The Beginner’s Guide to Welding Positioners and How They Work
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.