Issue: An operations manager faces few tougher decisions than upgrading old welding equipment. It may be hard to justify the capital expense when old machines still function "good enough." Such was the case when Fitchburg Welding, a heavy fabricator, took a serious look at the welding equipment it purchased in the mid-1980s.
Solution: Work with trusted suppliers to examine the efficiencies offered by new inverter-based welding power sources.
Results: Retiring nine old units for new XMT 456 inverters from Miller delivered "remarkable overhead reductions." These included: lowering utility bills by $3,000 per month, increased arc-on time (which averages 60 percent), less-cramped work areas and a $30,000 utility company rebate.
Reducing overhead costs is a never-ending war in any business. But at Fitchburg Welding Co., Inc., Westminster, Mass., some Yankee ingenuity on the part of its welding supply distributor helped the company win a major efficiency battle.
After equipping nine of its welding stations with XMT® 456 CC/CV power sources and D-64 dual wire feeders from Miller Electric Mfg. Co., Fitchburg Welding received a $30,000 rebate from its utility, Massachusetts Electric. In addition, its new Miller machines will pay for themselves in 25 months through energy savings alone.
Chris Kimbar, representative, Liberty Supply, Leominster, Mass., says, "We knew that utility companies now have the equipment to capture power efficiency data, so we approached Mass. Electric and asked if they w
ould work with us to monitor the welding equipment at Fitchburg Welding. They agreed, so we brought in an XMT 456 to test."
"We did a side-by-side comparison, and Mass. Electric gave us accurate, no-nonsense numbers that were not extrapolated," explains Mark Morin, Fitchburg Welding's director of manufacturing and operations. Mass. Electric reported that the old welding machines drew 3.125 kW at idle and 29.190 kW when welding at 400 amps with a 5/64 in. diameter electrode. Under the same conditions, the XMT 456 drew .041 kW at idle and 9.807 kW when welding. This proved that the XMT 456 operated three times more efficiently.
Using a 5/16 in. carbon, this operator back gouges a weld to ensure penetration. With a 565 amp output and rugged design, the XMT 456 easily handles gouging on large weldments.
"Replacing our old 600 amp DC machines with new Miller inverters would reduce our utility bills by $3,000 per month," states Morin. "However, power efficiency savings and rebates are not the only benefits. The new inverters promised to provide remarkable overhead reductions. They absolutely merited closer inspection."
From the Dawn of Welding
Morin's grandfather founded Fitchburg Welding in 1934, just five years after Niels Miller, the founder of Miller Electric, invented his first welding machine. The elder Morin specialized in boiler repair, and was also a welding inspector and instructor. His son, Paul H. Morin, is now company president. Mark shares management responsibility with his two brothers, Paul Jr. and Brian.
Today, Fitchburg Welding has 65,000 sq. ft. of floor space devoted to burning and cutting, rolling and forming, assembly and welding, stress relief, shot blast and painting. Horizontal and vertical CNC boring mills occupy 25,000 sq. ft. of adjoining space. Fitchburg Welding can cut carbon steel up to 26 in. thick, and roll plate up to 2-1/2 in.
"When a customer comes to us with a fabricating project, we have the in-house capabilities to take it from design through final painting," says Morin. Fitchburg Welding specializes in heavy fabrications " it considers 1/2 in. plate "sheet metal" " and exotic metals. Typical products include a gear casing that consists of low carbon steel, a special high manganese alloy and a stainless steel inlay. Another fabrication blends carbon steel, chrome-moly steel, 410 stainless and Inconel.
"Because of the wide variety of metals, we need multiprocess welding capabilities," Morin notes. "A single fabrication can require flux cored, TIG, Stick and Sub Arc welding, as well as the carbon arc process to back gouge. It's routine."
A New Era
Fitchburg Welding acquired most of its old CC and CC/CV welding equipment in the mid-1980s. Because of the multiprocess requirements, many of the welding stations needed two complete welding set-ups. This bulky equipment cramped the operator's work area. Because they weighed more than 500 lb., positioning these old machines around huge weldments required several men.
With all tools for the day on a cart, the compact XMT inverter eliminates trips to the tool crib.
"We took a serious look at our welding equipment and realized that we needed to upgrade. New technology promised to make us substantially more efficient," says Morin.
Tested and Proven
"The Miller system enables us to equip an operator with all the tools he needs for the day's work on a single cart," says Morin. Even with a tool box, bottles for two gas mixes, a boom-mounted feeder and wire drum, the 118 lb. weight of the XMT 456 allows an operator to move the cart himself.
Morin cautions people not to "minimize the value of eliminating trips to the tool crib or repositioning welding equipment. That's a huge efficiency benefit and a tremendous advantage. It maximizes arc-on time, which averages about 60 percent in our shop."
Before he saw it in action, Morin was especially skeptical about the XMT 456's ability to gouge with 5/16 in. diameter carbons. He doubted that "this little blue box" could compete with the massive equipment he associated with back gouging. Kimbar had no such doubts.
"At first, most people cannot believe that a machine barely two feet long produces so much power and withstands high duty cycles in harsh environments," Kimbar says. "They test an XMT 456 based on faith in Liberty, but then they become believers in Miller."
Morin notes that welding operators can be very stubborn about working with equipment they don't like. Fortunately, "Every operator that has run the Miller equipment is pleased with it. We transitioned from a different color machine to the blue ones and haven't had a single complaint. In fact, the XMTs perform better than we hoped they would."
Glenn Smith, the Miller Electric district manager working with Liberty Supply and Fitchburg Welding, comments that the hardest part of installing energy efficient equipment is coordinating all parties involved: the utility company, the welding equipment manufacturer and the customer. A distributor like Liberty Supply's Chris Kimbar, who knows both welding equipment and the utility company's efficiency programs, adds an infinite amount of customer value.
People shouldn't get discouraged, he adds. This is not a monumental project. In fact, there is no antagonist at the table when you sit down with everyone. The utility company wins because power efficient equipment frees up its grid, so it doesn't have to purchase power on the market at higher prices. The distributor wins by selling equipment and providing value-added services. And customers like Fitchburg Welding win because they lower overhead costs and improve efficiency.