Iconic Wisconsin Construction Company Cuts Noise and Saves Money with Welder/Generator Units
C.D. Smith Construction relies on Miller Bobcat™ 250 and Trailblazer® 325 welder/generators during structural steel construction of frozen foods packaging and distribution center expansion.
As a proud fourth-generation family company, C.D. Smith Construction Inc. is able to point to hundreds of hospitals, schools, factories and churches in its home state of Wisconsin as examples of the quality start-to-finish building projects the general contractor takes on across the nation.
Founded by Charles D. Smith in 1936, C.D. Smith has grown over the years into a company with annual sales exceeding $275 million. The company is now under the direction of the founder’s grandson, Gary M. Smith, the current president and chief executive officer.
C.D. Smith also recently completed the process to become certified by the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC), a mark that sets the quality standard for the structural steel industry and is the most recognized national quality certification program for the industry. Certified companies go through rigorous initial evaluation and are subject to annual audits. C.D. Smith trained about 60 workers to prepare for the process and completed a comprehensive administrative review, a documentation audit and an on-site audit to receive the certification.
To keep its crews humming along on jobsites and providing welds worthy of the AISC certification, C.D. Smith turns to another company with deep Wisconsin roots, Miller Electric Mfg. Co. of nearby Appleton. Miller manufactures the engine-driven welder/generators used to power tools and equipment, often before permanent power is established.
On the job with Miller equipment
At the 250-foot-by-100-foot expansion of a Ryder frozen foods packaging and distribution center in Beaver Dam, Wis., C.D. Smith Construction not only used its traditional Miller Bobcat™ 250 welder/generators, but also a new gas-powered Trailblazer® 325 during the structural steel construction.
“Welding on a job of this particular size is probably half of the job,” says Tom Pitzen, foreman, C.D. Smith Construction. “The welding requirements on this job are bar joists – 3 inches of weld on each side of the bar joist. The trusses get bolted down and, after they’re bolted, the other requirement is a 3-inch weld to help hold them down.”
In addition, structural welding on the bar joists — or horizontal bridging — required a 1 1/2-inch weld on every support, top and bottom. The decking required 5/8-inch welds.
On this job, C.D. Smith crews completed the new building’s foundation work, structural steel and concrete flooring, as well as outside roadways, sidewalks and landscaping.
“When a job first starts, we’ll very seldom have power to that jobsite, so we always have to use some sort of a generator to get things going,” says Pitzen. “On this particular job, we have no outside power right here, so if we have to run a saw, a drill … everything will run off of the welder/generator. If we’re in a corner and we need lights, we’ll plug a cord in.”
The Ryder frozen foods facility expansion project provided Pitzen’s first opportunity to use the gas-powered Trailblazer 325, and he was impressed. Beyond the ability to power circular saws, hammer drills and other tools where no permanent power source was available, the unit provides a high-quality weld.
Weld quality problems caused by fluctuating heat during the weld were not an issue with the Trailblazer unit. C.D. Smith workers found the Trailblazer to be reliable for their Stick welding needs. The multiprocess unit also is capable of MIG, DC TIG and Flux-Cored welding. Adding the optional Spectrum® plasma cutter also allows for plasma cutting and gouging capabilities. And since Smart-Cor™ technology provides independent welding and generator power, C.D. Smith can run tools while welding without seeing interference between the two.
Peace and quiet … and peace of mind
With the optional Excel™ power, the Trailblazer 325 provides 120 volts of pure sine wave generator power, enough to run most jobsite tools at idle speed, even when the welder is at work. Connecting to the Excel power receptacle provides up to 2,400 watts of generator power to run grinders, chop saws, drills and lights with tangible results, says Pitzen, whose crews often work in noise-sensitive locations, such as hospitals under expansion.
“Noise on a jobsite is a big thing,” he says. “Without having that motor ‘kick up’ when striking an arc or powering a tool, the Trailblazer 325 will keep crews working at times they would otherwise have to tamp down or even shut down particular operations.”
Pitzen adds that a C.D. Smith crew once had a hospital expansion project that was one floor down from the surgical units. Because of that proximity, some equipment had to be halted for certain hours of the day. He is confident that in similar situations in the future, crews will be able to keep working with the Trailblazer 325 because it’s that quiet.
