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Smart Welding Equipment Choice Lets Fabricator Go Mobile

Careful equipment choice has allowed Chris Cramer, president of Metal Connections, to “go almost anywhere and work with virtually any metal.” In his trailer, he has everything he needs to TIG, MIG Stick and flux cored weld as well as  plasma cut, and he has room left over for materials.

About seven or eight years ago, if you drove past a certain Wisconsin park ‘n ride lot you might have seen a pickup truck parked there, strange lights emanating from its trailer.  If you stopped to investigate, you would have found Chris Cramer inside the trailer, simultaneously fabricating metal components and “building” Metal Connections, his mobile fabrication company located in Oshkosh, Wis.

Today, Metal Connections has a strong customer base of about 150 businesses, ranging from aerospace companies to paper mills and restaurants. While the company has grown greatly in scope and Cramer has traded in the park ‘n’ ride for a 3,000-ft. fabrication shop, he still does most of his work from his trailer--a trailer that has to carry both materials and all of the welding and cutting equipment he needs.

“I combined all the welding fabrication processes into a mobile service so that I can go almost anywhere and work with virtually any metal--exotic alloys for the aerospace industry, stainless for restaurants, aluminum, steel--and I can do TIG, MIG Stick, flux cored, plasma cutting.”

Providing that versatility from the confines of his 20-ft. cargo trailer, required Cramer to choose his equipment wisely, a task made easier with the advice of Jerry Krsnich, account executive for a local Airgas distributor.

“The equipment must all fit into the trailer with room left over for materials and supplies,” Cramer said. “I have one truck and trailer, and I don’t want to make two trips for supplies. That would waste time and effort. (Cramer travels throughout Wisconsin as well as other states, making frequent trips back to his shop unfeasible.) So the equipment has to be as tight and small as possible. I have no extra room.”

While an important consideration was equipment size, it wasn’t the only one; portability is a major issue. 

“I may have to carry my equipment up stairs, on lifts, across catwalks, through factories,’ Cramer said. “The equipment needs to be light enough that I can move it by myself and to do so in as few trips as possible, but I can’t sacrifice performance for size.”

 

 The Passport Plus all-in-one MIG welder, Spectrum 875 plasma cutter, and Dynasty 200 AC/DC TIG/Stick welder are each about the size of a lunch box, leaving plenty of room for other equipment and materials.

In the course of a day, Cramer may be working on stainless steel, aluminum and steel, and may be called on to Stick, MIG, or TIG weld and plasma cut. He may also have to work with a variety of available power supplies. In addition, the equipment has to be reliable. Since Metal Connections’ services are in high demand, Cramer can’t afford down time due to malfunctioning equipment, nor does he want to keep two pieces of equipment in case a machine goes down.

While these goals may seem ambitious, Cramer was able to meet them with a relatively small amount of equipment.

Welder/Generator

The largest piece of equipment in the trailer is a Miller Trailblazer welder/generator with multi-process welding capability, separate welding and generator output windings and 11,000 amps peak output.

 

 

 The Trailblazer is Cramer’s main power source. “With it, I can run all of my other equipment: my plasma cutter, MIG welder and AC/DC TIG unit,” he says.

“This is my main power source,” Cramer said. “With it, I can run all of my other equipment: my plasma cutter, MIG welder and AC/DC TIG unit. But it has great arc quality of its own. For someone entering the mobile fabrication business, a trailer and welder/generator unit such as the Trailblazer gives a lot of the basic capabilities. Just add leads for running Stick for a fairly basic set up. I can go up in a bucket or run Stick leads a considerable distance.  For TIG, if the project is near the trailer, I use the Trailblazer welder/generator combined with an HF 251 high-frequency starter. However, since I often work a fair distance from the trailer, I have a Dynasty 200 AC/DC TIG inverter.”

In addition, the Trailblazer’s dual coils keeps the welding and power generation circuits separate, so a sudden load on one coil doesn’t affect the other.

“When I’m working with an assistant, I can have him plasma cutting or grinding something to get it prepped for me, and it won’t affect the quality of my welding arc,” Cramer said.

SuitCase Wire Feeder

Cramer chose a Miller 8VS SuitCase wire feeder for his MIG and flux cored wire needs.

For quick welds, Cramer will often Stick weld directly from his Trailblazer, but for longer welds he uses his 8VS wire feeder.

