LEED-Certified Expansion at Seattle University Welded with Electronic Fuel Injected "Green" Welder Generator

LEED-Certified Expansion at Seattle University Welded with Electronic Fuel Injected "Green" Welder Generator

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While construction equipment is just one small portion of the LEED certification equation, Apex Steel ran one of the first Trailblazer® 302s with electronic fuel injection (EFI) and realized a 20-percent reduction in fuel use while also reducing harmful HC, CO and NOx emissions.
Published: February 25, 2010
Updated: June 27, 2018

Seattle University’s new Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons— scheduled to open in September 2010—transforms the original 1966 building into a 21st century, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold-certified masterpiece. The new structure includes 37,000 square feet of new construction and an extensive renovation of the original structure. The result is a sparkling new, environmentally friendly 125,000-square-foot learning center for students and faculty.

Seattle University Apex Steel

The new Lemieux Library and McGoldrick Learning Commons, a LEED Gold certified complex, opens in September 2010.

Spearheading the structural steel work is Apex Steel of Redmond, Washington. The company is experienced in LEED-certified construction and specializes in structural steel, steel reinforcement and tower crane erection. Apex Steel uses equipment that lowers its cost of operation and helps reduce the overall carbon footprint required to put up a steel building. To that end, the company used Miller Electric Mfg. Co.’s new Trailblazer 302®, a 300-amp welder generator with 25 HP Electronic Fuel Injection (EFI) gas engine from Kohler.  EFI welder generators reduce harmful hydrocarbon (HC), carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions and have lowered Apex Steel’s welder generator fuel use by 20 percent. 

“It’s important for Apex to be an active member of the LEED process and find ways that our processes help contractors/projects meet certification requirements,” says Jill Johnson, vice president of operations, Apex Steel. “Operating machines that produce fewer emissions is one way we’ve identified to do that.”

A History of Growth and Innovation

Kevin Koester founded Apex Steel in 1996 as a one-truck operation and has grown the company into the Northwest’s largest structural steel and rebar contractor. Apex recently launched a tower crane division and has employed as many as 250 ironworkers throughout the Pacific Northwest. Some of the company’s larger projects in Washington include the 29-story Lincoln Square building in Bellevue, the Green River bridge in Kent and Bellevue’s Overlake Hospital.

“There is no aspect of the trade that we don’t do,” says Kevin Callahan, project manager, Apex Steel. “One week I’m in a house putting in a moment frame, and the next week I’m riding a lift thirty stories up a high-rise. There’s a wide variety, and it is very rewarding.”

The green construction movement has taken hold in the Pacific Northwest and Apex Steel takes its role in the process quite seriously.

“Our goal is to integrate sustainable practices and social responsibility into all aspects of our business,” says Johnson. “In doing so, we will provide a better working environment for our employees, reduce our impact on the environment and become an active partner with each contractor to meet LEED requirements.”

LEED is a green building certification system that provides third-party verification through the U.S. Green Building Council that a building or community was designed and built in a way that lowers its environmental impact. Certifications are awarded on four levels: certified, silver, gold and platinum. For Apex Steel, this means monitoring everything they put into the building and what they do with the leftover materials once the job is finished. 

“It’s determined by a points system that includes materials used, finishes and the buildings’ emissions,” says Callahan. “A lot of it has to do with the air and water handling equipment and the buildings’ CO2 output. We track the recycled content of the steel and metal decking that we use, and the sustainability and usability of the building and how they intend to use recycled products all plays into it. It’s a system that examines a building from groundbreaking through occupancy.” 

Apex Steel welding structural steel Miller Electric Trailblazer
Apex welder Barry Neal welds a column of A36 structural steel at Seattle University. 

Welder Generator: One Tool for Welding and Power Tools

For a structural steel contractor like Apex Steel, the Trailblazer 302 EFI’s Stick (SMAW) and Flux cored (FCAW) welding capabilities are put to use throughout the erection process. Welding begins with shear clips, moves on to floor deck and culminates with the extensive flux cored welding of the brace frames.  

