Cranes and under-construction high-rises dot the Seattle-area skyline — a telltale sign of the building boom there. Construction hit a 10-year peak in 2016, with 65 major buildings in progress downtown and in surrounding neighborhoods, according to The Seattle Times. In such a demanding market, it’s important for contractors to complete jobs quickly, while also meeting stringent seismic code requirements.
For Apex Steel, a structural steel contractor based in Kirkland, Washington, finding ways to save time while still meeting quality demands is critical to productivity, scheduling and the bottom line. Demanding project timelines and quality requirements are key drivers for structural steel contractors like Apex. Many building projects in Seattle must meet the American Welding Society (AWS) D1.8 structural welding code — stringent requirements used in seismic regions. As a result, the area sees a higher demand for D1.8 certified welders.
“The market in our area is so strong that we need to complete these projects faster because we’ve got the next project to move on it,” says Jim Greene, Apex general superintendent. “Our customers really demand quality, and they’ve come to expect the quality that Apex puts out there on every project.”
Apex specializes in steel erection, architectural metals, reinforcing steel, and tower crane and construction hoist projects, working extensively in the Seattle region with another office in Billings, Montana. The company’s construction work runs the gamut from small to large projects such as high-rises and bridges.
Utilizing wire welding processes and ArcReach® remote control welding technology from Miller Electric Mfg. Co. allows Apex to address numerous challenges — helping to significantly improve productivity while meeting high-quality requirements and improving operator safety on the jobsite.
“The quicker you get jobs done — in an efficient manner, in a safe manner — you’re going to get more jobs and bigger jobs,” says Travis Slovernick, Apex field superintendent. “It’s just night and day, the difference with this (ArcReach) system.”
A solution to address many challenges
Like many contractors in the Pacific Northwest, Apex typically uses wire welding processes. Many companies in the region have transitioned from stick welding to self-shielded wire on construction jobsites, due in part to the significantly higher deposition rates they can achieve.
“Apex is a progressive company, and they’re always looking for ways to become more productive,” says John Powers, field construction sales specialist with Pacific Welding Supplies.
Apex works with Pacific Welding Supplies to select welding machines and filler metals; Apex rents about 60 percent of its welding fleet and owns about 40 percent of it. Pacific also helps Apex develop welding procedures.
Staying on top of the latest advancements and technologies is important to Apex, to ensure the company is using solutions that help to meet critical project deadlines and demanding quality requirements. Apex welding jobs often include joint penetrations, fillet welds and butt welds, with steel thicknesses ranging from 1/4-inch to 6 inches or more.
Apex uses Miller® XMT® 350 CC/CV multiprocess welders with ArcReach technology on many jobsites. The ArcReach remote control technology helps Apex increase productivity, maintain consistent arc quality and improve safety. The solution offers remote control of the power source at the weld joint without a control cable, by way of a SuitCase® X-TREME™ 12VS feeder with ArcReach.
“This system from Miller saves so much time and money,” Slovernick says. “A welder can control everything right where he’s at. Production wise, that’s key.”
Saving up to two hours per day — per welder
The ability to control parameters at the weld joint reduces the time operators spend walking to and from the power source to make adjustments. This can save an hour or two each day per welding operator for Apex, greatly increasing arc-on time and productivity.
“Those two hours a day on each welder, with 10 welders on a job, we’d be losing 20 man hours a day in going back and forth,” Greene says. “This ArcReach technology has really helped us become more competitive. It has been an unbelievable savings for us in man power.”
Utilizing remote control technology helps keep Apex on time and on budget, while also making the job easier for welding operators, especially on large jobsites where they may have to climb down a ladder or several flights of stairs to access the power source — perhaps a distance of several hundred feet.
“Running back and forth you can burn up time. You can spend more time doing that then actually doing your job sometimes,” says Willy Perkins, an ironworker from Local 86. “It’s nice to have technology that makes our job easier.”
Apex also reaps time savings since the ArcReach technology provides remote control capabilities without a control cable. This saves time in rolling and unrolling the cable each day, in addition to time and money spent on cable maintenance and repair.