“If I’m working high in a bucket or if I just need some quick welds, I’ll use Stick,” Cramer said. “But when possible, I prefer to use wire because it has the best bead appearance. I have an 8 VS and 12 VS SuitCase wire feeder. The 8 VS [which holds an 8-in spool] is a bit smaller and lighter, which makes it easier to carry through a plant or into tight locations. It’s a very durable unit. I must have had it on about 1,500 jobs.  It’s been run hard and I’ve had no problems with it, none.  It has not skipped a beat.”

 

 

 “[The 8VS wire feeder] is a very durable unit. I must have had it on about 1,500 jobs.  It’s been run hard and I’ve had no problems with it, none.  It has not skipped a beat,” Cramer says.

 AC/DC TIG Welder

For TIG projects close to his trailer, Cramer may run the TIG off the Trailblazer welder/generator; however, when welding aluminum or for projects further away from the trailer, he relies on his Dynasty 200 AC/DC TIG inverter. Weighing only 45 lbs., the Dynasty 200 is light and small enough to carry to the work. While it can be run from the Trailblazer welder/generator, the Dynasty features Auto-Line® technology, so it can connect to any power supply from 120 to 460 V and withstand voltage fluctuations of +/- 10 percent. A built in DC pulser can be used when working on the stainless steel found in Cramer’s many restaurant projects, and the AC waveform controls give him precise control for aluminum work.

Plasma Cutters

“I own an oxy-fuel set-up,” Cramer said, “but I only use it for preheating. For cutting, I use plasma cutters. Plasma is two or three times as fast and the cut is much cleaner. With plasma, I can get a cut that’s almost equivalent to that of a hydraulic shear. It’s also very accurate. I can easily create a jig with a piece of flat stock and get a very accurate cut.”

 

 

 Cramer took his Spectrum 875 plasma cutter (above) up in the bucket with him to cut out a section of a scoreboard (see below). A job that would have taken 3 days with oxy-fuel was accomplished in a matter of hours.

In his shop, Cramer has an 80-amp plasma cutter rated at 1-in., but considering its 92 lb. weight, Cramer finds it better suited for shop use. For mobile use, he has recently added the Spectrum 875.

Designed for the MRO, construction, fabrication and other applications where mobility is important, the Spectrum 875 is a 60-amp plasma cutter that provides a 7/8-in. cut rating at 10 ipm¾about that of an 80-amp plasma cutter, but at approximately half the weight and size. It can also be powered by any engine drive with 10kW or more of power. 

"The 875 has a smaller footprint, which is important to me because I only have so much room in my trailer,” said Cramer. “But its small size is just as important on site. I can carry this one by hand. I don’t have to use a dolly to move it around. I used the 875 during a plant shutdown, and it was much easier to get around, to take up stairways and across catwalks. It gives me the size, performance, reliability and power that I need. It makes things a lot more efficient.”

Cramer also recently added a 40-amp plasma cutter that weighs only 21 lbs., the Spectrum 625 X-TREME is rated at 5/8-in at 12 ipm., a rating typically found only in higher amperage machines, yet it is light enough to be carried by its shoulder strap. Cramer uses it for many of his cutting projects, finding it easy to carry to the job and providing enough cutting power for most of his needs.

Miller rates its plasma cutters according to the thickness of material that may be cleanly cut when traveling at a rate of about 10 (i.p.m.). The cut rating is in direct proportion to the output amperage of the machine. As the thickness of the material to be cut decreases, the possible travel speed increases. While both the Spectrum 875 and Spectrum 625 X-TREME can cut ¼-in. material, the 875 can do so quicker, which may be a consideration if a lot of cutting is required.

Portable MIG

Finally, Cramer has begun testing the Millermatic Passport Plus, a portable all-in-one MIG welder that weighs about 45 lbs. and can perform steel, stainless and aluminum welding (with spool gun). It contains its own gas cylinder (CO2) to provide up to 25 minutes of welding time or 25 ft of welding on 3/16" thick material and can also be connected to an external source of shield gas. For most of his wire welding, Cramer uses his 8VS wire feeder, but finds that the Passport Plus has advantages for some applications.

"I also have an XMT 350 multi-process welding source, and I can’t tell the difference in arc quality. They’re both fantastic,” he says. 

 

 Cramer uses the Passport Plus all-in-one MIG welder when fabricating a catwalk. “[It’s] ideal for MRO applications,” Cramer said. “It’s easy to carry and can plug into 120 or 230 V, so it’s very convenient for repair work or in locations where you don’t want to run shielding gas.

This equipment forms the basis for Cramer’s mobile welding service and allows him to meet the needs of a variety of customers, from aerospace companies to restaurants. Customers have called from as far away as Michigan, and because of his choice of equipment, Cramer can take his services anywhere his truck can take him.

 

 

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