There’s a lot to consider when evaluating potential sources for welded fabrications. Do they have capacity? Can they handle a job the size and complexity of yours? How does their pricing compare? These are all important questions, but they pale into insignificance compared to this one: how good are the welds they make, and can they achieve quality results every time?

Welding is a complicated process, and you owe it to yourself, your customers, and the end-users of the products you make and sell, to do some due diligence regarding the expertise of the fabricators you’re considering. The purpose of this blog is to give you some tools for evaluating whether you can trust them for welding of the quality you need.

Welding Risk and Quality

There’s a lot that can go wrong during welding, and some of those things end up hidden from view. You won’t necessarily know that a weld is brittle or cracked before putting a fabrication into service, and that exposes you, the buyer, to risk. Best case: a fabrication doesn’t fit within a larger assembly, or looks unsightly. Worse case: it fails in-service, exposing you to warranty and even liability claims.

Welding involves heating and melting metal, and when you do that a lot of metallurgical things go on. Alloys can segregate and absorb elements from the air, metal hardness and toughness can change, and expansion and contraction can distort the intended geometry.

A good weld has some distinctive characteristics, providing it hasn’t been ground flat or painted over. The only way of really assessing its strength though, is through destructive testing. As that’s only practical on a sample basis, it doesn’t necessarily provide a high level of confidence.

5 Questions to Ask About Welding

From the perspective of a metal fabrication shop, producing good welds means controlling the process as tightly as possible. From the perspective of a customer for fabricated parts and assemblies, the way to minimize risk is to ask smart, probing questions. Here are five we suggest you start with:

1. Are all your welders certified, by whom, and to what standard?

Certification by an independent body of experts demonstrates a combination of knowledge and actual skill. Expect welders to be certified to American Welding Society (AWS) standards by a reputable organization. (The Hobart Institute of Welding Technology is one such body.)

Welders are certified to various codes. For example, D1.1, 1.2, and 1.3 are for steel, aluminum, and sheet steel respectively, so ask for details. You might follow up by asking what the policy is on recertification as certification is generally only good for three to five years (which ensures welders stay up to date with new technologies and practices).

2. What steps do you take and what procedures are in place to ensure weld quality and consistency?

Quality isn’t achieved by inspection after the fact. Rather, it’s the result of defining and following rigorous procedures that dictate how each job is done. A good answer to this question starts with an overview of the Quality Management System before discussing the use of Weld Procedure Specifications. These detail how specific welds are to be made on a particular fabrication. They’re written by experienced welding engineers, often supported by actual testing to verify the reliability of the method required.

3. Can you show me projects that used the same materials as are in our designs, and what experience do you have with difficult or unusual alloys?

Some alloys pose challenges. Aluminum is difficult because of its high thermal conductivity and eagerness to oxidize. Most stainless steels have poor weldability too. You want to know if the fabricator you’re talking to has experience with your alloys, ideally in the gauges that you need welding.

It’s worth asking about experience with alloys used less often in fabrication – titanium for example – because this provides further evidence of their overall competency.

4. What welding processes do you have, which do you use most, and do you have any automated welding systems?

Gas Metal Arc Welding / Metal inert Gas (GMAW/MiG) is the welding process used most in metal fabrication, but in some cases, it makes sense to use Tungsten inert Gas (TiG) or resistance welding. A shop with all of these has the well-rounded capabilities necessary to take on almost every welding project.

Automated, usually robotic, welding is very useful, even for small quantity orders. The robot moves the torch at a consistent speed while maintaining exactly the angle and orientation needed. This results in greater part-to-part consistency than a human welder can achieve. If you need a quantity of fabrications, picking a shop that can produce them robotically will result in a better quality job.

5. If we have a problem with a weld in a fabrication you’ve made, how will you handle that?

Welding poses challenges that aren’t present in other aspects of metal fabrication, and things can and occasionally do go wrong. When that happens, you will want to know the shop you went to stands behind their work.

We can’t tell you how other fabricators will respond, but here’s how we would answer that question: We’re a family business, and we pride ourselves on listening to our customers. That, plus our formal QMS, ensures mistakes and other problems are few and far between. However, should you have a problem with a weld we’ve made, we’d like to know about it. First, we want the opportunity to put it right. Second, we want to understand what went wrong, so we can modify our procedures and processes to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

A Fabrication Partner You Can Trust

With cuts and bends in sheet metal it’s easy to check whether the work done meets requirements. The same is not true of welding. Welds can have faults that are not visible to the naked eye, and you’ll only find out about them when the joint fails.

Professional welders and fabricators use their skills and experience to avoid problems like these, but as the buyer, you should do some due diligence. This means assessing the competence of shops you’re considering trusting with your business. The five questions listed above will help you do that.

If you need metal fabrication work, we would like to be your trusted partner. We’ve been in business a long time, and have a track record of meeting and exceeding customer expectations. Contact us to discuss your next project or request a quote.