Southwest Welding, LLC, based in Buckeye, Arizona, is a complete mobile fabrication business certified by AWS and ASME for pipe and structural welding applications. The company is a leader in pipe welding and fabrication for the petroleum industry, as well as heavy equipment repair, serving companies in the region since 1990.
Southwest Welding has built its mobile welding rigs centered on large 400- and 500-amp engine-driven welder/generators. It recently replaced one of those machines with the new Trailblazer® 325 EFI with Excel™ power from Miller Electric Mfg. Co. In doing so, it has substantially cut fuel use and costs, helped reduce sound levels in the work area, and reduced the size and weight of the equipment on the truck. New exclusive technologies also optimize engine output and ensure consistent performance even when multiple tools are running on the machine at the same time.
Mobile Fabricators Require Equipment Versatility
Often working in the blistering heat of Arizona’s desert climate, the company splits its time between heavy equipment repair and petroleum plant work. Stick welding is their primary process, but a number of applications require MIG and Flux Cored welding, as well as more sensitive aluminum repairs that are performed with a spool gun.
“We do a lot of 1/4-inch and 3/8-inch material from piping to wear plate,” says Danny Parker, lead welder and supervisor, Southwest Welding. “We go all the way down to 1/8-inch thick to 2- or 3-inch thick material. It varies from job to job.”
Southwest Welding operates three trucks outfitted with engine-driven welder/generators. The most important tool on a mobile fabricator’s truck, the welder/generator not only provides the welding functionality but also powers most other tools needed on site, including saws, grinders and lights. The perfect example of this use is heavy equipment repair where the damaged steel must either be cut or gouged out, ground down, and new steel welded back in place. A recent crane lattice repair showcased these capabilities, as lattice bars were removed and new bars were welded into place (see photos).
Southwest Welding was recently one of the first companies to use the Trailblazer 325 EFI. While Parker and his colleagues typically work with larger, diesel-engine-driven models, the new Trailblazer 325 provided more than enough welding and generator output to handle most applications, and offered greater versatility with excellent spool gun performance and wireless remote control functionality. Rated for 325 amps at 100 percent duty cycle at 104 degrees F, the new Trailblazer 325 EFI also offers up to 12,000 watts of generator power and 120 volts/60Hz of optional “Excel™ power” at all engine speeds for running jobsite tools.
Advanced Technologies Extend Run Times, Reduce Fuel Use
One of the highest operating costs and greatest hassles for any mobile welding operation is fuel. The new Trailblazer 325 EFI features three technologies that significantly reduce fuel use: Auto-Speed™ technology, Excel power, and Electronic Fuel Injection. Annual fuel savings can exceed $1,6001 compared to previous Trailblazer models, and may be even greater when compared to other machines.
“In the last two months, we’ve probably saved at least $300 to $400 in fuel, as opposed to other machines that we run,” says Parker.
Two of these technologies are new to this type of equipment. Older engine-driven welder/generators typically ran at a full 3,600 RPM while welding and running power tools, even if the required power was considerably less. The new exclusive Auto-Speed technology automatically adjusts engine speed to match actual weld load requirements. This means that, depending on equipment load, the machine may be able to weld while at idle (2,400 RPM). The second new technology, Excel power, also allows most typical jobsite power tools to be operated at 2,400 RPM versus traditional machines, which jump the output up to 3,600 RPM.
“If you’re using your grinders a lot, doing a lot of grinding daily, you’re not burning as much fuel,” says Parker. “It’s quieter while we’re working at the trucks and the power is still there. That’s the best thing: the power is there but the RPMs aren’t up running and consuming fuel.”
Another key factor contributing to the reduced fuel use is the electronic fuel injection. Electronic fuel injection optimizes air/fuel ratios for all engine speeds and loads, ensuring operation at peak fuel efficiency. Taking these technologies into consideration, the new Trailblazer 325 EFI requires up to 35 percent less fuel than previous models in the Trailblazer product line, and offers run times that are as much as 50 percent longer than traditional engine-driven welder/generators.
“I can go at least a week, almost a full 40-hour work week with a full tank of fuel in this as opposed to about, say, three work days on another machine,” says Parker.
That extended runtime not only saves money, but reduces the hassle of having to fill up the tank as often during the week.
“Most of our jobs are remote, out in the middle of nowhere, so having something that can stay out there and stay all day long with a full tank of fuel is a good benefit for us. That’s less downtime I have to pay my guys to go into town to get fuel because they run out halfway through (a job).”
Reduced Sound Improves Work Environment
An added benefit of the machine consistently running at lower RPMs is that sound has been reduced significantly — by as much as 68 percent — compared to other models available today. This is also accomplished by an improved machine layout that both optimizes airflow through the machine and further stifles sound. The lower noise output makes it easier for Southwest’s welders to communicate and reduces some of the noise pollution on the site.
