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International Effort (and Maxstar 200) Brings Unique Staircase to Oceanfront High Rise

Perfect view, perfect steel, and perfect welds: Maxstar 200 produces superior aesthetic welds on stainless steel.

Elite Deco Design of Miami, Fla. caters to the high rollers: big names who wish to remain low-key. They're so low-key that we can't even tell you who the proud owner of this high-rise residence is. But in this city of music, style and eternal sunshine, it's not hard to imagine the lengths those with the resources will go to outfit their homes with customized furnishings. Case-in-point: a 14-ft. high, 22-step stainless steel staircase with glass steps and railings.

Stainless steel and glass overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and its white sand and clear blue waters is a stunning combination. Almost as impressive is the international effort that brought this staircase to the South Florida shores. And amid the exotic locales visited in the effort to build the staircase, it's interesting that the equipment that brought it all together (literally) is manufactured at a place far north of "exotic" - Appleton, Wis. and Miller Electric Mfg. Co.

Miami or Bust - From France via Italy

Carlos Olmos, project manager for Elite Deco Design, takes pride in the city of Miami, its culture and the heritage the Latin American community has built there.

"We take care of everyone," says Olmos. "Because of the large international scene, our clients are from all over the world. But also because of the nature of the people who live here and who own the high-end buildings here in Miami, most of our customers are Latin American."

He also takes pride in his work. Olmos' 22 years as a civil engineer makes him an expert on a lot of things. The bulk of Elite Deco Design's work is in residential renovation and interior design: custom wood paneling, wall units, custom closets; marble and granite flooring, countertops, floors, art glass (think stained glass) - and stainless steel. Just to name a few applications, Olmos uses stainless steel for window frames, skylights, I-beams and walls.

"The taste of this particular owner is super industrial and high tech, so he likes things designed with metal and block. Stainless steel was the owner's idea. We helped coordinate the design and manufacturing process. This staircase has been well over a year in the making."

To design the staircase, Olmos and the mystery owner enlisted the talents of Bernard Vaudeville of RFR Engineering Consultants, one of the most respected civil engineering firms in Paris. RFR is responsible for the stainless steel inverted pyramid serving as an atrium roof at The Louvre museum and the concourse facade and roofing structures at Charles de Gaulle Airport. Its designs have been erected in England, Mexico, Japan, Singapore and the United States.

"The owner was able to get together with Mr. Vaudeville in Paris to discuss designs - this is a very small project for RFR. The result was an elliptical stairway with the elements the owner specified - glass and stainless steel."

With the design complete, Vaudeville suggested that Salgipa, a manufacturing company based in Tourino, Italy, fabricate the structure and assist in the Miami assembly.

A Simple Request

Imagine those do-it-yourself pieces of furniture that you buy at major department stores that come numbered with detailed instructions and are put together over the course of an hour with a screwdriver and allen wrench. This is nothing like that, but the spirit is the same.

Over 45 days and nights (Olmos emphasizes "and nights"), Olmos, Roberto Padalino (of Salgipa) and the crew from All-State Engineering (general contractors, Miami) erected the staircase in front of a large picture window overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Before the first support was laid though, (before they even left Italy, actually), Padalino made one specific request: buy me a Miller Electric TIG welder.

"I have used Miller all my life, here and in Mexico, so it seemed natural," recalled Olmos. "But he made the request while we were still in Italy. I looked around their shop and saw nothing but Miller equipment. I said 'why don't we just pack up one of your existing machines and ship it along with the staircase?' That was not an option, as it would have left the Salgipa staff short-handed. When we returned to Miami we went out and bought a Maxstar 200 DX from Praxair (a welding supply distributor)."

Welding stainless steel isn't the easiest process, especially when the welds are on a one-of-a-kind staircase that was manufactured in Italy and without any "extra" pieces available in case of mistake.

To an extent, Miller Electric designed the Maxstar 200 for this kind of finesse work. The TIG process is best for projects that require great detail and, in this case, perfection. When aesthetics are important, TIG welding allows the welding operator to have better control over the puddle characteristics and bead appearance. Once the weld pool is at its desired shape, the welder can manually control filler metal speed and placement. With MIG and Stick welding, there is a risk of short-circuiting the gun or rod to the work piece, which creates inclusions and spatter. An experienced operator skilled at manipulating a TIG torch can literally push the weld puddle as well as add the filler metal, letting the welder sculpt the surface of the weld and achieve the desired bead appearance.

"We went with the Maxstar 200 because we needed a super fine finish," says Olmos. "Any other process (MIG, Stick, etc.) would risk blowing the arc right through the piece or creating spatter, destroying it and costing everyone time and money. We couldn't allow for that."

Contractors prefer inverters like the Maxstar 200 because they offer superior arc performance. Inverters react thousands of times faster than traditional power sources, giving operators even more control over the weld puddle. Inverters also offer positive arc starts and superior low-end arc stability, even when welding at 1 amp.

For applications like this staircase, their weight and input power flexibility also benefit the contractor. The Maxstar 200 weighs 37 lb., where a traditional machine with a comparable output (150 amps at 70 percent duty cycle) weighs 210 lb. or more.

Inverters also feature unique primary power management capabilities, such as Auto-Line. This technology literally allows the contractor to plug the Maxstar 200 into any type of primary power in the world (120 to 460 VAC, single- or three-phase, 50 or 60 Hz). Whether used in France or Wisconsin, the Maxstar 200 will function flawlessly with Auto-Line.

Constructing the Staircase

Once all the pieces arrived in Miami, x-rays were made of the concrete floor to ensure strength and stability. Scaffolding was erected and the staircase started to take shape from the bottom up. Roughly 25 main structural pieces and countless screws, bearings and brackets helped form the elliptical structure. The stainless steel footings of the stairway range from 1/2-in. to 3/4-in. in thickness and are held in place by chemical anchors (fasteners placed in hardened concrete that are strengthened by chemical adhesives). The central column is constructed of 3/8-in. stainless steel tubing and the majority of the body and step pieces are 1/8-in. thick. The 1-1/2 in. glass railing sits in stainless steel brackets, but is actually held in place by structural silicon to meet load (weight support) requirements.

As the structure was built from the bottom up, tack welds were made between the steps and the "core" - pieces that would eventually be welded fully. Bolts were applied to heavier load bearing areas. At the top, a stainless steel mezzanine is attached (also by chemical anchors) to the concrete mezzanine. The mezzanine has two special brackets that are attached to the main body of the staircase.

Artistic Welds

The majority of the welds were performed on the 1/8-in. thick stainless steel steps and the 1/4-in. "core" - a 14' high helicoidal piece of stainless steel with a rectangular shape of 4"x10" - the largest piece shipped from Italy. The Maxstar 200 can weld consistently on 1/8-in. stainless steel, as recommended amperage levels are between 100-140, well below the maximum output of 200 amps. Most welds were performed in the vertical position, but the coiling design did require some upside down welding. Argon (100 percent) was used as the shielding gas for its superior arc starts and low cost. A 1/8-in. stainless steel filler rod was used - matching the thickness of the welded material. All of these factors helped ensure that this one-of-a-kind piece looked just as good as it was envisioned from the start.

"The Maxstar 200 performed just as we needed it to. We were 100 percent satisfied with the finish," said Olmos. "We could have gone with a bigger machine, but now you don't need a big, clunky machine to perform these kinds of welds."

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