing, indicated by “BHN” (Brinell Hardness Number) is somewhat opposite to the Knoop and Vickers tests. In the Brinell hardness test a spherical indenter having a diameter of 10mm is used with an impressive 3,000 kg (~6,600 lbs.). Like other testing methods or automation services, the diameter of the indent is measured, and the measured value is inputted into a calculation that factors in the applied load and indenter diameter to achieve a numerical result.
The Mohs hardness test uses reference samples, each of which is assigned a number 1-10 that indicates a progressively higher hardness. Of the reference materials, talc is a 1, apatite is a 5, and diamond is a 10. Each sample is dragged along the surface of the metal to be tested. If the sample cannot scratch the metal to be tested, it is at least as hard as that Mohs number. The Mohs test provides much less precision than other testing methods, but a primary advantage is that it is quick and portable.
Some test methods are capable of testing hardness on a microscopic level, while others are designed to provide more of a “macroscopic” view. Each method has its own “scale” to help interpret the test results: examples include the Rockwell B and C scale or the HV10 scale for the Vickers hardness test. Understanding the test results requires some knowledge of the nature of the test and test equipment themselves, particularly when there must be correlation between test units or approximation of related properties such as tensile strength.
If this brief introduction has left your head spinning, our team of welding experts can help you better understand the practical application of many of these tests within the welding industry. Contact Us today to learn more about hardness testing, and the vast world of weld testing! Remember that knowledge and technology are the keys to success for any welding company
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.
Benefits of Hypertherm’s Powermax SYNC Technology
Hypertherm’s new SYNC technology was developed to make plasma cutting easier and foolproof. So, let’s discuss the SYNC technology’s main advantages and how these Hypertherm’s units compare to conventional plasma cutting equipment.
SYNC Technology Simplifies Process Setup
The SYNC technology platform includes the automatic setup of SYNC Viper and Python Hypertherm plasma cutters, SYNC-capable cartridges, and SmartSYNC plasma torches. The entire system is designed for automatic power source and process setup based on the task at hand. For example, if you wish to gauge, choose a gouging cartridge, apply it on a SmartSYNC torch, and the Hypertherm SYNC-capable power source automatically sets everything for plasma gouging.
The innovative single-piece cartridges combine all individual consumables you’d typically see in a plasma torch, like an electrode, nozzle, swirl ring, retaining cap, and shield cap. So, instead of setting up each consumable part individually, you can attach just one consumable to your torch and be ready to cut in less than 10 seconds.
In addition, you won’t have to partly mix old and new consumables since they are all ingrained into one cartridge. This can result in more reliable performance because you won’t have any worn consumables acting as a performance bottleneck. In conventional plasma cutting consumable systems, the nozzle and the electrode wear out faster than other components. So, replacing individual consumables as they wear out and using a mix of old (partially worn) and new consumables can compromise the entire torch tip and reduce performance.
However, the new Hypertherm single-piece cartridges bring much more to the table than just simplicity in design. Each cartridge includes an RFID chip that can communicate with the SmartSYNC Hypertherm torches. In addition, single-piece cartridges are color-coded and laser-marked for easy identification based on their application. So, if you attach a yellow, 45A drag-cut single-piece cartridge to the SmartSYNC torch, your Hypertherm SYNC plasma cutter will automatically use the cut mode at 45A. If you need to, you can also modify the amperage manually.
Provides Cartridge Usage Data
The RFID chip inside Hypertherm cartridges can also be read using the Hypertherm cartridge reader and the Hypertherm Cartridge Reader smartphone app. This allows you to read the data stored in the cartridge, like arc starts, pilot arc and arc-on time, transfers, and other valuable data.
The provided data can help you identify bottlenecks and better understand cartridge utilization. This consumable innovation takes what used to be a “dead” piece of equipment that serves its purpose until it’s too worn and turns it into a valuable asset. Since each single-piece consumable can provide data and help you optimize its use, this system might help you improve your production and enhance operators’ performance.
Maximum Simplicity and Ease of Use
The Hypertherm Powermax SYNC technology was designed to be foolproof. While Hypertherm SYNC plasma cutters support manual adjustability, it’s often unnecessary. Using the SYNC system, you can reduce operator training time, improve cutting time, and simplify consumable inventory.
The SmartSYNC plasma torch includes amperage adjustability, so you’ll rarely need to return to the power source. You can switch the plasma mode between cutting, gouging, and flush cutting, just by replacing the single-piece consumables and modifying the amperage right at the workpiece. You don’t need to go back and forth with the power source.
