Remote Control Welding Technologies Offer Innovative Ways to Improve Job Site Safety
Remote control welding technologies have evolved over the years, making it easier to gain the safety benefits of these capabilities in a cost-effective manner.
Safety on the job site is non-negotiable — regardless of whether it’s a general construction application, pipeline welding or a complex process pipe system project. In addition to educating employees about safety standards and implementing the use of personal protection equipment (PPE), remote control welding technologies have become an increasingly viable means to creating a safer job site environment. In many cases, this technology can significantly reduce the opportunity for trips and falls.
Because many job sites are expansive, the welding may actually take place hundreds of feet from the power source. Remote control welding technologies offer welding operators the ability make critical process changes and parameter adjustments at the weld joint versus at the power source, thereby eliminating the need to navigate cluttered job sites and risk potential injury. Over the years, these technologies have also evolved to eliminate additional cords and control cables, and in some cases, to allow welding operators to alternate between welding processes remotely by the push of a button.
Putting the welding controls next to the work location offers the additional benefit of encouraging proper machine settings to improve quality, and provides for more arc-on time, which leads to a larger number of completed welds and greater overall productivity.
To date, remote control welding technologies exist for both traditional and advanced welding processes, encouraging greater safety in a multitude of applications.
The status of safety risks on the job site
In 2011, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) attributed 738 fatalities out of 4,138 (or 17.6 percent) occurring in private industry to construction accidents. Out of those 738 fatalities, the organization cited falls as responsible for 259 deaths (35 percent), putting this type of accident at the top in OSHA’s “Fatal Four” injuries. Fall protection is also cited as the top OSHA standards violation for preventable injuries on construction job sites (https://www.osha.gov/oshstats/commonstats.html).
While these statistics may sound dismal, they are actually an indication of continued safety improvements over past years in reducing job site falls. These improvements, however, aren’t just the result of stricter regulations. They are also the result a greater commitment to safety on the part of contracting companies.
Increasingly, companies are taking steps to invest in comprehensive training programs and technologies that can reduce the risk of injury. Implementation can include improved self-retracting devices (SRDs), more detailed fall protection and rescue programs, and simply investing in employee education.
While all of these improvements cost money, the investment in safety is essential — both from a moral and a business sense.
In many cases, the investment in safety technology also doesn’t have to be excessive. Remote control welding technologies, in particular, have evolved over the years, making it easier to gain the safety benefits of these capabilities in a cost-effective manner.
Remote hand controls for the field — SMAW and GTAW
Welding equipment manufacturers in today’s market place offer various remote technologies for the Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW) and Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW) processes, both of which are common in field applications. These technologies improve job site safety by minimizing trips to the power source to make changes to the welding parameters (i.e. to compensate for heat buildup in the part, changing weld positions, and more), and with it the potential for trips and falls.
Wireless remote hand controls are one such technology and are especially prevalent in pipeline applications, structural steel erection, and maintenance and repair operations. These controls offer the ability to make basic parameter changes at the weld, usually as far as 300 feet away from the power source, and remove a tripping hazard by eliminating the control cable. They feature an on/off contact switch that further increases safety by allowing the welding operator to shut off the current output when he or she is not welding.
Wireless remote hand controls operate by way of a radio signal and can be used to control the output of a variety of compatible machines, including engine drives or plug-in machines. They connect through a remote 14-pin and are synced with the receiver directly out of the box, featuring a unique address that ensures they communicate only with each other without crosstalk with other systems.
Wireless remote hand controls typically need to be operated “in the line of sight” of the power source; they may be limited in their ability operate in the presence of structures or parts that block the radio signal. They also represent only a percentage of the amperage set at the power source, similar to traditional corded remotes. As an example, if the remote is set at 40, and the machine is set at 300 amps, it indicates the welding operator is welding with 120 amps.
More advanced remote technologies are also available for SMAW and GTAW that provide welding operators with complete control over the welding process and eliminate the line-of-sight issues; they can still operate if a structure blocks the area between the weld and the power source. These remotes also feature the same controls as the power source, and use a weld cable for communication, which again eliminates the control cable and reduces clutter on the job site. Fewer cables mean less opportunity for injuries from trips and falls.
