Mechanical Contractor Diversifies and Redefines Business to Meet the Demand of the Mid-Atlantic Steel, Oil and Gas Industries
Diversification and demand are two key drivers to the success of any business, and DE-CAL, Inc. has plenty of both. The Warren, Michigan-based company has worked since 1992 to establish itself as one of the premier mechanical contractors in the Mid-Atlantic states. With additional locations in Youngstown, Ohio and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, DE-CAL finds itself in the heart of steel country, as well as the region's burgeoning oil and gas industry.
The company added a new element to its business in 2011 when it built a fully functional fabrication shop at its Youngstown location. The expansion was designed initially to support the needs of its own mechanical contracting business, but quickly grew to take in work from other companies as their capabilities fit a regional demand for welding and fabrication services that met codes not only for the oil and gas industries, but also for municipal water, chemical, power generation, food and beverage and institutional applications, to name a few.
As the fabrication shop opened, the company had four multiprocess pipe welding systems (the PipeWorx Welding System from Miller Electric Mfg. Co.), along with a series of weld positioners, but most of the local welding talent had been certified to the ASME codes using only the Stick and TIG welding processes in fixed positions. DE-CAL worked with UA Local 396 (plumbers, pipefitters, steamfitters, HVAC) to begin certifying welders in MIG and Flux Cored processes to ASME codes. Creating this talent pool and taking advantage of the process capabilities of PipeWorx, DE-CAL has been able to evolve its pipe welding processes to significantly improve productivity (by as much as 30 to 40 percent), grow business and ultimately make welding easier on the employees.
“The guys have bought into that real well,” says Ray Montgomery, manufacturing project manager, DE-CAL. “Once I got one guy qualified and I could have him work a job right next to a guy welding Stick and I could show that he’s doing twice as much welding, and it actually looks much better, much more uniform, it was easy to get the rest of the guys on board.”
Growth Spurs Evolution
The great bulk of material that comes through the DE-CAL fab shop is carbon steel, although there is a significant portion of work that is also stainless steel. One recent project – an extensive piping system for coke production – featured both. The first phase involved schedule 80 carbon steel pipe from 6 to 16 inches in diameter, while the second phase involved 10- to 16-inch schedule 80 stainless steel pipe. DE-CAL has standardized, for the most part, on .035-inch solid wire for the root pass and .045-inch Flux-Cored wire for the hot and cover passes in both applications.
The drive to evolve processes from the proven yet slower Stick and TIG processes (in fixed positions) to the faster MIG and Flux-Cored processes (rolled using a positioner) is driven largely by productivity. There are still a few customers who prefer TIG and Stick and are reluctant to consider change, but DE-CAL has achieved numerous certifications under ASME Section 9 that included extensive radiographic and bend testing to prove the quality of these processes.
“We’ve had instances where a customer has given us a job to quote and given us a spec that says, no MIG, no Flux-Cored, and I’ve been able to go back to them and say ‘we want to perform welding using the same procedures that are approved under our ASME code program,’” says Montgomery. “And just about in every instance I’ve got approval to do that. I think when I can show the documentation that the process has been qualified properly and a welder has been qualified to that process, it’s much easier.”
One of the primary contributors to this success has been the conversion of most root pass applications to the Regulated Metal Deposition (RMD®) process. RMD is a modified short-circuit MIG process where the welding system anticipates and controls the short circuit, then reduces available welding current to create a consistent metal transfer. Precisely controlled metal transfer provides uniform droplet deposition, making it easier for the welder to control the puddle. The smooth metal transfer also compensates for high-low misalignment between pipe sections and creates more consistent root reinforcement on the inside of the pipe (than other short-circuit MIG processes). The process also maintains a consistent arc length regardless of electrode stick-out. It compensates for operators that have problems holding a constant stick-out, and it enables a better view of the weld puddle – making the process much easier to learn than TIG welding.
“The RMD process is by far the biggest advancement that I see,” says Montgomery. “Being able to easily do a root weld, get full penetration, have a nice appearance on either side without the welder having to struggle is, to me, the biggest thing.”
“The feedback I get from the guys is that the puddle is much more controlled,” he continues. “A traditional MIG root will give you problems with blowing a hole – it gets too much heat, there’s trouble getting uniform reinforcement on the inside. RMD gives us a very uniform reinforcement and it seems like it’s much easier for the welder to control the puddle.”
Pipefitter/Welder Brandon Saling with DE-CAL (UA Local 396) confirms that welding downhill with the RMD process and using a weld positioner is particularly effective and allows him to complete identical welds much quicker than with the Stick process.
“When you’re putting a 6010 root in with Stick, it’s dirty, you’ve got to have a wire wheel and clean it up, and it’s never quite as smooth as RMD,” he says. “RMD is much faster because you can go all the way around the pipe from tack to tack, whereas if I’m welding 12-inch pipe with Stick, every time I’m done burning a rod I’ve got to throw it to the side, grab another rod, so it takes longer. Compared to uphill in the root with 6010, it’s gotta be maybe 2-3 times faster (with RMD).”
