Avoid Downtime: Proper Maintenance Tips for TIG Welders
TIG welding is a fantastic process, but in order to get the most out of it, you need to make sure your welding machine and its various components are in good working order. An unfortunate number of people learn that TIG does not have the same sort of consumables as other welding operations and assume, incorrectly, that it means nothing is consumed or damaged over time. This leads to sub-par joints, poor operation, and even potential safety hazards.
It’s good practice to set up preventative maintenance for your welding machine; the question is, how? Here’s our guide and checklist on keeping a TIG welder in peak operating capacity.
Read the Manual
Our guide here is, by necessity, generic and nonspecific. There are many different TIG welding machines, as well as multi-function machines, automated machines, and more, made by different manufacturers and to different specifications. As such, our advice can only cover so much ground for your specific machine.
Reading the manual (particularly any section about the care and maintenance of the machine) will give you more specific instructions you should follow.
Always let the manual guide you, and trust it more than you trust the random content you find on the internet.
Perform Regular Inspections
A key element of preventive and proactive maintenance is routine inspections. Inspections give you a checklist of elements of a welding machine to check for their condition, functionality, and quality; by checking on a regular basis, you will be able to notice any damage or potential problems before they become failures or hazards.
It’s very likely that the manufacturer has provided a checklist of elements of the welding machine to inspect, as well as how often they should be inspected. This information should be in your manual and, if not, should be available on the manufacturer’s website.
If no such checklist is available, you can use the rest of this list as a place to start and adapt it to the needs of the machine you’re using.
Perform Maintenance and Inspections Safely
Whenever you perform an inspection or maintenance of a welding machine, make sure you’re doing so safely.
In general, this means two things:
- Cut the power before inspecting the machine to ensure there is no risk of shock. Remember, you’re looking for damage and wear; you can be shocked and unexpected if something that shouldn’t be energized happens to be.
- Give the machine time to cool off before inspecting it, if necessary. Many inspections are done before using the machines, not after, to avoid heat hazards.
Safety is paramount in welding, as the hazards of high electricity and heat can be painful and even fatal. Take it seriously.
Keep Your Machine Clean
Cleaning is one of the most important parts of maintenance for a welding machine.
Cleaning should involve two processes.
The first is to keep the exterior of the machine clean and free of debris. Welding generates sparks and debris, and a working shop generates a lot of various sorts of dust, fumes, and other particulate matter that can settle on a welding machine. Moreover, anything continually energized can end up electrically charged and attract particles from the air.
You should routinely – at the end of the day, or at least once a week – use a soft, non-abrasive cloth to wipe away dust and debris from your welding machine. Not only does this keep it clean and free of potential issues, it helps make the machine easier to handle and use. Avoid using chemicals or cleaners unless absolutely necessary, as they can damage the surface of the welder or, in extreme cases, damage circuitry or other elements of the machine.
Depending on the operational duty cycles of the machine, as well as the expansiveness of your shop and how much debris is created, you will need to open up and vacuum out or blow out the interior of the machine to prevent build-up from causing short circuits, fire hazards, or other damage. In heavy-use conditions, this should be done as often as once per month; otherwise, it can be left for at most six months in between cleanings.
Maintenance Steps Before Each Use
Whenever you use your TIG welding machine, you should perform basic inspections to make sure everything is in good working condition and there are no obvious hazards.
Here are some of the things you should do before each use:
- Inspect all connections and connectors. Make sure nothing is loose, fraying, or breaking, particularly the insulative layer around power-carrying cables. Make sure connections are secure. If anything is loose or worn, it can cause issues, including lower-than-intended gas pressures, potential unexpected disconnects, or even shock hazards.
- Inspect your cables. Look for any potential damage to cables that could be hazards or could unexpectedly cease operation.
- Check your tungsten electrode. Electrodes, while not consumable, can still be damaged. In fact, certain welding operations like welding aluminum involve “balling” the electrode or melting the tip away from a sharp point and into a ball. While this is effective for welding aluminum, it makes the electrode worse for all other applications and means it should be replaced before non-aluminum operations.
- Check your filler supplies. Ensure that you have enough of your consumable filler wire to perform any project you’re working on. For wire-feed systems that use wire spools, make sure the wire is free of kinks and tangles that could clog the works and halt operations.
- Check your gas supply. TIG welding requires an inert gas to protect the weld pool, so you must have an adequate supply of that gas on hand for your project.
If you’re performing several operations in succession, you can skip some of these, but it’s good practice to make sure that you perform these inspections any time the machine has been idle for more than a short time.
Daily Maintenance Tips
Each day, when you’re set to use your TIG machine for welding a project, perform inspections.
In addition to the above, you should also:
- Calibrate the weld head. Total machine calibration should be performed on an annual basis, but more specific calibration of the weld head is important to do before starting a day’s work so that it doesn’t end up out of alignment or specification over the course of the previous day’s work.
