7 Questions Reveal Do Your People Really “Know Welding”?

October 25, 2015

Having some people who “know welding” is usually considered adequate or good welding staffing in American industry.  In essence, if welding is occurring and products are shipping, managers and executives who know nothing about welding sciences will assume that they are adequately staffed for competition and growth.  But is that REALLY true in your company, or is it only a common and expensive assumption?  Here are seven important questions to gage whether your company’s welding science expertise is adequate:

  1. How much money is being lost in weld scrap?
  2. How many hours are being spent in weld repairs?
  3. How many hours are being spent making “welding adjustments” to automated equipment?
  4. What is your internal PPM (or DPMO) weld repair defect rate on products, and how much have you lowered that repair rate in the last year?
  5. What is your external weld defect rate shipped to your customers, and how much have you lowered that over the last three years?
  6. How many times a year does staff have to repair, reprogram or “touch up points” in welding automation that “crashed”?
  7. What are your primary welding operation bottlenecks, and how much have you reduced their cycle time in the last three years?

Of course this isn’t an exhaustive list.  But if your welding staff expertise is excellent and adequately supported for your profitability, they can provide answers to all these questions in a day or less.  Questions 4, 5, and 7 all point to your facility’s continuous improvement environment in welding operations:  if you don’t measure, that’s a forfeit.  If you measure but you have no continuous improvement, it’s because your inadequate welding staffing is locked in firefighting mode and/or hopelessly lacking in welding science expertise.

It’s astonishing that with the complex chemical interactions and high-speed transitions between solid/liquid/gas states, involving the arc plasma, metallurgy, over a dozen process variables with multiple interactions, tooling design, fit-up variations, and dimensional distortion… that welding in America is still thought to be a “simple” process that doesn’t need a trained welder, a welding-process-trained programmer, a specifically trained welding engineer, or targeted scientific research.  If you imagine that you are a metal stamping company without a mechanical engineer or tool-and-die maker, perhaps you can correlate how wide-open the risk and potential is in most companies doing welding.

About 7 years ago as a Manufacturing Welding Engineering Manager, I assigned a task to the 7 or 8 bachelor’s welding engineering grads in my team from all three schools (Ferris, OSU, LeTourneau), to total up the hours they spent in college in welding classes, doing welding structure/metallurgy/process homework, or under the hood performing guided/graded welds. The average minimum was 4,000 hours… much higher for the Ferris guys due to all the “under the hood” time.  Our team applied that welding engineering expertise to great advantage.  What would your bottom line look like if you eliminated 90% of your weld repairs, shortened your welding cycle-times by 20%, reduced your shipped weld defects by more than 50%, and launched new lines that were running at full rate and low defects in the first 30 days?  That’s your funding motivation to staff and empower welding science expertise.

Still think your people “know welding”?


Valuable New Technologies – Arc Vision

December 19, 2014

How can you turbocharge your weld quality in mechanized welding? By viewing the weld, greatly magnified, with far greater clarity than possible with a welding shield, remotely from any location. How does this technology work, and why is it so much better? Cameron Serles’ blog post does a good job of explaining the basics of the breakthrough Xiris camera systems: http://blog.xiris.com/blog/bid/392061/How-to-Get-the-Best-View-of-an-Open-Arc-Weld

But beyond that, what about the hands-on opinion of an objective welding engineer?  This is a first-ever hands-on review in Visionary Welding, and it’s a story worth telling.  I was able to set up and demo a Xiris dual-camera setup in recent months with the help of the talented Cornelius Sawatzky, and coordinating aid from Machine and Welding Supply Company (Raleigh, NC branch, Mark Jeffries and Brent Ellis).  I saw fantastic benefits for long multipass mechanized welds. 

Operators control view during welding

Here’s how I would cram the WOW into one paragraph:  The screen perspectives are astonishingly good – so good that it makes you want to put a Xiris camera on your head and a smartphone screen in your helmet for doing manual welding.  It’s like what you see on a dark cloudy night, vs. wearing night-vision goggles.  It’s like the difference between what you can see, and what Superman can see – courtesy of logarithmic light intensity processing that lets you see the puddle, the arc, and the surrounding material all at the same time.  You can toggle between auto-recording (when the arc is active), or manual recording modes.  The ability to capture everything during a weld means that welder operator training can move ahead by a light-year, just by reviewing and using video segments to show ideal techniques, weld defects as they occur, and methods of error recovery which may avoid weld repairs.