“The sound on this is very quiet compared to our other machines,” says Parker. “I’d say it’s 50 percent quieter than most of the machines that we use on our trucks. The guys can communicate better closer to the trucks. We work off the back of the truck quite a bit, and if we’re talking ten feet away, we can hear ourselves and everybody understands what’s going on.”
Smaller Package, Lighter Weight Optimizes Truck Space
The new Trailblazer 325 EFI is five inches shorter and 108 pounds lighter (460 pounds total) than previous Trailblazer models, and is considerably smaller and lighter than the large diesel engine-driven machine that was previously on the truck. This reduction in size helps Southwest Welding better optimize the use of its space on the truck.
“We get into the bigger 400- and 500-amp machines, and they tend to weigh more and are longer,” says Parker. “You could put this machine in a regular three-quarter ton truck with a regular suspension and be fine with as light as it is. It’s about 50 percent lighter than all our machines on our other trucks, and the more room we have, the (better) on every truck.”
The reduced weight also provides a smoother ride, and the smaller design provides for better sight lines while driving. “The older welder was diesel and took up the whole length of the back of the truck from my (driver) side all the way over to the torch bottles,” says Joshua Johnson, welder, Southwest Welding.
“That one is a lot smaller and the truck moves a lot better. You could definitely tell a difference when that old welder was off and we put this one on.”“(The machine) sits lower,” he adds. “When I’m driving down the road now, I can look and see my blind spot.”
Powerful Performance in an Efficient Package
While the new design of the Trailblazer 325 EFI is much more compact and efficient than other engine-driven welder/generators with similar output capabilities, it does not sacrifice any performance to achieve those efficiencies. Through new Smart-Cor™ technology, the new machine maintains the independent weld and generator capabilities found in previous Trailblazer models. This independent weld and generator performance ensures strong, clean power and no interaction between jobsite tools and the welding arc—particularly critical for Southwest Welding when working on pipe and structural steel.
“It’s constant, I haven’t seen any arc fluctuation while you’re welding and someone else is running a grinder” says Parker. “We’ve run a lot of heavy-duty grinders off there, 13- and 20-amp grinders, and they can keep up with it while welding at the same time.”
The machine offers up to 325 amps of welding power in Stick and MIG applications and allows the operator to tailor the arc to the application at hand, with machine settings optimized to each process. Welders can choose between xx18 and xx10 series Stick electrodes, solid or flux-cored wires, TIG or gouging settings, and a 14-pin connection is ideal for running spool guns and wireless remote controls.
“We jump back and forth from structural to piping applications, and to have the gouge or soft start is a nice option,” says Parker. “The ease of just switching a dial to put on for a wire or a spool gun attachment is real easy. And the fact that we can adjust the parameters with the wireless remote is a good plus, too (see sidebar). We’re not spending time walking back and forth adjusting from long distances or in remote areas.”
Looking at the new Trailblazer 325 EFI, Parker sees a machine that provides the productivity he needs while also reducing fuels costs, improving the work environment and providing more flexibility to fit more materials on the truck through reduced size. Most importantly, the quality matches his expectations.
“It’s really consistent, you get your full amps out of the machine,” says Parker, “and the arc control is very good.”
1 Estimated based on typical usage – 150 amps welding 40 percent of the time; 20 amps generator power 30 percent of the time, and idling without load 30 percent of the time.
Sidebar: Miller Wireless Remote Controls Simplify Working off the Back of the Truck
Another advancement that is simplifying the life of mobile fabricators is wireless remote control technology. Wireless remote controls operate through the 14-pin receptacle on the front of the Trailblazer 325 EFI and allow the welder to change his settings from the point of the weld, rather than having to get up and go back to the machine. For companies like Southwest Welding, who regularly work anywhere from 30 to 90 feet away from the truck, this helps cut down on the hassle and the non-productive time of going back and forth to the machine.
“It saves our guys from getting up if we’re down in a ditch or we’re on a ladder,” says Parker. “You don’t have to climb down, take our tools off and go change the machine just for five amps or ten amps. In a pipe setting where we’re changing from uphill to downhill positions, it’s a phenomenal use for that.”
Welder Joshua Johnson says the timesaving adds up.
“Through the course of the day, it probably saves an hour,” says Johnson. “Depending on what you’re doing, you always have to run back and turn your welder up one or two or five amps. When you have (the wireless remote), it’s so much easier. You don’t have to move, especially when you are doing repairs and have to crawl into places, it takes forever to get in there. Now you don’t have to move. You hit the remote and it does it for you.”
It also eliminates the need for old corded remote models that provided a tripping hazard and were prone to damage (and, thus, downtime and replacement costs).
“Your welding lead is already enough cord,” says Johnson, “and then add in more cords, there’s more stuff you can trip over, more stuff you have to drag around or worry about laying a piece of metal on it. It’s much better.”
And unlike old rheostat-style controls, the digital interface on wireless remotes help improve welding accuracy and control.
“I like the digital because it’s easier to adjust,” says Johnson. “You just hit the button and it goes up one at a time. And you can look at your amperage or voltage, versus the older style where you can’t do that.”