- Check and, if necessary, replace any worn parts. While TIG does not have consumable electrodes the way other processes do, the electrodes can still be damaged and need replacing. Additionally, other parts of the torch, exposed to heat and current, can wear or be damaged and require replacing. Look at and replace, if necessary, the electrode, the collet, the gas lens, and other parts of the torch in particular.
- Verify electrical connections and ensure that no plugs or joints have come loose through the previous day’s operations.
If all else is handled properly, your daily checklist should be minimal and shouldn’t identify any issues. However, there’s always the chance that the unexpected can happen: someone accidentally damaged and tried to hide the machine, or another issue occurs. Inspections prevent accidents.
Weekly or Monthly Maintenance Schedule
Weekly and monthly inspections and maintenance involve checking parts of the machine that are either harder to get to, require sporadic maintenance or replacement, or are longer-term wear parts.
- Inspect the wire feed system. Check to make sure the rollers are clean and clear to avoid anything that can gum up the wire. Make sure the wire is correctly sized for the liner. Blow out the feed mechanism to remove debris if necessary. If any issues are occurring, consider a replacement feeding system.
- Open and blow out the machine to remove dust, debris, and other potential hazards. The build-up of dust and particulate matter can be a fire hazard, but more than that, it’s insulative. That means the machine won’t be able to dissipate heat as effectively, which in turn means that it will have shorter duty cycles and may even be prone to shutting down due to triggering safety overrides.
- Inspect hoses for leaks and replace them if necessary. Primarily, this means the gas hose; however, some machines also have a water supply hose to use as a coolant source. If your machine is water-cooled in this manner, check the water hose as well. Remember that water and electricity mix poorly, so any leak can be a major hazard.
- Inspect the coolant system. Many TIG machines have liquid cooling mechanisms today, and while they may be designed to be largely self-contained, they can still lose coolant over time. Make sure to top off the coolant levels if they’re low. Critical note: Make sure to use the right kind of coolant; you can’t just put water in a machine if it isn’t designed to use water as a coolant.
Finally, you should also check any safety features of the machine. Fuses, circuit breakers, interlocks, and other safety devices can feel like they get in the way of efficient operation; however, nothing hurts your daily operations more than an operator getting hurt. Safety is absolutely essential when dealing with something with as many potential hazards as welding.
Check to make sure interlocks have not been bypassed. It’s far too common for a fuse to burn out or a circuit breaker to trip, and rather than identify the problem or cease using a faulty machine, the safety measures are bypassed, and the operator just ignores them. Not only is this a significant hazard to the operator, it can be deadly to those unaware of the issue. Always ensure the safety systems are in good working order.
Annual Maintenance Schedule
Each year, the machine should be scheduled for downtime for a complete servicing. This will involve a total rundown of the entire machine, top to bottom and inside and out, including all cables, hoses, connectors, and other accessories.
This process should be essentially the same as all of the above, except more thorough and with greater attention to detail. This is also where small faults or minor deferred maintenance should be completed or repaired.
This is also where more detailed calibrations should be performed as necessary. Calibrating the power system, for example, is usually an annual task. It’s also possible that the manufacturer recommends annual replacement of the regulator and other non-consumable parts that are nevertheless subject to wear.
If you don’t have the tools, resources, or knowledge to fully calibrate and test every aspect of your welding machine, there’s a good chance that the manufacturer does. Most manufacturers offer maintenance plans or packages that involve a tech coming out to evaluate a system and perform more in-depth repairs than what the average operator generally does on their own. Annual servicing can be a good idea to outsource for the longevity of your machine.
Finally, check with the manufacturer to make sure there are no recalls or other issues with the machine you’re using. It’s rare but possible that your machine could be subject to a recall and should be returned and replaced.
Shortcutting Some Maintenance
While there are some maintenance and inspection tasks you should never skip or shortcut – like the daily and safety inspections – you can shortcut some of them.
Bringing in an external technician is one way, but another is to use welding equipment you rent from a reputable dealer like us. Our welding equipment rentals are all inspected, cleaned, and guaranteed to be in good repair when you rent them from us.
We can also help you with any maintenance or repair tasks you may need; simply reach out, and we can discuss any issues you may be having.
Moreover, this can be an excellent time to “trade up” on your welding equipment. Rent a machine and use it for a while. Then, if you decide you like it, you can purchase it or continue renting it. Otherwise, you can return it and rent a different machine to better suit your needs.
Whatever your choice, we have many options available to you for TIG welders, multi-function welders, welding automation, and much more. Simply reach out to get started today.
Red-D-Arc Welderentals™ an Airgas company rents and leases welders, welding positioners, welding-related equipment, and electric power generators – anywhere in the world. Our rental welders, positioners and specialty products have been engineered and built to provide Extreme-Duty™ performance and reliability in even the harshest environments, and are available through over 70 Red-D-Arc Service Centers, strategically located throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands, as well as through strategic alliances in the Middle East, Spain, Italy, Croatia, and the Caribbean. From our rental fleet of over 60,000 welders, 3,700 weld positioners, and 3,700 electric-power generators, we can supply you with the equipment you need – where you need it – when you need it.