Noise levels can be cut by more than 50 percent because the machine runs at the speeds it needs, not always automatically at high speed, explains John Van Meter, product manager for Miller.
“Most jobsite tools with Excel power run at idle speed. Most welding applications run at idle speed. The machine only goes to a higher speed when it needs to for heavier weld modes,” he says.
The new Bobcat welder/generators, designed with the engines relocated from the rear to the front, also are quieter than previous-generation models. The noise reduction benefits for the surrounding environment extend to the safety of the jobsite workers nearby.
“If you’ve got a lot of equipment running on your job, and if you’ve got welders nearby that are idling high and of course you have ear plugs in, it’s really easy to not hear a forklift or a skid steer backing up,” says Pitzen, who has nearly four decades in the construction industry under his belt. “The Trailblazer being such a quiet machine, you can hear a forklift coming around that welder.”
The efficiency of the clean-burning Kohler twin-cylinder, overhead-valve, air-cooled engine is magnified by the fuel savings of Excel power.
“At the end of the job, it comes down to cost: ‘Did you make money or did you lose money?’” Pitzen says.
With this machine, Pitzen can safely say the company made money. He estimates the Trailblazer 325 has saved the company 2 gallons of fuel per day on average over the older Bobcat 250 units. Pitzen estimates fuel savings alone from one welder/generator add up to about $1,500 a year; multiplying that by an entire fleet would mean thousands more in savings. C.D. Smith also sees savings from the employee hours gained by fewer trips to the gas station. The Trailblazer 325 is capable of run times up to 50 percent longer on a comparable tank of gas.
“That’s a huge savings,” he explains. “Stopping at night and filling up gas cans, and filling up welders every day is an inconvenience. If you can go three days on a tankful of gas versus filling them up every day, it’s a lot less work.”
Easy to maintain, ready to roll
For portability and maintenance, the design of the new-generation Miller welder/generators is also a winner, says Pitzen. At a standard 20 inches wide by 40.5 inches long by 28 inches high, the Trailblazer 325 is narrower and shorter than previous models. At 460 pounds, it’s about 120 pounds lighter than the previous Trailblazer model and about 40 pounds lighter than other like models.
“When I go from job to job, the machines all go in the back of my truck, and it can be very compact back there with all the welding equipment,” he says. “When I came down here, I had both of these welders on the back of my truck, and I had room to put one more on yet.”
Pitzen adds, “To do the general maintenance on these welders is easy, too. You open up that top panel, and it’s obvious where you check the oil. There’s an air cleaner there, and it’s so easy and accessible to look at your air cleaner and see if it’s dirty or clean. If you need to change the oil, you open up the side panel and it’s all there. You don’t need wrenches or anything to take panels apart.”
Pitzen equips his Trailblazer welder/generator units with wheels to increase mobility around the jobsite.
“If I was doing a multi-story building right now and I had the Trailblazers out there, I’d have them on little four-wheel carts on which I can wheel them around, like when we did an apartment complex downtown. We’d work through one room, out in the hallway, then into another room. You had to constantly keep moving,” he says. “Running gear is a preference for us.”
At the site of the Ryder frozen foods facility expansion, C.D. Smith Construction team members also conquered another logistics issue with the use of a 60-foot boom lift for their Miller welder/generators, and in the process made the jobsite around the lift safer and more efficient.
“We have a carriage on the back of the lift that we put the welders right on. The leads all go inside the boom, up through the basket,” says Pitzen. “If we have a welder on the ground, we’re dragging that lead from the ground up; it catches on things around the jobsite. With the lead going through the boom, we can drive anywhere with that welder we need to go. If we’ve got it on the ground and we’re dragging leads, we’ve got to get out, unwind and move it all.”
Miller provides the right combination for C.D. Smith Construction
Having worked with C.D. Smith Construction for 35 years, Pitzen is a firm believer in the benefits of a combined, engine-driven welder/generator. The full, quiet output for both functions possible with today’s combined Miller models, he says, has the clear advantage over owning, hauling and maintaining separate, dedicated units.
“By having everything in one unit, you’ve only got one motor running,” says Pitzen. “If you’ve got just a welder, and you need power and you have another generator alongside you running, you’re using twice the amount of fuel. With a welder/generator, it’s half the operating cost.”
And, as he says, “In construction today, it comes down to value and cost savings.”