Such advanced remotes can also sense incorrect connections and offer remote polarity reversing, ensuring that the welding operator is welding in the correct polarity for either the SMAW or GTAW process. If any aspect of the setup is incorrect, the welding operator will be alerted by way of an error message, which indicates that the weld cables need to be switched at the weld joint. The remotes also allow welding operators to set the actual amperage, as opposed to a percentage. This full control eliminates the need for welding operators to track cables back to the correct power source, as many job sites have multiple power sources in one area — and it helps improve productivity and quality.
Both types of remotes for SMAW and GTAW welding eliminate the need to move the power source once installed on a job site, minimizing safety risks associated with lifting and moving the machine.
Reducing injury risks for GMAW and FCAW processes
Remote technologies for Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW) and Flux-Cored Arc Welding
(FCAW) are available that operate by way of weld cable controls and allow welding operators to make welding parameter adjustments (e.g. wire feed voltage) at the wire feeder — from up to 200 feet away. These controls, as with the advanced remotes discussed for SMAW and GTAW, communicate through the same cable that carries the welding current from the power source to the feeder, eliminating the need for an extra control cable and with it, an additional tripping hazard. Many contractors in the construction industry employ this remote control technology, as do shipbuilding contractors.
This type of remote technology helps ensure that the signal won’t be blocked by structures on the job site and provides the welding operator with more flexibility. It’s not necessary to be in the line of sight of the power source to ensure the remote capabilities work. Such a benefit is especially good for welding vessels and/or other confined spaces such as those in the shipbuilding industry.
The information communicated from the wire feeder to the power source may include welding power source output command information (amperage/voltage), welding circuit on/off information (power source output contactor control) and/or power source state control (constant voltage/constant current). Welding operators can, in addition to the safety benefits, gain quality control by being able to adjust the actual voltage levels on the feeder’s digital meter.
As with other remote technologies, having each of these capabilities allows welding operators to spend more time welding as opposed to walking to and from the power source and makes them safer by not having to navigate obstacles on the job site. They also experience less strain and fatigue caused by repositioning cables.
Remote safety benefits for advanced welding processes
Many pipe welding contractors, specifically those serving the refinery, petrochemical, power generation and HVAC industries have begun to turn to advance wire welding processes to improve quality and productivity. These processes include modified short circuit GMAW welding and Pulsed GMAW welding. Gaining these advantages is still an option, while instilling remote welding capabilities into the welding process to improve safety.
Remote control technologies exist for the advanced welding processes that give the welding operator the ability to change weld parameters at the weld joint with a touch of a button, as well as the ability to change the weld processes. Welding operators simply connect the power source with a specially designed “smart” wire feeder to gain full remote control capabilities, including process selection, material type and wire diameter, gas type, wire feed speed and voltage. The power source automatically shifts all controls to the feeder when connected, eliminating the need to string and manage the clutter of the additional control cables.
The wire feeders with these remote technologies extend the distance from the power source 200 or more feet away from the power source (without line of sight issues) and they actually generate and control the welding process, which ensures the waveform extends to the point of use in an optimal state because it is only traveling the length of the GMAW gun cable. Previously, cables for advanced processes would carry the waveform from the power source over long distances to the feeder, resulting in a distorted waveform that could affect arc performance and weld quality. These cables could also be quite expensive to purchase and to repair should they become damaged.
Most importantly, by featuring one less cable (the communication cable) and giving the welding operator total process control at the weld, such remote control capabilities are again increasing safety by reducing travel to and from the power source.
Making the decision
Deciding between remote control technologies depends largely on the welding processes needed for a given application, but offers the same benefit on every one: safety. By removing the need to travel to and from the power source, they eliminate the hazard of trips and falls occurring while welding operators navigate what are often very cluttered work corridors. As companies continue to invest in greater safety education and new safety technologies, remote control technologies are one more item they can consider adding to help create a safer job site.
Wireless remote hand controls (shown here) offer the ability to make basic parameter changes at the weld, usually as far as 300 feet away from the power source, and remove a tripping hazard by eliminating the control cable.