In reviewing the welding videos that we made during a couple of days of production, several things stood out:

  1. The balanced location of the molten weld puddle has to be constantly monitored and frequently adjusted. The location needs to be adjusted not only to edges, but also to placement on the plane of the layer in planning for the width and sequence of beads that will effectively fill each required layer (and provide for post-weld machining to finish dimensions).  Doing this relies on proximity line-of-sight, which is normally limited, restricted, and distant: generally poor. Everything seen through a welding helmet lens under these conditions is difficult to interpret and even harder to teach.
  2. Producing a perfect weld takes not only great interpretive visual skills but constant, non-distracted attention.  Both of those were “bionically” enhanced while welding with the camera system.
  3. In historic mechanized welding, both the interpretive visual skills and this issue of non-distracted attention are not simply limited by the welder’s motivation: they are chained and blindfolded by the use of inadequately archaic manual technology. For example, the welder historically needs to peer through a welding hood and see the weld area clearly from more than one angle to properly interpret what is happening in the weld and in the joint. But, he cannot see everything clearly with only one lens shade, he can only get a second viewing angle by leaving the controls, and his eye is always at least three feet from the arc. So the welder functions in a world where everything is a compromise and he is limited to guesswork which is based on poor visual access, and a distant, squinting perspective.
  4. Many things can be done with a standard single-camera Xiris system.  But through placement of two cameras, you can gain a view of both sides of the weld – giving the welder an instant and continuous advantage which they never had before.  With a tap of your finger or glove, you can switch between three arrangements of the two views to maximize the advantages for the needs of the moment.
  5. “Supersize” the magnification advantage for the operator, or broadcast it to a wider, distant shop-floor audience by plugging in a big external flatscreen.  (Could be a high value deal-closer for customer visits or Open House events?)
  6. The Xiris software provides the important ability to automatically adjust or manually “tweak” the image characteristics for maximum clarity advantages.  After all, there are great differences between welding processes, weld parameters, materials, and joint configurations.  But frankly, the results of activating the auto-adjust were hard to beat and as fast as a digital camera in Auto mode, making it obvious that Xiris has invested a lot of brainpower to make it easy to get optimal viewing results of the weld puddle and the entire welding area – at the same time.  Finally, the focal point of the camera has everything to do with how clearly you can see what you want to see.  But since these cameras have built-in focal-length motors and easy screen-tap changes of focal point, it’s fast to make on-the-fly adjustments to focal-length.

Considering these issues, it becomes more clear why Xiris’ dual cameras with logarithmic light intensity processing of magnified images is a gigantic enabler for weld quality perfection. Not only can the operator see the weld and surrounding areas perhaps 5 times better than even closeup through a welding shield, and not only is it magnified much larger, but he never needs to stand/squat/peer/duck/walk-around while leaving the controls to glimpse a different view. Because he is at the controls when he sees the first hint of a problem, and because he can interpretively identify it much sooner, he is able to adjust to avoid the problem – instead of recognizing and adjusting a few seconds after the problem is full-blown. 

It is primarily the nuanced details occurring within the weld puddle motion, puddle placement, puddle shape and solidification profile that determine the quality of the weld deposit. Because of this, it seems inherent that giving the welding operator this 10-times improvement in detailed visibility (that’s an understatement) should reduce remote mechanized welding defects by at least 70 to 90%… but I suspect it can probably enable 95% defect reductions in many situations.

All considered, the system seems pretty cost-effective, with fast payback in many production environments.  What’s the cost?  Think “best new cars on a budget” without fancy options or extra-status badges and you’ll have an idea of the price range.

What about the Xiris equipment design and durability?

Well-engineered design seemed evident in almost every aspect of the Xiris equipment:Xiris control console interior

  • Engineered and tested durability in high-temperature environments, using Exair chilled compressed air in the temperature-monitored camera housings, and optional high-temperature insulating wraps. Its’ tested camera/cabling capabilities can comfortably handle a 500F preheat environment when fully outfitted.
  • Matured control console design, with cooling and filtration
  • Durable high-performance cabling with sealed end connectors
  • Intuitive software interface  design, with graphic-symbol-driven screen layouts and screen swapping 
  • Simple yet thorough system documentation
  • 3-layer password levels
  • Our optioned higher-storage capacity unit provided about 130 hours of dual-camera weld-arc recording time
  • Amazing pixel achievements in the clarity and value of the highly engineered weld imaging
  • Continued improvement efforts in the software-use details

In summary, I found the Xiris system is designed to be easy to use, easy to maintain, and quite durable with reasonable care and use.  How easy and intuitive was it to use?  I had confidently selected and labeled a hardback notebook, knowing that I would need to take a number of important notes on how to accomplish and recall various Xiris tasks and tricks.  I never do that, but I “knew” I would need it, and I wanted to “pick” Cornelius’ brain on such things.  I had the notebook with me the entire time, but I could never identify anything that I needed to write down: that’s how easy and intuitive it is to use, and how thorough the short Xiris system manual is. 