Similar improvements were made as the shop transitioned over from Stick to Flux-Cored welding for the fill and cap passes. Flux-Cored welding provides a number of benefits over Stick welding that help improve productivity and quality, including faster travel speeds, increased deposition rates and increased deposition efficiency – which ultimately means that less filler metal is wasted in the process.
“By using this process and utilizing weld positioners, a welder can routinely weld a continuous pass without stopping,” says Montgomery. “It’s much more efficient, the welders like doing it, and the weld appearance is very uniform.”
Montgomery takes a big picture view when calculating productivity increases by tracking weld counts and comparing to historical production rates. As he looks at the current shop activity and what was done prior to making the process changes, he sees a significant improvement in DE-CAL’s ability to move work through the shop while still meeting customer demands.
“Fit-up time would be the same, but the weld out time is what changes,” he says. “A 30-40 percent (increase in productivity) would be a pretty safe number.”
DE-CAL Certified Welding Inspector Robert A. Rodgers, Jr. sees this process evolution as not merely increasing productivity, but also as a way of helping customers meet aggressive timelines and giving his company an advantage in the bidding process.
“I think these companies are starting to see that the technology is out there, the workforce is out there, they’re qualified, and they know what they’re doing,” he says. “And then they’re seeing, what it all boils down to, is the cost. What you’d pay for a TIG root and a Stick out per joint versus what you’d pay for an identical joint with a MIG root and Flux Cored (fill and cap passes). It’s no contest.”
Using the recent job involving a piping system for coke production as an example, Rodgers sees these new processes as a significant part in what earned DE-CAL the business.
“We may not have even taken the job because we wouldn’t have been able to be within that range (of time and cost). The MIG and Flux-Cored (processes) kind of drive (that). If you can’t compete, you’re not going to be in business.”
Welding Made Simpler With PipeWorx
In addition to the process advancements made possible by this system, PipeWorx also provides a number of additional benefits in terms of ease of set-up and process changeover. The system is clearly labeled with terminology common to the operator, and welding processes are set up with a simple control panel. For instance, RMD and Flux-Cored processes are easily set with the touch of a button, and then the selection of the wire type, wire diameter and shielding gas type helps dial the system in to typical weld parameters for pipe welding. The ability to save weld parameters is also helpful to operators.
“I like that it has a programmable memory so as I’m working with different size pipe, I can just either hit the trigger select or come up here and hit the memory and it will pretty much put the settings right where I want for each size pipe that I’m welding on,” says Saling. “I also like the trigger hold on it. If I’m welding big pipe, 24- or 30 inch pipe, all I have to do is hit the trigger one time, it starts welding and I don’t have to worry about holding it until I’m done because I can just hit it again, and that’s it.”
As DE-CAL has largely standardized on two processes (RMD and Flux-Cored), process changeover with the PipeWorx and its dual wire feeder (with solid wire on one spool and flux-cored wire on the other) is as simple as picking up the appropriate gun and hitting the trigger.
“It’s really convenient because, instead of having two different machines or a dual wire feeder, you just have an all-in-one unit so all you have to do is have both guns next to you, pick one up, and the machine automatically selects it as soon as you hit the trigger,” says Saling. “As soon as you’re done putting your root in with the RMD, you pick up the other gun, and as soon as you hit the trigger it automatically switches your settings to Flux Cored. So it’s really convenient that way.”
PipeWorx also features a memory card reader (standard SDHC cards) that provides two key benefits: allowing operators to transfer programs from machine to machine, and allowing DE-CAL to update the system with programs direct from the manufacturer.
“As Miller updates and improves software to make the process more efficient and user friendly, they make those updates available,” says Montgomery. “So we can download them, take them out and plug them into each machine.”
Guiding The Future Through Intuitive Technology
As business continues to grow, and as demand increases from regional growth, DE-CAL will work with UA Local 396 to continue to train welders in these new processes and build the pool of qualified operators in the region. Rodgers notes that, compared to other power sources, PipeWorx helps shorten the learning curve and bring welders up to speed faster.
“It’s a lot more user-friendly,” he says. “You can hit the ground running with it. There isn’t a lot of training time on it. I can put a guy on PipeWorx while they’re on the shop floor or at school, give him the basics of it, and probably within not too long he’s getting the hang of it. It’s more contractor friendly, it’s more instructor friendly, it’s more user-friendly. To me, that’s a no-brainer.”
“I believe this in part because the welders have not become frustrated with the equipment,” says Montgomery. “They have been able to invest a little time and see the rewards rather quickly.”
The current DE-CAL fabrication shop takes up 25,000 square feet of its Youngstown facility, and the company is eying an additional 25,000 to 30,000 square foot expansion that would provide increased crane capacity and allow the company to pursue larger work under its ASME code program. As the company continues to grow, Montgomery sees opportunity for additional advances with PipeWorx, such as further exploring Pulsed MIG processes, and the welding of certain stainless steel grades without a backing gas (saving time and expense). DE-CAL is proving that redefining age-old practices can be rewarding, and PipeWorx is a big reason for that.
“It’s our workhorse machine for pipe welding,” he says. “We had four, we just purchased our fifth. We’ll probably get more. They’ve been very dependable and the guys enjoy running them.”