As competition for contracts intensifies in the shipbuilding and ship repair industry, shipyards are looking for equipment and technologies that give them a competitive edge. Shipyards are being asked to provide lower costs and meet increasing quality requirements while also delivering vessels on tighter schedules. Technology is one solution to help them meet these customer demands.
In the shipbuilding welding operation, point-of-use controls can save up to an hour or more every day — per welding operator. These productivity gains can have a significant impact on the bottom line. The resulting savings translate into a quick return on investment for shipbuilding operations — sometimes within months — that justifies the conversion to remote-control technology.
Advancements in remote-control welding technology make it more beneficial than ever to implement this solution, especially in industries such as shipbuilding that often involve large vessel erection areas, shop environments and drydocks where there is a great distance between the power source and the location of the weld.
The ability for the operator to have complete remote control of welding processes and parameters at the point of the weld helps significantly improve productivity and safety, while also providing benefits that help operations meet critical quality requirements.
Complete control at the weld
Many North American shipyards have converted to flux-cored arc welding (FCAW) or gas metal arc welding (GMAW) processes for much of their welding, though shielded metal arc welding (SMAW) is still used for some applications, especially in ship repair. In some cases, such as pipe welding, it’s common to use a SMAW root pass and then switch to FCAW for the fill and cap passes. Gouging is also a frequently used process in shipbuilding and repair applications. Having the ability to switch processes at the point of the work saves time and is extremely beneficial.
All of these processes can be controlled by the operator at the point of the weld with remote-control welding technology. One advanced remote-control solution on the market is ArcReach® technology from Miller Electric Mfg. Co. This technology provides complete control of welding parameters at the weld joint utilizing only the existing weld cables — and without the need for a separate control cable. Eliminating the control cable reduces the time and money that shipyards spend on maintenance, troubleshooting and expensive cable repairs. Eliminating time-consuming cable repairs and maintenance also helps reduce the overall cost of downtime related to these repairs for a shipyard.
The system provides operators will full control of weld settings and parameters at the weld joint — at the wire feeder when using wire and advanced wire processes, and with a remote when using SMAW and gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) processes.
This reduces or even eliminates the need to walk back and forth to the power source — often up and down ladders or scaffolding — to make welding adjustments. Not only does this deliver significant benefits for productivity, but it also helps improve operator safety by reducing the risk for slips, trips and falls.
In addition, because welding operators can easily make the proper adjustments to produce the best results, it eliminates the need to “get by” with less-than-optimal welding parameters — resulting in improved weld quality as well as productivity.
Saving an hour or more each day in shipbuilding applications
For many shipbuilding operations, vessel fabrication typically begins in a shop environment before moving outside to the shipyard for completion. In both of these environments, a welding operator could be several hundred feet away from the power source. The point of the weld may be in a difficult-to-reach area of the vessel, or the power source could be on a mezzanine or gantry.
Without ArcReach technology, an operator who walks back to the power source to make changes to welding processes or parameters even four times per day — at 15 minutes per trip — is wasting 250 hours on the jobsite every year. This lost time can cost operations $11,250 in lost time on average per welding operator every year.
Reducing or eliminating the need to make these trips to the power source can save an hour or more per welding operator each day in shipbuilding operations. Larger shipyards often have more than 100 welding operators on a jobsite, so the productivity gains and resulting savings can be significant — adding up to thousands of dollars in time savings each year and justifying the equipment investment in remote-control technology.
Choosing a remote-control solution that does not require a control cable also eliminates the downtime and maintenance cost associated with control cords. This cost can be significant and is often not accounted for.
In addition, enhanced ArcReach technology available on the XMT® 350 FieldPro™ power sources from Miller makes it even easier for welding operators to adjust parameters at the weld joint so they can do their best work.
One new technology available in enhanced ArcReach offerings is Cable Length Compensation, or CLC™. This technology ensures that the voltage welding operators sets is the voltage they get at the feeder or remote — even hundreds of feet away from the power source. This allows greater accuracy and easier control of weld quality for the operator. It also saves time the operator would spend walking back and forth to the power source to dial in the voltage to meet welding specifications.
In addition, the Adjust While Welding (AWW™) technology allows for parameter changes and precise adjustments at the wire feeder or remote while the arc is on — so operators can make adjustments during welding to compensate for heat buildup, changes in weld position or variations in part fit-up. This not only saves time, it also contributes to improved weld quality, since each stop and start of the arc introduces the potential for discontinuities or quality issues that often require time-consuming grinding between passes.
Reducing jobsite safety risks
Slips, trips and falls are among the most common causes of jobsite injuries. Falls were the leading cause of worker deaths in the construction industry in 2015, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Most shipyards are sizable operations, and there can be numerous obstacles between the point of work and the location of the power source — sometimes up to 300 or 400 feet away.
Reducing exposure to slip, trip and fall hazards by decreasing the number of trips a welding operator must make to the power source on an expansive jobsite plays an important role in improving safety — and toward reaching the goal for many contractors and shipyards of having zero on-the-job injuries.
Improving safety can also have a financial impact for the shipyard by reducing the cost of worker downtime, insurance or workers’ compensation payments when employees are injured on the job.
More control for improved weld quality
The standards and codes for vessel construction are increasing, driven by safety requirements, regulatory requirements, market changes and other factors. Shipyards must stay ahead of these increasing quality demands.
With point-of-use control technology, welding operators can see the exact voltage and amperage and easily adjust welding parameters as needed to ensure they are staying within specified welding procedures. Full control at the weld joint also makes it easier to adjust to the welding parameters needed to deposit the required weld type and size — regardless of welding position or welding process — thereby helping operators produce the highest quality welds.
In addition, because operators can easily fine-tune welding parameters when the wire feeder or stick/TIG remote is nearby, it’s less likely that they will “make do” with less-than-optimal parameters. Operators can avoid making compromises with wire stickout, travel speeds and position that could lead to weld defects or rework.
And because voltage-sensing wire feeders display the actual voltage and current measured at the arc, the welder can compare the real-time reading to weld-setting presets. This feature lets operators continually monitor parameters to ensure the machine delivers the appropriate power to the arc for more consistent weld quality.
A solution to save time and money
The maritime industry is vital to security and commerce throughout the world. As competition for contracts intensifies in the industry, shipyards are seeking better tools and technologies to help them improve productivity, safety and quality.
The investment in remote-control welding technology can quickly pay off thanks to significant productivity gains and time savings. In an increasingly competitive industry, such time savings can be critical for a company — helping them complete vessels faster without compromising quality or safety.