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From Consumables to Communication: Reducing Human Error in Welding

From Consumables to Communication: Reducing Human Error in Welding

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Human error can take its toll on welding operations, leading to downtime and lost productivity, poor quality and increased costs. It can result from a variety of factors.  An operator may know how to manage a process, but periodically misses a step or forgets to complete a task. Or an operator may believe he is conducting a task in the correct manner, but it is wrong.

Side view of welder welding a square part on a table
Preventing errors in a welding operation requires attention to detail, a commitment to making improvements, and collaboration among welding operators and management.

To reduce problems, it’s important to provide proper training to semi-automatic and robotic welding operators. This includes not only training on the welding process, but also on how to spot errors when they occur. 

Companies may want to rely on principles of poka-yoke to help. These principles could be applied in several ways in a welding operation. 

  • Elimination: Remove or change parts of the welding process that cause problems
  • Prevention: Investing in equipment or processes that prevent errors
  • Replacement: Substitute consumables with ones that are more consistent
  • Facilitation: Streamline operations to reduce the risk of a welding operator causing an error
  • Detection: Identify errors early and correct them before they lead to costly rework
  • Mitigation: Find ways to reduce the impact of errors on the welding operation

With these high-level, error-proofing ideas in mind, it’s possible to put them into action in several specific ways. 

Color-coded parts

Investing in welding consumables with color-coded parts can help eliminate confusion during installation. AccuLock™ S liners and power pin caps are color coded to make it easy to identify which power pin cap is compatible with which liner. For example, power pin caps with red washers are compatible with liners that have red shrink tube and so on.

Welding procedures

Implementing a welding procedure specification (WPS), and training operators to follow it, can help ensure consistent, high-quality welds. A WPS outlines details on the welding process and parameters, weld pass sequences, filler metal type and size, and more.

Error-proof consumables design

For operations with a mix of welding arcs or for all automated welding operations, AccuLock R consumables are designed to prevent errors associated with cross threading during installation. They feature a long contact tip tail that aligns in the diffuser prior to the thread engaging. This allows operators to install the tip easily and accurately. The AccuLock S welding gun liner also offers error-proof liner trimming with no measuring required for semi-automatic welding operations. 

Long-lasting consumables 

Consumables that last longer require less changeover, which means less interaction by the welding operator in the welding cell and less potential for errors. AccuLock contact tips offer a longer lifespan, particularly the AccuLock HDP tips. These last up to ten times longer than standard contact tips and are designed for use in pulsed MIG welding applications, where waveforms tend to be harsher on tips.

Inventory reduction 

Taking steps to simplify inventory by having a lower variety of consumables can help prevent errors during changeover. The AccuLock S and AccuLock R consumable systems share a common contact tip, so the tip can be used in Bernard semi-automatic MIG guns and Tregaskiss robotic and fixed automatic guns.

Communication and reporting

Keeping open lines of communication among welding operators and with management is an important way to minimize and rectify errors. Knowing what is expected in the welding process is a good start, as is reporting errors when they occur so that they can be fixed and don’t lead to further complications.

Preventing errors in a welding operation requires attention to detail, a commitment to making improvements, and collaboration among welding operators and management. Everyone needs to take a vested interest in the process, knowing that it will help improve quality and productivity — and ultimately make everyone’s job easier. 


MIG Welding Basics

MIG Welding Basics

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

When it comes to MIG welding, it’s important for new welders to start with the basics to set a solid foundation for success. The process is generally forgiving, making it simpler to learn than TIG welding, for example. It can weld most metals and, as a continuously fed process, offers greater speed and efficiency than stick welding. 

Welder MIG welding on part with sparks on a work table
Along with practice, knowing some key information can help new welders better understand the MIG welding process

Welding safety

The very first consideration for new welders is welding safety. It is imperative to read and follow all labels and the equipment Owner’s Manuals carefully before installing, operating, or servicing welding equipment. Welders must wear proper eye protection to avoid arc flash burns and sparks. Always wear safety glasses and a welding helmet set to the appropriate shade level. Proper personal protective equipment attire is also critical to protect the skin from electric shock and burns. This includes:

  • Leather shoes or boots. 
  • Leather or flame-resistant welding gloves
  • Flame-resistant welding jacket or welding sleeves 

Adequate ventilation is also an important safety factor. Welders should always keep their head out of the weld plume and be sure that the area in which they are welding has adequate ventilation. Some type of fume extraction may be needed. Fume extraction guns that remove the exhaust at the arc are also helpful, and are very efficient compared to floor or ceiling capture. 

Welding transfer modes

Depending on base material and shielding gas, welders can weld in various welding transfer modes.

Short circuit is common for thinner materials and operates at lower welding voltage and wire feed speed, so it is slower than other processes. It also tends to produce spatter that requires post-weld cleaning, but overall, it is an easy process to use. 

Globular transfer operates at higher wire feed speeds and welding voltages than short circuit and works for welding with flux-cored wire with 100% carbon dioxide (CO2) (see details on CO2 in next section). It can be used on 1/8-inch and thicker base materials. Like short-circuit MIG welding, this mode produces spatter, but it is a fairly fast process. 

Spray transfer offers a smooth, stable arc, making it appealing to many new welders. It operates at high welding amperages and voltage, so it is fast and productive. It works well on base materials that are 1/8 inch or more.

Welding shielding gas

In addition to protecting the weld pool from the atmosphere, the type of shielding gas used for MIG welding impacts performance. Weld penetration, arc stability and mechanical properties depend on shielding gas. 

Straight carbon dioxide (CO2) offers deep weld penetration but has a less stable arc and more spatter. It is used for short circuit MIG welding. Adding argon to a CO2 mixture allows for use of spray transfer for higher productivity. A balance of 75% argon and 25% is common. 

Beyond the basics

Along with practice, knowing some key information can help new welders better understand the MIG welding process. It’s also important to be familiar with the equipment, including MIG welding guns and welding liners. Understanding how to select and maintain this equipment can go far toward establishing  good welding performance, quality and productivity. 

This is the first article in a three-part series on welding basics. Read article two, MIG Welding Glossary: Terms to Know and article three, MIG Welding Techniques: What to Know.


MIG Welding Glossary: Terms To Know

MIG Welding Glossary: Terms To Know

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Welders use MIG welding in many industries — fabrication, manufacturing, shipbuilding and rail to name a few. While it is a common process, it requires attention to detail, and it is helpful to know some key terms associated with it. As with any process, the better the understanding, the better the results. 

Closeup of MIG gun welding on part on table
The better the understanding of the MIG welding process and its key terms, the better the results.

Bird-nesting

The tangling of welding wire in the drive rolls of the wire feeder. This typically happens when the wire doesn’t have a smooth feeding path due to a liner being cut too short, the wrong size liner or tip being used, or incorrect drive roll settings. Resolve this issue by trimming the liner properly and ensuring that the feed path of the wire is as smooth and straight as possible.  

Burnback

Occurs when the wire melts inside the contact tip before reaching the workpiece. It results from incorrect contact-tip-to-work distance (CTWD) — the distance between the end of the tip and the base metal — or a too-slow wire feed speed (WFS). It can also be caused by incorrectly trimmed liner and incorrect parameters. Remedy the problem by increasing WFS, adjusting CTWD, trimming the liner according to the manufacturer’s recommendation and modifying weld parameters. 

Deposition rate

Refers to how much filler metal is deposited into a weld joint over a specified period of time, measured in pounds or kilograms per hour (lbs/hr or kg/hr).

Discontinuity

A flaw in the structure of a weld that does not pose a risk of failure. It differs from a weld defect that can affect the integrity of a weld once in service. 

Duty cycle

Refers to the percentage of time in a 10-minute period a gun can be used at a specific amperage (arc-on time) without becoming too hot to handle or overheating. A gun’s duty cycle is affected by the type of shielding gas being used for welding. For example, a MIG gun may be rated at 100% duty cycle with 100% CO2 shielding gas, meaning it can weld the entire 10 minutes without issues; or it could have a gun rating of 60% duty cycle with mixed gases. 

Electrode extension

The distance the welding wire extends from the end of the contact tip to where the wire melts. As electrode extension increases, amperage decreases, which reduces joint penetration. Also commonly referred to as tip-to-workpiece distance. 

Heat-affected zone

Often referred to as HAZ, it is the portion of the base material surrounding the weld that hasn’t melted but has had its properties changed at a microstructure level due to the heat input. Cracking can occur here.

Incomplete fusion

Also called lack of fusion, it occurs when the weld fails to fuse completely with the base material or a previous weld pass in multi-pass welding. Typically, it is the result of an incorrect MIG gun angle. 

Porosity

A cavity-like discontinuity that occurs when gas becomes trapped in the weld upon solidification of the molten weld pool. It is most often caused by poor shielding gas coverage or base material contamination. 

Weld penetration

Refers to the distance the weld fuses below the surface of the base material. Incomplete weld penetration occurs when the weld doesn’t completely fill the root of the joint. 

This is the second article in a three-part series on welding basics. Read article one, MIG Welding Basics and article three, MIG Welding Techniques: What to Know.


MIG Welding Techniques: What To Know

MIG Welding Techniques: What To Know

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

Understanding some proper techniques for MIG welding can help welders gain good weld quality and avoid the frustration and cost of rework. Everything from proper positioning of the MIG welding gun to travel angle and travel speed can make an impact. 

Side view of welder welding a part on a table
Understanding some proper techniques for MIG welding can help welders gain good weld quality and avoid the frustration and cost of rework.

Consider these four recommended techniques: 

  1. While welding, hold the MIG welding gun straight, using both hands to steady it and keeping them at or just below elbow height. This approach not only makes it easier to make a quality weld, but it also helps improve ergonomics. That is particularly important for welders welding for a long period of time, so they can avoid injury. 
  2. Welders should keep a contact-tip-to-work distance (CTWD) of approximately 3/8 to 1/2 inch for short-circuit welding and around 3/4 inch for spray transfer MIG welding. 
  3. Use the proper travel angle. When push welding, welders should hold the gun at a 10-degree angle. This technique creates a wide bead with less joint penetration. For a pull technique, welders use the same angle, pulling the gun toward their body. This results in more penetration and a narrow weld bead. 
  4. Maintain a consistent travel speed with the wire at the leading edge of the weld pool. Too fast of a travel speed creates a narrow bead that may not fully tie in at the weld toes and may lack proper penetration. Traveling too slow creates a wide weld, also with inadequate penetration. Both too slow and too fast travel speeds can cause burn-through on thin base metals. 

As with any welding process, practice is a large part of MIG welding success. Along with good techniques, it’s also important to properly prepare and clean the base material before welding and to maintain the MIG welding gun and consumables properly. This can reduce downtime for addressing equipment issues or troubleshooting weld defects and problems such as poor wire feeding. 

This is the third article in a three-part series on welding basics. Read article one, MIG Welding Basics and article two, MIG Welding Glossary: Terms to Know.


Solving Common Causes of Welding Porosity

Solving Common Causes of Welding Porosity

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Porosity, cavity-type discontinuities formed by gas entrapment during solidification, is a common but cumbersome defect in MIG welding and one with several causes. It can appear in semi-automatic or robotic applications and requires removal and rework in both cases — leading to downtime and increased costs. 

The major cause of porosity in steel welding is nitrogen (N2), which gets involved in the welding pool. When the liquid pool cools down, the solubility of N2 is significantly reduced and N2 comes out of the molten steel, forming bubbles (pores). In galvanized/galvanneal welding, evaporated zinc can be stirred into the welding pool, and if there is not enough time to escape before the pool solidifies, it forms porosity. For aluminum welding, all porosity is caused by hydrogen (H2), by the same way as N2 works in steel.

Environmental shot of welding operator welding on part
Knowing how to identify some key causes of porosity and how to quickly solve them can help improve quality, productivity and the bottom line.

Welding porosity can appear externally or internally (often called sub-surface porosity). It can also develop at a single point on the weld or along the entire length, resulting in weak welds.

Knowing how to identify some key causes of porosity and how to quickly solve them can help improve quality, productivity and the bottom line.

Poor Shielding Gas Coverage

Poor shielding gas coverage is the most common cause of welding porosity, as it allows atmospheric gases (N2 and H2) to contaminate the weld pool. Lack of proper coverage can occur for several reasons, including but not limited to poor shielding gas flow rate, leaks in the gas channel, or too much air flow in the weld cell. Travel speeds that are too fast can also be a culprit. 

If an operator suspects poor flow is causing the problem, try adjusting the gas flow meter to ensure the rate is adequate. When using a spray transfer mode, for example, a 35 to 50 cubic feet per hour (cfh) flow should suffice. Welding at higher amperages requires an increase in flow rate, but it’s important not to set the rate too high. This can result in turbulence in some gun designs that disrupts shielding gas coverage.

It’s important to note that differently designed guns have different gas flow characteristics (see two examples below). The “sweet spot” of the gas flow rate for the top design is a lot larger than that of the bottom design. This is something a welding engineer needs to consider when setting up the weld cell.

Images of welding nozzles with turbulent shielding gas flow
Design 1 shows smooth gas flow at the nozzle outlet
Images of welding nozzles with turbulent shielding gas flow
Design 2 shows turbulent gas flow at the nozzle outlet.

Also check for damage to the gas hose, fittings and connectors, as well as O-rings on the power pin of the MIG welding gun. Replace as necessary. 

When using fans to cool operators or parts in a weld cell, take care that they are not pointed directly at the welding area where they could disrupt gas coverage. Place a screen in the weld cell to protect from external air flow. 

Re-touch the program in robotic applications to make sure there is a proper tip-to-work distance, which is typically ½ to 3/4 inch, depending on the desired length of the arc.

Lastly, slow travel speeds if the porosity persists or consult a MIG gun supplier for different front-end components with better gas coverag

Base Metal Contamination

Base metal contamination is another reason porosity occurs — from oil and grease to mill scale and rust. Moisture can also encourage this discontinuity, especially in aluminum welding. These types of contaminants typically lead to external porosity that is visible to the operator. Galvanized steel is more prone to subsurface porosity. 

To combat external porosity, be certain to thoroughly clean the base material prior to welding and consider using a metal-cored welding wire. This type of wire has higher levels of deoxidizers than solid wire, so it is more tolerant of any remaining contaminants on the base material. Always store these and any other wires in a dry, clean area of similar or slightly higher temperature than the plant. Doing this will help minimize condensation that could introduce moisture into the weld pool and cause porosity. Do not store wires in a cold warehouse or outdoors. 

Closeup of welding porosity on a weld coupon
Porosity, cavity-type discontinuities formed by gas entrapment during solidification, is a common but cumbersome defect in MIG welding and one with several causes.