In short, this is disruptive, groundbreaking world class welding technology that’s not R&D: it’s ready for mainstream.  My congratulations to Xiris on a fantastic product line that should prove to be a game changer in profits and weld quality in many automated or mechanized welding applications.


Hunting for the Elephant Cloaking Device “OFF” Switch

June 8, 2014

During most of the last two decades of my Welding Engineering career, I’ve been searching for the “OFF” switch on the Elephant Cloaking Device.  95% of manufacturing companies lack the high profitability and the growth into market dominance which could be theirs, by turning off the cloaking device that hides their true core business, and embracing the elephant-sized key to profitable market dominance.  Manufacturing companies may think they are in appliances, or implements, or vehicles, or equipment, or devices, or actuators… just name it.  But they are really in the welding industry. Automotive is a perfect example: simply removing welding and brazing from a vehicle leaves nothing but a useless pile of disconnected and non-functional small sub-assemblies – and yet the entire automotive industry seems blind to that fact. It’s pervasive, and it’s top-down.

The “cloaked elephant” in most of the metal-manufacturing industries is that their actual core business is selling their expertise at manufacturing complex welded assemblies.  Because this elephant is cloaked, staff cannot see and grasp that their core success is inherently and tightly linked to the permeating depth and breadth of the scientific welding expertise that’s woven throughout their organizational structure… or, far more likely, is missing entirely.  One major supplier, a “household name” within automotive, is manufacturing complex welded system assemblies in dozens of countries without one single welding engineer, anywhere.  Lack of welding expertise was the overwhelming cause of a major “quality spill” that may have cost them over $50M, and is the reason they are probably doomed to repeat their losses.

The sad truth is that few manufacturers of welded metal assemblies understand and embrace their core business. Even amongst “world class” companies, there is rarely a discussion of world class welding.  How can they talk about Continuous Improvement, and leave welding out of the picture?  It’s due to invisibility – causing an inability for normal sight to see, just as if they were blind.  In the vast majority of companies, the costly lack of welding expertise is the manufacturing lesson rarely seen and never learned.

Even though it should be painfully obvious, the lack of welding expertise is typically as invisible to upper management and executive staff as a sci-fi warplane or starship that’s hidden by a “cloaking device”.  The welding “starship” has the immense and unequalled power of “otherworldly” knowledge in the applied physics of the universe, yet it’s cloaked in the invisibility of those complex physics, always evading management visibility, nearly completely untapped and uncomprehended – the stuff of legends, heroes, and world domination or rescue.  But why?  For years I’ve puzzled over the reasons for this top-down invisibility, and I’ve drawn some conclusions… Read the rest of this entry »


Manufacturing Executives – What is Your Most Complex Process?

October 29, 2012

If your manufacturing production process includes welding assemblies together, here’s a valuable challenge. If you think it’s exaggeration to claim that arc welding is the most complex process in your plant, humor me for just one paragraph.  I bet you can’t name one other non-welding industrial process in your operations that is as complex as the most common arc-welding process: GMAW (Gas Metal Arc Welding, or MIG/MAG). GMAW (“MIG”) includes at least 13 variables, of which most are interactive with multiple other variables, and it joins metal via an open electric arc that creates simultaneous multi-phase high-speed transitions between solid, liquid, gaseous and plastic states to form 3-dimensional weld penetration profiles with various chemistries and conflicting/competing grain structures which have widely varying impacts on physical and chemical properties.

Think about it. Ask your engineering manager about it. Is there any process more complex?  Stamping? No. Extrusion molding? Nope. Machining? No again.

Are you convinced yet?  If so, here’s a question that’s likely worth a decade of your career:  how is your company doing in hiring, empowering and leveraging expertise in welding sciences to create a formidable level of competitive advantage and profitability?


