Tips for Maximizing Welding Operator Comfort and Productivity
Being as comfortable as possible contributes to welding operator safety and productivity — and it’s a factor that can impact the quality of the finished weld.
There are numerous issues that play a role in welding operator comfort, including the heat generated by the welding process, the repetitive motions and, at times, cumbersome equipment. These challenges can take a toll, resulting in aches, fatigue and physical and mental stress for welding operators.
There are some steps, however, to help reduce the impact of these factors. These include choosing the right equipment for the job, utilizing tools and accessories designed to improve operator comfort, and following some best practices that promote proper operator form.
Selecting the right gas metal arc welding (GMAW) gun
Promoting operator comfort can lessen the chance of injuries associated with repetitive movement, as well as reduce overall fatigue. Choosing a GMAW gun that meets the needs of the application — and in some cases customizing the gun — is a critical way to impact welding operator comfort so he or she can achieve the best results.
A gun’s trigger, handle, neck and power cable design all help determine how long a welding operator can comfortably weld without experiencing fatigue or stress. The application’s weld joint geometry also plays a role in welding operator comfort, and it impacts what components to choose for optimal joint access.
Here are some issues to consider in GMAW gun selection that can impact comfort, as well as quality and productivity:
- Amperage: Gun amperage can have a significant impact on welding operator comfort because, typically, the higher the amperage, the larger — and heavier — the gun. Therefore, a larger amperage gun may not be the best choice if that amperage rating is not necessary to meet the needs of the application. Choosing a smaller amperage gun when possible can help minimize fatigue and stress on the welding operator’s wrists and hands. In selecting the right amperage, consider the application’s duty cycle requirements. Duty cycle refers to the number of minutes in a 10-minute period that a gun can be operated at its full capacity without overheating. For example, a 60 percent duty cycle means six minutes of arc-on time in a 10-minute span. Most applications do not require the welding operator to use the gun constantly at full duty cycle. In many cases, a higher amperage gun is only needed when the power source is being run continuously.
- Handle: Handle options for GMAW guns include straight and curved styles. The right choice typically comes down to the specific process, application requirements and — most often — operator preference. Keep in mind that a smaller handle tends to be easier to hold and maneuver. In addition, the option of a vented handle promotes improved operator comfort, since this style can cool down faster when the gun isn’t in use. While operator comfort and preference are important considerations, handles must also meet the gun and application’s amperage and duty cycle requirements. A straight handle provides flexibility by allowing for the trigger to be mounted on the top or bottom of the handle. Putting it on top is a good choice to improve operator comfort in high-heat applications or for those that require long welds.
- Trigger: There are numerous trigger choices that can improve comfort and safety. Look for a trigger that doesn’t require more pull force than necessary to maintain the arc, to minimize stress on the operator. Also, locking triggers are a good option to alleviate stress on the welding operator’s finger caused by grasping, sometimes called “trigger finger.” A locking trigger, as its name implies, can be locked into place. This feature allows the welding operator to create long, continuous welds without having to hold the trigger the entire time. Locking triggers also help distance the welding operator from the heat generated during welding, making them well-suited for high amperage applications.
- Neck: Another part of the gun that plays a role in operator comfort is the neck. Rotatable and flexible necks are available in various lengths and angles, and can be adjusted to meet specific application needs, offering many choices to help reduce operator strain. Joint access, gun amperage and duty cycle required for an application are important considerations when choosing a gun neck. For example, a longer gun neck can improve operator comfort when the application requires a long reach. A flexible neck can do the same when accessing joints in a tight corner. The best choice for pipe welding might be an 80-degree neck, while a 45- or 60-degree neck might be better suited for welding in the flat position. Rotatable necks allow welding operators to rotate the neck as needed, such as in out-of-position or overhead welding. In cases where a longer neck is needed, another option is to utilize a neck coupler, which is a tool that combines two gun necks. The flexibility provided by these numerous neck options can result in reduced opportunity for operator fatigue, strain and injury.
- Power cable: The power cable adds weight to the gun and can also add clutter to the workspace. Therefore, smaller and shorter cables are recommended, as long as they meet the needs of the application. Not only are shorter and smaller cables typically lighter and more flexible — to ease the fatigue and strain on a welding operator’s hands and wrists — but they also help reduce clutter and tripping hazards in the work area.
Consider gun balance
Different welding guns can offer different “balance,” which refers to the feel and ease of movement experienced when the welding operator holds the gun. For example, a heavier gun that is balanced properly can lessen operator fatigue compared to a heavier gun that is not balanced properly.
A gun that is properly balanced will feel natural in the operator’s hands and be easy to maneuver. When a gun is not balanced correctly, it might feel more unwieldy or uncomfortable to use. This can make a difference in operator comfort and productivity.
Customize for the job
Because welding applications differ for every welding operator, customizable GMAW guns can be a good option to gain greater comfort. Poor welding operator comfort can directly impact productivity and efficiency.
Some gun manufacturers offer online resources to help welding operators configure a GMAW gun for the exact specifications of the job. This helps ensure the gun is suited to operator preferences and the needs of the application — for greater comfort and productivity. ttFor example, most welding operators do not make huge, sweeping movements when using a GMAW gun. Instead, they tend to use more minute, delicate maneuvering of the gun. Some configurations allow users to choose an option available for fume extraction guns — for example, a ball and socket swivel design that helps the vacuum hose to move separately from the handle. This improves flexibility and reduces the wrist fatigue for the welding operator.
Use correct positioning and form
Utilizing proper weld position and form are additional ways that welding operators can maximize comfort on the job. Repetitive strain or prolonged uncomfortable postures can result in operator injury — or even the need for costly and time-consuming rework due to poor quality welds.
Whenever possible, place the workpiece flat and move it into the most comfortable position. It’s also important to maintain a clean working environment. In some cases, a fume extraction gun paired with the proper portable fume extraction system can be a viable option to replace wearing a powered air purifying respirator and lessen the amount of equipment the welding operator must wear. To maintain compliance and safety, it’s always a good idea to consult an industrial hygienist to be certain that’s an appropriate step.
In addition, operator comfort can be maximized by using stable posture and avoiding awkward body positioning, and by not working in one position for long periods. When welding in a seated position, operators should also have the workpiece slightly below elbow level. When the application requires standing for long periods, use a foot-rest.
Having the right equipment, choosing equipment or accessories that are easy to operate and promote operator comfort, and utilizing proper welding technique and form are all important steps toward achieving a comfortable, safe work environment for welding operators.
Lightweight welding guns with appropriate handle and neck designs for the job and for the operator can help achieve safe and productive results. The reduction of heat stress, wrist and neck fatigue and repetitive motions can also help decrease overall physical and mental stress for welding operators.
To achieve optimal results, consider the numerous options available in tailoring a GMAW gun that is right for the application and operator preference.