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Compressor/Generator/Welder Combination Improves Equipment Logistics, Efficiency of Structural Steel Fabricator

Executive Summary

CMW Welding reports that the new Trailblazer® 302 Air Pak gas engine drive reduces fuel use and saves space and weight on its service truck when its field construction and maintenance projects require generator power, welding power and compressor power.

CMW owner Dan Chapman also reports that the Trailblazer 302 Air Pak provides reliability and durability in extreme weather, and its rotary screw air compressor out-performs stand-alone compressors when using a Spectrum® plasma cutter.

For job sites that require compressor, generator and welding power, Dan Chapman, owner of structural steel fabricator CMW Welding, notes that Miller’s new Trailblazer 302 Air Pak frees up more space on his service truck.

While based out of a 7,200-sq.-ft. shop in Spring Grove, Ill., structural steel fabricator CMW Welding works “anywhere, anytime” — and they mean it. The company’s business mostly focuses on fabricating, erecting and repairing cell phone towers, but recent work also includes cutting and welding on the stainless steel components of Minnesota ethanol plant in -18o F temperatures and putting in bar joists, beams and decking for the roof of a Holiday Inn in Melbourne, Fla. in 110o F summer heat.

When welding 1,300 miles from home in extreme conditions, equipment logistics, reliability and productivity become very important to CMW Welding’s profitability.

“We charge an hourly rate of $125 per man. If a piece of equipment fails when we’re 1,300 miles from home, we’re either buying a new one that day, renting one or shut down on the job,” states owner Dan Chapman. “Equipment has to run, and that’s why we use all Trailblazer® engine drives, including the new Trailblazer 302 Air Pak™.”

The Trailblazer 302 Air Pak is Miller’s first gas engine drive to feature a built-in rotary screw air compressor. This self-contained power source provides up to 350 amps of multiprocess welding power at 100 percent duty cycle, 13,000 watts of Accu-Rated™ generator power and 70 to 160 PSI (26 CFM at 100-percent duty cycle) of air with no storage tank required. It features a 30 HP Kohler gas engine, weighs 771 lbs. and measures 59-1/2 in. long x 20 in. wide x 34-1/4 in. high.

On stainless steel projects, such as this ethanol tank repair job, Dan Chapman, recommends the plasma cutting process for improved cutting speeds.

“The Trailblazer 302 Air Pak has the same height and width as a regular Trailblazer, but it’s 14 inches longer. It fits in the back of any truck,” notes Chapman. “With a compressor inside the welder, we have one less piece of equipment to pack and one less engine to fuel and maintain. It creates more room for gang boxes and frees up weight for other tools.”

The Trailblazer 302 Air Pak occupies up to 50 percent less truck space and up to 25 percent less axle weight compared to using separate engine-driven air compressor and engine-driven welder.

“Weight and/or space can really matter with some service trucks,” says Chapman, citing the used F-250 he started his business with (replaced long ago with larger trucks).

The Trailblazer 302 Air Pak also simplifies equipment management and can lower fuel use compared to operating both a stand-alone compressor and a welding generator. The unit runs most air tools at idle speed (2,400 RPM) and can run for up to 14 hours on a single, 12-gal. rank of gas when providing compressor output (using less than .85 gal./hr.). When welding at 150 amps at 40 percent duty cycle, the unit consumes approximately ¾-gal./hr.

On the Road Again

Chapman founded CWM Welding on the belief that if he took care of customers, they’d take care of him. For example, after a quick turn-around on the hurricane-damaged Holiday Inn roof in Florida, his contact called him after another hurricane damaged a Holiday Inn in Gulfport, Miss.

“They called us and said they were behind schedule and needed the 25,000 sq. ft. roof completed in three weeks. We got it done in two weeks,” Chapman says, “We drove down, fabricated right in the parking lot and erected about 400 bar joists and associated beams and columns, plus did the deck welding. We rented light towers so we could work 16-hour days, and we put the customer ahead of schedule by the time we were done.”

For this project, Chapman brought down eight people in two trucks, including one truck equipped with the Trailblazer 302 Air Pak, a “regular” Trailblazer, a Maxstar® 200 Stick/TIG inverter, a Spectrum® 2050 plasma cutter, 1,500 ft. of weld cable and pneumatic grinders.

“The compressor capabilities of the Trailblazer 302 Air Pak have given us the option of using air tools instead of all electric tools. It’s an awesome weapon in our arsenal,” notes Chapman.