If you are training a plasma cutter operator on a traditional plasma cutter and you need to switch between gouging and cutting, you’d usually need to disassemble the torch tip and equip a different setup for gouging. Using Hypertherm’s single-piece cartridges is far faster. Just switch between gouging and cutting cartridge. In addition, you won’t have to walk to the power source and apply changes; everything is ready as soon as the cartridge clicks into place on the torch.
Cut, Gouge, or Flush
Hypertherm’s Powermax SYNC plasma cutters offer high versatility. You can perform manual or mechanized cutting using a gray, mechanized cartridge.
The SYNC plasma cutters support drag and fine cutting, gouging, and flush cutting. Switching between these processes is as simple as replacing the Hypertherm cartridge at the torch’s tip.
The flush cutting is especially interesting, and something other plasma cutting systems don’t support. You can flush metal parts off the metal’s surface with minimal or no damage to the base material using the Hypertherm’s patented FlushCut cartridge. For example, you can easily split apart a double-side welded “T-joint” or slice bolt heads off a bolted plate. In addition, flush cutting reduces the need for grinding and increases the opportunity to reuse pad eyes, attachments, various profile parts, and temporary weld supports.
The FlushCut cartridge can be particularly useful in construction, fabrication, general repair, and automotive industries. And thanks to the SYNC system, you can quickly switch between flush and standard drag cutting by changing the cartridges.
Diverse Product Family
Hypertherm Powermax SYNC Technology is available with a number of Hypertherm Viper and Python plasma cutters. You can check out our whole range of rental plasma cutting equipment, but let’s quickly discuss some specs of Hypertherm SYNC machines.
Hypertherm Viper 65 SYNC Plasma Cutter is a lightweight, portable machine that can easily cut up to 1-inch thick steel with a pretty clean edge. You can push it if you want and sever up to 1-1/4″ at speeds of 5 IPM, but severing such a thickness may leave some dross on the edge that you’ll need to grind off. The Viper 65 SYNC outputs up to 65A and offers a 100% duty cycle at 46A, making it a solid choice for intensive work on-site or for light, mechanized cutting when strapped to a table.
Hypertherm Python 105 SYNC Plasma Cutter is heavier than the Viper 65 but still relatively portable. It’s much more powerful with the ability to cut clean up to 1-1/2″ thick material and sever up to 2″ at speeds of 5 IPM. If you’ve got a three-phase 480-600V input source, you can get a 100% duty cycle at 94A, making it an excellent choice for high-end production in a developed shop. But, if all you have is a three-phase 200V outlet, you can still get 74A output at 100% duty cycle or a 50% duty cycle at its maximum power of 105A.
All Hypertherm SYNC models support the benefits discussed in this article. But, some models are more powerful than others. Therefore, you should choose your SYNC plasma cutter based on its power output, rated cut capacity, and specified cutting speeds.
Rent Or Lease Plasma Cutting Equipment From Red-D-Arc
Red-D-Arc has a wide selection of rentable Hypertherm plasma cutters. So, no matter the job, we’ve got a cutter that can slice right through what you are cutting. Hypertherm is a market leader in plasma cutting equipment, and we stock many Hypertherm machines with a wide range of abilities.
It’s not always feasible to purchase your welding or cutting equipment, especially from high-end brands. If you need a plasma cutter for a specific job or don’t want to deal with long-term maintenance and storage, you can rent your equipment from Red-D-Arc. We have a vast rental fleet strategically placed across North America so that we can provide equipment to almost every location.
Contact Us today, and we’ll gladly assist you in choosing the suitable plasma cutter(s) depending on the available power input, gas system, material type and thickness, and duty cycle.
Welding consumables are a factor to consider with welding. Several of the different kinds of welding require the use of consumable welding rods. These welding rods, also known as electrodes, are essential to the production of clean, solid, and finished welds. The trouble is there are many different kinds of welding rods. How do you know which one to pick for your project?
Below, we’ll discuss those rod types and how they can benefit you in your welding projects. Each variety has different uses and benefits, so read on to learn more about them and their applications.
Consumable Vs. Non-Consumable Electrodes
The first important information is learning whether your MIG or TIG setup uses consumable or non-consumable electrodes.
- Generally, processes like stick welding and MIG welding use consumable electrodes.
- TIG welding, in comparison, uses non-consumable electrodes but requires a filler rod in addition to the electrode.
This distinction is vital because most forms of welding have three elements. These three elements are the joined pieces and the filler metal to secure the joint. In these welding processes, the intense heat from the electrical arc melts the metal from both pieces being joined and adds the filler metal to give it more material to fuse into a solid weld.
