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What's New in Production Welding Machines?
Energy-efficient, flexible, high-quality, complex, yet easy-to-operate machines are what fabricators are looking for in production-type power sources these days
Lincoln's Power MIG 300 offers multiprocess welding in a ready-to-weld package. It offers three ways to weld aluminum: standard push gun, spool gun, or push-pull aluminum feeding capability.

You're in the market for production welding machines - 300-A or higher power sources destined for your factory floor. So what exactly are you looking for? According to welding equipment manufacturers, if you're like most fabricators, flexibility and ease of operation are the keys to your power source needs.
"People are looking for flexibility," said Steve Sumner, manager, Marketing Product Development, The Lincoln Electric Co., Cleveland, Ohio. "There are different types of welds that need to be made, different materials to be welded." Therefore, fabricators want a single machine that can handle a wide range of jobs.

The trend for all types of welding power sources these days, not just production-type machines, is "lighter, faster, more reliable, and more flexible," said Mike Sammons, product manager, TIG Products, Miller Electric Mfg. Co., Appleton, Wis.

Robert Wiseman, marketing manager for Thermal Arc, a Thermadyne company based in Troy, Ohio, sees three major trends taking place in the production machine arena. The first is a switch from conventional power source designs to inverters.

Miller's Dimension series of 300-, 450-, 650-, and 1000-A models are rated at 100% duty cycle. Applications for the multiprocess machines include the construction, manufacturing, fabricating, pipe welding, and shipbuilding industries.
"Inverters are more power efficient. They offer more than one process in the same package and offer more flexibility to the customer," Wiseman said. Energy efficiency is very important to some fabricators, Lincoln's Sumner said, especially those on the U.S. west coast. Improved energy efficiency leads to increased use of inverter technology.

The second trend is "customers are looking for information from the power source," Wiseman said. They need the information as part of their quality assurance efforts. "They want assurance that what they set they get. They want to have confidence the machine is maintaining its settings and these settings can be monitored."

The third trend is "an increased interest in automation and putting these sorts of power sources on a robot," Wiseman said. To that end, power source manufacturers are developing better communication methods between welding machines and equipment such as robot controllers and wire feeders, as well as improved waveform control, explained Tim Nacey, general manager, Industrial Group, Panasonic Factory Automation, Franklin Park, Ill.

Power-MasterŽ 500P from Thermal Arc is a heavy-duty, multiprocess inverter power source rated at 450 A, 100% duty cycle.
Production-type power source development at ESAB Welding & Cutting Products, Florence, S.C., is a "continuation of what's been happening over the last few years," said Robert Fernicola, product business manager of equipment. "We're working on higher energy efficiency, better arc characteristics, improved operator friendliness, and greater flexibility."

Operator friendliness or ease of use has become very important, driven by a shortage of skilled welders throughout the world, said Bill Guest, general manager of Daihen Inc., Tipp City, Ohio. Daihen's OTC brand of welding and robotic systems are manufactured in Japan. The driving force behind the fuzzy logic control for aluminum welding featured in the company's new Turbo Pulse 350 and 500 DF power sources "came from the less experienced labor pool in Japan," Guest explained. Because there are fewer skilled welders, manufacturers "want higher quality from lesser quality labor." The feature "perpetually controls the arc voltage to compensate for a less skilled welder."

Jeff Hietpas, product manager, Industrial Products Group, Miller Electric, explained it differently. Fabricators want "complex machines that are simple to run," he said.

New Developments
Following is a sampling of the technology welding equipment manufacturers are including in high-amperage, production-type machines.

  • Besides the fuzzy logic feature, Daihen's Turbo Pulse DF pulsed gas metal arc welding machine employs a pulse waveform control technology the company calls "Synchro Short-Pulse Control." According to the company, the machine actually pulses and short circuits at the same time. It features a short, rigid arc length that allows increased travel speed while producing little spatter. According to Guest, the push for this technology came from Japanese automakers who wanted a pulsed GMAW power source that would produce consistent, spatter-free welds at a higher travel speed.
  • Lincoln Electric's F355i communicates directly to the robot controller through an ethernet system. This eliminates some of the intermediary hardware and software usually required between the power source and controller and makes the entire system operate faster.
    The Panasonic KF 350 and 500 models offer higher travel speeds for welds.
  • Panasonic Factory Automation's soon-to-be introduced GB1 power source features a 32-bit RISC microcomputer that gives it a level of intelligence more sophisticated than most welding robots and that will run 125 times faster, according to Nacey. The result is the use of inverter technology for waveform control of short-circuit GMAW.
  • Thermal Arc is shifting from the use of teach pendants to controlling the power source using a personal computer as with the Power Master 500P. "We see this as something we'll be doing more of," Wiseman said. "You can do more with a PC than with a pendant." To make it easy for the customer to use, the company made sure there was "nothing unfamiliar about the software" he said. "It looks like a normal Windows screen."
  • ESAB has begun introducing machines with a special switching technology that produces efficiencies similar to inverters but at a cost more like conventional power supplies, Fernicola said. In addition, the company's new Aristo MIG 400 model power source utilizes a BUS system that enables the power source and wire feeder to communicate in much the same way as an automobile's computer communicates with the rest of the car's systems. The system eliminates cables and other equipment that take up floor space.
  • Miller Electric's Auto-Link feature provides connection to 230- or 460-V, single- or three-phase power without the operator needing to remove the machine's covers and relink the power source. The operator needs only to plug in the machine and the electronic circuitry adjusts automatically.

    What's Available
    While not all-encompassing, Table 1, which follows, lists the features of many of the 300-A and higher machines on the market today. Additional information about the products can be found on the companies' Web sites at www.daihen-usa.com, www.esab.com, www.lincolnelectric.com, www.millerwelds.com, www.panasonicfa.com, and www.thermalarc.com.

    Mary Ruth Johnsen (mjohnsen@aws.org is Senior Editor and Andrew Cullison is Editor of the Welding Journal.

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