Specialty Fabricators Go Wireless with TIG Foot Pedals: Improve Productivity and Safety, Reduce Equipment Costs
Four fabricators report wireless models improve productivity, reliability and safety, offer performance consistent with corded models
Welders are often restricted by the length and cumbersome nature of cords, wires and lead required to lay a weld. These elements slow movement around weld cells, clutter the floor, and create impediments to safety and productivity. A new advancement, however, is eliminating one point of hassle, hazard and cost: wireless TIG foot controls.
Foot pedals are the most common method of controlling amperage. A major limitation to mobility and common source of failure is the remote control cord that connects the remote to the power source. While remote controls offer an advantage by allowing welders to make on-the-fly adjustments, the cord itself gets tangled around weld tables, chairs and fixtures, making it difficult for the welder to reposition around the work piece.
Four fabricators were among the first to operate wireless remote controls: RAFAB Specialty Fabrication and Big Cat Human Powered Vehicles of Orlando, Florida, Magnus Hi-Tech of Melbourne, Florida, and Chart Industries of La Crosse, Wisconsin. While each company presents unique challenges, they all experienced similar benefits from working with wireless TIG remote controls:
- Repositioning the remote quickly and easily around the weld without having to untangle cords improves productivity.
- Whether an extension or the original, remote control cords present a regular point of wear and failure. Going wireless eliminates these failures and the associated downtime.
- Weld cell safety is improved by reducing clutter and potential tripping hazards.
- The same performance, responsiveness and effectiveness as a corded model.
Small Improvements to Productivity Add Up
Paulo Camasmie, owner, Big Cat Human Powered Vehicles, built his company on the principles of lean manufacturing and with the goal of revolutionizing how recumbent bikes are built. His first idea-building tricycles out of lightweight aluminum instead of chrome-moly-spurred a business that now produces over 2,000 units each year. Camasmie noticed his welders struggling to move corded pedals around large fixtures because the cord would get tangled.
"We looked at the welding process and for ways we could save time and cost," says Camasmie. "A lot of time is wasted moving around the fixture and, maybe surprisingly, moving the pedal around because of the cord. It's an afterthought for most people, but if you really clock it you'll see that it takes up time. My initial observations showed that moving the pedal around was two minutes within a cycle time of 39 minutes."
Big Cat owner Paulo Camasmie reports the wireless remote foot control for
TIG welding has cut 3 minutes from his welder's cycle times.
Corded foot controls notoriously become tangled with other cables, table legs, positioners and stands. Welders reposition often and must put down their torch and filler metal to untangle and move the remote foot control. Switching to a wireless remote has eliminated this unproductive segment of the welding cycle.
"After switching to a wireless remote control we concluded that we were shaving three minutes off the cycle time. If you're making ten trikes each day, now you are saving 30 minutes-that's one more trike I can build each day."
"It increases my speed greatly," says Etan Falu, welder, Big Cat. "During the welding process I can move around the jigs at a greater speed without having to pick up the corded pedal and having to flip it over the machine and into position. I can just kick it where I need it and get to my job."
Rick Arnold, owner, RAFAB Specialty Fabrication, similarly sees the wireless remote as a method to increase productivity incrementally and help keep him competitive in a challenging marketplace.
"I've got three jobs going at the same time and I'll bounce back and forth between three work areas," says Arnold. "They're all within 20 feet of each other but there are all kinds of legs and obstructions in the way. Eliminating that is huge. With the economy the way it is I have to make up 12-15 percent somewhere. If I can help do it with this (wireless remote), that's
Miller's new wireless remote foot controls for TIG welding.
Reducing Cord Failure Costs and Downtime
RAFAB's overall savings come from more easily repositioning around the welding benches and the cost savings in not having to consistently replace or repair broken remote control cords. Many fabricators, like Arnold, find the cost of repairing the cord alone to be too high and simply replace the whole ensemble.
Frayed or damaged cords often result in the disposal of the complete
remote set-up, a substantial cost.
"If I have a choice between putting $180 into fixing a cord and pedal or spending $240 on a new one, I'll just get a new one and be done with it," says Arnold. "We've always kept two spares, but there were times when we'd go through both of them and damage a third within a couple of days. Overall lifespan of a pedal in my shop is four months (because of the damage done to the cord). If we went through three a year, that's $720 in pedals per machine, and I have five machines."
Switching to wireless has eliminated that failure point and extended the life of his pedals. That comes out to a potential annual savings of $3,600 in reduced repair/replacement costs if Arnold has a wireless TIG foot pedal on each machine (he currently only has it on three) and he gets at least one year of service out of it before replacing, and the wireless pedal could last even longer.
The savings could be even larger for Chart Industries, the world's leading supplier of brazed aluminum heat exchangers for air separation and hydrocarbon plants around the world. The massive heat exchangers are as long as 28 ft. and can weigh in excess of 60,000 lbs. Chart has anywhere from 50 to 100 TIG welders working at a time depending on workflow. That level of production chews through one or two remote control cords each week.
"With the wireless remote, we're not fighting to get around things anymore," says Kevin Bigley, weld tech engineer, Chart Industries. "We just pick it up, carry it along with our torch, and we're right where we need to be. If a corded remote gets hung up on something, the welder is pulling and tugging, and they'll pull the cord out of the pedal or pull it out of the machine. Now you're down because you have to go get a new one. If the welder has to either wander to the maintenance department to get a new foot pedal or have one repaired, then that's downtime and the customer might not see his product on time."