In stick, MIG, and similar welding processes, the electrode itself is made of the filler material and is melted, often along with flux, into the joint as you weld. In TIG welding, the electrode provides the current, but a secondary rod of filler metal is required to give it additional strength. This filler rod is the consumable part.
Why the Type of Metal is Important
While you can technically grab any old filler rod that fits your welding setup, you must pick the right rod to avoid problems. Choosing the incorrect filler metal leads to all sorts of issues; rusting and corrosion, inclusions and tearing, weakness in the joins or around the weld, or other sources of failure.
Consider an image of a wooden door with a robust deadbolt lock. Breaking through the deadbolt is difficult or impossible, but it would be easy to break the doorframe the lock slots into with sufficient force. So it goes with welding; even picking a strong filler metal doesn’t help if the surrounding metal doesn’t match and breaks under stress.
There are many different kinds of electrodes or filler rods because there are many different materials you may want to join together. Filler rods are most commonly different kinds of steel but can be other metals, including aluminum and bronze, depending on the welder’s needs.
The list goes on and on, but one thing’s for sure: if you don’t know what kind of metal you’re working with, chances are you won’t know what type of welding rod to use yet.
Considerations When Choosing a Welding Rod
There are many factors to consider when picking the correct welding rod for any project.
First, and among the most critical factors, is the materials being joined. As mentioned above, your filler metal needs to match your base materials. Picking the wrong filler will result in everything from burn-through to weakened welds to a non-functional joint.
Second, the position can be significant. Whenever possible, it’s ideal first to rotate the materials, so you’re working on a flat, horizontal surface for welding. If that’s not possible, and you must weld on a vertical or overhead position, certain filler materials won’t work. Instead of pooling and cooling, the materials can drip off the joint and further damage the surface.
Third, there may be external requirements for specific fillers in particular applications. These can come from many sources. For example, industry regulations may specify certain materials used in a given application, either for their chemical or physical properties or for their strength. Welding in construction, for example, needs to be robust for safety reasons, whereas welding for artistic projects may not have any regulations.
Fourth, the shielding gas used for your weld also makes a difference. In particular, various densities of CO2 in your shielding gas can make a significant difference, intended or otherwise. The gas choice is essential because certain gasses react to certain metals, which can compromise the weld if that reaction is present.
All of these must be considered when picking a welding rod because different rods have different properties. So, how do you identify what rod is helpful for what?
Decoding Welding Rod Codes
Welding rods are classified by their properties and are assigned an alphanumeric code. This code is one or two letters followed by four or five numbers. Each has a meaning.
The first code is the letter. Most welding rods start with E, which stands for Electrode, and indicates that the rod is the current-carrying electrode. R means it is a welding rod of filler material but not an electrode. ER means it is both in flux-core or stick welding, where the electrode and the rod are the same (this is a consumable electrode rod.) RB stands for a brazing rod used in brazing rather than welding or usable in both.
Next, you have the first two or three digits of the number. If the number is five digits (such as E10018), then the first three digits are significant. If the total number is four digits long (such as E6010), then the first two digits are meaningful.
These digits specify the capacity or tensile strength of the material and are in kPSI, or thousand pounds per square inch. So the E6010 has 60,000 PSI strength, while the E10018 has 100,000 PSI strength. The most common steel welding rods usually have a 60 or 70.
The following single number will typically be a 1, 2, or 4. This number indicates the position of the material you can use in welding. Remember above we mentioned that the position is essential and that some materials will stay hot for too long and will drip away from overhead or vertical welds. This digit is the number that specifies this information. A “1” indicates that you can use the rod in any position. A “2” shows that you can only use it in flat or horizontal welding, and a “4” means that you can use the rod for flat, horizontal, vertical down, or overhead welding. A “3” would indicate a vertical-only material, but these are not commonly seen.
The final number will be somewhere between 0 and 8 inclusive. This number specifies two things: the coating of the rod (the flux) and what current can be used on it. Sometimes, the last two digits are used instead of just the one.
Here’s an idea of what you might see:
- X0 – High Cellulose Sodium Flux
- X1 – High Cellulose Potassium Flux
- X2 – High Titania Sodium Flux
- X3 – High Titania Potassium Flux
- X4 – Iron Powder and Titania Flux
- X5 – Low Hydrogen Sodium Flux
- X6 – Low Hydrogen Potassium Flux
- X7 – High Iron Oxide, Iron Powder Flux
- X8 – Low Hydrogen Potassium, Iron Powder Flux
- 10 – The same as X0
- 11 – The same as X1
- 22 – High Iron Oxide Flux
- 28 – The same as X8
The content of the flux also determines whether it should be AC, DC+, DC-, or DC±. This information is typically found on the packaging of welding rods and can be found on charts like this.