When welding galvanized steel, the zinc vaporizes at a lower temperature than the steel melts, and fast travel speeds tend to make the weld pool freeze quickly. This can trap zinc vapor in the steel, resulting in porosity. Combat this situation by monitoring travel speeds. Again, consider specially designed (flux formula) metal-cored wire that promotes zinc vapor escape from the welding pool.

Clogged and/or Undersized Nozzles

Clogged and/or undersized nozzles can also cause porosity. Welding spatter can build up in the nozzle and on the surface of the contact tip and diffuser leading to restricted shielding gas flow or causing it to become turbulent. Both situations leave the weld pool with inadequate protection. 

Compounding this situation is a nozzle that is too small for the application and more prone to greater and faster spatter buildup. Smaller nozzles can provide better joint access, but also obstruct gas flow due to the smaller cross-sectional area allowed for gas flow. Always keep in mind the variable of the contact tip to nozzle stickout (or recess), as this can be another factor that affects shielding gas flow and porosity with your nozzle selection.

With that in mind, make sure the nozzle is large enough for the application. Typically, applications with high welding current using larger wire sizes require a nozzle with larger bore sizes.

In semi-automatic welding applications, periodically check for welding spatter in the nozzle and remove using welder’s pliers (welpers) or replace the nozzle if necessary. During this inspection, confirm that the contact tip is in good shape and that the gas diffuser has clear gas ports. Operators can also use anti-spatter compound, but they must take care not to dip the nozzle into the compound too far or for too long, since excessive amounts of the compound can contaminate the shielding gas and damage the nozzle insulation. 

In a robotic welding operation, invest in a nozzle cleaning station or reamer to combat spatter buildup. This peripheral cleans the nozzle and diffuser during routine pauses in production so that it does not affect cycle time. Nozzle cleaning stations are intended to work in conjunction with an anti-spatter sprayer, which applies a thin coat of the compound to the front components. Too much or too little anti-spatter fluid can result in additional porosity. Adding in air blast to a nozzle cleaning process can also aid in clearing loose spatter from the consumables. 

Maintaining quality and productivity

By taking care to monitor the welding process and knowing the causes of porosity, it’s relatively simple to implement solutions. Doing so can help ensure greater arc-on time, quality results and more good parts moving through production.  


Employee Retention: Best Practices for Keeping Welders Engaged

Employee Retention: Best Practices for Keeping Welders Engaged

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

The welding industry, like many others, is challenged by a labor shortage — and one that is growing. By 2023, the American Welding Society (AWS) anticipates the welder shortage to reach approximately 375,000, as an increasing number of experienced welders reach retirement age and leave the field.[1] With those statistics in mind, it’s more important than ever for companies to take steps to retain the welders they have. 

Closeup from the side of welder welding out of position
Staying involved and creating a sense of community in which everyone is contributing to the well-being of the company can go a long way in keeping welders interested and engaged.

Employee retention is critical for several reasons. It helps support quality and productivity initiatives, which in turn makes it easier to meet customer demands. It also prevents overworking welders — an issue that can lead to low morale and a poor company culture. In addition, retaining welders helps maintain the bottom line. Turnover can cost companies significantly in terms of recruiting and retraining new welders, as well as for downtime in production due to lack of a full workforce. [2]

Fortunately, there are some best practices that can help companies create a positive environment and keep welders interested in the job. 

Provide proper welder training

Empowering welders is important to instill a sense of interest and pride in the job —and that process should start from the very beginning. It’s reported that strong onboarding and training can help companies retain 82% of new hires. [3]

With proper training, welders can feel confident in their ability to do the job and help train new welders. Start with establishing good welding habits and creating a familiarity with the welding process. This includes training new welders on how to set up their power source accurately and safely and on what welding parameters to use. Equally important is providing guidance on the best technique for the process and application to minimize weld defects. Establishing a comfort level with following welding procedures is also a valuable part of welder training. [4]

For more experienced welders, offering more advanced training opportunities can help keep them engaged. This could include training to weld on more complicated applications or complex parts, robotic welding programming and more. 

Create a clean, safe environment

Along with providing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as helmets, gloves, safety glasses and jackets, it is also important that the environment is safe. That means ensuring the welding cell and surrounding areas are free of clutter and any tripping hazards. It also entails proper ventilation. Companies can achieve that by removing weld fume at the source with a fume extraction gun, or with a mobile, wall-mounted system or a centralized fume extraction system. A clean, safe welding environment is more appealing for welders to work in — and it can provide an edge over competitive companies when it comes to employee retention. Additionally, be certain to train employees on all company safety protocols and welding equipment manufacturer’s safety precautions. Doing so can help create a culture of safety in which everyone is contributing. [5]

Offer easy-to-use welding equipment

Complicated equipment can be difficult to use, especially for inexperienced welders, leading to frustration about errors and downtime. This holds true not only for power sources, but also MIG guns and consumables: contact tips, nozzles, gas diffusers and liners. Liners, in particular, can be troublesome to install since it’s easy to trim them too long or too short, the latter of which happens more often. When the liner is too short, it can cause burnbacks, an erratic arc and poor wire feeding. Look for a consumable system that offers error-proof liner replacement for easier installation. This leaves welders more time to hone their welding skills while spending less time on troubleshooting. In automated welding operations, it is important to have equipment that is easy and intuitive to maintain and program after the proper training. This includes teach pendants with easy-to-use controls for inputting new parameters and requirements for the application. 

Provide growth and advancement opportunities

Offering welders a chance to advance and learn new skills can be a good way to retain those who are interested in those opportunities. Growth can take many forms, whether it’s stepping into a new role or shouldering additional responsibilities within a current position. Certifications are another avenue for growth. The American Welding Society (AWS) offers its AWS Certified Welder performance-based program so welders can expand their knowledge and technique — from plate to pipe welding with a variety of processes. There are additional programs that support advancement, including one for a certified welding supervisor. [6] 

Along with these best practices, keeping open lines of communication with welders is key — as it is in any work environment. Staying involved and creating a sense of community in which everyone is contributing to the well-being of the company can go a long way in keeping welders interested and engaged. 


8 Manufacturing Cost-Reduction Strategies for Welding Operations

8 Manufacturing Cost Reduction Strategies for Welding Operations

Cost overruns in a manufacturing welding operation can come from many places. Whether it’s a semi-automatic or robotic weld cell, some common culprits of unnecessary costs are unplanned downtime and lost labor, consumable waste, repairs and rework, and lack of operator training. 

Image of welder from behind adjusting settings on a Miller power source

Many of these factors are tied together and influence each other. A lack of operator training, for example, can result in more weld defects that require rework and repair. Not only do repairs cost money in additional materials and consumables used, but they also require more labor to do the work and any additional weld testing.  

Repairs can be especially costly in an automated welding environment, where constant progression of the part is crucial to overall throughput. If a part isn’t welded correctly, it may still continue through all steps of the process. If the defect isn’t caught until the end of the process, all the work must be redone. 

Companies can use these eight tips to help optimize consumable, gun and equipment performance — and reduce costs in both semi-automatic and robotic welding operations. 

This article was published as an exclusive on thefabricator.com. Read the full article here.


Creating a Smooth Wire Feeding Path for MIG Welding

Creating a Smooth Wire Feeding Path for MIG Welding

In MIG welding applications, having a smooth wire feeding path is critical. The welding wire must be able to feed easily from the spool on the feeder through the power pin, liner and gun and up to the contact tip to establish the arc. This allows the welding operator to maintain consistent levels of productivity and achieve good weld quality, while also minimizing costly downtime for troubleshooting and potential rework. 

Side view of a welding operator MIG welding with Miller machines in the background
In MIG welding applications, having a smooth wire feeding path is critical. The welding wire must be able to feed easily from the spool on the feeder through the power pin, liner and gun, and up to the contact tip to establish the arc.

However, there are several issues that can disrupt wire feeding. These can cause a host of problems, including an erratic arc, burnbacks (the formation of a weld in or on the contact tip) and birdnesting (a tangle of wire in the drive rolls). For new welding operators who may not be as familiar with the MIG welding process, these problems can be especially frustrating. Fortunately, there are steps to easily prevent problems and create a reliable wire feeding path. 

Welding liner length has a big impact on how well the wire will feed through the entire path. Too long of a liner can result in kinking and poor wire feeding, whereas a liner that is too short won’t provide enough support to the wire as it passes through. This can ultimately lead to micro-arcing within the contact tip that causes burnbacks or premature consumable failure. It can also be the cause of an erratic arc and birdnesting.

Trim the liner correctly and use the right system

Unfortunately, welding liner trimming issues are common, particularly among less experienced welding operators. To take the guesswork out of trimming a welding gun liner correctly — and achieve a flawless wire-feeding path — consider a system that eliminates the need for measuring the liner for replacement. This system locks the liner in place at the back of the gun, allowing the welding operator to trim it flush with the power pin. The other end of the liner locks at the front of the gun at the contact tip; it is concentrically aligned between the two points, so the liner won’t extend or contract during routine movements. 

Illustration of nozzle cutaway showing an AccuLock S contact tip
A system that locks the liner in place at the back of the gun and at the front provides a smooth wire feeding path — all the way through the neck to the consumables and the weld — as illustrated here.

When using a conventional liner, avoid twisting the gun when trimming the liner and use a liner trim gauge when provided. Liners with an interior profile that imparts less friction on the welding wire as it goes through the liner are a good choice for achieving efficient wire feeding. These have a special coating on them and are coiled out of a larger profile material, which makes the liner stronger and offers smooth feeding. 

Use the right contact tip and install correctly

Matching the welding contact tip size to the diameter of wire is another way to maintain a clear wire feeding path. For example, an 0.035-inch wire should be matched to the same diameter contact tip. In some cases, it may be desirable to decrease the contact tip by one size to gain better wire feeding and arc control. Ask a trusted welding consumables manufacturer or welding distributor for recommendations.

Look for wear in the form of keyholing (when the contact tip bore becomes worn and oblong) since this can cause a burnback that prevents the wire from feeding. 

Be sure to install the contact tip correctly, tightening it past finger tight to avoid tip overheating, which can hinder wire feeding. Consult the operations manual from the welding contact tip manufacturer for the recommended torque specification. 

Illustration of wire feeder drive wheels with a birdnest of wire
An improperly trimmed liner can lead to birdnesting or a tangle of wire in the drive rolls, as illustrated here. 

Choose the right drive rolls and set tension properly

Drive rolls play a significant role in ensuring a MIG welding gun has a smooth wire feeding path. 

The size of the drive roll should match the size of the wire being used and the style depends on the wire type. When welding with solid wire, a V-groove drive roll supports good feeding. Flux-cored wires — both gas- and self-shielded — and metal-cored wires work well with V-knurled drive rolls. For aluminum welding, use U-groove drive rolls; aluminum wires are very soft, so this style won’t crush or mar them. 

To set the drive roll tension, turn the wire feeder knob to one half turn past slippage. Pull the trigger on the MIG gun, feeding the wire into a gloved hand and slowly curling it. The wire should be able to feed without slipping. 

Understand the impact of welding wire on feedability

The quality of welding wire and the type of packaging it is in both affect wire feeding. High-quality wire tends to have a more consistent diameter than low-quality ones, making it easier to feed through the entire system. It also has a consistent cast (the diameter when a length of wire is cut off the spool and placed on a flat surface) and helix (the distance the wire rises from the flat surface), which add to the wire’s feedability. While higher-quality wire may cost more upfront, it can help reduce long-term costs by minimizing the risk of feeding issues. 

Illustration of a nozzle cutaway showing a contact tip burnback
Inspect the contact tip for keyholing, as it can lead to burnbacks (the formation of a weld in or on the contact tip) as shown in this illustration. 

Wire from large drums typically have a large cast when dispensed from the packaging, so they tend to feed straighter than wires from a spool. If the welding operation’s volume can support a larger drum, this may be a consideration for both wire feeding purposes and for reducing downtime for changeover. 

Making the investment

In addition to following best practices to establish a clear wire feeding path — and knowing how to quickly troubleshoot problems — having reliable equipment is important. The upfront investment for a high-quality wire feeder and durable welding consumables can pay off in the long term by reducing issues and the costs associated with wire feeding problems. Less downtime means more focus on producing parts and getting them out to customers. 


Improve Productivity by Preventing 5 Common MIG Welding Problems

Improve Productivity by Preventing 5 Common MIG Welding Problems

Downtime and rework can be costly for manufacturing operations. The last thing any production team wants to do is the same work twice. If you add to that any time spent troubleshooting issues in the weld cell — the lost production time can start to accumulate quickly. 

There are several steps operations can take to reduce the time lost to these common issues in MIG welding — and many of them start during weld setup and selection of consumables. Read on to learn more about five common causes of lost productivity in the weld cell and how to prevent them. 

Cause 1: Poor fit-up or weld prep

Before welding even starts, pay attention to proper fit-up and joint design, as well as base material preparation and cleaning. Good fit-up means avoiding large or inconsistent gaps between the parts. Choosing the right wire size and gas mixture and matching those in advance can help optimize performance and provide proper gap filling capabilities. 

Closeup of welding operator welding on a square part on a table
There are several steps operations can take to reduce lost productivity in MIG welding — and many of them start during weld setup and selection of consumables

Certain welding wires, such as metal-cored wires, are usable on less-prepped base material by offering the ability to weld through mill scale or other surface impurities. They also offer good gap bridging. If operations are often getting parts that aren’t thoroughly cleaned, it may be worth testing a metal-cored wire. Otherwise, changes to the weld prep stage of the operation may be necessary to achieve better material condition prior to welding.   

Cause 2: Incorrect parameters or system setup

Using the wrong parameters or setting the wire feeder up incorrectly are common causes of lost productivity. Having the wrong settings can greatly affect the weld, sometimes without the operator even realizing the impact that a setting change can make. It’s important to have a thorough understanding of the wire feeder and all of its functions to set it up for optimal performance. 

When properly set up, there should be very few issues with the performance of the MIG welding gun. However, if the system is set up incorrectly or there is a poor weld circuit, it can lead to contact tip failure, since the contact tip is the smallest fuse in the weld circuit. This can result in money wasted on frequent contact tip changeover. 

Cause 3: Improper liner installation

Product shot of AccuLock S nozzle, contact tip, gas diffuser, power pin, liner
With Bernard® AccuLock™ S consumables, 60% of the contact tip is buried in the gas diffuser to protect it from heat damage.

MIG gun liners can wear out over time and must be changed periodically, like other consumables. However, replacement liners are often longer than necessary and must be precisely trimmed according to the style and length of the gun. If a liner is cut too short, it can result in issues like burnback, an erratic arc and wire chatter. When liners are cut too long, it can cause the wire to weave and curve as it feeds through the gun. 

