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Conserving Consumables

When applicable, fabricators benefit from switching to automated, spooled-wire welding techniques

Consumables rank high among all the variables that go into creating an efficient production operation. However, when it comes to the welding process, taking a hit on consumables is typically the status quo.

Stick electrodes were developed around 100 years ago and are still among the most commonly used consumables in the field of welding. Spooled wire is also an essential consumable in welding operations. With multiple consumable options to choose from, it’s key for business owners to consider which method would best meet their needs. Furthermore, it’s important to look at the hurdles associated with cutting back on costs related to consumables.

Common jobs for stick electrodes

Most unsophisticated welding jobs typically attract the stick electrode method of welding. Ornamental wire, fences, bars, gates – all are stick electrode-friendly jobs that are economical, especially in developing countries or in markets where there is an abundance of transformer-type welders. Stick-friendly metals include cast iron, mild steel, low-alloy steel and stainless steel.

The portability of stick electrodes also makes them a go-to method for specific job types. For instance, a welder can grab a handful of sticks and crawl into a tight space, or go to remote areas that aren’t compatible to more sophisticated welding equipment.

MDS Linear Weld Vertical Up-2
Precision welds are possible with the Bug-O Systems’ MDS vertical linear weaver.

Stick welding also allows for flexibility of position. The sticks are fairly resistant to wind and drafts, which can offer better weld quality for outdoor jobs. Fillet weld, lap joints, butt joints and T-joint welds are all perfectly suited for stick welding in the hands of a skilled individual.

Despite the many applications that are well suited for stick electrodes, there are many strikes against it. Every time the stick is changed out, the remaining small portion of it held in the gun has to be thrown out, which can really add up over time. The welder also has to restrike and meld the weld, which takes time. There is also the risk of blending welds together, which has potential for defect.

Reluctance to change

Most people are opposed to change, which is quite simply part of being human. However, this condition can be costly in more ways than one.

Jobs can be completed faster with newer and more advanced welding technology, and often, these improvements can lead to better client satisfaction and bonuses. Furthermore, the quality of work can be improved with more automated processes. However, the aging workforce (the age of the average U.S. welder is 55) has an entire career in methods they’ve grown comfortable with and do not always welcome change in their work process.

There are relevant fears that a welder might have about their ability to adjust to a new process – perhaps they won’t be as good at it as something they’ve done for three decades. Many companies have an abundance of workers who are skilled at using stick electrodes and don’t see a need to bring in wire and automated processes. Furthermore, labor unions are going to favor processes that keep the workforce punching the clock on a regular basis.

A more efficient method

Cutting back on costs related to consumables is an attractive subject for management. Spooled wire, therefore, is often a completely plausible replacement for stick electrodes.

As an example, pipe welding is wire-friendly, particularly when an automated process can be implemented. Any job situation that requires the same weld again and again is a job for a wire setup. Adding automation to the mix only increases efficiencies.

BugO Weld closeup
Automated welding options, like those from Bug-O Systems, are a good fit for pipe welding where repetitive welds occur.

Spooled wire, however, does cost more per pound than stick electrodes, which might be off-putting – at least initially. However, some vendors, like Bug-O Systems, a division of Weld Tooling Corp., are seeing their clients achieve efficiencies from the high 20s to the mid 60 percent range by switching from stick to wire.

Typically, fabrication shops with active management groups are more willing to take on wire and automated machinery and challenge the status quo. They are attracted to the possibility of doing a job faster with less repairs and cutouts. These are the shops that want to deliver better quality, faster and ahead of schedule, which could mean perks for the business.

Norm Sted, director of North American sales and marketing for Bug-O, says using an automated method doesn’t take the welder out of the job market; they are still needed to set up the equipment and watch over it as production ensues.

“We think of it as power tools for welders,” Sted says. “We’re not taking jobs away from skilled welders, we’re just making them more efficient.”

Sted says he can’t imagine a situation where wire welding wouldn’t be helpful. Even with less sophisticated processes, opportunities exist.

“What it boils down to is you’re consuming the wire and putting it into the weld and not throwing away the stub left in the electrode holder,” he explains. “The wire is being consumed into the weld deposit and there is no stub to throw away.”

MDS Stitch Straight_Line_Welding
Welding errors due to fatigue and repositioning are negated with Bug-O’s automated systems, including this straight-line welding product.

Tied with automation

Bug-O produces an array of equipment, but the one that is geared toward welders is called the Modular Drive System. It allows welders to use wire and automated machinery to make repetitive, precision welds that take human error out of the equation.

Sted says welders compromise the quality of the weld when they become fatigued or unsure of themselves. They become less efficient or make mistakes, which takes valuable time to correct, and there are more costs related to consumables that were used improperly.

Welders can start with the basic Bug-O system and add on to it as they evolve, adding components and modulators to the system to tackle different jobs.

“They become more sophisticated and create more types of work as their workload changes and evolves,” he explains. For instance, if a job requires a linear weave, they don’t have to replace existing machinery; they only have to add the linear weave modulator to the basic system.

MDS Shape_Machine-2
Bug-O Systems’ MDS products are geared for automated precision cuts.

The Go-fer IV is another product from Bug-O that is portable and versatile for cutting and welding jobs. The system utilizes a rack and pinion drive and wheels secured to a rail, allowing it to travel upside down and on any plane. With the GOF-3255 welding kit, the system allows welders to position their gun at any angle, and use a built-in trigger contactor to activate the wire feeder.

Like most people in the industry, Sted is eyeing a vastly different landscape in the next decade as the majority of welders enter retirement.

“The workforce is going to change dramatically in the next 10 years, so you better start making changes now,” Sted says. “Whoever starts to embrace these processes and bring change to their organization is going to be ahead of the curve.”

Bug-O Systems