Iowa Manufacturer Saves Training Time and Costs with New Welding | MillerWelds

Iowa Manufacturer Saves Training Time and Costs with New Welding

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ALMACO is a manufacturer of custom-built agricultural equipment such as combines and planters for the seed research industry. The Nevada, Iowa-based company dates back to 1882, but the ability to include the latest technology in its products is what has helped ALMACO grow and thrive.

“We have the ability to turn concept to reality very quickly with high quality and efficiency,” says Chris Mann, senior manager at ALMACO. “We devote a lot of resources and time to meeting customer needs and to providing them with new and high quality products.”

Achieving that quality means rigorous training programs for newly hired welding operators.

Training for ALMACO’s welding operators previously consisted of eight hours a day of weld coupon work for several days, with a training technician inspecting their progress and giving feedback every half hour or so. The company wanted a training method that would be more efficient, and save money in training time and coupons.

They began using the LiveArc™ Welding Performance Management System from Miller Electric Mfg. Co., an advanced system that combines simulator and live arc welding.

“Our interest in LiveArc was to use it as a training tool to minimize weld defects — to make sure that our employees have the fundamental skills to produce quality welds to build a quality product,” says Mann.  

Immediate feedback, faster training

ALMACO welding operators now get immediate feedback on their performance — both in the simulation and live welding modes, allowing them to correct issues quickly.

“The welders using LiveArc get instant feedback and can understand from the visuals [on the computer screen] what they need to correct,” Mann says. “The biggest attraction for us is that there is a simulation mode in which they can go through and run it without welding first.”

ALMACO has seen a significant reduction in the amount of time it takes to transition a welding operator from training to production, due to the instant feedback from the LiveArc system.

“Having that instant feedback shortens that learning curve tremendously, because they can make the weld and then they can review their performance and make those adjustments, versus running six or eight welds and then finding an instructor to have them critique it,” Mann says.

It also allows trainers to focus on other tasks, or to help a larger pool of new hires in the transition to the production floor.

“As training technicians, we’re able to enhance our training system and it doesn’t require as much time from us interacting with the new employees,” says Jeff Pratt, ALMACO training technician. “That allows us to get some other things done that are our responsibility.”

The system is also a good tool for speeding up the hiring process, since ALMACO uses it to gauge the level of welding fundamentals that potential candidates have.

Faster welding operator training — and the fact that they are using fewer coupons during the process — has also saved ALMACO in training costs. The simulation mode allows the welding operator to simulate the weld and make the necessary adjustments before completing real welds.

“We have been able to reduce our training costs [for coupons] due to the fact that we can run it in simulation mode,” Pratt says. “The other plus is that LiveArc allows you to stack coupons on top of each other and continue to use that material more than you would on other training systems.”

The cost savings have also carried over into the production area, where ALMACO is seeing less rework due to the LiveArc training.

“We have seen a reduction in rework with weld defects, which has led us to our primary focus on the other skillsets that are required once they transition from training to production, such as their layout and fabrication,” Mann says.

Intuitive and flexible

ALMACO has found that the system offers an intuitive platform that requires minimal orientation before training begins, so new hires take to the system quickly.

“It’s easy and quick for the new hires to learn,” Mann says. “The welding instructor runs them through and identify the functions of the gun, how that’s integrated into the system and the feedback it’s giving them, and then basically walk away.”

The system provides step-by-step instructions, allowing trainees to move from one assignment to the next. That’s important for ALMACO, which draws welding operators with diverse levels of training and experience.

“It basically tells you everything that you’re doing right and wrong,” says Dustin Johns, an ALMACO welder/fabricator. “It covers the fundamentals of keeping your lead angle, work angle, contact to work distance, travel angle, travel speed. It tells you exactly what you’re doing.”

The system includes preset training programs, but can also be customized with new programs.

Data collection and customizable training

ALMACO is able to use data collected by the LiveArc system to see how a welding operator’s performance improves throughout the training process.

“We have already seen improvements on weld quality as a result of that,” Mann says.  

“Our hope for the future is to get all current employees entered in there and use it as a training tool,” Pratt adds.

ALMACO also customizes the LiveArc system for the company’s specific applications and needs, so welding operators learn the fundamentals to apply to the company’s products. ALMACO can input thickness of wire and material, travel speed, contact tip to work distance, joint positioning and other factors to its training program.

“The great thing about LiveArc is we have the ability to customize our training to our needs,” Mann says. “Regardless of job description, we can cover every aspect of what we need. Our line of work is custom — it’s not all fixtures; it’s not all bench-top work. We do a lot of out-of- position welding. Some of the most frequent fundamental errors that we have are in the out-of- position welding, so that was very important for us to be able to get accurate feedback to correct those.”

“The training from LiveArc is very beneficial to employees,” Johns adds. “It teaches them how to weld up to ALMACO standards.”