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Improving the efficiency of a welding operation depends largely on knowing what actually needs to change in order for a company to reach its goals. It is difficult to increase productivity, generate greater quality or reduce costs if there isn’t a solid starting point. It’s just as difficult to track the effectiveness of continuous improvement initiatives without a clear way to monitor the results. Welding information management systems are a good option to drive change in the welding operation.
Quality results and high productivity are important in every welding application. What many companies may not consider, however, is that the weakest part of a welding system is actually what determines its performance. If the welding gun, feeder or power source is performing poorly, for example, the resulting welds will also likely be poor. For that reason, it is important to have a welding system in which all the components are engineered to work together. Having parts that complement one another can help improve arc performance and overall productivity, while also reducing quality issues and minimizing downtime.
In just three years, USA Energy Fabrication has grown from a two-man welding operation to a multi-million dollar a year pipe fabrication shop. Founders Steve Smith and Nathan Bushey launched the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based business because they saw growth potential in the market. The two started out with some structural welding work and a few pipe pieces, working the first several months with one welding machine from Miller Electric Mfg. Co. and a chop saw in the only location available — Smith’s horse barn. From those humble beginnings, the company continued to take on more work, adding employees and extra equipment. USA Energy Fabrication’s 25 employees recently moved into the company’s third location — a 22,000 square foot production facility with the space necessary to fully fabricate and test pipe spools in-house.
In today’s changing manufacturing environment, many companies find themselves having to adapt to various jobs, contracts and competitors. This necessity can stem from a change in the type of product being manufactured, a change in the material being used, or changing rules and regulations regarding employee safety, such as weld fume exposure. With this frequency in manufacturing changes, taking steps to plan out the features in a weld cell can help companies make the space and equipment much more functional for the job at hand — and for the jobs to come. Creating an adaptable weld cell goes beyond just improving the physical space (but that is also a very important component). Choosing flexible and modular welding equipment is an important way that manufacturers can maximize the value and useful life of that equipment, even as needs change.
Weld fume management is a non-negotiable part of establishing and maintaining a safe, comfortable and compliant work environment, while also providing companies with a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining skilled workers. Managing fumes created by the welding process is necessary for compliance with regulations from agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA enforces exposure limits for each individual metal, metal oxide or gas found in the weld plume, such as hexavalent chromium and manganese.
Like any portion of the manufacturing or fabrication process, the welding operation is subject to human error from time to time. When weld defects occur as a result of a problem with welding operator’s technique or poor equipment settings, it can cause costly downtime and rework, not to mention, frustration. When a weld defect appears, it’s important for welding operators to have the knowledge they need to rectify the situation as quickly as possible. Faster troubleshooting leads to greater opportunities to add value to the welding operation — through increased productivity and quality improvements.
Whether used in one of many manufacturing or fabrication industries or by a home hobbyist, aluminum remains an in-demand material for welding applications. The main reason is that it offers high strength and corrosion resistance, even at thin gauges, making it desirable in uses where lighter weight is a requirement.
Implementing welding automation can be a daunting task, especially for first-time purchasers. From justifying the capital expenditure to determining space requirements for the robotic welding cell and ensuring parts are suitable for the operation, every detail is critical. When done properly, however, these steps can lead to drastic improvements in productivity, quality and cost savings compared to a manual welding operation. A robotic welding system also offers companies a competitive advantage over those that have not made the shift to welding automation.
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