Floor deck is welded to the steel structure by laying a ¾-in. diameter puddle weld (or burnthrough spot weld) with an 1/8-in. E6022 Stick electrode, which requires between 150-180 amps. Amperage demands increase significantly when switching over to flux cored welding for the brace frames. These welds are laid on ¾-in. A36 structural steel plate and ASTM 572 grade-50 tube steel (1/2-in. wall) and all welds meet AWS D1.1 codes. Apex Steel matches the Trailblazer 302 with a SuitCase® X-TREME™ 12VS wire feeder for flux cored welding.

“It’s a maintenance-free wire feeder,” says Callahan. “Our guys like the trigger lock so they don’t have to hold the trigger the whole time, and they like the digital readouts on the machine. It’s a good, steady machine.”

The flux cored Fabshield® XLR-8™ (E71T-8JD H8) is a self shielded, all-position wire and produces a stable arc through a wide range of parameters. Common settings for the 5/64-in. wire are 280 amps with a 200 inch-per-minute wire feed speed.

“We need a 300-amp machine to run the 5/64-in. wire that gets us to production speeds and allows us to be competitive,” says Callahan. “A 200-amp machine isn’t going to do it. This is a good machine for the loads that we require.Another bonus for contractors is the power generation capabilities of the Trailblazer 302 EFI. The machine features two generators—one for welding and one for power generation—so that tools run without interfering with the strength and quality of the welding arc. This particular welder generator offers 12,000  watts of power. 

“More and more now it seems that we are getting into sites where there is no power available because of neighborhood restrictions. When you are required to provide your own power, it becomes a huge benefit to only have one piece of equipment for it. As a company, we don’t have any generators. We use a welder generator in that application. We’ll use it to power up our 4-1/2-in. angle grinders or rotor hammers.”

“If you’ve got a guy welding, and another crafter comes along and plugs in a vacuum or something, it will mess with his arc,” he adds, regarding older machines with a single generator. “It’s an advantage not having to worry about that."

Trailblazer 302 EFI Apex Steel

Electronic fuel injection (EFI) reduces fuel use by as much as 27 percent, produces 33 percent lower HC+Nox levels and 27 percent lower CO (EPA 1,000 Hour Certification).

Lower Fuel Use Offers Numerous Advantages

With traditional carburetion (the technology used by all other common gasoline engine-driven welding generators), engines can only be tuned for an optimal air-fuel mixtures at one speed and at one load. Engine manufacturers never wanted the mixture to be too lean because it could damage the engine, so they erred on the side of being too rich when it doesn’t need to be much of the time. The EFI engine corrects this situation. EFI technology provides the engine with an optimal air-fuel mixture at all speeds and all loads, whether at idle, running a 1/8-in. Stick electrode, a 9-in. grinder or larger diameter wires at maximum output. As an added benefit, EFI eliminates the need for a choke (choke issues are one of the top five customer complaints).

Apex Steel reports that switching to a welder generator with EFI has reduced its fuel use by 20 percent. This offers three key advantages: lower operating costs, fewer emissions, and less time wasted by Callahan and site superintendents fetching gas throughout the day. State law in Washington prohibits contractors from storing gasoline on site—whenever they need gas, someone takes a trip off site. 

“It’s not just the price of the fuel,” says Callahan. “It’s the time it takes to get it. It’s a killer. It could easily be an hour for my superintendent to take the cans and go to the gas station and fill them up. If we can improve the fuel economy of our machines, the less time we’ll spend filling them up. It’s a huge time  savings.”

The fuel savings mean that Apex Steel gets almost 15 gallons of performance out of a 12-gallon tank compared to carburetor models. Over the course of the year, this produces significant cost savings. Tests have also shown that an EFI machine produces 33-percent lower hydrocarbon (HC) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) levels and 27-percent lower carbon monoxide (CO) output (EPA 1,000 Hour Certification).

“Having a more energy-efficient engine drive, that has fewer emissions and is more economical to run, helps us reduce the carbon footprint it  takes to put up a structural steel building,” says Callahan. “Any little thing we can do to minimize the impact on the environment is  good.” 


Apex Steel TEC WElding Miller Structural Steel

(From L-R) Barry Neal, welder; and Kevin Callahan, project manager, Apex Steel; John Powers, TEC Welding Supply.