With either too-long or too-short liners, the result is often poor wire feeding and downtime spent troubleshooting these problems. Maintenance and troubleshooting for liner issues can be costly, resulting in multiple hours per week lost for an operation. 

The more that liner movement within the gun can be minimized, the better your wire feedability will be. To avoid the guesswork and hassle, look for a solution that makes liner installation and trimming easier. The Bernard® AccuLock™ S consumable system affixes the liner at both ends of the gun, so welders are assured the liner won’t pull back or push into the contact tip, allowing for smooth, uninterrupted delivery of the wire to the weld pool.

It’s also important to occasionally check to make sure the liner is clear and not blocked by debris or buildup. 

Cause 4: Loose connections or neglected maintenance  

When MIG welding consumables aren’t properly installed and maintained, it can result in wire feeding issues and weld quality problems that lead to lost time for troubleshooting.  

For example, a loose connection in the weld circuit means you’re not getting the power you expect from the power source. In that case, the operator may keep adjusting the parameters, causing an increase in resistance that leads to shortened consumable life. These issues tend to show up first in the contact tip. This is often the first thing the operator changes if they think they have a problem with their MIG gun. Changing the contact tip — even when the real source of the problem is a loose connection or improper setup in the circuit — drives up consumable costs and wastes time. 

Be sure to periodically check and tighten all connections and cables. Tight connections help optimize performance and reduce the chance of issues occurring in the system. 

Cause 5: Cutting corners with contact tips 

Another cause of lost productivity is using low-quality contact tips. Some contact tips are designed for ease of use and high performance. They provide better arc starts, less spatter, more consistent welds and longer life.  

With Bernard AccuLock S consumables, 60% of the contact tip is buried in the gas diffuser to protect it from heat damage. As the shielding gas flows through the gun, it cools the contact tip tail inside the gas diffuser. This helps reduce heat and wear. This also differs from traditional tips that screw onto the gas diffuser with little to no portion of the tip exposed directly to the shielding gas as it exits the diffuser to the arc. The tapered design of the consumables tightly locks the conductive parts together to minimize electrical resistance and further reduce heat buildup. The contact tips also feature coarse threads, making them less likely to become cross-threaded. 

Troubleshooting common welding problems 

Common problems in the weld cell — from poor fit-up or wire feeding issues to using the wrong consumables for the job — can cost the operation significant time and money. Addressing the causes of lost productivity often starts with proper weld prep and setup, as well as making sure the chosen consumables are right for the application. Optimizing setup and efficiency in the weld circuit makes troubleshooting that much faster when issues do arise. 

Manufacturer Cuts $45,000 of Costs With New MIG Welding Guns and Consumables

Manufacturer Cuts $45,000 of Costs With New MIG Welding Guns and Consumables

General Kinematics — a premier manufacturer of vibrating equipment for processing bulk materials — has been providing consistent, on-time and innovative solutions to its customers for more than 60 years. The company prides itself on offering rugged, cutting-edge equipment to manage difficult-to-process materials across the mining, resource recovery, bulk processing and foundry industries. 

Welding operator welding on large piece of vibrating equipment with another person grinding
Ensuring that the welding operators liked the Bernard guns and AccuLock S consumables was a critical part of the testing General Kinematics conducted.

A reputation for design leadership and creating tailored technical advancements sets the company apart from the competition, as does its commitment to providing excellent service. 

This 200-person, Crystal Lake, Ilinois-based company doesn’t have time for slowdowns, especially in the welding operation. In recent years though, General Kinematics noticed exactly that. It was experiencing repeated MIG gun breakdowns and excessive contact tip consumption that slowed production. 

“Between costs and repairs and lost labor from the welders having issues that stopped their progress, we estimated around $45,000 a year in costs from these issues,” said Jason Jerik, plant manager at General Kinematics.

That’s when Jon Strug, the company’s maintenance tech, approached their welding distributor, Steve Schuette of Weldstar in Aurora, Illinois, for a solution. Schuette recommended a trial of Bernard BTB air-cooled MIG guns with AccuLock™ S consumables. 

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Considering the change

Problems with the water-cooled MIG welding guns at General Kinematics were at the heart of its need for a new solution. 

“The guns were definitely our main issue with maintenance for Jon,” said Joel Jacobson, director of manufacturing. “It was tough to keep up to the demands of the hoses breaking, the wires breaking internally in the guns, tips burning out, liners and such.” 

Jerik added, “The last time we calculated from a dollar standpoint it translated to about five to seven hours a week in lost time just with liner issues. It was that frequent.”

The team, along with Schuette, took a slow and thorough approach to testing the Bernard air-cooled BTB MIG welding guns and consumables, making sure that the products performed as expected. They worked first with some sample guns in standard sizes and leads and had different welders try them for a week each. 

“We would test a week with one fitter, a week with one welder, and then we’d move them around to see what kind of acceptance we would get with them,” said Jacobson. 

Welding operator welding the underside of a flat piece of metal
General Kinematics welds a variety of materials — from A-36 steel to AR-500 plate — in thickness up to eight inches and on a variety of joints.

General Kinematics welds a variety of materials — from A-36 steel to AR-500 plate — in thickness up to eight inches and on a variety of joints. Welding operators also weld both large and small weldments and use different welding wire diameters. The guns and consumables needed to be versatile enough to manage these jobs and produce the quality needed to adhere to the American Welding Society (AWS) D.1.1 Structural Welding – Steel code. They also had to be the right equipment for the company’s welding operators. 

Jacobson and Jerik regularly met with the welding operators to request feedback during the trial. 

According to Jerik, welding operators saw noticeably less consumable consumption. However, they wanted to change the angle on the neck of guns to gain better access to some difficult joint configurations. They worked back and forth with Bernard to determine a different angle of the neck that suited their needs. 

“We wanted to do a thorough run of testing and vetting out to decide ‘Is this the right product for us? Are we going to get that buy-in from our welding operators?’” he said.  

Family product shot of AccuLock S liner, contact tip, nozzle, power pin, gas diffuser
The Bernard guns and AccuLock S consumables have helped welding operators at General Kinematics achieve approximately 10% more productivity by eliminating downtime.

Ensuring that welding operators liked the MIG welding guns and consumables was a critical part of the testing General Kinematics conducted. The company has a culture of empowerment and wanted its welding operators to be heard and to contribute their opinions. 

“We think it’s important to get our welders involved early in the process,” said Jacobson. “Not everyone likes change, but getting them involved in testing up front can help show the long-term benefits.”

“I’m huge on that,” Jerik added. “I’d rather not force and push a change onto a team. I’d
rather them accept it and make it their own.”

After eight months of testing, processing feedback and making adjustments, General Kinematics made the decision to convert to the Bernard BTB air-cooled MIG guns and AccuLock S consumables.

The benefit of the investment

General Kinematics invested in 400-amp BTB air-cooled MIG guns for its 40 welding operators, as well as several 450-amp Bernard water-cooled guns — all with the same AccuLock S consumables. Bernard built the company a special neck for its water-cooled guns to provide better ergonomic access to typical weld joints, and these guns are the first of their kind ever to be configured with the AccuLock S consumables.  

So, what finally sold General Kinematics on the Bernard products? In short, durability and performance.

Image of the General Kinematics building in Crystal Lake, Illinois
General Kinematics has been providing consistent, on-time and innovative solutions to its customers for more than 60 years.

The reduction in gun maintenance was key. Strug no longer has to contend with leaking water-cooled guns or liner issues that need fixing — and the new guns and consumables are less frustrating for the welding operators, who can now spend more time being productive. 

“We have a whole lot fewer repairs. Before it was constantly, every month, seven guns I had to send out to get repaired or I had to repair them myself,” said Strug. “It’s a huge difference in quality — night and day.”

This durability and performance result from a combination of the rugged construction of the BTB air-cooled MIG guns — which were configured according to the handle, neck, trigger and cables the company needed — and the liner that is part of the AccuLock S consumables system. 

Bernard designed the liner in the system for error-proof replacement by eliminating the need to measure it prior to installation. Instead of the liner loading from the back, like many competitive guns, the AccuLock S liner loads in the neck at the front of the gun and then locks in place so it can be trimmed flush with the power pin. This prevents the liner from being trimmed too short or too long.

“I like the liners,” said Strug. “They last a lot longer and I definitely like the quality of them.”

Over-the-shoulder view of welding operator welding on large piece of equipment
General Kinematics invested in 400-amp BTB air-cooled MIG guns for its 40 welding operators, as well as several 450-amp Bernard water-cooled guns — all with the same AccuLock S consumables.

According to Jacobson, another selling point was that AccuLock contact tips run significantly cooler than the company’s previous ones so there is less consumption and downtime for changeover. 

That’s due to the design of the tip and gas diffuser. Sixty percent of the welding contact tip is buried in the gas diffuser, which protects it from heat damage, and the shielding gas also cools the contact tip tail as it flows through the gun. AccuLock consumables have a tapered design that locks the tip, gas diffuser and nozzle tightly together to further reduce electrical resistance and lower heat buildup. 

Jacobson likes the ability to reduce costs by having equipment that lasts longer. And both the air- and water-cooled MIG welding guns use the same AccuLock S consumables, which helps reduce inventory management. 

The welding operators like that the guns and consumables run cooler and help reduce spatter, so there is less cleanup.  

The long-term benefits

For General Kinematics, making the change to the Bernard BTB guns and AccuLock S consumables is just another way the company commits itself to quality. But there has been more to the conversion than that. 

General Kinematics was able to gain a return on investment in approximately 12 to 14 months. And while there are still labor and equipment costs for gun and consumable maintenance, the conversion has eliminated the $45,000 in extra spending to address previous issues with the water-cooled guns. 

The products have also helped its welding operators achieve approximately 10% more productivity by eliminating downtime. That’s important to the welding operators and to Jerik. 

“When it comes down to it, do these products make their job easier? Do they make them more productive?” 

The answer to both is yes.  


How to Prevent 5 Common Welding Gun Failures

How to Prevent 5 Common Welding Gun Failures

Having the right equipment in the welding operation is important — and making sure it works when it’s needed is even more so.

Welding gun failures cause lost time and money, not to mention frustration. Like with many other aspects of the welding operation, the most important way to prevent this problem is education. Understanding how to properly choose, set up and use a MIG gun can help optimize results and eliminate many of the problems that lead to gun failure. 

Learn about five common reasons MIG guns fail and how to prevent them.

Welder welding with a Bernard GMAW gun as sparks fly
Understanding how to properly choose, set up and use a MIG gun can help optimize results and eliminate many of the problems that lead to gun failure.

Reason No. 1: Exceeding the gun rating

The rating on a MIG gun reflects the temperatures above which the handle or cable becomes uncomfortably warm. These ratings do not identify the point at which the welding gun risks damage or failure. 

Much of the difference lies in the duty cycle of the gun. Because manufacturers can rate their guns at 100%, 60% or 35% duty cycles, there can be significant variances when comparing manufacturer’s products.

Duty cycle is the amount of arc-on time within a 10-minute period. One manufacturer may produce a 400-amp GMAW gun that is capable of welding at 100% duty cycle, while another manufactures the same amperage gun that can weld at only 60% duty cycle. The first gun would be able to weld comfortably at full amperage for a 10-minute time frame, whereas the latter would only be able to weld comfortably for 6 minutes before experiencing higher handle temperatures.

Choose a gun with an amperage rating that matches the necessary duty cycle required and the length of time that the operator will be welding. It’s also important to consider the materials and filler metal wire that will be used. The gun should be able to carry enough power to melt the filler metal wire cleanly and consistently.

Reason No. 2: Improper setup and grounding

Improper system setup can increase the risk of welding gun failure. It’s important to pay attention to not only all consumable connections within the gun, but also all connections in the entire weld circuit to optimize performance.

Proper grounding helps ensure the operator isn’t sending too much power to a restricted window for the power to travel through. Loose or improper ground connections can increase resistance in the electrical circuit.

Be sure to put the ground as close to the workpiece as possible — ideally on the table that holds the workpiece. This helps provide the cleanest circuit structure for the power to travel where it needs to go.

Welder welding a rectangular frame with a MIG gun
Welding gun failures cause lost time and money, not to mention frustration. Like with many other aspects of the welding operation, the most important way to prevent this problem is education.

It’s also important to place the ground on clean surfaces so there is metal-to-metal contact; do not use a painted or dirty surface. A clean surface gives the power an easy path to travel rather than create obstructions that create resistance — which increases heat. 

Reason No. 3: Loose connections 

Consumable connections play an important role in gun performance. Consumables should be tightly secured to the gun, and all threaded connections should also be secure. It’s especially important to check and tighten all connections after a gun has been serviced or repaired.

A loose contact tip or gun neck is an invitation for gun failure at that spot. When connections aren’t tight, heat and resistance can build up. Also, be sure any trigger connect being used is working properly and provides constant power.

Reason No. 4: Damaged power cable

Cables can be easily damaged in the shop or manufacturing environment; for example, by heavy equipment or improper storage. Any damage to the power cable should be repaired as quickly as possible.

Inspect the cable for any cuts or damage; no copper should be exposed in any part of the cable. An exposed line of power in the weld system will try to jump the arc if it touches anything metallic outside of the system. This can result in a wider system failure and a possible safety concern.

Re-terminate the gun and make the cable shorter if necessary, removing any cable sections that have nicks or cuts. 

Also be sure the power cable is the proper size for the power that the feeder is supplying to the weld gun. An oversized power cable adds unnecessary weight, while an undersized cable causes heat buildup.

Welder welding with a stars and stripes helmet, Miller welding jacket
Choose a gun with an amperage rating that matches the necessary duty cycle required and the length of time that the operator will be welding.

Reason No. 5: Environmental hazards

The manufacturing environment can be harsh for tools and equipment. Take care of tools and equipment to help extend their useful life. Skipping maintenance or treating tools poorly can result in failure and reduced life.

If the welding gun is connected to a boom arm above the weld cell, make sure there are no areas where the gun or cable can be pinched or damaged. Set up the cell so there is a clear path for the cable, to avoid crushing the cable or disrupting shielding gas flow.

Using gun anchors helps keep the gun in a good position and the cable straight — to avoid excessive strain on the cable — when the gun isn’t being used.

Additional thoughts on MIG gun failures

Gun failures in water-cooled welding guns typically happen more frequently than failures in air-cooled gun models. This is primarily due to improper setup.

A water-cooled welding gun requires coolant to chill the system. The coolant must be running before the gun is started because the heat builds quickly. Failure to have the chiller running when welding starts will burn up the gun — requiring replacement of the entire gun.

Welder knowledge and experience regarding how to choose between these guns and maintain them can help prevent many of the issues that result in failures. Small issues can snowball into larger issues within the system, so it’s important to find and address problems with the welding gun when they start to avoid bigger troubles later.

