The Fruits of His Labors - Fine Welding Leads to Fine Wines

The Fruits of His Labors - Fine Welding Leads to Fine Wines

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Miller's Trailblazer Pro 350, a diesel engine drive with code-quality outputs for CC/CV, AC/DC work, 350 amps of welding power and 10,000 watts of continuous auxiliary power, gives Tony Pratt the ability to tackle almost any job, in any industry, on any metal. From 6010 pipe jobs, to MIG aluminum catwalks to stainless steel TIG welds, Pratt can "smoke the competition" because of his Trailblazer's capabilities.

“Miller machines with Arc-Drive™ run an E6010 rod as good as, or better than, a DC generator.”

Issue: Contractors with greater versatility can tackle more projects. Often, just getting a foot in the door can lead to bigger projects and new business when the customer gives you a reference. With room for one engine drive in the back of his rig, which machine would give Tony Pratt, owner of AP Welding & Consulting, the best chance of growing his business?

Solution: Miller's TrailblazerPro 350, a diesel engine drive with code-quality outputs for CC/CV, AC/DC work, 350 amps of welding power and 10,000 watts of continuous auxiliary power.

Results: The ability to tackle almost any job, in any industry, on any metal. From 6010 pipe jobs, to MIG aluminum catwalks to stainless steel TIG welds, Pratt can “smoke the competition” because of his Trailblazer's capabilities.

The entrance to wine country is as warm and welcoming as the people that work within.

Tony Pratt moved to California and struck gold…with his Trailblazer® welding generator from Miller Electric Mfg. Co.


Pratt and his wife left Pueblo, Colo. after she earned a position as a chemistry professor at California Polytechnic in San Luis Obispo. He quickly found work with a local mechanical contractor, but quit after two weeks.


“When I saw inferior workmanship passing for ‘quality,’ I knew I could make it on my own,” says Pratt. He bases his confidence on his welding skills and the versatility of his Trailblazer. “The Trailblazer’s multi-process design lets me weld everything, and the arc quality of its 4-pole rotor, 3-phase output just clinches the deal. The best way of describing the Trailblazer’s arc characteristics is to say that it’s just like welding with my Syncrowave® 350 LX, the industry’s standard for arc quality.”


Using a $9,000 loan secured by his wife’s retirement fund, Pratt founded AP Welding & Consulting, Inc., Paso Robles. Three years later, a chance meeting with a winery owner has parleyed that $9,000 into a $250,000/year business and two fully- loaded and paid-for work trucks.


“My company blossomed from one little job: fixing a driveway gate at a place called Sycamore Farms. It took me 10 minutes,” says Pratt, “so I only charged $15. The owner said ‘You can’t make any money that way.’ I replied that if he told people about me, I could make a lot of money.”


Pratt said the right thing to the right person, because the owner of Sycamore Farms is also one of the founders of Vivatar cameras. Currently, he rents a tasting room to Bonny Doon Vineyards, famous for its “Cardinal Zin” cabernet. He is also deeply involved with the local wine industry and passed Pratt’s name on to other wineries. Now Pratt provides welding services for ¾ and is friends with ¾ owners, vintners and brew masters at Paso Robles’ finest wineries and breweries: Fetzer, Meridian, Castoro Cellars, Dover Canyon, Justin, Eberle, Zenaida, Tablas Creek, L’Venture and Firestone Walker Brewing Co.

The Right Stuff

Aluminum welds on the winery catwalk.

Pratt started with one truck and a Trailblazer 251. Today he has two fully rigged service trucks, one with a Trailblazer 300D NT and another with the new TrailblazerPro 350. The TrailblazerPro 350 features the Trailblazer series’ legendary arc quality in a more powerful package. Driven by a 26 HP Kubota diesel, it provides 20 to 350 amps of welding power and 10 kW of continuous auxiliary power. The TrailblazerPro also features Arc-Drive, a technology that provides unbeatable E6010 and E7018 welding performance.