Top 10 Strategies for Expensive Welding Automation

April 11, 2010

It seems some companies love expensive low-profit welding automation.  Two frequent ops approaches are substituting myths for facts, and not allowing a welding expert to make welding decisions. Here are my Top 10 Production Management Strategies for Expensive Welding Automation in the manufacturing plant:

  1. “Just run it – that’s why we have weld repair”
  2. “Anyone in maintenance is qualified to adjust welds”
  3. “We can’t get time for PM’s” (we’ll take downtime instead)
  4. “We had to postpone weld training to save money”
  5. “If the weld fixture won’t run the parts, just shim it.”
  6. “We need to find the welding guy [engineer] something to do: he spends too much time standing around doing nothing” (except watching the processes to engineer and plan improvements)
  7. “We ordered cheaper weld wire to save money”
  8. “Quit complaining – just weld the parts” (out of spec)
  9. “Welding is simple – we don’t need experts: we have suppliers who need to earn their keep”
  10. “Don’t worry – the customer hasn’t complained”

(OK, yes, those are actual quotes from production management staff.)

I’m sure you’ve heard some “whoppers” – please share them in the comments so we can all moan and laugh! (And we can send a link here when we hear a “brilliant” welding management strategy suggested.)


Turnkey Illusions – How to Avoid Pitfalls When Outsourcing Welding Automation

April 6, 2010

“You can easily purchase high-performance welding automation “turnkey” without needing in-house welding expertise, because the integrator is “the expert”.” Really? That’s a familiar idea. But is it true, or… is it just a manufacturing management myth?
It’s a MYTH.

Chances of success? Probably less than 10%. That’s how you purchase poor to mediocre welding automation performance, like most of your competition has, which usually produces small profit margins. Is that the solution that will REALLY help you survive and get stronger? If it’s seemed like every launch is a new Vegas gambling junket, you may not be far from the truth: 10% odds on bringing home a profit doesn’t sound very appealing. Still want to try it again?

Instead, why not try the rare “high-profit expertise” approach?  Let’s compare. In this valuable article I’ll cover:

  • Three Foundational Welding Automation Principles.
  • The Two Successful Paths to achieving high-performance welding automation.
  • Three classic reasons that welding integration suppliers can rarely deliver world-class “turnkey” welding automation results.
  • Five suggestions on how to pick an excellent welding automation designer/integrator and achieve great results.

You buy or create automation for two basic reasons:  to improve profit & quality, or because a customer demands it of you for those very reasons.  So why not be hugely successful at it?  Why not say goodbye to painful, lame launch results? Why not aspire to be so successful in manufacturing automation, that you trounce your competitors? Why shouldn’t one of your biggest challenges be developing strategies to hide how profitable your welding operations are from your nosy customers and envious competitors?Robot in welding integration

To be most successful in welding automation, the first two questions to ask are “what is our path to the best long-term profits, and what will it take to get us there?”  Because I have repeatedly achieved that in complex welding automation, and created cultures of effective Continuous Improvement, I have some solid answers for those questions. But to explain, I need to build the foundational principles – because they are invisible on the radar screen of most company management.

First, let’s realize a simple point: whatever the Pepsi machine says in the display window is how much it costs to get a bottle or can out of the machine.  If the goal is high-profitability, high-quality welding automation that gives you a competitive advantage, then there are some coins required to get there.  Don’t dare think you can save money by cutting critical “options” from the purchase order: that’s like watching a manager beating on the $1 Pepsi machine and demanding a drink for their customer when they only put in 75 cents. Don’t create such embarrassment… decide upfront to pay the price for success.

Instead of looking for ways to cheat the cost of success, which creates a high risk of project failure or tiny profits, look for low-cost opportunities to innovate and make the automation even more profitable than the proposal said it would be.

Read the rest of this entry »


Poll – Biggest Obstacle to American Welding Excellence

March 14, 2010

Welding (or Materials Joining) Engineers, please vote on our latest poll, or view the results so far:

What do you think are the Top 2 biggest obstacles to welding excellence in American manufacturing, in the facilities you are personally familiar with?

(For Qualified Voters: Please, only vote if you are functionally experienced and/or titled and/or degreed as a welding or materials joining engineer, and have at least a Bachelor of Science degree in an Engineering discipline.  Everyone else, feel free to view the results.)

Remember to pick the Top Two obstacles!  [4/6/10 added two new choices to the bottom, by W.E. suggestion.]

See all of our Welding and Manufacturing Polls here.