Custom welding electrodes and wires can allow manufacturers to better solve almost any problem, and in many cases, save money. Weld Mold Co. manufactures custom solutions for specialty metal welding applications, forging applications, and tool and die applications, among others.
To celebrate its 70th anniversary and to make the welding industry more aware of the benefits of custom electrodes, Darryl S. Hammock, Weld Mold’s president, recently issued a welding industry custom alloy challenge.
“If your company routinely welds specialty metals together using standard electrodes and flux-cored alloys, challenge Weld Mold to develop a performance-matched custom solution that fits your weld application exactly,” Hammock offers. “Then compare. If you’re not satisfied with the results and weld-quality difference, our specialty electrode and custom alloy will not cost your company a cent.”
Weld Mold specializes in specialty high-alloy welding electrodes, cored wire and solid wire – ranging from NiCrMo (nickel-chromium-molybdenum) alloys to high-nickel and cobalt alloys to chrome-carbide and chrome-manganese alloys – for various applications. The company has developed more than 3,000 products and sizes.
Weld Mold was founded in 1945 by Matt Kiilunen to solve the problem of high tooling costs caused by the short die life found in the forging industry.
“At that time, the cost of welding was high because there weren’t appropriate alloys available that suitably matched the base materials, and what was available had low deposition rates,” says Christina Miller, vice president and COO at Weld Mold. “The challenge was to develop the correct welding alloys and a process to apply them as quickly as possible. From that, Weld Mold developed the industry-standard materials we have today for forging applications.”
Kiilunen also developed flood welding, which is a way to repair existing dies using specific materials and a defined process. This enables broken dies to be repaired and put back in operation quickly.
“The flood welding process created a higher deposition welding environment that made die repair more attractive versus replacing it with a new die, which is what usually happened back then,” Miller says.
Flood welding is also used for the repair of forging components like rams, anvils, columns, die sets, press frames and other components found in heavy industry.
Now, 70 years later, Weld Mold is a global company that not only provides performance-matched custom electrodes and standard electrodes (the 500 series) to the forging industry, but also supplies custom solutions for maintenance and repair, tool and die, stainless steel and high-temperature applications. The company can also provide private branding for some customers.
Manufacturers seek out custom solutions when they cannot find electrodes or wires that provide the characteristics they are looking for. Or, they have the electrode with the right characteristics, but it’s not compatible with the base material.
“We work with them to achieve their goals,” says David Lee, technical director at Weld Mold. “Customers give us an idea of the characteristics they need and what they are trying to achieve. Maybe they need an electrode for welding out of position or with specific wear characteristics or maybe they have issues with cracking. Perhaps they have to have specific charpy V-notch values or surface hardness. Thermal processing changes the characteristics of the base material so if they have a wide range of thermal properties, they let us know that. Whatever the application, we can work toward a custom solution.”
Weld Mold stresses that while the welding materials being used are an important consideration, the welding process is just as important.
“A big part of success is being able to control the process and knowing how to use the electrodes in their most beneficial manner,” Lee says. “If they’re not doing it right, it doesn’t matter what electrode they have. For example, the welder needs to understand when and where to apply heat appropriately and, once the heat is applied, how to best apply the material itself. Should he go in fast and hot or slow and careful? These are things a welder needs to take into account when he is setting up for a job.”
Examples of customization
An example of a base material that is difficult to work with in the tool and die industry is D2 tool steel. Lee explains why the tool steel often gives fabricators difficulties.
“D2 is a high-carbon material that achieves high hardness,” Lee says. “Unfortunately, as it goes through thermal cycling, D2 has a tendency to soften. It’s difficult to weld so when you go to repair the tooling, chances are you’re going to destroy it. It’s a matter of developing an alloy or process that provides the properties either to complement or improve upon the base material to expand the ability to apply that material and have it stay in place.”
Solutions that extend the use of a tool cavity, such as eliminating deep cracking, are also a Weld Mold specialty.
“Another big issue is abrasive wear on the tops of the cavity itself,” Lee says. “It’s called flash land wear and the part will lose definition as the tool wears. So the customer needs an alloy that will maintain integrity for a longer period of time, therefore extending use of the tool.”
Lee goes on to say that in most cases where there are different failure characteristics, such as deep cracking and flash land wear in the same cavity, Weld Mold advocates using two or three materials to address each individual issue, instead of using a single material to try and address them all.
“Customization is not necessarily about changing a specific alloy or developing a specific alloy, but it is also about creating custom combinations of materials in order to achieve a desired result,” he says.
Weld Mold also offers replacements for electrodes that have gone out of the market in large supply. As with many aspects of the welding industry, purchasing habits are changing.
“For example, people used to buy O1 tool steel in solid wire but then it became hard to find,” Miller says. “We were able to develop a metal-cored TIG wire in place of that so it didn’t have to completely go away. People aren’t buying it in large volumes anymore, but when they need it, we have it.”
Another example is 4340 steel. It, too, has proven to be a challenge for many fabricators.
“Unfortunately, there is not a solid wire or electrode that matches the properties and chemistries of this steel,” Miller says. “Weld Mold has developed an alloy (Weld Mold 919) to match the 4340 chemistry so that it responds to the heat-treatment process exactly like the base material does. Weld Mold 919 is available in electrode and metal-cored TIG wire.”
Weld Mold put forth the custom-alloy challenge to interest manufacturers that might not realize the benefits of custom solutions or think they are too expensive. However, customized does not necessarily mean more expensive because, in the end, improved tool life or part life decreases costs overall.
“While standard electrodes and wires are fine for some applications,” Lee says, “it becomes a problem when people try and use those for applications where a custom solution would be more appropriate. Because they can get a 7018 welding electrode for $1.50 per lb. versus $4.50 per lb. for a more appropriate material, many only look at that initial cost. They don’t consider the cost-benefit aspect. Using our electrode, they only have to repair the part or tool once every 10 years, but with the 7018, they may need to repair it every three months.”
And customization doesn’t necessarily cost more initially, he adds. “It depends on what the customer is looking for.”
Weld Mold notes custom solutions are a bit of a niche. They are not competing with the large production facilities cranking out low-alloy 7018 or 6013 type products.
“Weld Mold is a job shop, which allows us to do smaller quantities,” Lee says. “However, we are not looking for the guy that needs 2 lbs. of material every three years. We have a minimum development cost based on a 100-lb. production run. We are looking for the customer that has specific problems for which we can develop an alloy for a long-term solution.”