For Modern Pipeline Welders, Quality and Performance are Critical | MillerWelds

For Modern Pipeline Welders, Quality and Performance are Critical

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Learn more about the challenges pipeliners face on the right of way, including demanding quality standards and deadlines.
Stick welding on a large-diameter pipeline
Pipeline pieces on a jobsite

This article appears courtesy of Miller and Pipeliners Hall of Fame News, July 2019 issue.

Avoiding downtime and rework

Today’s pipeline welders must meet demanding quality standards and deadlines while dealing with a wide range of jobsite challenges. Whether it’s adjusting to new types of pipe on the right-of-way or a need to decrease downtime on your rig, it’s all about maximizing welding productivity while minimizing repair rates.

Fortunately, pipeliners have options available that can drastically aid in their ability to stay competitive, maintain their quality of work and ultimately keep their job future secure.

Quality and speed are key

Traditional welding of low-carbon, low-alloy steel pipe has been done for decades using the same shielded metal arc welding (SMAW) methods. While cellulosic filler metal technologies and downhill welding techniques have remained relatively unchanged, the codes, testing procedures and quality standards have all become increasingly more stringent. In addition to these higher quality standards, contractors have been pushed to speed up project timelines to stay competitive, ultimately driving a need to get pipe in the ground faster and placing a higher penalty on defective welds.

To the pipeline welder, this means there is more pressure than ever to quickly produce high-quality welds on a jobsite. When looking to maximize the quality and performance of your work, one place to turn is the welding equipment you choose for your rig. Like some filler metals, much of the welding equipment seen in the field has also remained unchanged, leaving significant room for improvement in areas of arc quality and adaptability, machine consistency, and ease of use.

New welding control schemes, such as Dynamic DIG™ technology from Miller Electric Mfg. LLC, are designed specifically for downhill pipeline welding and optimized to produce a tailorable arc, which can be adapted to the welder’s preference and the application.

Having an optimized amount of drive in the puddle — combined with a faster adapting arc — means welders are better suited to handle things like bad fit-up and uneven land thicknesses, ultimately enabling more flexibility to adapt and produce a higher quality of weld. Features like these can also increase deposition rates, as they create a more manageable, drier puddle while maximizing drive and penetration, allowing the operator to carry a larger puddle at higher speeds.

New pipe, new methods, new opportunities

In recent years, the use of harder (X70 and above) variations of pipe has become more common in the field as companies seek to maximize pipeline lifespan, reduce maintenance costs and increase safety. These types of pipe are less tolerant to things like heat input and diffusible hydrogen and often require more sophisticated filler metals and welding processes when being constructed. While these filler metal and process changes may seem daunting, they can also offer significant increases in deposition rates and welding speed, while dramatically improving quality and minimizing defects.

Operators interested in taking on these types of jobs should look for welding equipment that allows them to expand their capabilities beyond the traditional downhill-SMAW methods. Welder/generators like Big Blue® 400 PipePro® machines enable welders to add technologies, such as the ArcReach® Smart Feeder, offering a full suite of advanced welding processes, including Regulated Metal Deposition (RMD®) and pulsed MIG. These processes have a much shorter learning curve than traditional SMAW methods, and proficiency in them gives operators the opportunity to market themselves toward a broader range of jobs, while also increasing productivity and reducing repair rates.

Avoiding downtime is critical

Another common problem seen on the pipeline is welders getting sidelined when their welding equipment fails or has issues. When this happens, operators are often unable to perform their job or are forced to rely on borrowed equipment to continue working. Having confidence in the performance of your machine is critical when you rely on it to perform essential job functions — and to ultimately keep you making money.

Unfortunately, downtime is inevitable, so operators should seek out equipment that’s been optimized to reduce time off the right-of-way. New features like industrial USB ports have been introduced on some welder/generators, allowing faster diagnosis of issues through machine usage reports and the capacity to enable field upgrades and software flashes. Having access to free software upgrades not only gives welders the ability to quickly troubleshoot and flash their machine, but it also provides the opportunity to stay up to date with the industry’s latest and greatest in pipeline welding technology.

Operators should also seek out an equipment manufacturer willing to stand behind products in the field. When facing downtime, it’s critical to have a product that’s backed by a knowledgeable support staff willing to help get you back up and running. Downtime is frustrating, but having an experienced service team that cares about getting you welding again is a critical and often unconsidered aspect when operators are contemplating their next engine-driven welder.