On this particular job, Chapman started by using the unit’s 240V generator output and compressor power (simultaneously) to run a 55-amp plasma cutter that cuts ½-in. thick steel at 27 inches per minute. He then used its compressor power to run 9-in. diameter air grinders to prepare joints for welding (as well as to grind off the slag after welding).

Dan Chapman, owner of CMW Welding, uses the Trailblazer 302 Air Pak’s air compressor and 13,000 watts of 120/240V generator power to run jobsite tools.

“The new Trailblazer 302 Air Pak stays with the plasma cutter and grinder 100 percent of the time. With some stand-alone compressors, the air tank empties. The compressor tries to catch up with plasma cutter or grinder, but it can’t, and that slows down work.”

To Stick weld the bar joists and decking in place, Chapman create a two-arc/one-engine welding system by using the Trailblazer 302 Air Pak’s 240V generator power to run a 200-amp Stick/TIG inverter while simultaneously drawing on its welding output. With a street price of around $2,200, creating two arcs with Trailblazer/inverter combination saves almost $3,000 compared to purchasing a second engine drive.

“The Trailblazer 302 Air Pak features two separate generators—one for welding power and one for 120/240V power—so anything you run electrically won’t interfere with the guy welding. The same holds true for air power. I can’t even tell if someone’s running an air grinder when I weld,” says Chapman.

Non-Stop Cutting

While the 16-hour days on the Holiday Inn project tested the endurance of men and machines, CWM Welding worked even harder on an ethanol plant project in northern Ill. This emergency shutdown project involved cutting a 4- x 12-ft. hole in the side of a double-walled stainless steel tank.

For long cutting jobs, such as this 4- x 12-ft. stainless steel panel, the combination of a Trailblazer 302 Air Pak and Spectrum plasma cutter improve CMW Welding’s job site productivity.

We had to cut through two 10-gauge walls, replace components that had become twisted and then weld everything back in place,” recalls Chapman. “It was raining. It was cold. And we worked non-stop for three days straight, rotating in new crews, to get the job done. The Trailblazer 302 Air Pak and Spectrum 2050 plasma cutter worked without fail.”

On big projects such as this, Chapman notes that plasma cutters make good economic sense “We try to run the plasma cutter as much as possible because all we’re paying for is fuel for the engine drive. If you’re cutting with oxyacetylene—which wouldn’t even have worked in this case because the metal was stainless steel—remember that a tank of acetylene is almost $80 and a tank of oxygen is $50. Air for the plasma cutter is free.”

Anywhere, Any Time Attitude

Chapman started his welding career in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne, where “I was a welder and I guarded pine trees.”

After serving four years, he entered civilian life providing welding service work for another company. Then, in 1996, he started his own welding business on the side with a Bobcat® engine drive, a rusty four-wheel drive pick-up truck and an anywhere, anytime attitude. He reached out to contractors, farmers and anyone who would pay him for welding.

“I worked nights. I worked weekends. I burned up my two weeks vacation by February. I did whatever it took to build my customer base,” he says.

After two years of sweat equity, it actually cost him more money to work for someone else, as he billed himself out at $55/hr and was paid $16 by the other company.

In 1998, Chapman struck out on his own, hired his first employee and upgraded to a Trailblazer engine drive. “It’s not that the Bobcat is a bad welder, but if you’re going to do the industrial welding that I do or do two things at once, the Trailblazer is a more productive machine.”

The Trailblazer 302 Air Pak provides a multiprocess welding output, including up to 300 amps of power for Stick welding (shown here) or air carbon arc gouging with carbons up to ¼-in. diameter.

While CWM Welding has operated up to eight service trucks, today Chapman owns three larger service trucks that can each carry three Trailblazers. By operating larger trucks and using engine drives that can support the work of two or more people (at $125/hr each), Chapman earns more income per truck.

To manage income, Chapman notes that, “I have a really good accountant. I love working with people and managing that portion of the business, but I don’t have time for taxes and keeping track of where the money comes and goes. My account helps us grow the business.”

Chapman believes that competition makes the industry stronger, and he offers four key pieces of advice for anyone trying to start a steel fabrication business. “You need a good accountant. You need a good steel supply house. You need a good welding supply distributor. And you need reliable, productive welding equipment.” Today, that welding equipment now includes a Trailblazer 302 Air Pak.

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