Smarter welding power sources
Making welding power sources easier to use is one key to addressing the challenges faced by the welding industry, including the shortage of skilled welders, the need to get new welders trained and on the job faster, and greater pressure to improve productivity and reduce costs.
For years, many technologies focused on simplified setup and ease of use have been incorporated in machines designed for the home hobbyist or do-it-yourself welder. Now those solutions are migrating to more power sources used in industrial and heavy manufacturing applications, as those industries look for ways to address the welder experience gap and improve efficiency.
So, what exactly does it mean that a welding power source is easier to use? Learn more about technologies that simplify setup, shorten training time and help even inexperienced welders produce high-quality welds.
Single user interface
A simplified power source starts with easier setup. Where previously welders had to input some parameters at the power source and some parameters at the wire feeder (or whatever interface is used at the weld joint), more machines now put all controls on a single user interface.
When every knob or button the welder needs to set up the process and control parameters is on the interface at the wire feeder, this eliminates the hassle of setting up parameters on two separate interfaces. The welder no longer needs to return to the power source to make changes. This single interface setup also streamlines training time for new welders and saves time during welding.
The displays on the user interface are also getting bigger, making it easier for welders to read and understand the settings. Where displays previously used small digital screens and were often limited to a few letters in each word — requiring words to be abbreviated — new larger LCD displays show full words and sentences.
Requiring fewer steps to start welding simplifies the process and also makes training new welders faster and easier.
Some newer welding systems offer an “easy button” for machine setup. Less experienced welders may not know the correct voltage or wire feed speed settings for the application. With this technology, the only parameter a welder needs to input is material thickness. Once that is set, the power source automatically sets the other parameters appropriately.
This not only saves time in setup, it also eliminates the risk that incorrect parameters might inadvertently be set, which could lead to weld defects or rework.
Customized weld programs
More welding systems provide the ability to customize the weld program during machine setup, which results in an arc that’s tailored to the specific variables of that weld. In the past, this option was limited to advanced welding systems and required expertise to set up. Now, customizable weld programs are available in a broader range of power sources and the process is simplified, so even welders with less experience can tailor the weld program.
When a welding system offers only one weld program, it must be designed broadly enough to produce quality welds no matter what type of shielding gas, filler metal, material or weld process is being used. With the ability to customize the weld program, welders can fine-tune it to match their specific variables — resulting in a better weld arc for the application.
On some welding systems, the weld program can be customized by toggling through a series of prompts on the interface screen. The welder first selects the weld process, followed by the wire type and size. The last variable is gas type. Based on the previously entered variables, the machine narrows down possible shielding gases to a handful of options, which are listed on the screen for the welder to choose.
The welding system then automatically sets a weld program best suited to the variables input by the welder, so there’s no compromising on arc quality.
Dial-in arc control
As machine setup and adjustment is simplified, more power sources also provide welders with greater arc control, so they can adjust the arc based on variations in their technique or the material.
This arc control feature is often a knob on the user interface that can be dialed up or down. Adjusting the arc control knob doesn’t change the main weld parameters, but it does allow welders to fine-tune the arc to their preferences. Welders can compensate for variations in their technique, while still staying within the wire feed speed and voltage windows required by the application’s weld procedures.
Less experienced welders may use an arc length that is too long, for example. Adjusting the arc control knob can help produce a better weld in this situation. This technology also delivers benefits for experienced welders, providing them the ability to make an already good welding arc even better.
More forgiving weld processes
Today’s welding systems also offer more pulsed welding capabilities. Pulsed welding processes are more forgiving to variations in technique, making it easier for all welders to produce high-quality welds. In lab testing, one advanced pulsed MIG process offered a 28 percent wider operating window compared to standard constant voltage (CV) MIG. This wider window helps less experienced welders produce high-quality welds and reduce rework — saving time and money in the operation.
There are different types of pulsed processes, from standard pulsed MIG to various advanced pulsed processes, and the technology continues to evolve. In general, advanced pulsed arcs compensate for a lack of experience and/or consistency because they bridge the gap between varying travel speeds and contact-to-work distances, making it easier for welders to consistently produce a high-quality weld. This is valuable as welding operations struggle to find skilled welders to rebuild the workforce as experienced welders retire.
Productivity and quality tracking
Digital weld monitoring is growing in use and is available on more power sources today, making the technology accessible for welding operations of all sizes. Weld data monitoring systems can measure and track performance metrics to help companies improve productivity and weld quality.
Available solutions range from basic systems that verify weld parameters and report on productivity to more advanced monitoring software that detects welding mistakes, tracks parts and delivers real-time feedback to welders.
Where previously these weld monitoring solutions were often an extra module attached to the welding power source, new technologies can be incorporated inside the power source — for an easier, more streamlined weld monitoring option.
Simplified machines save time and money
Welding systems are becoming easier than ever to use, with simplified interfaces, automatic parameter adjustments, push-button capabilities and greater arc control. These smarter machines offer more capabilities that make it easier for welders of all skill levels to save time, reduce mistakes and produce high-quality welds.