For Modern Pipeline Welders, Quality and Performance are Critical - Miller Knowledge Center | 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 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 to help them stay competitive, maintain quality and ultimately keep their job future secure.

The right pipeline welding machine

For decades, pipeliners have welded low-carbon, low-alloy steel pipe 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. Plus, contractors have been pushed to speed up project timelines to stay competitive. This means there’s a need to get pipe in the ground faster — and also 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 consider 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. This leaves 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, are designed specifically for downhill pipeline welding. They are 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 able to handle bad fit-up and uneven land thicknesses. This ultimately enables 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. These material allow companies to maximize pipeline lifespan, reduce maintenance costs and increase safety. However, these types of pipe are less tolerant to factors like heat input and diffusible hydrogen and often require more sophisticated filler metals and welding processes. While these filler metal and process changes may seem daunting, they can offer significant increases in deposition rates and welding speed, while dramatically improving quality and minimizing defects.

To take on these jobs, operators should look for welding equipment that allows them to expand beyond 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. Proficiency gives operators opportunities 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 must rely on borrowed equipment to continue working. Having confidence in your machine is critical when you rely on it to perform essential job functions — and to keep making money.

Unfortunately, downtime is inevitable, so operators should seek out equipment that’s optimized to reduce time off the right-of-way. Manufacturers have introduced new features like industrial USB ports on welder/generators. This allows 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 backed by knowledgeable support staff willing to help you. 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.