Maintenance Tips

Following some basics tips for preventive maintenance can help extend the life of the welding gun and keep it operating smoothly. It also helps reduce the chances of reactive emergency maintenance that can take the weld cell out of commission.

Regularly inspecting the MIG gun can be an important part of reducing costs and gaining good welding performance. Preventive maintenance doesn’t have to be time-consuming or difficult.

Check the feeder connection regularly. Loose or dirty wire feeder connections cause heat to build up and result in voltage drops. Tighten connections as needed and replace damaged O-rings as necessary.

Properly care for the gun liner. Gun liners can often become clogged with debris during welding. Use compressed air to clear any blockages when wire is changed. Follow manufacturer’s recommendations for trimming and installing the liner.

Inspect the handle and trigger. These components typically require little maintenance beyond visual inspection. Look for cracks in the handle or missing screws, and be sure the gun trigger isn’t sticking or malfunctioning.

Check the gun neck. Loose connections at either end of the neck can cause electrical resistance that results in poor weld quality or consumable failures. Ensure all connections are tight; visually inspect the insulators on the neck and replace if damaged.

Inspect the power cable. Regularly checking the power cable is important to reduce unnecessary equipment costs. Look for any cuts or kinks in the cable and replace as necessary.

Republished from Welding Journal (August 2020) with permission from the American Welding Society (AWS). Click here to view the original article.


From Semi-Automatic to Automatic: Tips for Selecting a Welding Gun

Image of welder with Bernard MIG gun

From Semi-Automatic to Automatic: Tips for Selecting a Welding Gun

Choosing the right equipment for a welding operation is critical to achieving high weld quality and productivity while also eliminating costly downtime. And that includes welding guns.

In many cases, companies may have a mix of welding processes and guns. For example, in heavy equipment and general manufacturing, it’s common to have semi-automatic welding along with robotic welding. In oil and gas and shipbuilding applications, semi-automatic welding and fixed automation are prevalent. The combination of welding processes and equipment allows companies serving these industries to weld a variety of part volumes and sizes.

These process mixes, however, can pose challenges in terms of gun selection. That’s why it’s important to know the best welding gun features to look for to achieve the desired weld results — and the best efficiencies.

This article has been published as a web-exclusive on thefabricator.com. To read the entire story, please click here.


The Importance of Cutting a Welding Liner Properly

The Importance of Cutting a Welding Gun Liner Properly

Cutting a welding gun liner correctly is, first and foremost, a matter of proper training. For traditional systems, it’s critical that welding operators understand how to measure and cut the liner to the required length for the gun. 

A MIG gun liner that has been cut either too short or too long can lead to a host of issues, most often poor wire feeding. That, in turn, can lead to weld quality issues and rework — both factors that contribute to unnecessary and costly downtime. 

The Bernard® AccuLock™ S Consumable System can help eliminate installation issues. First, however, it’s important to understand the pitfalls of standard liner installation to understand the value of this solution. 

The problem with welding gun liners

The position of the gun and power cable factors significantly into whether liner installation is successful. If the gun and power cable are twisted or coiled before the welding operator trims the liner, the liner can end up either too long or too short, due to how the cable is constructed. 

The copper inside the power cable is wound around a central conduit in a helix or spiral. If the cable is twisted or coiled, it will grow or shrink based on how the copper helix is also twisted. Think of a spring — if it is twisted one way, it grows; if twisted the other way, it shrinks.  

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For this reason, it’s important to lay the MIG gun and cable straight to avoid any kinks that would lead to an incorrect reading when trimming the liner. Generally, longer power cables are more prone to twisting, so welding operators must take even more care when installing liners in them. 

Welding operators may experience the following due to an improperly trimmed liner:

  • Poor wire feeding
  • Erratic arc
  • Birdnesting
  • Burnbacks
  • Wire chatter
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A new solution for welding gun liners

The Bernard® AccuLock™ System eliminates the need to measure when cutting the welding gun liner for replacement. The liner is locked into place by the power pin cap. It is then trimmed flush with the power pin at the back of the gun and power cable. It is still important to lay the gun and cable flat, avoiding twists. 

Trim AccuLock S Liner flush with back of power pin. How To Install AccuLock™ S Liners, step 4a
No measuring required – simply trim AccuLock S liners flush with the power pin.
How to install AccuLock S Liner, STEP 4B
AccuLock S power pin with liner installed.

The welding operator can conduct a visual check to determine the liner is in the proper place. This check isn’t possible with a traditional liner if it has been cut too short; the welding operator simply can’t see it under the nozzle and gas diffuser. 

The AccuLock System reduces wire feeding issues through the gun, as well, since the liner is locked and concentrically aligned at both the power pin cap and contact tip. This dual lock helps ensure the liner won’t extend or contract as the welding operator changes positions and the power cable naturally bends. The result is the elimination of gaps or misalignments at the front and back of the gun for a flawless wire-feeding path. 

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As an added benefit, the concentric alignment of the liner reduces mechanical wear on the contact tip that could lead to burnbacks or keyholing, both of which shorten the contact tip life. 

For more information please visit the AccuLock S consumables product page

Tips for Improving MIG Welding

Tips for Improving MIG Welding

Maintaining quality, productivity and cost savings is important in any semi-automatic MIG welding operation, but the steps companies take to achieve those goals vary. Still, there is one constant: the value of skilled welders. They are at the heart of the operation and help ensure its success.

Having the right equipment and understanding how to care for it are also important, as is
revisiting the welding process regularly to ensure its efficiency. Companies should take care to watch for common pitfalls that could negatively affect their progress toward streamlining and improving their operation.

Consider these tips to help along the way:

Welder training

With the industry facing an anticipated welder shortage of 400,000 by 2024, providing training to new welders is critical to supporting a productive and profitable MIG welding operation. In many cases, employees being hired are entirely new to welding or only have limited experience. Learning best practices early on is necessary to achieve the best performance and avoid excessive downtime for troubleshooting.

Welder welding with a semi-automatic MIG gun
Maintaining quality, productivity and cost savings is important in any semi-automatic MIG welding operation.

Gaining good weld quality depends on welders knowing proper techniques like gun angle and gun travel speeds and the impact of welding parameters on the process. Even if a company sets lockouts that keep welding parameters within a specific range, it’s valuable for welders to understand the impact voltage, amperage, wire feed speed and shielding gas have on the application.

It’s also important to provide training on other best practices in the MIG welding operation, such as:

  • Consulting a checklist for maintenance or equipment checks at the beginning and end of each shift. This can include items like securing weld grounding and checking for gun or cable damage.
     
  • Understanding proper ergonomics to prevent repetitive stress injuries. Having welder input on gun handle types can help with this, too.
     
  • How to correctly install consumables and at what frequency, along with how to identify the signs of contact tip wear.
     
  • Keeping the gun uncoiled and untwisted while using it to help avoid liner movement, which typically leads to wire feeding problems.
     
  • As part of training, encourage welders to be open to asking questions and offer refresher courses to keep skills in top shape.

Assessing the process

To support the long-term efficiency of a MIG welding operation, it’s a good idea to regularly assess each aspect of it.

Semi-automatic MIG welding in action
To support the long-term efficiency of a MIG welding operation, it’s good to regularly assess each aspect of it.

Time studies, for example, offer excellent insight into the entire workflow and allow companies to record the amount of time each task takes to complete. These studies include a breakdown and analysis of parts handling, welding and more. By recording every activity in the operation, it is possible to see whether each one is adding value. If not, adjustments and re-sequencing can be made.

Analyzing the operation can also help identify the need for more welder training. For instance, if a significant amount of time is spent grinding after welding, it can indicate that there are issues contributing to overwelding or poor weld quality. The company can then take proactive steps for additional welder training to improve quality and reduce or eliminate the need for grinding and rework.

Similarly, if welders are spending more time transferring parts than they are welding or there are bottlenecks of parts entering the welding cell, that indicates the workflow needs to be adjusted. The goal is to minimize the amount of time welders spend handling or double handling parts and helps avoid parts from backing up or having welders sit idle waiting for them.

Improving the organization of the workstation as part of a general assessment can also help improve welding productivity. This could include adjusting welding tables and part racks to be more ergonomic so welders are more comfortable and can weld longer.

Welding gun selection and use

Having the correct MIG welding gun for the application can help enhance performance in a MIG welding operation.

One of the first things to consider is cost. Quality MIG welding guns carry a higher price, but they are worth it in the long term. A better gun (when used properly) lasts longer and can help improve weld quality and efficiency over time. Guns that feature mechanical compression fittings, as opposed to crimped fittings, are a good choice. They typically last longer from wear and tear and can also be repaired if damaged, which saves money on replacement guns.

Group of three different BTB semi-automatic air-cooled MIG guns being held with gloved hands
Quality MIG welding guns carry a higher price, but they are worth it in the long term. A better gun (when used properly) lasts longer and can help improve weld quality and efficiency over time.

Be certain to choose a gun with the appropriate amperage rating and duty cycle for the application to prevent overheating. A lower amperage MIG welding gun may be appealing to a welder due to its lighter weight and flexibility; however, it will not be able to withstand an application requiring higher amperages and long arc-on times.

Effectively grounding the weld circuit is another way to gain weld quality and productivity in a semi-automatic welding operation. It can also protect the welding gun from overheating and from wearing out consumables too quickly. Installing the ground clamp as close to the weld as possible and limiting the amount of connections can help to prevent one or more from coming loose over time or creating electrical resistance.

Always choose correctly sized ground cables for the weld circuit and the right type of ground clamp. A C-clamp is a good option as it is a tighter connection versus a spring clamp, which helps prevent arcing at the ground that could lead to an erratic arc. As with other quality components in a MIG welding operation, C-clamps can be more expensive, but they offer a connection that can better protect the gun and save on replacement or repair costs.

Lastly, take care to inspect the welding gun cable regularly for damage and replace as necessary. Nicks or cuts in the cable can expose bare copper, causing a safety hazard of electrical shock, as well as erratic welding issues. Adding a cable jacket cover is a proactive step in avoiding these problems.

The role of consumables and wire

Contact tips, nozzles, gas diffusers and liners all affect MIG welding performance. Ideally, select consumables and wire designed to complement one another as a system. These can help maintain solid connections that provide the best electrical conductivity and arc stability.

Always trim the liner properly — per the guns owner’s manual — to avoid erratic arcs and burn backs or look for liners that lock into place and require no measurement to avoid trimming them too long or too short.

For semi-automatic MIG welding, copper contact tips work well; however, if more tip life is desired or needed, chrome zirconium tips are an alternative to better resist physical tip wear (also known as keyholing). It helps to monitor how often contact tips are being changed to avoid straying too far from the originally planned frequency of tip changeover. If tip changes begin to increase drastically, then this points to incorrect installation of consumables, a liner being cut too short or other damage in the system. Monitoring consumables usage can also help identify when contact tips could still have life left in them. If contact tips are changed too early, this results in unnecessary downtime.

Also consider the wire being used. Quality is key here, too. Less expensive wires often have an irregular cast or helix or an inconsistent layer of lubricant. All of these factors can lead to weld quality issues and additional wear on the contact tips.

Keeping on track

Maintaining an efficient MIG welding operation takes time and resources, but it’s worthwhile to make an investment in welders and equipment to achieve the best results. Continue to monitor the process for improvement opportunities and engage welders whenever possible. Since welders are responsible for moving quality and productivity forward, their ideas can be a valuable asset.

How to Prevent Common Causes of Poor Welding Wire Feeding

How to Prevent Common Causes of Poor Welding Wire Feeding

Poor wire feeding is a common problem encountered in many welding operations. Unfortunately, it can be a significant source of downtime and lost productivity — not to mention cost.

Poor or erratic wire feeding can lead to premature failure of consumables, burnbacks, bird-nesting and more. To simplify troubleshooting, it’s best to look for issues in the wire feeder first and move toward the front of the gun to the consumables.

Finding the cause of the problem can sometimes be complicated, however, wire feeding issues often have simple solutions.

What’s happening with the feeder?

Image of welder with semi-automatic MIG gun welding
Finding the cause of poor wire feeding can sometimes be complicated, however, the issue often has simple solutions.

When poor wire feeding occurs, it can be related to several components in the wire feeder.

1. If the drive rolls don’t move when you pull the trigger, check to see if the relay is broken. Contact your feeder manufacturer for assistance if you suspect this is the issue. A faulty control lead is another possible cause. You can test the control lead with a multimeter to determine if a new cable is needed.

2. An incorrectly installed guide tube and/or the wrong wire guide diameter may be the culprit. The guide tube sits between the power pin and the drive rolls to keep the wire feeding smoothly from the drive rolls into the gun. Always use the proper size guide tube, adjust the guides as close to the drive rolls as possible and eliminate any gaps in the wire path.

3. Look for poor connections if your MIG gun has an adapter that connects the gun to the feeder. Check the adapter with a multimeter and replace it if it’s malfunctioning.

Take a look at the drive rolls

Image of welding wire bird-nesting in drive rolls
Bird-nesting, shown here, can result when the liner is cut too short or the liner
is the wrong size for the wire being used.

Using the wrong size or style of welding drive rolls can cause poor wire feeding. Here are some tips to avoid problems.

1. Always match the drive roll size to the wire diameter.

2. Inspect drive rolls every time you put a new spool of wire on the wire feeder. Replace as necessary.

3. Choose the style of drive roll based on the wire you are using. For example, smooth welding drive rolls are good for welding with solid wire, whereas U-shaped ones are better for tubular wires — flux-cored or metal-cored.

4. Set the proper drive roll tension so there is sufficient pressure on the welding wire to feed it through smoothly.

Check the liner

Several issues with the welding liner can lead to erratic wire feeding, as well as burnbacks and bird-nesting.

1. Be sure the liner is trimmed to the correct length. When you install and trim the liner, lay the gun flat, making certain the cable is straight. Using a liner gauge is helpful. There are also consumable systems available with liners that don’t require measuring. They lock and concentrically align between the contact tip and power pin without fasteners. These systems provide error-proof liner replacement to eliminate wire feeding problems.

2. Using the wrong size welding liner for the welding wire often leads to wire feeding problems. Select a liner that is slightly larger than the diameter of the wire, as it allows the wire to feed smoothly. If the liner is too narrow, it will be difficult to feed, resulting in wire breakage or bird-nesting.

3. Debris buildup in the liner can impede wire feeding. It can result from using the wrong welding drive roll type, leading to wire shavings in the liner. Microarcing can also create small weld deposits inside the liner. Replace the welding liner when buildup results in erratic wire feeding. You can also blow compressed air through the cable to remove dirt and debris when you change over the liner.

