Welding Together Cost and Efficiency

July 13, 2001

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Hidden inefficiencies within your welding operation can quickly spark cost overruns. Follow these simple tips for avoiding them.

Companies wishing to reduce their welding costs can benefit from the following rule of thumb: labor and overhead account for 80% of the total costs associated with mild steel welding operations, while the cost of materials accounts for only 20%. In other words, companies wishing to save money on welding would be better off concentrating their efforts on trimming the procedural aspect of their operations. What follows is a series of steps that companies can take to realize savings in these areas.

First, companies need to pay careful attention to the delivery of both consumables and accessories to the welding site. Operating efficiency can be improved simply by stocking sufficient supplies of all items necessary to the welding process within an area immediately accessible to the welder. Having these items, which can include shielding gas, flux and wire, within easy reach reduces the time the welder needs to move from the welding station and therefore saves on labor costs. Incidentally, it is also a good idea to switch to larger spools of wire to reduce the frequency of changeover times, which can add up in cost as well.

The orderly arrangement of parts to the welding site is another big money saver. Though companies may not realize it, whenever a welder has to stop his work to search for a part on the ground around him, even if the part is within easy reach, time and energy is wasted. Closely related to this perpetrator of wasted effort is the bad habit of handling parts more often than necessary. An interesting way of gauging inefficiency in parts handling is to mark a piece with soapstone every time the piece is picked up. Using this method, managers are often surprised to see how many times a part is actually handled for no reason.

Another way to reduce costs is to guard against overwelding. Oftentimes, welders put in a slightly larger weld than is sufficient. Whether they are doing this out of ignorance as to the proper length of the weld cut or because they are trying to ensure that enough weld metal is in place, the end result is that valuable consumables are wasted. Not only is the company paying for wasted consumable material, but the overwelded material is more likely to end up warped or distorted due to the extra heat that was applied in the welding process.

There are other areas of inefficiency that companies can look out for as well. These include examining such variables as weld diameter, wire feed speed, voltage, travel speed, gas type and transfer mode, to name just a few. Another area to be aware of is joint preparation. Welders should use a double-bevel whenever it is possible, rather than a single-bevel. This simple adjustment in procedure can save a great deal in terms of unused weld metal.

Companies would also do well to change the design of a welded part to eliminate the need for unnecessary welds. For obvious reasons, extra welds waste time, effort and materials. Companies could also ultimately reduce production costs by keeping their eyes open for items that could be welded rather than cast. There are many cases where it may be more cost effective to weld metal pieces to a part than to cast an entire component in a costly alloy or exotic metal.

One of the most tenacious vampires of a welder's time is keeping up with the immense amount of paperwork that the welding operation entails. Luckily, technology is now available that can circumvent the headaches involved in record keeping. Many current software packages can be tailor fit to the specifics of the individual company's needs and provide a great amount of efficiency while eliminating the margin for human error. Yet another way to utilize technology in reducing costs is to introduce robotics or automation to the process. Robotics are only necessary in cases where the volume of parts to be welded becomes so great that the cost of a human workforce exceeds the cost of implementing a robotic solution. Automation, on the other hand, can be ideal for smaller operations that simply want to boost quality and efficiency.

Finally, the observation of safe welding habits is key to keeping costs down. The advantages of avoiding a serious welding accident are self-evident. Further information on this important topic is given in "Meeting the Standard: Tips for a Safer Welding Site", a companion article that can be found in this issue.

These are just a few ways companies can reduce their welding costs. Of course, some will be more valuable to certain companies than others. But, considered together, they offer a basic overview of time- and money-saving habits that a company can choose from when deciding on a cost cutting plan.

Source: Ten Steps to Reducing Your Welding Costs
James W. Rosenthal
Welding Journal, July 1, 2001
http://www.aws.org/wj/july01/feature.html

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