Calibrating goes portable

On-site servicing keeps orbital welding power supplies up and running

Practical Welding Today September/October 2012
September 10, 2012
By: John Glessman

Portable calibration units allow you to perform quality assurance maintenance themselves by calibrating critical welding variables on-site. These remote servicing capabilities bring support closer to the jobsite, improving the uptime and functionality of the power supply and eliminating the need to send it off-site for calibration.

Calibrating goes portable -

Portable calibration units allow you to test critical welding variables and calibrate your orbital welding power supply on-site.

Portable orbital welding power supplies offer a convenient and efficient method to make critical welds in the field. But when the time comes to service power supplies, that convenience disappears and is replaced with the hassle of shipping units for calibration, repair, or software updates—a process that adds time, cost, and inefficiencies.

New technology advancements such as portable calibration units now allow you to perform quality assurance maintenance yourself. In addition, downloadable software updates can upgrade a power supply’s capabilities in the field as soon as new features are available. These remote servicing capabilities are taking support closer to the job site to improve the uptime and functionality of the power supplies while enhancing your ability to stay on task.

Moving Calibration On-site

Most facilities, job sites, and welding fleets must adhere to quality system requirements that dictate the frequency of welding power supply calibration. For orbital welding power supplies, this may require the verification or adjustment of critical welding variables such as current, voltage, and weld head travel speed every six months to two years.

Today you can minimize costs and eliminate shipping logistics and downtime associated with power supply calibration with portable calibration units. These units allow you to test critical welding variables and calibrate power supplies on-site, giving you the ability to return equipment to operation in minutes rather than days. Portable calibration units also give you the flexibility to easily increase your calibration frequency to meet changing quality system requirements.

Before portable units were available, the calibration process typically required you to ship power supplies to an off-site service center. The logistics for shipping a heavy piece of equipment can be somewhat difficult and costly. In some cases, your company may face tariffs or duties when shipping units between countries if the service center is not local. And it may be very difficult to transport a unit to and from a remote location, such as an offshore oil drilling platform.

Sending a unit off-site for calibration may also mean you are without a power supply for a period of time. Some power supply providers offer loaner equipment, which allows you to continue welding while equipment is being serviced. However, some job sites do not permit backup equipment to be used.

On-site power supply calibration and software updates are especially handy for the following operations:

  • High-purity environments. Due to cleanliness requirements, high-purity environments, such as aerospace and semiconductor manufacturing facilities, may have especially tight controls over power supplies. An actual power supply—down to its serial number—may be specified, which means using a loaner power source is not permitted.
  • Remote locations. Certain remote locations, such as offshore oil drilling platforms, do not lend themselves to transporting power supplies to and from service centers easily. In addition, countries with difficult transportation logistics are not ideal places to make frequent equipment shipments for servicing.
  • Secure job sites. When power supplies are used in a secure environment, such as a nuclear facility or government site, the units may need to be inspected physically each time they enter or leave the site. The process adds paperwork and asset tracking requirements. In some cases, the equipment may not even be permitted to leave the facility, which means it can’t be serviced off-site. All of these inconveniences can be avoided when servicing is done on-site.

Calibrating Critical Welding Variables

On-screen navigation on the power supply prompts you to initiate the calibration process. The portable calibration unit then performs various diagnostics and measures different output levels. It automatically calibrates certain settings, while prompting you to adjust other values. The units are primarily designed to calibrate or verify three critical welding variables: current, voltage, and weld head travel speed.

Current is one of the most critical variables to control during orbital welding because it affects the depth of penetration for a weld directly. For power supplies classified as constant-current (CC) machines, steady current output levels are required to ensure that the welded surfaces are melting and joining evenly. If current output varies, weld accuracy and repeatability diminish. A portable calibration unit cycles a power supply through a variety of current settings to test output levels, automatically calibrating the power supply to ensure proper current output for future welds.

Voltage, also an important variable, can affect weld quality because it is related to the length of the arc between the electrode and the material surface. A CC power supply’s voltage varies during welding, but the voltage is monitored as real-time feedback and compared to expected values in the weld program. Voltage calibration ensures proper voltage monitoring during welding. To calibrate the voltage, the unit compares actual values with expected values and then prompts you to make simple on-screen adjustments to match power supply voltage readings.

Calibrating goes portable -

Portable calibration units calibrate or verify welding current, voltage, and weld head travel speed.

Weld head travel speed is another critical welding variable as it affects both the width and penetration of the weld. Improper travel speed may result in imperfections in the weld that may affect quality and acceptance of the end product. Some power supplies require you to calibrate the weld head for every weld, or at least every time you change a weld program. However, power supplies that provide real-time feedback during the welding process do not require this. Instead, they rely on verifying weld head travel speed periodically as part of the calibration software on the power supply itself. Verifying the travel speed allows you to meet specified welding requirements without calibrating the weld head too frequently.

Performing Equipment Updates

An orbital welding power supply with an open platform provides the option to expand the unit’s capabilities as technology evolves. Power supply manufacturers may update programming capabilities, incorporate new devices, or add different functionalities. When those updates are released, software needs to be updated on the physical machine. And the sooner the updates are received, the better.

Older power supplies typically must be shipped to a service center for updates, which creates the logistical challenges of shipping equipment and being without a power supply or using a loaner. In addition, companies that own older equipment typically wait to obtain updates until calibration or other servicing is due, which could result in a significant delay in obtaining software updates.

Newer power supplies can be updated in the field, which enables you to significantly reduce the lag time between software releases and installation on a machine. The lag time could be as short as minutes when software updates are available for download online. You are able to register equipment and receive automatic e-mail notifications when new software is available. You can then download the software, save it to a USB memory stick, and install it on your power supplies, allowing you to use the latest features immediately after they are released.

Reducing Off-site Servicing

While portable calibration units offer the convenience of calibrating power supplies for critical welding variables, you may still need to have units checked by professional service providers periodically. For example, multipoint inspections may be required less frequently than the calibration of critical welding variables. Such inspections may involve checking the operating voltages on internal power supply circuit boards, inspecting all internal wiring, reviewing system diagnostics for performance trends, and performing functional checks on all input and output ports and accessories. When such support is needed, it’s important to have access to a reliable, available equipment provider. Be sure to look for capable providers with authorized service centers nearby, as well as ones that offer loaner equipment.

Still, you can greatly reduce how often you transport power supplies for service off-site by using portable calibration units and taking advantage of downloadable software updates. Both technology advancements extend servicing capabilities that provide convenience, reduce costs, and improve efficiencies that can cut servicing timelines from days to minutes.

John Glessman

Manager, Welding System Products
Swagelok Company
31500 Aurora Road
Solon, OH 44138
Phone: 440-349-5934

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