Image of contact tip burnback
Close up of a wire burnback in a contact tip on a self-shielded FCAW gun. Inspect contact tips regularly for wear, dirt and debris to help prevent burnback (shown here) and replace contact tips as necessary.

Monitor for contact tip wear

Welding consumables are a small part of the MIG gun, but they can affect wire feeding — particularly the contact tip. To avoid problems:

1. Visually inspect the contact tip for wear on a regular basis and replace as necessary. Look for signs of keyholing, which occurs when the bore in the contact tip becomes oblong over time due to the wire feeding through it. Also look for spatter buildup, as this can cause burnbacks and poor wire feeding.

2. Consider increasing or decreasing the size of contact tip you are using. Try going down one size first, which can help promote better control of the arc and better feeding.

Additional thoughts

Poor wire feeding can be a frustrating occurrence in your welding operation — but it doesn’t have to slow you down for long. If you still experience problems after inspecting and making adjustments from the feeder forward, take a look at your MIG gun. It is best to use the shortest cable possible that can still get the job done. Shorter cables minimize coiling that could lead to wire feeding issues. Remember to keep the cable as straight as possible during welding, too. Combined with some solid troubleshooting skills, the right gun can keep you welding for longer.

    How to Successfully Implement a Robotic Welding System

    How to Successfully Implement a Robotic Welding System

    In today’s marketplace, companies continue to automate portions, if not all of their welding operation. The reasons are many: to address a shortage of skilled labour, to improve quality, to decrease waste and rework, and/or to increase productivity — in short, to seek benefits that provide a competitive edge.

    Not all companies, however, are successful in the process. Those beginning without a well-thought-out roadmap risk losing valuable time during implementation and operation and may miss the full benefits provided by a robotic welding system.

    Conversely, companies that begin with a careful examination of their welding needs and existing processes — and develop a detailed plan with clearly established goals — are more likely to achieve success. Planning should include an accurate assessment of parts, work flow and the current facility, as well as an evaluation of the potential return on investment (ROI).

    Companies should not only look at current needs, but also consider future opportunities to determine the best robotic welding system to scale for potential growth or changes to products they may produce later.

    Image of a robotic operator with a teach pendant by a robotic MIG welding cell
    Companies need a welding operator or other employee skilled in robotic welding programming. This will likely involve additional training to upgrade his or her skill sets.

    Why robotic welding?

    In an economy where orders are increasing and welding positions are hard to fill, robotic welding can help maintain or increase productivity. In a semi-automatic welding operation, labour accounts for approximately 70 to 85% of the total cost of welding a part. A robotic welding system can reduce that cost and increase throughput by completing the work of two to four people in the same amount of time — however, companies still require skilled welding operators to oversee the robotic cell.
    In addition, the national and international marketplace has become increasingly competitive, with companies seeking contracts from any number and any size of business. Investing in welding automation can help set up a company on the path to compete at a global level.

    Here are additional benefits:

    1. With the right robotic welding system, companies can improve first-pass weld quality and reduce the amount of rework or scrap parts. Depending on the welding wire and mode used, the system may also minimize or eliminate spatter, which reduces the need to apply anti-spatter compound or perform post-weld clean up.

    2. A robotic welding system can reduce over-welding, a common and costly occurrence associated with the semi-automatic process. For example, if a company has welding operators who weld a bead that is 1/8-inch too large on every pass, it can potentially double the cost of welding (both for labour and for filler metals). Over-welding may also adversely affect the integrity of the part.

    3. Companies can reallocate skilled employees to other production areas to fill open positions and gain additional productivity and efficiencies.

    4. Welding automation can also provide a competitive advantage as it may be considered attractive to customers. The improvement in quality may prompt new customers to place orders or lead existing customers to increase their orders with the objective of growing their own businesses.

    5. Finally, robots are fast. They don’t have to weld all day to be profitable. That fact improves productivity and the bottom line by making the same number of parts as in a semi-automatic process in less time.

    Repeatability is key

    When considering an investment in a robotic welding cell, companies should have part blueprints, preferably in an electronic format. Without a blueprint, the part likely won’t meet the basic criterion necessary to ensure repeatability during the manufacturing process.

    A robotic welding system welds in the same place every time. When a part’s tolerances are unable to hold its position — if there are gap and/or fit-up issues — the company will simply be automating a broken process. This can increase rework or scrap.

    If a company currently relies on its welding operators to compensate for fit-up issues, it will need to look upstream in the manufacturing process to establish consistency. What processes need to change so these welding operators send uniform parts downstream? Or, if vendors supply the parts, can they guarantee consistency?

    Assess the workflow

    A streamlined workflow is one of robotic welding’s benefits. To achieve it, companies need to look beyond the weld cell, making certain the facility can accommodate a smooth flow of materials. It makes little sense, for example, to invest in a robotic welding system to increase productivity, but then place it in a corner where employees may have to handle each part multiple times.

    There should be a consistent supply of parts to avoid moving a bottleneck from one area to another. It is also important to look at the expected cycle time of the robot. Can personnel supply parts to keep up with the demand of the robot’s cycle time? If not, the supply of parts, including where the company stores them and how it moves them, will need to be adjusted. Otherwise, a robot will sit idle waiting for components to come down the line.

    Image of a robotic welding application with sparks
    A streamlined workflow is one of robotic welding’s benefits. To achieve it, companies need to look beyond the weld cell, making certain the facility can accommodate a smooth flow of materials.

    Robotics or fixed automation?

    There is no single welding automation solution that is best for every company. When a company is considering the investment, it should factor in the expected lifetime of the job, the cost of tooling and the flexibility the equipment offers.

    Fixed automation is the most efficient and cost-effective way to weld parts with simple, repetitive, straight welds or round welds, where the part is rotated with a positioner. If a company wants to reuse the equipment when the current job ends, however, a robotic welding system offers more flexibility. A single robot can store programs for multiple jobs, so it may be able to handle the tasks of several fixed-automation systems.

    There is a certain volume of parts that justify the investment of welding automation for each company. An accurate assessment of goals and workflow can help determine what that volume is. If a company makes only small runs of parts, robotic welding becomes more challenging. But, if a company can identify two or three components that can be automated, a robot can be programmed to manufacture those parts, offering greater versatility and boosting productivity. This may benefit even small companies that may not have significant volume of a single part.

    Although a robot is more expensive than a fixed-automation system, it is important to consider the cost of the tooling before deciding between the two. Fixed automation systems can become quite expensive if they require extensive changes to retool a new part so it can be welded consistently.

    Consider the available space

    The physical footprint for a robotic welding system and the area needed for parts to flow into the welding cell is typically greater than that of a semi-automatic welding operation. The available space needs to be adequate for the robot, welding power source and other equipment. This helps minimize the need to customize products, such as cables, nozzle cleaning stations (or reamers) or the robotic MIG gun to fit the work envelope.

    A company with less space can still make welding automation work. One option is to purchase fewer pieces of robotic welding equipment that are capable of performing multiple tasks, such as material handling or vision/scanning systems.

    A third-party integrator can help determine whether a facility suits the installation of a robotic welding system. System integrators are knowledgeable about facility modifications, including important safety regulations that apply in a company’s region, country or state — in addition to those specified by OSHA and RIA (Robotic Industries Association).

    Integrators and equipment selection

    In addition to offering advice on facility modifications and helping a company select the right robot, a robotic systems integrator or welding automation specialist can:

    1. Help determine if parts are suitable for automation, and, if not, what is required to make them suitable

    2. Analyze the workflow and facility to identify potential roadblocks

    3. Analyze the true costs involved with the investment, including facility updates and tooling

    4. Determine the potential payback of the investment

    5. Help identify goals and develop a precise plan and timetable to achieve those goals

    6. Explain automation options and help select those that best fit the company’s needs

    7. Help select a welding equipment that has the flexibility to maximize travel speed, minimize spatter, eliminate over-welding, provide great arc stability and increase first-pass weld quality

    Robotic application with canvas
    With the right robotic welding system, companies can improve first-pass weld quality and reduce the amount of rework or scrap parts.

    Integrators can also help select additional equipment for the robotic welding cell, including positioners, tooling, the robotic MIG gun, welding wire and peripherals. Each item serves a distinct function.

    The positioner turns, rotates or otherwise moves the part into an optimal position for welding. In many cases, this involves moving the part so that the system can weld in a flat position for optimal deposition efficiency. A positioner can also allow for coordinated motion between the robot and weldment.

    The tooling holds the part in place during welding and is a critical component of a robotic welding system. The robot arm and robotic MIG gun travel a programmed path each cycle. If the weld joint is out of place because the part is misaligned, it can result in inadequate fusion or penetration and rework or scrap. It is important to design the tooling correctly upfront when investing in a robotic welding cell and monitor it for mechanical wear or heat distortion once it has been put into operation. This helps ensure consistent part fit up so that weld quality doesn’t suffer.

    Tregasskiss Automatic application
    Most robot OEMs offer a weeklong training course explaining how to operate the equipment. This course, followed by a week of advanced programming, is recommended when implementing welding automation.

    The robotic MIG gun should never be an afterthought when considering an investment in welding automation, nor should the welding wire. Both can have a significant impact on productivity and profitability. An integrator can help with the selection based on how the gun and wire perform in conjunction with the rest of the system’s components. The gun will be subject to intense heat and spatter, so it must be durable. It also needs to be the appropriate size to maneuver around the tooling and gain proper joint access.

    Finally, peripherals, such as reamers, an anti-spatter sprayer and wire cutter are good options to discuss with an integrator prior to making the investment in welding automation. These devices can improve uptime and welding performance by keeping the welding gun consumables free of spatter, operators out of the weld cell and providing consistent wire stickout during welding.

    Employee training

    Companies cannot simply purchase a robotic welding system and let it go. They need a welding operator or other employee skilled in robotic welding programming. This will likely involve additional training to upgrade his or her skill sets. The good news is, programming a robot today is much quicker than in the past. Simplified teach pendants, along with the availability of desktop programming, help expedite the process and reduce downtime. Despite the ease of programming, however, companies may need to alleviate some existing tasks to allow time for the employee to oversee the robotic welding cell without becoming overloaded with too many responsibilities.

    Most robot OEMs offer a weeklong training course explaining how to operate the equipment. This course, followed by a week of advanced programming, is recommended when implementing welding automation.

    Justifying the expense and calculating payback

    If the personnel investigating the prospect of robotic welding determine it’s a good fit, they will likely need to justify the investment to upper management or an owner. Calculating the potential payback is essential. There are several steps to consider.

    First, determine whether the volume of parts the company needs to produce requires the speed of welding automation. Remember, the key benefit of a robotic welding system is the ability to produce high volumes of quality welds or in smaller facilities to offer the flexibility to weld smaller volumes of multiple parts.

    Calculate payback by assessing the current volume of semi-automatic parts and cycle times. Compare these to the potential cycle times of a robotic welding system. Again, an integrator or welding automation specialist can help. Establishing the comparison is critical to estimating the potential return on investment.

    That said, even if a company will produce the same number of parts with a robot, it could justify the investment by the amount of labour it can reallocate elsewhere in the operation for jobs that boost production, eliminate bottlenecks or increase quality. For example, a company could utilize the skills of semi-automatic welding operators to complete challenging welds that are too complicated for a robot to manage.

    It’s important to factor the bulk cost of shielding gas and welding wire when looking at the potential payback. While there is an initial cost for a shielding gas/manifold system, it can help optimize a company’s robotic welding capabilities in the long term by minimizing downtime for cylinder changeover. The same is true for welding wires. The larger drums — typically ranging from 500 to 1500 pounds — can further reduce costs in a robotic welding cell since they require fewer changeovers and often come with purchasing discounts.

    Companies need to keep in mind that the benefits of robotic welding can be significant. However, those benefits come at an upfront price. Many companies, especially smaller ones or those that frequently change production lines, need a faster payback — no more than 12 to 15 months is common to justify the investment. If a company will have the same production needs for many years, it can typically justify a longer payback period. Management and owners should discuss their payback goals with a trusted robotic welding integrator as part of the assessment process. 


      Improving Welding Automation Safety With Risk Assessment and Training

      Improving Welding Automation Safety With Risk Assessment and Training

      Robotic welding systems continue to gain in popularity due to their ability to increase productivity, improve quality and decrease costs in the right application. But they also offer a way to address a shortage of skilled labor for manual operations. Welding automation provide companies with a means of staying competitive in a demanding marketplace, while using their existing and potential workforce to oversee the weld cell.

      With more and more robotic welding systems being implemented — the Robotics Industries Association (RIA) cited that 20% of all industrial applications had robotic welding cells as of 2017 — comes the need for increased attention to safety. From the robotic welding gun and peripherals to the robot itself, following safety best practices is essential. 

      Robotic welding safety hazards and resources

      Image of robotic welding with sparks
      Welding automation offers companies a means of staying competitive in a demanding marketplace while using their existing and potential workforce to oversee the weld cell.

      Statistically, welding automation is safer than manual or semi-automatic welding. However, operators overseeing the robotic welding cell must still remain vigilant. This is particularly true when performing nonstandard operations; these include programming, maintenance and any other tasks that involve direct human interaction with the robot. 

      Conducting a thorough welding risk assessment helps identify potential safety hazards associated with a specific robotic welding system (whether it is a pre-engineered or custom cell) and is a critical first step in establishing a safer welding environment. This assessment provides a baseline for implementing solutions for identified risks and establishing appropriate welding safety training. In addition, it helps companies maintain compliance with safety standards, which most importantly protects employees but also protects the bottom line. Noncompliance and/or safety violations that can lead to injury become can be costly in terms of fines and workers’ compensation. 

      External Resources

      Companies can obtain welding safety resources through the American Welding Society (AWS), including Safety in Welding, Cutting, and Allied Processes, ANSI Standard Z49.1, a free download at aws.org. The National Fire and Protection Association (NFPA) also offers resources. RIA follows American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards and offers safety seminars and webinars. RIA also provides information on industrial machinery and guarding, as well as guidelines to help companies, including the American National Standard for Industrial Robots and Robot Systems – Safety Requirements, ANSI/RIA R15.06-2012. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is another valuable safety resource.

      Image of MIG gun in robotic welding cell
      A built-in awareness barrier in pre-engineered cells is another means of aiding operator safety. This hooped (yellow) barrier inside the weld cell covers the sweep area of the indexing table.

      Many robotic welding integrators or robotic welding system manufacturers offer training for the safe use of their equipment, including how to test safety functions and at what frequency. They also provide manuals and safety standards for their systems. It is critical to read and follow these thoroughly.

      Safe use of robotic welding guns, consumables and reamers

      Manufacturers of robotic MIG welding guns often integrate design elements into these products to aid in their safe use. These elements are intended to protect operators during routine maintenance and minimize or eliminate the need to enter the weld cell to complete tasks.