Miller's wireless remote foot control allows Al Reyes to move
swiftly throughout his weld cell, and he's no longer limited
in range by the length of his remote's cord.
Ensuring Weld Quality
Both RAFAB and Chart Industries indicated situations in which the wireless remote control helps ensure the quality of the final welded part: transfer of contaminants from the weld glove to the TIG filler rod after manually repositioning the remote control, and the effects of a TIG arc cutting out on a weld due to cord failure.
"You can't feed wire through gloves that are filthy," says Arnold, "and you can't pass certification if you've got goop all over your gloves. That cord lays in the stuff we're welding and grinding all day. If they get that stuff embedded in their gloves then they get it embedded in the weld zone and I've got a junk part. All of our welding rod is kept in sealed tubes. We do all the little things to make sure the wire is clean, so not having to pick up the remote is a big thing for us."
"About 85 percent of our work is X-ray," says Lonnie Turner, weld lab technician, Chart Industries. "Any time that you lose your arc due to a cord failure, that weld needs to be ground out. We have so many other variables to worry about that we don't need to be worrying about another one."
The wireless TIG receiver plugs into the same 14-pin receptacle as the wired model.
Reducing Weld Cell Clutter, Improving Safety and Accessibility
Welding ranges are generally limited to the length of the remote control cord and the use of costly extension cords, adding connections that are prone to failure and further clutter the floor. Going wireless eliminates the tangled mess and offers one less tripping hazard in the weld cell.
"The kind of cable that is on the back of those pedals has a tendency to spiral up and not sit flat on the floor if it had been wound up too tightly and put in a condensed place. That does me no good and is a safety hazard."
"The ergonomics of it are also a concern as it's not rare to see a welder bend down to have to move a pedal instead of just being able to kick it," says Camasmie, "and I've had concerns over the safety of the cords on the floor."
Big Cat's longest-tenured welder, Sherry Little, agrees with her boss:
"It's faster, because you don't have to bend down to move that thing, and when you get my age, bending down' isn't easy. And I trip over stuff all the time, so it would be difficult to go back to the wired remote."
At Magnus Hi-Tech, welder and fabricator Al Reyes works on precision components for the electronics and aerospace industry. Reyes is relied upon with more than 35 years experience in TIG welding aluminum and other specialty alloys, and his expertise is evidenced by the constant flow of welding carts and fixtures lined up out in front of his weld cell. For him, accessibility is the key.
"Sometimes we have two jobs going at the same time that we need to have access to," says Reyes. "Before you had to take the pedal and the wire and move around the piece. Now it's just a matter of pushing it with your foot and you're there."
Wheeling carts in and out of cells also creates an opportunity for wire damage. Reyes has used the wireless remote to move to another cart/fixture rather than wheeling it into his cell.
"If I have too many pieces in my booth it's difficult to work," he says. "Now we can leave it outside and I can go to it. Since I don't have this cord all over the place now it's just a matter of working from one end to the other and that's it."
"Corded remotes only give you a certain amount of length," says Dan Gunderson, welder, Chart Industries. "You have to make sure you can get that length, and if not you have to get extensions. With the wireless remote, all you have to do is move it and you have nothing to trip on, nothing to go around, and nothing to pinch or catch. We're getting on platforms, risers, and we're building things where we have to get up and out of position-you don't want to be dragging cords around with you."
Strength and Accuracy of Wireless Technology
The primary concern of fabricators in determining whether to make a switch to a wireless remote control is regarding whether or not it would be as responsive and reliable as a corded model. The design is simple: a wireless receiver plugs into the 14-pin receptacle of the welder in the same manner as a corded pedal. The pedal and receiver are linked together right out of the box, making installation quick and easy. Each pedal has a unique address that eliminates any chance of cross-talking between pedals/machines, and pedals are easily re-linked if switched or should a replacement device be purchased. Multiple frequency sharing allows up to 20 pedals to be used within a 90-ft. radius without interference.
"My first reaction was 'how is this going to work?'" says Bigley. "There's so many radio frequencies out there, is it going to work? And it does. We've put two in one work station and neither one interferes with the other. They work great-there is no difference. It works just as well as the wired remote. We've had it stretched 120 feet through obstacles and it still worked for us."
That includes working in the company's pneumatic test facility with walls that are two-feet thick. Chart's welders have used the pedal inside that room while the power source sat on the other side and the pedal worked flawlessly.
Arnold also reports that the response time and effectiveness of the pedals is identical to that of a corded pedal and that he has never had problems with interference, either between other pedals or other equipment, since he's added the wireless models.
"There's no difference compared to the hard-wired pedals," says Arnold. "No delay, no snags, no spikes. We were playing with it the day we got it and we took it all the way out into the street and the machine still fired."
Owner and fabricator Rick Arnold, RAFAB Specialty Fabrication,
welds in his Orlando, Florida shop.
All things considered, these early adaptors of wireless TIG remote technology are finding that-as simple as the concept is-it is providing quantifiable benefits in the areas of productivity, weld cell layout, safety, reliability, operating costs and performance.
"No shops want cords on the floor," says Camasmie. "Welders, particularly, have a lot of cords that are not easy to route from the top. It was really an incredible surprise when we found out that Miller was coming out with a wireless remote. We have them on two machines right now. We want them on all of them. Our welders think it's the greatest thing."
"These are the greatest thing since apple pie," says Reyes. "There are so many things that you used to have to watch out for that you now don't have to. Now your cord doesn't get caught in your chair. You don't have to be worrying about dragging or breaking it. And the performance is identical (to the corded model)."