H&W Pacific Emergency Vehicle Group is a specialized manufacturer of custom fire trucks and emergency response vehicles. The company’s customers respond to life-and-death situations and therefore demand the vehicles they purchase be reliable and perform perfectly, as expected, without fail. H&W also has high expectations of its partners and that’s why, when the decision was made to invest in modern welding technology, the company turned to Miller Electric Mfg. Co. to meet the welding needs of today and the future.
H&W’s primary clients are fire departments in Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. The company’s reputation as a custom designer and builder spans the country with apparatus responding to emergencies in places like California, Wyoming and Long Island, N.Y.
“Our emergency vehicles are a unique apparatus for a specific customer who isn’t necessarily looking for a production-type truck that is built on a line,” says Russ Sheldon, director of operations, H&W. “They have unique needs because of location, terrain or other location-specific needs.”
The company stresses perfection to its employees. The fabrication of lifesaving vehicles requires high attention to detail on an everyday basis. The apparatus are expected to have life spans of 20 years or more. So the culture at H&W is one of great pride and sense of mission.
The desire to perform at a high level was becoming more difficult for the employees in the shop. The operators were working with older welding equipment to get the job done. The aging equipment meant breakdowns and extra effort to maintain consistent heat and penetration — and for the operators, a daily frustration. Regular bird-nesting with an old-school feeder and other welding concerns were steadily growing in the shop.
Management realized its welding technology was out of date and was no longer up to the job; a welding committee of operators and management was pulled together with the task of solving the shop concerns. The six-member committee spent months researching and testing a variety of machines, consisting of several different brands and types.
“In deciding what type of machine we wanted, we started looking at the different manufacturers and we all agreed unanimously on going Miller and staying with the one welder — one component from one manufacturer,” says Mitch James, plant manager and field trainer for H&W Pacific Emergency Vehicle Group. “It was important to use welders from one company, because then we can stock parts from one company. We wanted the tips, the guns, anything that we needed in order to be consistent to keep the production rolling.”
The answer for the committee? Miller Invision 352 MPa Plus MIGRunner™ Dual Wire Feeder Packages. The Invision system offered a complete package, and a single source for service and consumables, all under the ITW Welding hat that includes Miller, BernardTM Semi-Automatic MIG Guns and Consumables, and MAXAL wire. The package includes:
- D-74 MPa Plus Wire Feeder with Push-Pull Technology
- XR-A Aluma-Pro Plus Gun, 25-foot lead
- Bernard™ Q-Gun™ Semi-Automatic MIG Guns
- .035/.045 and .035-3/64 Drive Rolls
- Industrial MIG 4/0 Kit with Dinse Connector
- Running Gear Cylinder Rack (for dual feeder)
- Centerfire™ Consumables
- MAXAL 4043 aluminum welding wire
The next step was making the change. How long the transition would take was a major concern for the H&W managers. Without the staffing or room of a larger manufacturer, custom shops usually don’t have the luxury of making large-scale production tool changes without slowing down or grinding to a halt the line of products headed out the door. This was a top priority and another tipping point for the Invision system.
“A turnkey package. That was very, very important to the committee. We have trucks to build. We haven’t got time to be messing around with machines,” says James. “So the less we have to set up machines, tear down machines, do any messing around with them … That was a key factor in buying the Miller Invision System — one complete and smooth transition package.”
While the primary daily welding at H&W is working with aluminum, the mild-steel sub-frame is the foundation of the apparatus where all the fabrication starts for the truck bodies. Most of the initial build-out is done on 3 x 2 mild steel quarter-wall tubing. The actual body is formed using aluminum; the box and external platform is made from eighth-inch marine grade aluminum with a host of welding processes.
The new equipment has more than lived up to expectations, but one unexpected dividend that arrived with the Invision systems has been employee morale. New power sources, feeders, guns and consumables added up to a new fire in the builders of fire trucks.
“I mean, we kind of demanded that we get something (new welders) in here. So they brought the Invision system in, and we’ve been real happy with them,” says Kyle Plock, fabricator/welder.
The new attitude in the shop was clearly evident. Instead of fighting machines, operators found the best at their fingertips. It was an investment in more than welding machines.
“I think when you make an investment like we did in what you do daily there is often an unseen or intangible payback,” says Sheldon. “There was a great deal of enthusiasm about the Invision system — it created a good air, it helps support our people and they know that they’re going to get the right kinds of tools they need when they need to get the job done.”
Going from an older machine to the state-of-the-art Synergic Pulsed MIG of the Invision system is a welcome change because of the tight and out-of-position welds often required while building the complex emergency equipment. Synergic Pulsed MIG welding gives the H&W operators the ability to stay in position at the point of the weld and make adjustments to wire feed speed via a knob on the MIG gun. The system then automatically adjusts power output to match the wire speed. Whether welding from an eighth-inch into quarter-inch material, the machine makes the adjustment, ensuring quality welds and fewer trips up and down the truck.