      For example, guns that are compatible with front-loading liners help improve safety in a robotic welding cell. These liners can be installed from outside the weld cell — there is no need to climb over tooling or maneuver around the robot to complete replacement. Operators or maintenance personnel also don’t need to remove electrical connections to replace components during the process.

      An insulating disc is another important safety feature in select guns. It helps protect operators from the welding current during maintenance and protects the robot from the current, limiting potential damage.

      In addition to integrated safety features, there are some key best practices for working with robotic welding guns, consumables and reamers (or nozzle cleaning stations). First and foremost, always de-energize the robotic welding system when installing a robotic MIG gun or consumables, and follow all lockout/tagout procedures.

      When possible, it’s ideal to have a window or opening that allows consumables to be changed or inspected from outside the weld cell.

      When possible, it’s ideal to have a window or opening that allows consumables to be changed or inspected from outside the weld cell. If this isn’t feasible, programming the robot to stop near the weld cell door simplifies consumable changeover and eliminates the need for the operator to enter the cell, maneuver around tooling or climb on anything to complete the job.

      Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

      The appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is also important when changing over consumables or the welding wire. The nozzle and contact tip may be hot, and there is the risk of the welding wire puncturing the operator. Leather or other thick work gloves are a must, and safety glasses should be worn at all times. Always use the proper tool to change over the nozzle and contact tip. We recommend a pair of welpers.

      When performing maintenance on a reamer, begin by resetting the equipment to a home state, de-energizing it and following lockout/tagout procedures. Be certain there is no supply of air or electricity to the reamer. When changing over cutter blades, always wear gloves and use two wrenches to remove and install them. Reset the reamer to a home state when finished. This is an important last step, as the reamer will automatically complete a cycle as soon as it receives a start signal and is reenergized.

      Image of a robotic operator with a teach pendant by a robotic MIG welding cell
      Some pre-engineered welding cells feature sliding programming access doors with magnetic keys that indicate that they are fully open and ready to be locked out prior to maintenance, helping to prevent pinch points or a trap hazard.

      Navigating the robotic welding cell safely

      Welding operators and maintenance personnel should familiarize themselves with the emergency stops on a robotic welding system as a first safety step. The number and location of these stops varies by system. For example, welding cells typically have an operator station emergency stop that ceases all robot functions and turns off the robot servo power, along with an emergency stop on the teach pendant. Operators should test these emergency stops periodically, although testing too frequently is stressful on the mechanics of the robotic welding system.

      Understanding brake release procedures is also critical. RIA sets standard requirements for these; however, every robotic welding system is different, and the location of the override buttons may vary.

      As when interacting with a robotic MIG welding gun, consumables or reamer, always follow proper lockout/tagout procedures before entering the robotic welding cell. Many systems have multiple lockout/tagout locations that are indicated by stickers. Some pre-engineered welding cells feature sliding programming access doors with magnetic keys that indicate that they are fully open and ready to be locked out prior to maintenance, helping to prevent pinch points or a trap hazard.

      Image of Tregaskiss TOUGH GUN CA3 robotic MIG gun with 45 degree neck
      Manufacturers of robotic MIG welding guns often integrate design elements into these products to aid in their safe use.

      A built-in awareness barrier in pre-engineered cells is another means of aiding operator safety. This hooped barrier inside the weld cell covers the sweep area of the indexing table. Its purpose is to protect the operator from pinch points during teaching operations by separating the him or her from the space between the robot and the wall of the weld cell.

      Unenclosed Robotic Systems

      For robotic systems that are not enclosed, guards around the cell are necessary. These can take the form of physical barriers, like perimeter fencing or light curtains and/or electronic guarding such as area scanners that stop the robot when an operator is present in a specific area of the system.

      Lastly, robotic integrators and robotic welding system manufacturers provide risk assessment documentation, typically in the operator’s manual. It is important to review this assessment thoroughly and train employees on the proper techniques to mitigate any identified risks. For example, programming the robot introduces mechanical hazards such as the potential for pinching or impact, which can be addressed by standing a safe distance outside of the weld cell or by using a slower teach speed if offered on the teach pendant.

      Other safety considerations

      In addition to the best practices outlined for robotic MIG welding guns, consumables and systems, there are steps to further protect employees.

      • Be certain the robotic welding cell is clean and clear of any debris, tools or other items that could create a hazard during welding.
      • Avoid wearing loose clothing or jewelry when interacting with the robot.
      • Operators should wear a bump cap as head protection when entering the weld cell for inspection or maintenance.
      • Anti-spatter liquid can settle on the floor, making it slick. Clean the floor as needed to help prevent slipping hazards. 

      Creating a culture of safety

      Safety in welding automation should be top of mind among operators, management and maintenance personnel. Ongoing training needs to be a priority, whether it is conducted through company programs or seminars offered by outside resources. The goal is to ensure that everyone involved with the robotic welding system is playing an active role in employing best practices. When following them properly, the result is a safer work environment and a stronger bottom line.

        Optimizing Shielding Gas Performance in MIG Welding

        Optimizing Shielding Gas Performance in MIG Welding

        Image of liver welding with a semi-automatic MIG gun

        Using the wrong shielding gas for MIG welding applications — or having improper gas flow — can significantly impact weld quality, costs and productivity. Shielding gas protects the molten weld pool from outside contamination, so it’s critical to choose the right gas for the job.

        Learn more about which gases and gas mixes are best suited for certain materials, along with some tips for optimizing gas performance — and saving money — in your welding operation.

        This article was published in The WELDER. To read the entire story, please click here

          MIG Welding Basics: Techniques and Tips for Success

          MIG Welding Basics: Techniques and Tips for Success

          It’s important for new welding operators to establish proper MIG techniques in order to achieve good weld quality and maximize productivity. Safety best practices are key, too. It’s just as important, however, for experienced welding operators to remember the fundamentals in order to avoid picking up habits that could negatively impact welding performance.

          From employing safe ergonomics to using the proper MIG gun angle and welding travel speeds and more, good MIG welding techniques provide good results. Here are some tips.

          Proper ergonomics

          Man welding showing proper ergonomics
          A comfortable welding operator is a safer one. Proper ergonomics should be among the first fundamentals to establish in the MIG process (along with proper personal protective equipment, of course).

          A comfortable welding operator is a safer one. Proper ergonomics should be among the first fundamentals to establish in the MIG welding process (along with proper personal protective equipment, of course). Ergonomics can be defined, simply, as the “study of how equipment can be arranged so that people can do work or other activities more efficiently and comfortably.”1 The importance of ergonomics for a welding operator can have far reaching effects. A workplace environment or task that causes a welding operator to repetitively reach, move, grip or twist in an unnatural way, and even staying in a static posture for an extended period of time without rest. All can lead to repetitive stress injuries with life-long impacts.

          Proper ergonomics can protect welding operators from injury while also improving productivity and profitability of a welding operation by reducing employee absences.

          Some ergonomic solutions that can improve safety and productivity include:

          1. Using a MIG welding gun with a locking trigger to prevent “trigger finger”. This is caused by applying pressure to a trigger for an extended period of time.

          2. Using a MIG gun with a rotatable neck to help the welding operator move more easily to reach a joint with less strain on the body.

          3. Keeping hands at elbow height or slightly below while welding.

          4. Positioning work between the welding operator’s waist and shoulders to ensure welding is being completed in as close of a neutral posture as possible.

          5. Reducing the stress of repetitive motions by using MIG guns with rear swivels on the power cable.

          6. Using different combinations of handle angles, neck angles and neck lengths to keep the welding operator’s wrist in a neutral position.

          Proper work angle, travel angle and movement

          The proper welding gun or work angle, travel angle and MIG welding technique depends on the thickness of the base metal and the welding position. Work angle is “the relationship between the axis of the electrode to the welders work piece”. Travel angle refers to employing either a push angle (pointing in the direction of travel) or a drag angle, when the electrode is pointed opposite of travel. (AWS Welding HandBook 9th Edition Vol 2 Page 184)2.

          Flat position

          When welding a butt joint (a 180-degree joint), the welding operator should hold the MIG welding gun at a 90-degree work angle (in relation to the work piece). Depending on the thickness of the base material, push the gun at a torch angle between 5 and 15 degrees. If the joint requires multiple passes, a slight side-to-side motion, holding at the toes of the weld, can help fill the joint and minimize the risk of undercutting.

          For T-joints, hold the gun at a work angle of 45 degrees and for lap joints a work angle around 60 degrees is appropriate (15 degrees up from 45 degrees).

          Horizontal position

          In the horizontal welding position, a work angle of 30 to 60 degrees works well, depending on the type and size of the joint. The goal is to prevent the filler metal from sagging or rolling over on the bottom side of the weld joint.

          Vertical position

          Image of live welding with a semi-automatic MIG gun
          From employing safe ergonomics to using the proper MIG gun angle and welding travel speeds and more, good MIG techniques provide good results.

          For a T-joint, the welding operator should use a work angle of slightly greater than 90 degrees to the joint. Note, when welding in the vertical position, there are two methods: weld in an uphill or a downhill direction.

          The uphill direction is used for thicker material when greater penetration is needed. A good technique for a T-Joint is call the upside-down V. This technique assures the welding operator maintains consistency and penetration in the root of the weld, which is where the two pieces meet. This area is the most important part of the weld.The other technique is downhill welding. This is popular in the pipe industry for open root welding and when welding thin gauge materials.

          Overhead position

          The goal when MIG welding overhead is to keep the molten weld metal in the joint. That requires faster travel speeds and work angles will be dictated by the location of the joint. Maintain a 5 to 15 degree travel angle. Any weaving technique should be kept to a minimum to keep the bead small. To gain the most success, the welding operator should be in comfortable position in relation to both the work angle and the direction of travel.

          Wire stickout and contact-tip-to-work distance

          Wire stickout will change depending on the welding process. For short-circuit welding, it is good to maintain a 1/4- to 3/8-inch wire stickout to reduce spatter. Any longer of a stickout will increase electrical resistance, lowering the current and leading to spatter. When using a spray arc transfer, the stickout should be around 3/4 inch.

          Proper contact-tip-to-work distance (CTWD) is also important to gaining good welding performance. The CTWD used depends on the welding process. For example, when using a spray transfer mode, if the CTWD is too short, it can cause burnbacks. If it’s too long, it could cause weld discontinuities due to lack of proper shielding gas coverage. For spray transfer welding, a 3/4-inch CTWD is appropriate, while 3/8 to 1/2 inch would work for short circuit welding.

          Welding travel speed

          The travel speed influences the shape and quality of a weld bead to a significant degree. Welding operators will need to determine the correct welding travel speed by judging the weld pool size in relation to the joint thickness.

          With a welding travel speed that’s too fast, welding operators will end up with a narrow, convex bead with inadequate tie-in at the toes of the weld. Insufficient penetration, distortion and an inconsistent weld bead are caused by traveling too fast. Traveling too slow can introduce too much heat into the weld, resulting in an excessively wide weld bead. On thinner material, it may also cause burn through.

          Final thoughts

          When it comes to improving safety and productivity, it’s up to the experienced veteran welding operator as much as the new welding to establish and follow proper MIG technique right. Doing so helps avoid potential injury and unnecessary downtime for reworking poor quality welds. Keep in mind that it never hurts for welding operators to refresh their knowledge about MIG welding and it’s in their and the company’s best interest to continue following best practices.

          1. Collins Dictionary, “ergonomics,” collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/ergonomics.
          2. Welding Handbook, 9th ed., Vol. 2, Welding Processes, Part 1. American Welding Society: Miami, Fla., p. 184. 

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            Implementing Robotic Welding: What to Know to Be Successful

            Implementing Robotic Welding: What to Know to Be Successful

            The potential advantages of robotic welding are well known — increased productivity, improved quality and greater cost savings compared to semi-automatic welding. But the question is: How do companies best implement this technology to gain these benefits? And how can they ensure a quick return on the investment (ROI)? Simply stated, planning.

            More preparation upfront helps minimize the cost and time for correcting errors in the robotic welding system once it has gone into production. From the welding power source to the robot or weld process to the gun and consumables, each component should be thoroughly researched to make sure it is feasible to operate in the weld cell — not just on paper, but in reality.

            Take advantage of turnkey integrators who run their own process and capability studies. They can provide useful double checks to a plan and often conduct reach studies that model the weld tooling and workpiece. These mock up how the robot would weld in the finished system to test the gun reach and the overall efficiency of the process.

            Robotic application with canvas
            When implementing a robotic welding system, every component should be thoroughly researched to make sure it is feasible to operate in the weld cell — not just on paper, but in reality.

            Also remember, success in robotic welding is as much a matter of doing the right thing as it is avoiding pitfalls that could hinder the efficiency of the operation.

            Budgeting and ROI

            With planning comes budgeting. A robotic welding cell may be installed on time, produce good weld quality and meet cycle time, but if the implementation and use of the system is over budget it will be an uphill battle to gain a good ROI.

            Consider the associated goals to help establish a feasible ROI. For example, a company with the goal of producing 1000 parts a day needs to determine how much it can make from those parts. From there, it would subtract the cost of utilities and labor, along with the cost to make the product and the cost of raw materials, to determine a budget on equipment costs that would make the company profitable. If this equipment will only be used for 5 years, the company may need a quicker ROI than if it’s planning to use the robotic welding system for 10 years or more.

            Companies can make the most of their budget by considering equipment that could be reused. This can cut down on the investment in the long run. Robots can have an extensive life if maintained well, allowing them to be re-purposed from project to project. The same holds true with welding power sources and nozzle cleaning stations.

            Ultimately, ROI depends on the company and what practices it follows for making profit. Some may be able to allow the equipment to take 18 months or more to pay for itself if the company plans on re-using or re-purposing the welding robots on multiple platforms over the next 10 years. Others may stand by the goal of a one-year ROI, which is common.

            Effective training

            Proper training is important for keeping a robotic welding system running successfully and profitably in the long term. Robot integrators and other equipment manufacturers often offer training as part of the implementation process. This training provides welding operators with a knowledge of robotic welding in general, as well as providing the information they need to operate the robot effectively for the application at hand. A well-trained operator will also be able to determine ways to maximize the efficiency of the robotic weld cell. They do this by troubleshooting and resolving issues quickly, keeping the robot online and supporting greater productivity and cost savings.

            Image of robotic welding with sparks
            Proper training is important for keeping a robotic welding system running successfully and profitably in the long term. Robot integrators and other equipment manufacturers often offer training as part of the implementation process.

