Chris Razor, owner, operator and welding specialist at Hi-Tech Welding in Plymouth, Michigan, doesn’t have a website — and he couldn’t tell you about much of the work he does even if he wanted to. Located just outside of Detroit, Razor is a trusted resource for major automotive manufacturers and race teams, as well as the iron and steel industries, and other machine shops in need of precision welding and repair. Welding now for 36 years, Razor has built his shop on strong customer relationships, strong word-of-mouth (thus, no website), and dedicated one-on-one customer service with each project. When you call Hi-Tech Welding, you’re always talking directly to the guy who will do your welding.
Much of the work Razor does is on engine prototypes and premium components. This requires an expertise in welding materials ranging from titanium and stainless steel to almost every alloy of aluminum known to man. Because of the sensitive nature of the work — often welding extremely thin and/or dissimilar thicknesses, or joints immediately next to other critical components — the TIG process is Razor’s specialty.
For 36 years, Razor has had a front row seat to the evolution of TIG welding equipment from large transformer-based machines to equipment roughly the size of a carry-on suitcase. With that technology has come new ways to control heat input, tailor arc performance, and improve overall weld quality and productivity. It has also helped streamline his equipment layout and cell design. In this article we’ll look at Razor’s welding practices and how modern inverter technology has helped him serve some of the finest manufacturers and fabricators in Detroit and around the world.
Inverter Advances Drive Quality and Productivity
Razor’s current workhorse is the Dynasty® 350, an AC/DC TIG/Stick inverter that weighs 138 pounds. It is a stark contrast to transformer-based machines that weigh in upwards of 300 and 400 pounds. It also takes up a much smaller footprint. As part of the TIGRunner® Package, which includes a cart and a CoolMate™ 3.5 water cooler, the whole footprint is only 45-inches high, 23-inches wide and just under 44-inches deep, making it easy to maneuver and park anywhere in the shop.
Quality is top priority to Razor and his customers, and as such, there are a number of capabilities achieved with inverter technology not possible with older machines: AC balance and frequency controls, independent amplitude, expanded DC pulsing frequencies and a greater selection of waveform designs to help tailor the arc to each specific application.
“It can really take an average welder and make him a good welder, and it can take a great welder and make him outstanding just through the use of that machine. It is truly incredible, its ability,” according to Razor.
Key features include:
Today’s inverters give Razor the ability to adjust AC balance beyond the limits of older technology. AC Balance adjusts the amount of arc cleaning, offers higher settings to provide faster travel speeds, lays a narrowed weld bead and extends tungsten life in addition to fine-tuning the etch or cleaning zone surrounding the weld. Old transformers typically allowed only the electrode negative (EN) portion of the cycle to be dialed up to 70 percent. Today’s inverters allow operators to set it up to 99 percent. This provides additional capabilities for dialing in the exact arc for the application, and it also allows for welding with a sharp tungsten to more precisely direct heat into the joint. In some applications, higher balance settings permit the use of a smaller tungsten diameter.
“I like to have the balance at about 75 percent of my values,” says Razor. “Should you want to have more cleaning than that, you can down that balance to 70 or 65 percent and that picks up on the other side of the cleaning action.”
Transformer-based TIG units are typically locked in at the line frequency: 60 hertz in North America and 50 hertz in other locations around the globe. Inverters give operators the ability to dial that in between 20 and 400 hertz. This controls the arc width and higher AC frequencies create a narrow, focused arc with significantly better directional control.
“If you have a very, very tight corner and turn the frequency up, you can just push that puddle right into that corner very sharply without it trying to bounce off and ricochet on other gussets or anything else in the area,” says Razor. “It really focuses that arc down to the puddle and keeps that tungsten very pointed and very clean. It really gives you that ability to weld aluminum almost as easy as steel in those situations, which has always been the problem with the older machines getting in real tight corners and real confined areas. And so with the frequency, you really design that into that corner bead situation.”
Independent Amplitude/Amperage Control
The independent amplitude and amperage controls of today’s inverters, combined with the extended frequency range, provide Razor with even more fine-tuning options. This ability allows for the electrode positive (EP) and electrode negative (EN) amperages to be set independently to precisely control heat input to the work and electrode.
“The fact that you can control the amplitude of the positive side of the AC wave and the hertz, it really lets you dial in the arc,” he says. “I call it custom-making an arc to where you can weld right to a point of a thread and not disturb the thread next to it, all the way to the other end of doing a large build-up very rapidly. So, by designing that and changing that amplitude of those two, you’re able to just design an arc for whatever you need.
“The independent amplitude of this machine is really what it’s all about,” he adds. “You can just do whatever you want to do, heavy penetration, you get a product that’s 2- or 3-, 4-inches thick, you put the negative on there, more negative than positive, you can really dig in for deep penetration, and the speed of travel is increased in that instance, too.”
Inverters also offer Razor a choice of waveform designs for additional fine-tuning: triangulated, sine, soft and advanced squarewave.
"Particularly in my product line, there’s a lot of machining, and the advanced squarewave (of older inverters) would almost leave a bead (that you could see post machining),” says Razor. “This gives you the ability to go back to a sine wave, so that in the machining operation, the bead is transparent, you can’t see it. Also, with the triangulated option, thin materials are now extremely easy to weld. So this gives you that change of wave. And the soft square is a nice combination between the sine and the advanced squarewave. It doesn’t dig as deep, but you still have that balanced ability in the waveform. So I think those options really expand across my product line the possibilities of great weld repair.”
Pulsed DC TIG
There are also substantial benefits to the DC Pulsed TIG functionality of inverters compared to older machines. The pulse frequency of conventional welding transformers tops out at about 20 hertz. New inverters offer pulse frequencies ranging from 100 to 5,000 hertz. This high-speed pulsing focuses and constricts the arc, which reduces average amperage levels, narrows the heat-affected zone and lowers heat input – all helping to reduce distortion.
