July 8, 2011
Modern wire-feeding technology can boost welders' performances and overall productivity. If they are working with old feeding equipment, disadvantage
The wire feeder is perhaps the unsung hero of the welding world. Improvements can, and have, been made to power sources, guns, and filler metals, but the piece that brings them all together and has the greatest potential to help or hinder the welder is the wire feeder.
Today’s wire feeders (see Figure 1) do much more than simply feed wire to a gun. With the help of sophisticated computer technology, the wire feeder can monitor and control the welding arc to help even the beginner welder create reliable, high-performance welds time after time.
The mechanical design of wire feeders has not changed much in the past 10 to 15 years. Most improvements are found in the control panels. Wire feeder manufacturers have been able to leverage advancements in software capabilities to add more features while keeping the panels relatively simple and easy to use. As a result, today’s welders can weld better with less training and experience.
Here are five wire-feeding advancements that welders should know about if they are looking to upgrade their feeding equipment in the near future.
The one area in the physical design of wire feeders that has improved in recent years is new guide tube technology to prevent birdnesting. These new designs better capture the wire by supporting the wire on all sides and reduce gaps between rolls and at the entrance to the gun to prevent wire slippage. Typically, unsupported wire can buckle easily, but the extra grip from the more extensive use of guide tubes supports the wire at all times so that it won’t buckle and birdnest.
Wire feeder manufacturers have invested much of their time and money in creating user-friendly panels (see Figure 2) that simplify the welding job. The average age of today’s welder is 55. Within a decade, the industry will lose a large percentage of its workforce to retirement. With those welders go many years of experience and technique that cannot be easily replaced with new, inexperienced recruits. Manufacturers, therefore, are working to make use of the functionality of computer controls to provide the expertise needed to control the weld arc that veteran welders developed through years of experience.
As a result, today’s motor controls have become pretty sophisticated. Microcontrolled systems monitor digital feedback from the motor to accurately control welding speed and current. These systems can self-adjust within a certain range to maintain optimal performance. If the speed and current begin to fall outside the specified range, the control sends an error code to the digital display to alert the welder of the problem.
Simplicity of setup is a key factor in most of today’s welding panels, with the panel doing much of the work. For example, some power sources have a feature that automatically sets the voltage when the welder sets the wire speed in short-arc mode. The panel monitors the arc and automatically corrects for any change in the gas or gun distance, resulting in a more reliable welding performance. The panel optimizes the welding arc for the welder, so he or she no longer has to listen and adjust the voltage manually—a skill that often takes years to acquire.
Additionally, setting up these modern control panels is not difficult. In fact, if welders can operate cell phones, they can set up the controls.
User comfort also has become a key benefit to today’s panels. Controls are located in easy-to-reach and logical locations, and many panels provide convenient features, such as a latching feature so the welder does not have to hold down the gun trigger on long welds.
In fact, the entire design of modern wire feeders centers on ease of use. For example, most wire feeders do not need tools to change the rolls. Toolless quick-connects facilitate easy setup and swap-out.
Simple control panels acknowledge that welders need certain functions to be efficient at their jobs. They provide control of these functions in a user-friendly manner, making welding an easier process. More sophisticated welders, however, have grown used to controlling every aspect of the welding process. More intuitive control panels give these welders access to more functions. Typically, the welder holds down a control button on the panel for five seconds to gain access to additional menu features that allow him to set more parameters.
Most intuitive panels allow multiple process set– ups. A welder sets all of the job parameters and then pushes a button to save the program—no more scratching a mark on the front panel to remember the settings. As the control complexity increases, the memory to recall more program parameters increases too. On the most advanced panels, a welder can save more than 200 synergetic lines.
Shops that work with welding procedures can program the tolerances specified by each procedure, so the welder cannot exceed the specified range. This is very useful in shops where multiple welders might work on the same job.
This also simplifies the job of quality assurance. The most advanced panels even track production statistics and quality functions to aid in quality control.
In the past if a welder’s functionality requirements changed, the only option was to purchase a new wire feeder. Today some manufacturers design their equipment to work together, so a welder can mix and match the modules that will provide the required functionality and power. For example, the newest wire feeders provide the opportunity to upgrade with a simple switch-out of the panel. A welder can start with a very simple panel, and if the welding job changes or as his or her experience increases and more influence over the control is desired, the welder can upgrade to a fully intuitive control with the ability to store multiple parameters for particular jobs. A welder also can easily upgrade a power source to achieve the mix of power and functionality and not worry about having to purchase a new wire feeder.
Many wire feeders now offer self-diagnostic abilities, very similar to onboard diagnostics on a car. If things go awry, the control flashes an error code, and in many cases, it can even suggest what may be causing the problem. For example, if the control senses an excessive motor current, it might suggest that the welder replace the gun liner. Often problems can be detected and rectified before they get so serious that extensive repair to the equipment is necessary.
Modern wire feeders remove the guesswork that leads to inconsistent welding results. They can simplify the welder’s job and improve productivity. In short, wire feeders should be more of a help than a hindrance to a welder.
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