“The pulse process keeps your heat down as well,” says Ryan Miller, H&W fabricator/welder. “It keeps your sheet metal a lot flatter.”
The operators say the old system had two basic settings: wire feed speed and voltage. The Invision system has given the operators more tools to work with. The Invision system's bulit-in Pulsed MIG porgrams allow for H&W to quickly change from one alloy to the next. The system itself sets the paramters for proper welding based on the alloy in use.
Because of the Pulsed MIG frequency and crater fill and hot start, sagging and warping are virtually eliminated. Material stays flatter and square, which is a blessing for the guys down the line who no longer battle the imperfections of the past.
“So often before, with too much heat, the two pieces you’re welding together would separate and create gaps,” says Ryan Miller. “With the pulse function, it doesn’t do that. And it helps when you’re trying to weld out of position, like in a vertical uphill situation.”
“I like the synergic pulse function because it gives me that control. It helps keep your material cooler. You’re not putting as much heat in your material, eliminating warpage,” says Plock. “You can concentrate on making it look good, and when you need it you can fill up a wider gap a lot easier with less heat. When you don’t have a good fit, you can just make a small adjustment and fill it up.”
In addition, the most recognizable and welcomed change has been the elimination of bird-nesting of wire. The old feeders and wire were a constant and daily battle. The dual feed push/pull system coupled with the MAXAL wire is a boost to productivity.
“The feeder system is a lot smoother with the push/pull. There’s no bird-nesting even though the leads are a lot longer,” says Miller. “A lot of times when you have a really long lead, it’s hard to get the wire from one end to the other and these newer guns, they don’t seem to have any problem doing that. Add the MAXAL aluminum wire and you have a smooth, trouble-free system.”
With the old MIG guns the operators used they turned to an Allen wrench to loosen the socket head cap screws and then tighten it back up. Not an easy task inside the tight spaces of a fire truck body. With the Q-Gun Semi-Automatic MIG Gun, a quick loosening of the neck, allows the welders to turn it and tighten it back up for a quick and easy angle change.
“Well, like when we’re up inside of a truck in the pump house or something and we’re welding structural, you turn from one direction to another,” says Ryan Miller. “You want your MIG gun neck to go a different way, fit in a tighter spot or something, you can get the neck to turn without having to twist your hands around.”
The welds have to be functional and look sharp. In fact, anything exposed on a fire truck must look top notch. The shop welders take great care in the detail. Management calls it aluminum art. The operators understand that the welds can’t simply be a component of the integrity but it has to look good. An exposed weld is basically the welding operators’ signature.
The owners of Maverick Welding Supplies led the charge to help H&W with its welding future. The longtime distributor spent countless hours helping management find the right fit of machine and consumables, a one-stop package. The result is a transformation with the Invision 352 MPa Plus MIGRunner.
“Once we’ve gone from this standard transformer-type welding power sources to inverter-type power sources, it gave us a lot of opportunity to give them new adjustments that they weren’t able to achieve with their old equipment,” says David Carley, owner, Maverick Welding Supply. “That helped us stabilize the arc; narrow the arc up; let them weld faster, more efficient machines; and have a smaller footprint. The inverters have been a big improvement in our industry to welding power sources.”
The integrated system of Miller, Bernard Sem-Automatic Q-Gun MIG Guns, Centerfire Consumables and MAXAL aluminum wire was exactly what the committee had been looking for to modernize its aging welding fleet and streamline its inventory and process.
“There was a time where we would have to buy our welding tips in 25, 50 in a bag. They were running through three, four, five, six, eight tips in a matter of just a few hours from burnbacks,” says James. “With the new machines and the consumables that we’re running now, there’s been very little of that. I would say we’ve reduced our consumable inventory to just 20 to 25 percent on the shelf now compared to what we once stocked. That just saves time and money. It adds up quickly.”
At the end of the day, H&W made investments in welding equipment because their customers demand the best. When you build equipment at the highest standards, with life and death often relying on the equipment’s performance, you have to have partners who help you deliver. Managers at H&W feel good about the partners they have in Miller and Maverick Welding.
“An important piece of our business and our relationship is in who we work with, and the support of both Maverick Welding and Miller is an important aspect to our business relationship,” says Sheldon. “Relationships are essential in a business. We can sell anybody one fire truck, but with a relationship, we can sell a lifetime of fire trucks. We get that same treatment from Miller.”
Treatment that ensures H&W fire and emergency vehicles get the very best welds through the latest in welding technology from a company that, like a fire truck, is there when you need it.