Another factor you may need to consider is the thickness of the coating of flux on your electrode. This measurement is indicated by a coating factor, which is the ratio of the rod’s diameter and the coating’s diameter. There’s some margin of error, but the three ranges center around these values:
- Light: A coating factor of around 1.25
- Medium: A coating factor of around 1.45
- Heavy: A coating factor of 1.6-2.2.
Light-coated rods offer less shielding gas and are more prone to slag and inclusions. Hence, they are less widely recommended for many applications, particularly those where purity and strength are paramount.
Medium-coated rods are usable in any position and are easier to remove slag than many other types. They are often used in large-scale projects like offshore drilling, pipeline welding, and bridge construction, among other uses. They’re also common for hobbyist applications.
Heavy-coated rods are the most guaranteed to shield a weld and produce superior results. They are used wherever extreme purity is necessary but are overkill in many situations.
Tungsten Electrode Color Codes
Another factor you may encounter is rods coded by color. These are tungsten electrodes that are non-consumable and used in TIG welding.
They come in four primary varieties:
- Green is pure tungsten.
- Yellow is tungsten with around 1% thorium.
- Red is tungsten with around 2% thorium.
- Brown is tungsten with some zirconium percentage, between 0.3% and 5%.
Though, you may see others, such as:
- Light Blue is tungsten with around 0.5% thorium.
- Purple is tungsten with around 3% thorium.
- Orange is tungsten with around 4% thorium.
- White is tungsten with around 0.75% zirconium.
- Black is tungsten with around 1% lanthanum.
- Gold is tungsten with around 1.5% lanthanum.
- Dark Blue is tungsten with around 2% lanthanum.
- Grey is tungsten with around 2% lanthanum.
- Turquoise is a non-standardized tungsten with various mixed oxides.
- Purple is also a non-standardized tungsten with various mixed oxides.
There are also carbon electrodes, but the carbon arc welding process is rarely used today outside of very specific military applications. It is an outdated process that creates more extensive and more difficult-to-control arcs.
The Most Popular Types of Welding Rods
Welding typically follows the 80/20 rule. That is, 80% of your welding will be done using 20% of your rods. In reality, given the vast array of possible niche rods, it’s more like a 99/1 rule. In most arc welding processes, there are typically only about six rods in everyday use.
E6010. Among the most popular electrodes, these require DC and a narrow arc. They are common in steel welding applications that require deep penetration, such as shipbuilding, steel storage tanks, and other large-scale applications.
E6011. These are similar to E6010 but can be used with AC as well. They are one of the most common go-to electrodes for thick welding materials, with a bit more leeway and ease of use than E6010. Their primary drawback is that their weld beads tend to be flatter and leave waves, so they may not be as aesthetically pleasing as other welds.
E6012. These welding rods support both AC and DC current and are ideal for welding with minimal spatter and slag. They create a stable arc and are great at shallow penetration. As such, they are best for repair, cosmetic, non-critical welds, and welds of certain materials like oxidized carbon steel. They also produce thick welds, which may need cleaning after.
E6013. Another of the most popular electrodes, this composition is easy to use and creates very little spatter. It’s commonly used in mid-penetration welding and for mid-thickness materials. It’s also good for short runs and multiple welds, where consistency between welds is necessary during a repositioning.
E7018. Perhaps the most popular electrode, this is one of the best multipurpose rods available and a staple of every welder’s kit. It’s mostly used for welding low and medium-carbon steel and can create a significantly stronger weld than any of the E60XX rods. The flux coating on the rod is also essential for preventing inclusions in the weld itself. E7018 is found in many kinds of construction and other joinery.
E7024. This rod uses a high iron content in its flux, which makes it very quick in heating and deposition. This characteristic makes it ideal for fast, high-speed welds but risks issues if your process is too slow. They’re also ideal for smooth, flat-surfaced, or finely-waved finished welds.
All of this only scratches the surface of electrodes and welding rods. There are many, many other rods out there, many of which have specific purposes. Design specifications, industry regulations, or directives often identify distinct rods necessary for individual projects. Most of this doesn’t need to be memorized, though knowing the basics of how the rods are categorized can give you immediate insight into what you’re working with.
Remember, too, that this is primarily about welding rod electrodes. Filler rods can have other numbers to identify them. For example, aluminum filler rods have numerical codes to specify the aluminum alloy used in the rod so that you can match it as closely as possible to the joined materials.
The rabbit hole is deep, and there’s always more to learn, even among experienced welding veterans. Feel free to contact us with questions about which rods are ideal for your projects or welding equipment requirements. We’re happy to help.