In our many years of working in the welding industry we have come across some phenomenal welders. We continue to be impressed by the level of skill of many of these men and women. Unfortunately, many business owners and managers allow this skilled labor to go underutilized. Welder efficiency, which also goes by other names such as welder factor, operator factor and arc time, is perhaps the most important metric when considering productivity in a welding shop.
Many employers pay good salaries to welders based on their skill, but in many cases their ability is not taken advantage of in terms of productivity. Welders are paid primarily to weld, but they perform many other tasks in the typical fab shop: grinding, fitting, tacking, handling parts, changing gas cylinders, changing wire, changing contact tips and performing many other tasks. Every time the welder does not have his or her arc on little to no value is added to the product being manufactured. So it is necessary to increase this efficiency. In other words, let’s get rid of as many non-value added activities to allow the welder to weld more.
Here are 8 ways to increase welder efficiency and at the same time make their jobs easier.
- Provide adequate fixtures – set up time (fitting/tacking) can sometimes take over 50% of the time spent by a welder. Many welders that do repetitive work end up creating their own fixtures to make common weld joints easier and faster to weld. It is typical that when a fabricator buys a robot, fixturing becomes very important and a great deal of money is spend in this area. They get great tooling so that the robot can spend time doing what they pay for, welding. It only makes sense that we should to this for our manual welders as well.
- Keep equipment in good repair – faulty equipment, even equipment that only has “hiccups” from time to time can create a lot of problems that cause the welder to stop welding. Voltage drops due to undersized cables, loose connections or frayed cables may produce large amounts of spatter which require grinding time. These issues can also cause an erratic arc which decreases the life of contact tips, diffusers and nozzles. Increasing changeover occurences of these parts takes away from welding time. Keep equipment in good repair and see efficiencies increase.
- Develop welding procedures – providing your welders with adequate instructions on what parameters to use on different joints and material types is essential. Even the best welders will spend a lot of time fine tuning a procedure when parts, thicknesses of positions change. A written welding procedure allows the welder to set his or her machine based on the values set on the welding procedure specification and go, thus eliminating time with trial and error.
- Train your welders and welding operators – it is important for welders and welding operators (operators of robots and fixed automation) to understand what effect the many welding variables have on the weldment. By knowing what happens if you increase or decrease amperage, voltage, travel speed, travel and work angles, contact tip to work distance (in GMAW and FCAW), welders can more easily and quickly troubleshoot bad welds, make the necessary adjustments and get back to welding.
- Consider the quality of your materials and evaluate alternatives – there is a reason why some fabricators will pay a premium for certain consumables. There are certain applications that cannot tolerate any kind of variability such as wire flip or changes in wire diameter that affect amperage. A wire that may be OK for welding dumpsters may not be adequate for high-speed robotic welding. If your welders or your robots are having issues with wire tangling, clogging liners excessively, missing the joint (robots) and excessive tip usage consider evaluating alternative consumables. This concept is also true for other inputs such as welding guns, contact tips, nozzles, etc.
- Improve your fit-up – when parts don’t fit well the assumption is that the welder will fix it. He or she can simply add more weld metal and everything will be great. This is only partly true. While welders can definitely make some magic happen, this problem can cause significant increases in cost due to reduced efficiencies. It also may cause a violation of welding procedures if the joint tolerances are exceeded. To get a glimpse at how much bad fit-up can cost you read The Outrageous Cost of Poor Fit Up.
- Consider a different welding process – Are you using a welding process that produces slag such as SMAW (stick) or FCAW (flux-core)? Is it really necessary? We visit many facilities that use flux-cored wire because that’s what they have always used. Or becasue they do some out-of-position welding and don’t want to mess with having different wires to do their flat welds which in many cases comprise over 80% of their total welding. Electrode efficiencies of slag producing processes such as SMAW and FCAW are low compared to solid electrodes used in the GMAW process. On top of that you have slag clean up which adds a lot of time.
- Consider the use of manipulating equipment – This may be what allows you to get rid of slag producing welding processes used for welding out-of-position. If you can weld in the flat and horizontal positions then you can get by with using GMAW exclusively. A manipulator can costs thousands of dollars, but the increase in productivity may pay for the investment in a relatively short amout of time.
There are many other ways to increase welder efficiency. The above eight should keep you busy for a while.