Top 10 Mistakes in Running a Welding Operation and Simple Ways to Solve Them
Mistakes in the welding operation are not uncommon, but many of them can have a significant impact on quality, productivity and a company’s bottom line. Paying close attention to long-term savings, as opposed to cutting costs up front, is one way to help avoid costly pitfalls.
Whether companies have MIG or TIG processes in their welding operations, carefully selecting equipment, guns, torches and filler metals can lead to significant savings and better productivity.
With so many factors to monitor — equipment, weld procedures, filler metals and consumables — it’s inevitable that mistakes will occur in most welding operations on any given day. Human error dictates that a welding operator can easily set a power source and wire feeder to the wrong parameters or trim and install a MIG gun liner improperly. But there are other mistakes that can occur in welding operations on a regular basis — ones that many companies may not even realize that they are making.
The reality is, however, that these mistakes can have a significant impact on quality, productivity and a company’s bottom line. Fortunately, they don’t have to happen. Consider these top 10 mistakes involved in running a welding operation, along with some recommendations for solving them.
Mistake No. 1: Improper Filler Metal Storage and Handling
Storing filler metals in an area where they are prone to accumulating moisture or exposed to other contaminants (e.g., dirt, oil or grease) can have an adverse effect on their welding performance. To prevent damage, companies should store filler metals in a dry, clean area with a relatively constant temperature until they are ready for use. Spools and coils of wire that are kept on the wire feeder for an extended period should be covered securely with a plastic bag or removed from the wire feeder and stored in the original packaging. An enclosed wire feeder can also protect against contaminants. Such precautions prevent damage that can lead to poor weld quality, and ultimately, rework.
Mistake No. 2: Repurposing Old Equipment
It is important for companies to use the best equipment for the job. Repurposing old or dilapidated power sources, welder/generators or wire feeders can cause quality issues, not to mention downtime and additional costs for troubleshooting problems that inevitably arise from using dated equipment and technology. Instead, companies should consider the newer technologies available in the marketplace, recognizing the advantages these can offer in terms of improving weld quality and productivity. In most cases, newer equipment can provide companies with a quick return on investment and greater long-term savings – in a relatively short payback period. Newer technologies often offer benefits like improved power efficiency, better deposition rates, lower weld prep time and faster training, all of which ultimately add up to greater arc-on time and productivity. Performing a thorough cost-savings analysis before buying new equipment can help companies assess their potential return on investment, as well as justify the capital expenditure.
Mistake No. 3: Using the Wrong Size MIG Gun
Using a too-low or too-high amperage MIG gun can lead to unnecessary costs for purchasing and replacing this equipment. Welding operators rarely spend the entire day welding or welding continuously, as there is downtime for part preparation, movement and/or fixturing. For that reason, it may be possible to use a lower amperage MIG gun or one with a lesser duty cycle on some applications. For example, using a lighter and smaller 300-amp MIG gun instead of a 400-amp model can provide welding operators with greater maneuverability and reduce downtime for fatigue. Lower amperage MIG guns tend to cost less, as well. Conversely, on higher amperage applications and/or those that require longer periods of welding, it is important to use a higher amperage gun. Skimping and purchasing a lower amperage MIG gun in this situation can lead to overheating, premature failure and greater long-term costs. Companies should consult with a trusted welding distributor for MIG gun recommendations for their application.
Mistake No. 4: Improper Preheat or Interpass Temperature Control
It is not uncommon for companies to preheat too little or skip this portion of the weld procedure altogether. Yet preheating is one of the biggest deterrents against cracking, as it slows down the cooling rate after welding. The type and thickness of the material being welded will determine preheat and interpass temperature. These requirements can be found in the application’s welding procedure, welding codes or other fabrication documents. For the best results, welding operators need to preheat the material completely through and extend the heated area to approximately three inches on either side of the weld joint. Welding should commence while the material is at or above the preheat temperature. Allowing the weldment to cool below the required interpass temperature may also lead to cracking.
Mistake No. 5: Ignoring Preventive Maintenance
Preventive maintenance (PM) is a frequently overlooked part of the welding operation, but it is critical to preventing unscheduled downtime and keeping repair costs low. A well-performed PM program can also help increase productivity, extend equipment life and create a workplace philosophy that encourages shared responsibility for, and interest in, preserving the integrity of the welding equipment. Companies should develop a regular timetable to inspect their power sources, wire feeders and MIG gun or TIG torches during scheduled downtime in production. Between welding shifts is often enough time to perform routine inspections. Checking consumables regularly for spatter build-up — and replacing these components as needed — is also an important part of a viable PM program.