Pratt’s essential equipment list also includes a high frequency unit, Coolmate® water cooler, XMT® 304 CC/CV inverter, XR®-Edge push-pull wire feed system, Spectrum® 2050 plasma cutter, Maxstar® 140 and Maxstar 200 DC TIG/Stick inverters (all from Miller), and a Handler® 135 all-in-one MIG unit from Hobart Welders.


“Winery and brewery work demand versatility, and Miller engine drives and inverters give me more versatility than any competitive system,” he says. “For example, my Lead Welder, Casey Sarkozi, can connect the XR-Edge push-pull feeders to the TrailblazerPro and MIG weld aluminum. At the same time, I can run the Maxstar off its auxiliary power and TIG weld stainless steel (see photo).”

Exquisite Work

Pratt often encounters this situation because fermenting tanks and piping must be made from 304 (“food grade”) stainless steel. Catwalks and ladders use 6061 T-6 aluminum to save weight, as they often use the top of fermentation tanks as a structural mount point.


To build the catwalk for Tablas Winery (see photo), Pratt starts with 85 in. long sections of 8 in. channel for the outer framework. He welds 2-in. flat bars to the ends of the channel to use as a flange, which he drills and taps to secure the channel to octagonal hardwood posts. For handrails, Pratt drills holes in the posts and sets two lengths of 1-1/2 in. round tubing between them.


To support the grated floor, two rails made from 3-in. channel run down the center of the 41-ft. long catwalk. To provide rigidity, Pratt welds 3 x 3 x 1/4 in. square tubing between the center rails and the outer rails, forming triangles for extra stiffness. He then welds the floor grating to the center and side rails. Holes cut in the grating allow the catwalk to fit over the fermentation tank’s top hatch and rest solidly on the tank top. Brackets welded to the back of the catwalk secure it to the building wall.


To eliminate cold lap, Pratt sets the XR-Edge’s run-in control speed to 50 to 60 percent of the welding wire feed speed. To ensure good penetration on 1/4-in. thick aluminum, he uses 23.5 to 24. 5 volts and a wire feed speed of 550 IPM when welding with an 0.035 in. diameter wire. To add character to the weld bead, he whips the gun to create a ripple pattern.


“Tablas Creek wanted an exquisite catwalk,” Pratt explains. “They only needed a platform so the workers could safely access the tank hatch, but the owner wanted more. He wanted a catwalk he could showcase to the general public during tours.”


Pratt’s skill also contributes significantly to the quality of the finished product. The former Slo Brew Co. in Paso Robles, now Firestone Walker, never won a major award. Then it hired Matt Brynildson as a head brewer, who in turn hired Tony Pratt and his Miller machines.


“Good brewing depends on good cleaning,” says Brynildson, “because bacteria can spoil the beer taste. Tony spent 40 hours cutting and pasting (plasma cutting and DC TIG welding) to change the workflow in the brew house. He is an excellent sanitary welder and joined everything together brilliantly. In the last two years, we’ve claimed national and international awards, and a lot of that is due to having reworked the brewery and the improved sanitation quality.”

Pipeline Profitability

Pratt doesn’t choose his welding equipment just for “exotic” winery and brewery work. A recent directional drilling project proves that it gives him a competitive advantage in the construction market, too. The job involved welding 10 and 12 in. diameter pipe (.365 in. wall thickness, A36 steel) for a fiber optic conduit. Lead Welder Casey Sarkozi, describes the job site requirements:


“The pipes come in 44 ft. lengths on a float trailer or semi, which gets parked near our service truck. A boom truck unloads the pipes onto pipe rollers, and I’ll butt two sections 1/16 in. apart and hold them in place with a line-up clamp. We downhill weld the root pass and hot pass with a 5/32 in. E6010 electrode. Then comes the cap, which is an uphill weld with a 1/8 in. E7018 electrode. After we complete each joint, that length of pipe gets pulled underground.”