“You have less equipment to worry about getting damaged,” Slovernick says. “I know we used to spend a lot of time fixing that equipment, and you no longer have to do that.”
Using technology to reduce slips, trips and fall hazards
In addition to significantly improving productivity, remote control capabilities at the weld joint also provide benefits for worker safety. The fewer trips an operator must make back and forth to the power source — often up or down ladders or several flights of stairs — the fewer opportunities there are for slips, trips and falls and exposure to other jobsite hazards.
“We get in spots where it can be hard to get to sometimes, and when you do get there, the last thing you want to do is move again just to go up a volt or drop your amps,” says Kyle DePaoli, an ironworker from Local 86. “Not having to get off the iron every two minutes saves a lot of time, and it’s safer.”
It can also be an issue of operator fatigue, when an operator must climb up and down stairs frequently or get to and from a hard-to-reach welding location. One Apex job in Bellevue, Washington, involved constructing a sky bridge pedestrian walkway between two buildings. The welding operators used ladders laid flat to reach the spot of the weld, where they were joining two columns about 20 feet off the ground. Getting to the ground required maneuvering from that spot and going down several flights of stairs.
“The wear and tear on the guys and the fatigue — the remote technology saves everybody all the way around,” Slovernick says.
Maintaining weld quality
The ability to easily adjust parameters at the weld joint also eliminates the need for welding operators to “make do” with less-than-optimal settings.
“Otherwise you might just say ‘that’s good enough,’” DePaoli says. “This way you’ll probably have your parameters where they should be.”
This helps ensure that Apex is meeting D1.8 code requirements and producing high-quality welds.
“It helps us keep our consistency and quality,” Greene says. “A welder won’t attempt to make a weld in a different position without making the changes. He’ll make those changes because it’s right there next to him.”
In addition, pairing an ArcReach wire feeder with an ArcReach power source locks out any changes to the weld process, voltage or amperage at the power source — only the welding operator can make changes at the feeder. This prevents accidental changes and eliminates mistakes that can occur if parameters are incorrectly changed.
“You're sure that nobody can mess with your settings,” DePaoli says.
A user-friendly wire
For the sky bridge project, Apex needed a self-shielded flux-cored wire certified for D1.8 code and Charpy V-notch testing at -20 degrees Fahrenheit. Pacific Welding Supply put Apex in touch with Hobart, and Hobart evaluated and certified its Fabshield® XLR-8 self-shielded flux-cored wire for those requirements — saving Apex time and money.
“Hobart ran a special test for us and worked with us side by side,” Slovernick says. “It’s a wonderful wire to work with.”
Apex uses the wire on many projects because it has a wide operating window, making it user-friendly and dependable in consistently producing quality welds. It’s suited for high-strength applications and offers low hydrogen levels, and because it’s self-shielded it doesn’t require a shielding gas.
“You don’t have the hang-ups inside the feeder that the old stiffer wires used to give us,” Greene says. “That’s pretty much our go-to wire on all of our projects.”
The wire also helps Apex improve productivity by reducing the time spent on clean-up between weld passes and post-weld, since the slag releases easily.
“It’s a forgiving wire — even when you’ve got a rough surface instead of a nice smooth iron,” Perkins says. “With your settings right, the slag will just fall right off. You just slide a brush across it, and it’s ready for the next pass.”
Staying ahead with technology
Apex works to ensure the company utilizes the most productive and efficient solutions on the jobsite — for the greatest impact on productivity and safety.
“Anything that can help productivity-wise, efficiency-wise — that’s key for us,” Slovernick says.
The ArcReach remote control technology helps Apex save time and money while maintaining high quality, so the company can complete projects quickly and move on to the next job.
“The technology from Miller has really helped to minimize our downtime, to keep our production rolling and to help us keep the equipment in good condition,” Greene says. “This technology is far exceeding anyone else on the market.”
Note on product update: Miller® ArcReach® technology has been updated with even more capabilities that make it even easier for welding operators to save time and do their best work. Enhanced ArcReach technology is available on the XMT® 350 FieldPro™ power sources from Miller. To learn more, visit www.MillerWelds.com/ArcReach.