Three trends are challenging those of us who fabricate things for a living. Admittedly, these battles aren’t quite on the scale of trying to stop Thanos reuniting the six Infinity Stones, but they’re big enough for us. And just as Iron Man’s use of science and engineering helps bring about victory in Guardians of the Galaxy, (oops, spoiler alert!) fabricators are turning to advanced technology.
Top Three Challenges
Talk to anyone in the metal fabrication industry about welding and they’ll likely list the same challenges:
- Experienced welders are leaving the industry
- Relentless pressure to cut costs
- Customers are using thinner materials
Let’s examine each of those, and then explain how technology is coming to the rescue.
Welding needs knowledge and skill that takes years to acquire, and it can be physically challenging too. Bending and twisting to access hard-to-reach welds is the nature of fabrication in shops like ours. It’s okay when you’re younger but as welders age they get tired of it.
Welders are retiring. (We’re referring to their age, not their personalities.) The welding workforce is getting older and they’re deciding they’ve had enough. Younger people are coming in behind but it takes time to develop deep expertise. So an aging, retiring workforce is a big concern.
Competition forces us to find ways of doing everything faster and better. There’s no time to make test welds or try alternative approaches and no room for error. Right first time is the name of the game.
Asking for every weld to be made faster is hard on experienced welders. When skills are less well-developed it’s just asking for mistakes.
While many industries focus on weight reduction automotive seems to be leading the charge. Lighter vehicles and trailers burn less fuel, produce lower emissions, and carry more cargo. One way of taking out weight is by using thinner gauge material and relying more on bends and folds for strength. Thinner material is harder to weld though. It needs precise control over heat input to achieve the required penetration without actually burning through.
Again, welding thinner materials needs a lot of practice. That takes time, and younger welders have had less.
Ways in Which Welding Technology is Advancing
When we’re talk about welding it’s arc welding that we’re referring to. Arc welding breaks down into several types, and we’re not about to bore you with an explanation of each. What they have in common though is the need for precise control over the arc as this is what provides the heat for melting.
With years of practice, skilled welders develop remarkable “feel” for their arc, but those are the skills we’re losing. Just in time then, pulsed arc welding and advanced arc control systems have come along.
Pulsed Arc Welding
This entails varying current and voltage many times a second. High current produces enough heat to melt a droplet of weld wire and throw it towards the weld. A fraction of a second later, the current drops, still enough to maintain the arc but without adding much heat. Advantages include less clean up, faster setup and the ability to weld thin sheets.
Closely related, there’s also cold metal or short-circuit transfer welding. This uses oscillation of the weld wire to reduce heat input.
Advanced Arc Control
Pulsed arc and short-circuit transfer welding rely on advanced digital control. These modern systems manage the arc with far more precision and even allow “one knob” control. Plus, it’s possible to store welding parameters, enabling faster switching between joints. The benefit is that a less experienced welder can achieve consistent, high quality welds, and do so at the speed demanded in the modern fab shop.
Saved by Technology
It’s a cliché to say that problems are just unrecognized opportunities, yet these welding challenges are spurring innovation in both welding processes and weld control technology. Not only does that help us address our problems, it lets us weld faster, better and at lower cost than ever. Maybe they can help us find those Infinity Stones too!