Welder shortage: Key is efficiency, not automation
Note: This article first appeared in BIC Magazine
In industry, a growing trend is the idea to use orbital welding as a solution to the mounting problem of welder shortages. It is a well-known fact there are just not enough pipeline welders to go around (no pun intended). By 2020, the American Welding Society expects the U.S. will face a shortage of 290,000 welders. Companies in other business sectors — from food service companies to banks — attempt to solve labor issues and increase efficiencies by utilizing automation to replace workers. Is automation, specifically orbital welding in this case, the way to improve operating factors and productivity?
Look Upstream to Material Fit Up
The first part of improving welding operations is not to look at the welding process but instead examine its upstream aspect at material input. Material fit-up is the first key to improving quality and productivity. Poor fit-up causes overwelding and often leads to weld quality issues. A fillet weld that requires a quarter-inch weld has an unintentional root opening or misalignment of 1/16 inches. It then requires a 5/16-inch weld, which in turn increases weld joint volume by 57 percent. This result means 57-percent more wire, 57-percent more gas, 57-percent more use of consumables and — the most costly issue — 57-percent more time to weld that joint.
Let’s say that same 5/16-inch weld is then welded within tolerances, but the weld size is overwelded by 1/16 inch. That 5/16-inch weld then becomes a 3/8-inch one due to the compounding factors of material fit-up and a very common practice of overwelding. This weld that could have been done to code and adheres to a welding procedure is now 100-per-cent more costly than intended.
Are you buying double the gas and wire you need? Eighty-percent of most welding operating expenses are in labor. What are you paying to have someone weld 100-percent more than what is needed?
What is paramount is we can create precision fit-up and limit overwelding with the use of end-prep and orbital welding. Regardless of welder skill or the type of welding equipment, starting a weld with poor fit-up will result in a weld that costs more to produce. The conversation about quality, productivity and efficiency should not start at orbital welding or about your welder’s skills but should instead begin at end-prep. End-prep equipment, simple to operate and often overlooked because of its necessity, offers machine shop-like precision and fit-up while in the field. With the unfortunate skill gap widening in the trades, it is imperative to start your pipe or tube welding with precise fit-up, as those who can make passable welds become fewer and fewer.
We aren’t replacing welders with automation; we are making them more efficient. The goal is to take the welder you have and select the proper end-prep and orbital welding process for your job so you can possibly create twice as much time for him or her and improve quality along the way.
Meeting the Challenge of Welder Shortages
In order to meet the rising challenge of the lack of qualified welders, we need owners and management as well as welders to come together to increase quality and productivity. Management needs to provide welders with good material and proper equipment to work with, and the welder needs to realize we aren’t attempting to take his or her job but instead attempting to give him or her the best tools to get the best result.
When you look for a company to fulfill your business’ welding needs, you should search out a supplier that offers more than just equipment. Find a supplier that offers not just a few options of welders but solutions.
Read more on welding efficiency