“On the pulsed TIG on this unit, what I really like about it, it’s so quick and it’s so repetitive,” says Razor. “I do a lot of products where aesthetics is very important and the bead formation, they like it to be the same on every part. So this really gives you the ability to reproduce that without using a foot pedal pulsed manually. As we know, you do well for a little while and then by the time you get to the end of the bead, it doesn’t look like the beginning. Well, this thing does it so easily and so nicely that it just takes any mistake out of the equation.”
Ultimately, it is these AC and DC capabilities working together that give Razor the edge on quality.
“We go from 22-gauge up to 5-inches thick,” he says. “It’s quite a wide variety. And that’s where the inverters really play such a role in the aluminum world is to be able to weld that thickness of aluminum with very little preheat and very little heat input into the product. So you can take a part that’s either fully machined or semi-machined, do extensive amounts of welding without warping, pulling or taking the heat treat out of the part. That’s really the key. It’s about the time spent welding on the part, the BTU input. The longer you weld on it, the more heat in the product, the more expansion, therefore, the more contraction. So the ability to get in there, quickly make a puddle, make the repair and get off the part saves the heat treat, there’s no heat treat issue, and the warpage issue is as minimal as it can be."
While quality is paramount, the advances in weld quality also help him get work done faster:
“When I first used the machine, it took 20 minutes off of the welding process,” says Razor. “At first I thought I looked at the clock wrong and I repeated it. It saved that much time on a three-hour job, it took twenty minutes off. Great benefit. And it was so much easier; I wasn’t even thinking about it. (It has the) ability to ramp up, get the welding started, and it seems to have a much higher deposition rate. You’re able to put more welding rod in per minute than what you could with older technology. And the control you have when it’s up at that higher rate, it’s just smoother, more controlled, and so you’re able to put more rod into the puddle and make that puddle go and do what you want it to do. So I think the productivity, the waveform and the time it saves you on the job just adds up on a daily basis.”
Efficiencies Help Simplify Processes
Razor’s Dynasty 350 also helps him streamline his operation in other ways, including space savings, cost savings and reduced consumable costs.
“In a shop setting, space is what it’s all about,” he says. “The smaller the footprint, the more floor space you have for work. The other advantage for the inverters is their portability, the ability to take them from shop to job site or job site to job site. And to function as a full machine would, as a shop machine would.”
Even more impressive to Razor is the energy efficiency of the machines.
“They’re extremely efficient,” he says. “And so while they may be priced more, they’re really a better deal because of the cost savings. When I first moved into the shop, I installed a special wattmeter that only recorded welding input. The Dynasty 350 welded for one month on less than $40 of electricity. It is that efficient. So you take a look at cost savings versus older equipment, return on capital investment is very quick. And the more you use it, the quicker you recoup your costs.”
Another area where Razor has been able to save is in his consumable costs. In the past he has had to turn to a larger tungsten to take care of the amperage and heat issues when welding aluminum. Today he uses one size of tungsten (3/32) for all of his welding, both steel and aluminum. The ability to use one size has cut down on tungsten purchases along with collets, collet bodies and consumables. The one-size-fits-all ability has made for noticeable savings.
“I think the ability to let me use one tungsten is certainly its ability to design the waveform and amplitude on the AC side. It is just incredible. Sometimes I can’t believe that I’m running that kind of amperage through that small of a tungsten for that long of a time. It’s truly incredible.”
When you take all factors into consideration, it leads to quantifiable savings.
“The cost savings overall in my operation here with using the Dynasty, if you compare it to the old transformer-based machines, there’s an easy 50 percent savings through gains in productivity, savings in cost and expense. Easily 50 percent.”
Going Wireless Provides Freedom in Shop
Razor has also made the next technological leap for welders: wireless remote TIG foot controls. Communicating to the machine via a receiver at the 14-pin connection, wireless remotes help reduce clutter, reduce exposure to tripping hazards, and eliminate downtime associated with cord failure.
“It doesn’t sound like much, like one cord could get in your way,” says Razor. “But the ease to move around, not only the shop setting with the foot pedal that normally gets caught on the bench, or underneath your chair, or on the product and you’re constantly moving the foot pedal, but in the field condition, too, where you may be in a man-lift, or on a scaffold. One less cable in those situations is huge. Everyone’s first question is: is it as accurate as a corded pedal? And that was my first concern, that you’d have to wait for it. There would be a little delay, but there is none. It’s so accurate you wouldn’t know that it wasn’t connected to the machine.”
“The downside of a corded pedal was you were always cutting it (the cord), rolling a bottle across it, a chair across it, and causing downtime,” he adds. “Or the pedal would be working, then sometimes not, and the time spent diagnosing that and then getting it repaired. With the cordless foot pedal, those issues are gone. There’s no need to worry about that. So you gain a lot of efficiency and cost savings by having a cordless.”
Big Improvements in a Small Package
A student of the trade, Razor documents and examines his welding processes in depth and has taken note of the quality, productivity, space, energy and cost savings associated with inverters over transformer-based machines. The results speak for themselves in every precision-crafted piece he sends back to a customer. Mostly, Razor is excited by these new advances, what lies ahead, and his ability to take it all in and put it to the test in his shop.
“Overall, I look at how much easier the welding has gotten, how much more you can do with it,” says Razor, “and how easy it is to make things happen that were very difficult before. And so, the advantage of that and the accuracy of the welding has really made a nice career for me. It’s been a great opportunity to go from the older machines to the latest. I’m glad I’m welding during this time because I’ve seen so much happen and I get excited every time I see the next thing because it’s getting better and better.”