Mistake No. 6: Shielding Gas Inconsistencies
Using the correct type and/or mixture of shielding gas can help companies prevent weld defects, minimize excessive spatter and reduce costs for rework or post-weld cleanup. Shielding gases also determine arc characteristics and weld penetration on a given application. Straight CO2 provides good weld penetration, but it is prone to spatter and has a less stable arc than mixtures that include argon. High argon mixtures (a minimum of 85 percent argon for solid wire or as low as 75 percent for metal-cored wires) are the best choice. These mixtures can be used in the spray transfer process to promote higher deposition rates and generate less spatter. For TIG welding, the appropriate argon/helium mixture can improve speed, quality and arc characteristics. For both MIG and TIG welding operations, companies should purchase their shielding gas from a reputable welding distributor and be certain that it meets the purity requirements for their application. All gas delivery systems should be free of contaminants that could enter the weld puddle and welding operators should use the correct shielding gas flow rate. Too little gas flow won’t properly shield the molten weld pool, while too much flow can cause turbulence and aspirate air into the weld puddle. Protecting the weld puddle from drafts is also critical.
Mistake No. 7: Purchasing Filler Metals Based on Cost Only
Due to the initial up-front cost savings, the temptation may be great for companies to purchase less expensive filler metals. However, doing so can often lead to greater long-term costs and lower productivity levels. It is not uncommon, for example, to experience downtime associated with poor wire feeding, excessive spatter or, potentially, weld defects when using lower quality filler metals. Companies may also find themselves experiencing an excessive amount of time for non-value-added activities (those that do not directly contribute to their throughput), such as applying anti-spatter and post-weld grinding or rework. For that reason, it is important to look at the total cost of using particular filler metals, as opposed to the per-unit cost. If more expensive, higher quality filler metals can minimize labor costs for non-value-added activities and provide better weld quality and/or greater productivity, then the higher up-front cost makes good sense in the long run.
Mistake No. 8: Improper Weld Preparation
Skipping steps in weld preparation can lead to weld defects, rework or scrapped parts. Welding operators should always take care to clean the base material before welding to prevent contaminants like dirt, oil or grease from entering the weld puddle. Similarly, monitoring part fit-up is a critical part of the pre-weld process. Welding operators should carefully assess the weld joints to ensure there are no excessive gaps, as poor part fit-up can lead to issues like burn-through or distortion on all materials, but particularly when welding on materials like aluminum or stainless steel. Clamping or fixturing a part in the correct position is also a good practice to help protect materials like stainless steel against distortion or buckling.
Mistake No. 9: Disregarding MIG Gun Consumables
It is not uncommon for companies to overlook the importance of their MIG gun consumables. Unfortunately that oversight can lead to a host of problems, including unscheduled downtime for changeover and/or rework of weld defects caused by a poorly performing contact tip, nozzle or liner. Welding operators should always select the appropriate style of nozzle for their application to ensure good shielding gas coverage, properly trim and install their liners according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, and select a contact tip that corresponds appropriately with their welding wire diameter. As with filler metals, companies should also avoid the temptation to purchase less expensive, lower quality consumables. These typically do not last as long or perform as well as OEM products, leading to more downtime and greater costs to purchase replacements and change over consumables.
Mistake No. 10: Overlooking Training Opportunities
As with other parts of the welding operation, investing time and money in training can yield significant long-term benefits for companies. Not only do welding operators benefit individually from process and equipment training, but in many cases it can also help them optimize the welding operation for greater efficiency. Too, proper training can give companies a competitive edge over those who have less-skilled labor and it promotes greater teamwork among employees. Typically, training opportunities are available through equipment and filler metal manufacturers or through welding distributors. In some cases, working with a local technical college can lead to training for specific applications and markets, allowing companies to bring in welding operators who are already trained for a given application and better promote their position in a given industry.
Making mistakes is human nature, but with some careful consideration, it is easy to avoid some of the more common ones associated with running a welding operation. Measuring out long-term savings, versus cutting costs up front, is a particularly good way to avoid pitfalls that could lead to excessive downtime, quality issues or lost productivity. And it can have an excellent impact on a company’s bottom line.