Smoke the Competition

The exquisite aluminum catwalk of Tony Pratt (left) and Casey Sarkozi.

Using the Stick welding capabilities of the TrailblazerPro 350 and Maxstar inverter ¾ again running the Maxstar off auxiliary power ¾ Pratt and Sarkozi created an unbeatable “brother-in-law” welding team. Brother-in-law welding involves passing the arc from one electrode to another as two operators weld on opposite sides of a pipe.


“Getting two arcs from one service truck makes good business sense,” says Pratt. “First, it frees up my other truck. Second, I burn half the amount of fuel. With a $1,100 monthly fuel bill, that’s a significant savings. Third, pipeline right-of-ways are often crowded. And fourth, we can smoke the competition. We’re done and they still have half the cap left.”


“As a brother-in-law team, we can put in 1,000 ft. of 10-inch pipe in a 10 hour day, which is stellar,” elaborates Sarkozi, who started in the pipeline industry. “Most other people work with one welder and one welder’s helper. They consider welding 400 to 600 ft. in 12 hours a great day.”


Sarkozi also appreciates the TrailblazerPro’s quiet operation. “The fiber optic pipeline goes through ritzy residential areas, like outside the homes of Kevin Costner and Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston. Fortunately, I can cut noise in half because the TrailblazerPro lets me weld with the engine at idle,” he says.

The Best of Both Worlds

On the pipeline project, Pratt noted that the TrailblazerPro 350’s Arc-Drive technology improved E6010 and E7018 performance. He explains that, historically, “Miller engine drives always ran awesome low-hydrogen (E7018). But with an E6010 electrode, I felt the puddle didn’t freeze fast enough. It tended to blow out to the sides and not fill in the joint as I weaved the rod. This left a ropey-looking bead.”

The TrailblazerPro 350, however, is a completely different story. “Miller machines with Arc-Drive run an E6010 rod as good as, or better than, a DC generator. What’s nice about its E6010 performance is the ‘stackability.’ I can control the weld puddle, flatten it out, and create weld beads with a nice stacked-dime appearance.”

Mike Lang, sales representative for A&R Welding Supply and Pratt’s distributor, adds that “Arc-Drive also improves E7018 performance because it boosts the amperage for a few milliseconds during arc start.”

E7018 electrodes tend to stick during arc starts. To compensate, operators increase heat 15 to 40 amps above the optimum level or they “fingernail” the rod (break the flux off the end of the rod, often by banging it on the ground). Unfortunately, excess heat creates undercuts; also, the hot puddle could sag and roll out of the joint when welding out of position. Fingernailing causes worse problems. Because the rod lacks flux during arc starts, porosity can enter the weld. This is one reason why boiler codes demand grinding out starts and explains why operators typically fail welding tests at starts.

“The TrailblazerPro 350 runs beautifully with all electrodes,” states Pratt. “Passing a weld test depends mostly on skill. However, I think that Arc-Drive can help less-experienced welders get better starts and alleviate some of their problems in passing a test.”

Like Fine Wine

Getting two arcs from one service truck makes good business sense.

Pratt believes that pipeline welders, mechanical contractors and independent owner-operators need to recognize the limitation of older technology.

“Why use yesterday’s technology,” he says, “when you can weld with Miller technology today? Old machines force operators to compensate for equipment deficiencies with increased skill, and many young people haven’t yet developed their skill sufficiently.”

Pratt provides the equipment to help young operators like 22-year-old Sarkozi break into the business easily. However, he knows that the biggest challenge for growing AP Welding & Consulting is finding more operators who care deeply about quality welds.

“Getting young people to take their welding to the next level is like making a fine wine,” he says. “Making a fine wine requires a lot of time, care and preparation, but you have to have a passion for it. If you’re passionate about your welding, you can refine it. With a machine like the TrailblazerPro 350, the only limitation is your passion.”


2005 Miller Electric Mfg. Co

Published: August 1, 2007
Updated: January 7, 2016