            Likewise, train welding operators to implement PM for the robotic gas metal arc welding (GMAW) gun to gain longer life, reduce downtime and achieve more arc-on time. Regularly check that the gun connections, consumables and power pin are secure. Look for any signs of power cable wear and replace if necessary.Training geared toward the preventive maintenance (PM) of a robotic welding system and the weld cell is also key. For example, spatter build-up on the robotic welding gun can cause grounding issues and build-up on tooling may lead to dimensional movement of the steel from cycle to cycle. The latter can block the datum placements causing gun reach issues.

            In a worse-case scenario, spatter builds up on equipment over time, creating solid formations that are difficult to remove and prevent the re-use of the equipment. To avoid these problems, train operators to follow a regular cleaning schedule for the weld cell and the equipment.

            Avoid common mistakes

            There are several common mistakes that can negatively affect productivity and quality in a robotic welding system. Knowing how to avoid these can help companies make the most out of the equipment and gain greater success. Consider the following:

            1. Implementing the wrong equipment in a robotic welding cell can lead to spending more money than is required. Be sure to rate the power source, robotic GMAW gun and consumables for the application. Doing so helps minimize the risk of premature equipment failures that can lead to unplanned downtime and costly equipment replacement. For example, if a company selects an air-cooled system, but actually requires a water-cooled system for the application, it could incur unnecessary costs to repair or upgrade a failed robotic GMAW gun system that cannot handle the heat.

            2. Underutilizing the robotic welding system can prevent companies from realizing their full productivity potential. Robotic welding systems should be programmed to maximize the arc-on time during the weld process cycle. In some cases, it may be possible to have fewer robots that weld for slightly longer cycles. This helps drop the initial implementation costs.

            Welding graphic
            Robotic welding systems should be programmed to maximize the arc-on time during the weld process cycle. In some cases, it may be possible to have fewer robots that weld for slightly longer cycles. This helps drop the initial implementation costs.

            Take this example. A company has four robots in cell welding at 30 inches per minute with a cycle time of 60 seconds. These robots are inefficient since they are only welding half of the cycle time. That could be due to the positioner rotating for weld access, too slow of robot air cut movements, poor welding angles or other limiting factors. In this scenario, the total length of completed welds for all four robots is 60 inches (30 in. / min. x 1 min. / 60 seconds x 30 seconds of welding per robot = 15 inches of weld per robot).

            An alternative here is to keep the cycle time at 60 seconds and drop down to three robots by improving items like the weld angles, creating quicker air cuts between welds, utilizing gun reaming during positioner movements and more. Now with improvements, the robots could weld at an average of 35 inches per minute for 35 seconds each cycle. That provides an average of 20 inches of weld per cycle per robot, allowing for the same total of 60 inches of weld with one less robot.

            3. Underutilizing available labor can also hinder productivity. While companies should take care not to overload operators, it’s important to balance manpower in robotic welding process so that employees are efficient and busy at the same time. If an operator is idle waiting for the weld cycle to complete, there could be room for process improvements by allocating labor to other activities near the weld cell.

            4. Poor tooling design can impede quality. Thoroughly plan the tooling design and understand how the parts being welded will impact it. Different parts and materials react differently to heat and may draw, flex or bend during the welding process. Factor in how much heat a given weld sequence generates. The tooling will have to be designed with these in mind. If possible, design tooling to permit welding in the flat or horizontal position with appropriate robotic GMAW gun access. This allows for faster and more consistent results. Finally, remember, less expensive tooling may be attractive when looking at upfront costs, but it can be a pitfall later if it doesn’t meet the demands of the job.

            5. Overlooking activities outside the robotic weld cell can be detrimental. Plan for part inspection and cosmetic rework, as well as the final stages of palletizing the product if that is part of the operation. Some of these processes can be automated or manual labor driven. These are key stages in a robotic welding operation that can quickly become bottlenecks that cause the entire process to slow down. These bottlenecks can also add unplanned manpower or equipment costs, which can become expensive.

            Final thoughts

            Remember that no plan for welding automation can be successful without a good schedule for its implementation. Being thorough is more important than being fast. Set realistic goals for completing the installation of the robotic weld cells and don’t rush or over-complicate the process. For first-time investors in robotic welding starting small can also help ensure greater success.

            Once the robotic weld cell or cells begin operating, keep in mind that the startup may not be perfect. There may be adjustments required to optimize performance to gain the best productivity and quality.

              Preventive Maintenance for Reamers, Accessories and Other Peripherals

              Preventive Maintenance for Reamers, Accessories and Other Peripherals

              From reamers or nozzle cleaning stations to wire cutters and anti-spatter sprayers, welding peripherals and accessories can contribute significantly to the success of a robotic welding operation. In addition to improving weld quality, they can also help companies maintain high levels of productivity.

              TOUGH GUN TT4 Reamer - front view
              A reamer requires the most attention, as this peripheral operates regularly, performing essential welding nozzle cleaning that helps keep the robotic welding cell up and running and quality on par.

              Reamers, in particular, are most prevalent in automotive manufacturing, where uptime and quality are critical. This peripheral cleans the welding consumables — for example, welding nozzles and gas diffusers — free of spatter, and most automotive welding operations rely on the process after virtually every weld cycle. Other industries, such as heavy equipment manufacturing, also employ reamers and other peripherals in their robotic welding operations, as do some general manufacturers.

              It’s not by chance that peripherals work the way they do. Like any equipment, caring for them with routine preventive maintenance (PM) is important to gaining optimal performance and longevity.

              PM tips for reamers and accessories

              A reamer requires regular attention since it operates frequently during the weld cycles. Its job is important though, as it performs essential welding nozzle cleaning that helps keep the robotic welding cell up and running and quality on par. With the PM for this equipment also comes PM for its associated accessories: the lubricator, cutter blades and anti-spatter sprayer. All require varying levels of PM activities — some daily, weekly, monthly or yearly.

              In addition to inspecting the consumables for wear and replacing as needed, follow this PM routine on a daily basis:

              1. Check that the consumables are aligned properly to the reamer. This helps ensure that the jaws of the reamer clamp the nozzle to the V-block correctly and that the consumables are lined up concentric and parallel to the cutter blade for optimal spatter cleaning.
                 
              2. Clean the spindle cover shroud free of spatter and also clean the clamp jaw and V-block surfaces to gain proper nozzle alignment. Use a brush or compressed air. Look for any signs of wear on these components.
                 
              3. Make sure the air lines connected to the reamer are free of frays, as leaks will prevent the reamer from receiving enough air to remove spatter properly. Look for any damage to the interface cable.
                 
              4. Check the oil level in the lubricator reserve — the reamer motor depends on a consistent supply of oil. Also check the level of anti-spatter liquid in the anti-spatter sprayer. Fill as needed. An option to simplify PM of the anti-spatter sprayer is to employ a multi-feed system that allows 5- or 55-gallon drums of anti-spatter liquid to be connected to a manifold system to feed multiple sprayers on multiple reamers. This eliminates the need for daily reservoir fills.
              TOUGH GUN TT4 reamer lubricator
              Check daily that the lubricator is working properly with the right level of oil and clean the filter weekly, replacing it as needed.

              On a weekly basis, continue to examine the integrity of the consumables and follow these guidelines:

              1. Inspect the cutter blades for dullness, clogging and possible breakage, replacing as necessary. Note the service life of cutter blades will vary based on the application.
                 
              2. Again, check that the lubricator is working properly with the right level of oil, and clean or replace the filter as needed.
                 
              3. Check the LEDs to ensure reamer and controller communication, and wipe the nozzle detect proximity sensors clean so they can function properly.
                 
              4. Look over the spray head on the anti-spatter sprayer to be sure it is delivering a normal amount of liquid spray. Clean the head and adjust as necessary.

              Monthly PM for reamers and accessories requires less steps but is more intensive. It may require scheduling a time off cycle to complete.

              1. Check that the belt tension lock screw and bolt are securely tightened.
                 
              2. Examine the spindle unit for wear, replacing if necessary, and inspect the solenoids, spooling them to prevent leaks and to make sure they are operating properly.

              Lastly, on an annual basis:

              1. Inspect the drive belt for signs of fraying and replace as necessary.
                 
              2. Replace the spindle cap seal and repair any visible damage.
                 
              3. Perform a complete cleanup of the reamer and anti-spatter sprayer.

              While it may seem time-consuming to implement these PM measures, they can typically be completed during routine pauses in production. More intensive activities can be scheduled so as to prevent interruption to production. Ultimately, the PM is time well spent and can help protect the investment in the reamer and its accessories.

              PM tips for wire cutters

              Wire cutters are increasingly being used in automotive and other manufacturing operations. This equipment is integrated into a reamer configuration and used in conjunction with a wire brake on the robotic MIG gun. The wire brake prevents the welding wire from moving, while the wire cutter cuts it at a set distance. This allows for a consistent wire stickout so the robot can touch sense and track the joint before welding. The results are more accurate weld placement and smooth arc starting. 

              TOUGH GUN TT4 reamer wire cutter
              Wire cutters are increasingly being used in automotive and other manufacturing operations and can help with smooth arc starting.

              PM for wire cutters is relatively simple.

              1. On a daily basis, check the airlines and interface cable for leaks or frays. Be sure that the solenoid valve is providing air to the system.
                 
              2. Weekly, check that the cutter blades are sharp enough to cut the wire. Look for signs of dullness, looseness or breaks. Replace as needed. Also empty the wire catcher basket.
                 
              3. Quarterly, apply general purpose grease (NLGI Grade 1-1) through the grease fittings on the sides of the main body of the wire cutter. This helps lubricate the sliding surfaces of the equipment.

              The value of peripherals

              Peripherals like reamers with anti-spatter sprayers and wire cutters can help companies realize a greater return on their investment in a robotic welding system. They aid in high weld quality, minimize rework and help meet productivity goals. Train welding operators to follow recommended PM activities as a part of a routine care of the weld cell. The time and cost to care for them properly will be small in comparison to the improvements they can provide to the bottom line. 


                Robotic Welding Troubleshooting FAQs

                Robotic Welding Troubleshooting FAQs

                Every operation wants to avoid downtime, as well as the cost for troubleshooting problems in the robotic MIG welding cell. But sometimes issues happen, whether it’s due to equipment failure or human error.

                Since most companies invest in welding automation to boost throughput and profitability, getting a robotic welding cell back online as quickly as possible is critical to production and the bottom line. The first things to consider are whether anything has changed in the welding process or with the equipment, or if the operator has recently reprogrammed the robot. In many cases, evaluating the most recently changed variable can help you pinpoint an issue’s cause.

                Image of welding operator checking fixturing in robotic MIG welding cell
                Since most companies invest in welding automation to boost throughput and profitability, getting a weld cell back online as quickly as possible is critical to production and the bottom line.

                After that, analyzing some of the most frequent sources of trouble in the robotic weld cell can help you get to the root of the problem sooner. Consider these five common issues and ways to fix them.

                Q: What are causes of poor consumable performance?

                A: The material being welded and the parameters being used affect welding consumables’ longevity. But if it seems that nozzles, contact tips, diffusers or liners aren’t lasting their typical life or are performing poorly, there could be several causes.

                Check all connections between welding consumables and tighten them as needed. A loose connection increases electrical resistance and generates additional heat, which can shorten consumable life and cause poor performance. It’s especially important to ensure consumables are properly tightened when the application involves long welds or welds on thick materials, since any rework due to quality issues will cost more time and money in these cases.

                Common contact tips issues, such as burnback, are often caused by a too-short liner. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for liner trimming and installation, and use a liner gauge to confirm length when possible. Over time, debris and spatter buildup inside the liner can contribute to shortened contact tip life. It’s important to create a schedule for changing liners, just as you would for other consumables.

                If you’re frequently experiencing weld defects like porosity or lack of penetration, this can also stem from a consumables issue. Make sure the contact tip and nozzle are free of debris and replace them as needed.

                Q: What causes poor wire feeding?

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                A: Erratic or poor wire feeding in robotic welding is a common issue that can ultimately result in poor weld quality. Poor wire feeding can have many causes.

                Cutting a liner too short is particularly problematic when robotic welding with smaller diameter wires, which have less column strength.

                Extreme articulation of the robotic MIG gun can also lead to poor wire feeding. Program the robotic MIG gun cable to stay as straight as possible. The robot may not weld quite as fast, but proper gun orientation helps minimize downtime for feeding problems.

                Excessive conduit length and multiple bends or junctions can cause poor wire feeding as well. With the drive rolls open, you should be able to pull the wire through the contact tip by hand with minimal effort. If you need to pull with two hands or put your bodyweight into the process, that indicates interference with the wire path between the wire drum and the contact tip. Check for bends tighter than 90 degrees, multiple junctions between sections of conduit or worn conduit sections that can increase drag on the wire. Ideally, the conduit between the drum and the wire feeder should be less than 20 feet, with no junctions or tight bends.

                Improper drive roll selection and tension setting can also lead to poor wire feeding. Consider the size and type of wire being used and match that to the drive rolls. Inspect drive rolls for signs of wear and replace them as necessary.

                Image of TOUGH GUN TT3e Reamer with a TOUGH GUN CA3 MIG gun approaching it
                The taught position of the robotic MIG gun nozzle in relation to the reamer should be concentric to the cutting blade on the reamer to ensure proper cleaning of the nozzle. 

                Q: Why is the cable prematurely failing?

                A: Whether you have a through-arm robotic welding system, where the cable is routed through the robotic arm, or a standard over-the-arm robotic welding system, premature power cable failure can happen. A power cable that becomes kinked or worn can fail and short-out against the robot casting, leading to costly repairs.

                To help prevent premature cable wear, consider the programmed path of the robot as well as the power cable’s length. If the robot’s movements cause the cable to bunch up or kink, it can cause the power cable to fail. If the power cable rubs against tooling or catches on components during the programmed cycle, this can also cause premature failure.
                Proper cable length is also important. A cable that is too short or too long can be stretched beyond capacity or be prone to kinking.

                Q: Why is there a problem with tool center point (TCP)?

                A: In robotic welding, TCP refers to the location of the end of the welding wire with respect to the end of the robot arm. If you are experiencing inconsistent welds or welds that are off-location, this may stem from a problem with TCP.

                If the robotic MIG gun neck is bent or damaged during a collision in the weld cell, this can result in TCP issues. Use a neck-checking fixture or neck alignment tool to help ensure proper angle of the neck bend. Also, be sure the neck and consumables are installed and torqued properly. Failure to do so may affect TCP. 

                However, a problem with off-location welds isn’t always caused by TCP issues. Improper fixturing or part variations may also be the root cause. If a TCP check using the robotic program turns up with no issues, a part or position variation is the likely culprit.

                Q: How do I fix poorly performing peripherals?

                A: Companies often implement peripherals, such as reamers or nozzle cleaning stations, to optimize robotic welding performance and get more life out of consumables. But a problem with the reamer can cause spatter buildup on the consumables.

                TOUGH GUN Neck Checking Fixture image
                A collision in the weld cell that bends or damages the neck of the robotic MIG gun can result in tool center point issues. A neck-checking fixture or neck alignment tool can help ensure a proper angle of the neck bend.

                Reamers can perform poorly for three common reasons:

                1. Improperly taught position of the robotic MIG gun nozzle in relation to the reamer. This position should be concentric to the cutting blade on the reamer at the proper insertion depth to ensure thorough cleaning of the nozzle.
                2. Too much or too little anti-spatter spray in the wrong location. Anti-spatter spray should cover the inside of the nozzle and the outside should be covered within 3/4 of an inch from the bottom of the nozzle. Spray for only a half-second. In production, the anti-spatter should evaporate on contact with a hot nozzle — if your nozzle is dripping, you’re spraying too long.
                3. Using the wrong cutting blade or improper insertion depth will not allow for proper removal of accumulated welding spatter.

                Correcting common problems

                Problems in the robotic welding cell can be as simple as a loose contact tip or more complex like incorrect TCP. Understanding the steps for proper troubleshooting helps narrow down potential causes and can prevent replacement of components that don’t need replacing — so the operation can save money and quickly get back to producing quality parts.

                Learn more from the Tregaskiss Troubleshooting Guide.

                  7 Tips for Implementing a Robotic Welding Cell

                  7 Tips for Implementing a Robotic Welding Cell

                  Implementing robotic welding can significantly improve a manufacturing operation’s productivity and weld quality, but what are the robotic welding basics you should know to be successful? From choosing the right welding wire to establishing proper tool center point (TCP), many variables play a role in optimizing robotic welding cells to produce the best results.

                  Shaving even a few seconds from each weld cycle can save time and money. Minimizing the unplanned downtime for adjustments or repairs in the weld cell can also have a substantial impact on your bottom line.

                  Success with robotic welding requires a well-researched plan. The more planning done upfront, the less time and money you could spend later making fixes and process improvements.

                  Learning some basic tips for setting up a robotic weld cell can help to establish a repeatable and consistent process — so your operation can produce quality welds, reduce rework and maximize its investment.

                  Weld operator with teach pendant and robotic MIG welding gun
                  From choosing the right welding wire to establishing proper tool center point, many variables play a role in optimizing robotic welding cells to produce the best results. Understanding some basic tips for implementing robotic welding can help yield success. 

                  Tip No. 1: Use proper weld settings

                  Proper weld settings for the application are based on factors including wire size and material thickness. Some welding power sources offer technology that allows welders to simply input the wire size and material thickness, and the machine will suggest recommended parameters for the application.

                  Without this technology, finding the correct parameters can involve a bit of trial and error. Sometimes the robot manufacturer, welding power source manufacturer or system integrator can assist in choosing and testing specific materials to provide a starting point for the proper welding parameters. Utilize the experience of these partners to help you arrive at the best starting point and be prepared for the future.

                  Tip No. 2: Choose the right wire

                  The choice of filler metal for a robotic welding system can significantly impact productivity, weld quality and the overall investment. Selecting the right wire for a robotic application is typically based on the material type and thickness, as well as the expected outcomes for the welded part. Welding equipment and filler metal manufacturers often offer charts to help you match a welding wire to your process needs.  

                  While solid wire has been the industry standard in robotic welding for many years, metal-cored wire is an alternative that can offer productivity and quality improvements in some applications, particularly in the manufacture of heavy equipment and automotive exhaust, chassis and wheels. However, be aware that each wire type offers pros and cons for certain applications, so it’s important to research the type that is best suited to your application.

                  Image of MIG welding gun consumables including contact tips, nozzles and diffusers
                  Welding consumables, including the nozzle, contact tip and gas diffuser, have a huge impact on performance in the robotic weld cell. Consider using heavy-duty consumables that are more heat-resistant than standard-duty consumables.

                  Tip No. 3: Consider the gun and consumables

                  Robotic welding guns and consumables, including the nozzle, contact tip and gas diffuser, have a huge impact on performance in a robotic weld cell. The right combination can reduce unplanned downtime and improve overall efficiency of the cell.

                  Be sure the welding gun is rated with enough duty cycle and amperage for the application. To avoid excessive wear and premature failure, the gun should not rub against any part of the system or another robot in applications where multiple robots are being used on the same tooling.

                  Robotic welding systems typically operate at higher duty cycles than semi-automatic welding applications, and they may utilize transfer modes that are especially harsh on consumables. Consider using heavy-duty consumables that are more heat-resistant than standard-duty consumables. Chrome zirconium contact tips or tips specifically designed for pulsed welding processes are good options.

                  In addition, ensure all consumables are properly installed and tightened. Improper or loose connections produce more electrical resistance and heat that causes faster consumable wear with premature failures. Another common failure in robotic welding is improper liner installation. Always follow the manufacturer’s directions for liner installation and cut length. A liner that is cut too short can cause premature failures of other consumables in the system.

                  Tip No. 4: Reduce cable wear

                  Make sure there is good cable grounding in the weld cell to help prevent potential problems as the cell ages. There are two cables running from the welding power source; one is attached to the wire feeder and the other is grounded to the tooling. Often, these cables are long and run from the shop floor to an elevated platform or through wire trays. The section of cable running up the robot or running to a positioner will constantly move — causing greater wear over time.

                  Using a junction with high-flex ground cable at the base of the robot or the workpiece can save time and money in downtime and repair. With this solution, there is only a 6-foot section of cable to replace when it wears out, rather than replacing possibly 50 feet or more of ground cable that runs all the way back to the power source. However, keep in mind you should have as few breaks or junctions in the grounding cable as possible to maintain a better electrical connection.

                  Image of Tregaskiss TOUGH GUN CA3 robotic MIG gun with 45 degree neck
                  Be sure the welding gun is rated with enough duty cycle and amperage for the application. To avoid excessive wear and premature failure, the gun should not rub against any part of the system.

                  When mounting a ground cable to the welding workpiece, it can be helpful to use copper anti-seize lubricant, sometimes referred to as copper slop. This supports the transfer of electrical current and helps prevent the mounting point from fusing together or deteriorating over time. The lubricant can be useful in all areas where there may be grounding current running through pins or any other semi-permanent contact points.

                  Proper cable management for the guns can also greatly extend cable life. The more any cable bends and flexes, the more wear and tear will occur — ultimately shortening cable life due to high heat and resistance. Work to minimize cable bending and flexing in your robotic process and tooling design.

                  Tip No. 5: Establish TCP

                  For repeatable and consistent weld quality, it’s critical to establish and maintain proper TCP. Welding operations can set their own standards for the acceptable amount of TCP drift, depending on the application and type of weld being made. When considering the tolerance of TCP variation, an acceptable starting point can be half the thickness of the wire diameter.

                  Many robotic systems today can use touch-sensing features to monitor TCP and determine how far it has moved from the original programmed settings. If a gun is determined to be out of the acceptable TCP range, the gun neck can be removed and recalibrated offline to factory specifications with a neck straightening fixture. Some systems also provide the capability to adjust TCP automatically with the robot. A third option is to leave the gun in place and adjust the robot teaching to accommodate the modified TCP. This is the most time-consuming solution and, therefore, often not acceptable for the manufacturing operation. It also requires the need to reprogram the robot if new factory specifications for TCP or a new neck are ever put into place — which is why this method is typically the last resort.

                  Set a schedule or standard for checking TCP, whether it’s every weld cycle, once a shift or even every time the torch goes through a reamer cycle. The length of time between checks is a matter of preference and weighing your priorities. It can be time-consuming to check every weld cycle, but this can save money in lost scrap and rework if a problem is found before welding occurs.

                  Image of Hobart FabCOR Edge filler metal on box
                  The choice of filler metal for a robotic welding system can significantly impact productivity, weld quality and the overall investment. Selecting the right wire for a robotic application is typically based on the material type and thickness, as well as the expected outcomes for the welded part.

                  Tip No. 6: Program the robot path  

                  The initial programming of the robot’s welding path can also involve much trial and error. When programming the path, consider the application, material type, welding process being used and gap size that must be filled. The weld quality and amount of spatter created are also impacted by the travel angle and whether it’s a pull or push weld. It can take time to dial in the correct path to achieve the desired quality.

                  After setting the home positions in the robotic program, it’s recommended to have the robot move to perch points or ready-to-enter points that are safely away from any potential collision points, so the system can move quickly with air cut moves to and from these points.

                  When programming the robot to move to a weld, it’s common to set the approach point just above the weld start location. Have the robot approach the start location at a slower and safer speed with the arc on. This approach position provides a good lead-in and typically won’t require adjustment unless the weld is relocated. Some robotic welding systems include technology that aids in setting the initial robot path.  

                  The robot’s welding location can play a role in premature failure of the gun. If the robot is welding with a lot of flex in the gun at a tight angle, this can cause it to fail much faster. Minimizing robot axes five and six during welding can help extend gun life by reducing wear.

                  Tip No. 7: Ensure proper fit-up

                  Proper part fit-up in the upstream process is critical to consistent weld quality and robot path programming. Inconsistent fit-up or large gaps between the parts lead to weld quality issues such as burn-through, poor penetration, porosity and others — resulting in additional unplanned downtime to deal with these problems. Large gaps between the parts may also require double weld passes, adding to cycle times.

                  Closing

                  From wire and consumable selection to proper cable management and TCP, many variables play a role in weld quality and ultimately, the success of your robotic welding system. Careful planning at the start of the process and continued monitoring of these key factors helps optimize performance — so you can get the most from your robotic welding investment.

                    MIG Welding FAQs Answered

                    MIG Welding FAQs Answered

                    MIG welding, like any other process, takes practice to refine your skills. For those newer to it, building some basic knowledge can take your MIG welding operation to the next level. Or if you’ve been welding for a while, it never hurts to have a refresher. Consider these frequently asked questions, along with their answers, as welding tips to guide you.

                    1. What drive roll should I use, and how do I set the tension?

                    The welding wire size and type determines the drive roll to obtain smooth, consistent wire feeding. There are three common choices: V-knurled, U-groove and V-groove.
                    Pair gas- or self-shielded wires with V-knurled drive rolls. These welding wires are soft due to their tubular design; the teeth on the drive rolls grab the wire and pushes it through the feeder drive. Use U-groove drive rolls for feeding aluminum welding wire. The shape of these drive rolls prevents marring of this soft wire. V-groove drive rolls are the best choice for solid wire.

                    To set the drive roll tension, first release the drive rolls. Slowly increase the tension while feeding the wire into your gloved hand. Continue until the tension is one half-turn past wire slippage. During the process, keep the gun as straight as possible to avoid kinking the cable, which could lead to poor wire feeding.

                    MIG Welding
                    Following some key best practices related to welding wire, drive rolls and shielding gas can help ensure good results in the MIG welding process.

                    2. How do I get the best results from my MIG welding wire?

                    MIG welding wires vary in their characteristics and welding parameters. Always check the wire’s spec or data sheet to determine what amperage, voltage and wire feed speed the filler metal manufacturer recommends. Spec sheets are typically shipped with the welding wire, or you can download them from the filler metal manufacturer’s website. These sheets also provide shielding gas requirements, as well as contact-to-work distance (CTWD) and welding wire extension or stickout recommendations.
                    Stickout is especially important to gaining optimal results. Too long of a stickout creates a colder weld, drops the amperage and reduces joint penetration. A shorter stickout usually provides a more stable arc and better low-voltage penetration. As a rule of thumb, the best stickout length is the shortest one allowed for the application.
                    Proper welding wire storage and handling is also critical to good MIG welding results. Keep the spool in a dry area, as moisture can damage the wire and potentially lead to hydrogen-induced cracking. Use gloves when handling the wire to protect it from moisture or dirt from your hands. If the wire is on the wire feeder, but not in use, cover the spool or remove it and place it in a clean plastic bag.

                    3. What contact recess should I use?

                    Contact tip recess, or the position of the contact tip within the MIG welding nozzle, depends on the welding mode, welding wire, application and shielding gas you are using. Generally, as the current increases, the contact tip recess should also increase. Here are some recommendations.
                    A 1/8- or 1/4-inch recess works well for welding at greater than 200 amps in spray or high-current pulse welding, when using a metal-cored wire and argon-rich shielding gases. You can use a wire stickout of 1/2 to 3/4 inches in these scenarios.
                    Keep your contact tip flush with the nozzle when welding less than 200 amps in short circuit or low-current pulse modes. A 1/4- to 1/2-inch wire stickout is recommended. At 1/4-inch stick out in short circuit, specifically, allows you to weld on thinner materials with less risk of burn-through or warping.
                    When welding hard-to-reach joints and at less than 200 amps, you can extend the contact tip 1/8 inch from the nozzle and use a 1/4-inch stickout. This configuration allows greater access to difficult-to-access joints, and works well for short circuit or low-current pulse modes.
                    Remember, proper recess is key to reducing the opportunity for porosity, insufficient penetration and burn-through and to minimizing spatter.
                    Closeup of recessed contact tip inside cutaway of nozzle
                    The ideal contact tip recess position varies according to the application. A general rule: As the current increases, the recess should also increase.

                    4. What shielding gas is best for my MIG welding wire?

                    The shielding gas you choose depends on the wire and the application. CO2 provides good penetration when welding thicker materials, and you can use it on thinner materials since it tends to run cooler, which decreases the risk of burn-through. For even more weld penetration and high productivity, use a 75 percent argon/25 percent CO2 gas mix. This combination also produces less spatter than CO2 so there is less post-weld cleanup.
                    Use 100 percent CO2 shielding gas or a 75 percent CO2/25 percent argon mix in combination with a carbon steel solid wire. Aluminum welding wire requires argon shielding gas, while stainless steel wire works best with a tri-mix of helium, argon and CO2. Always reference the wire’s spec sheet for recommendations.

                    5. What is the best way to control my weld puddle?

                    For all positions, it is best to keep the welding wire directed toward the leading edge of the weld puddle. If you are welding out of position (vertical, horizontal or overhead), keeping the weld puddle small provides the best control. Also use the smallest wire diameter that will still fill the weld joint sufficiently.
                    You can gauge heat input and travel speed by the weld bead produced and adjust accordingly to gain better control and better results. For example, if you produce a weld bead that is too tall and skinny, it indicates that the heat input is too low and/or your travel speed is too fast. A flat, wide bead suggests too high of heat input and/or too slow of travel speeds. Adjust your parameters and technique accordingly to achieve the ideal weld, which has a slight crown that just touches the metal around it.
                    These answers to frequently asked questions only touch on a few of the best practices for MIG welding. Always follow your welding procedures to gain optimal results. Also, many welding equipment and wire manufacturers have technical support numbers to contact with questions. They can serve as an excellent resource for you.