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.


The Top Two Welding Excellence Obstacles in US Manufacturing

April 4, 2012

Does your company want the profitability and competitive advantage of welding excellence?  What’s standing in the way?  Two years ago I started a survey poll asking manufacturing welding engineers “what do you think are the Top 2 biggest obstacles to welding excellence in American manufacturing, in the facilities you are personally familiar with?”

Many welding engineers responded, and here were the top answers as of April 4, 2012:

 20%     Staff don’t support weld requirements, and force upstream problems on welding.

20%     Poor welding process knowledge in the design team.

15%     Unqualified people dictate process without honoring Welding Engineering expertise.

14%     Manufacturing welded assemblies with NO degreed welding engineer.

7%       Welding Engineers lack time/support to find and justify the best solutions.

5%       The Manufacturer is too intently managing the economic death of the plant to invest and save it.

 (In general, most WE’s picked at least one of the top two answers, then their second pick ranged among the other choices. The other answers received only one or two votes. You can see them in the poll.)

It follows logically from this survey that if you want to remove obstacles and create welding excellence in your company, that those issues must be addressed.

Additional “gold” came in the comments responding to the poll, which I’ve added below. A key point for me is that because welding is the most complex process, it requires core expertise that can reach to the upper echelons of the company: the need is just as valid as for Tool and Die, or Quality, or OP Ex, or for Information Technology.  Even Six Sigma Blackbelts fall flat on their DMAIC’s when it’s a welding process project, yet when a Smart Welding Engineer is unleashed… the problem is quickly resolved.

The Title and corresponding role of “Welding Engineer” is far too limited in most company structures to enable excellence in welding processes. How many companies have a Director of Welding Technologies, or a Manufacturing Welding Engineering Manager? Very few. They are just as rare as the highly profitable welding operations they could produce.

Poll Comments: Read the rest of this entry »


Most Disruptive New Paradigm Technologies

February 27, 2010

What are the most powerful, the most disruptive new paradigm-shifting technologies for manufacturing?

TIP-TIG 2009 North American welding package introduction

That’s a harder question to answer than what people realize, and many people would answer it differently. I’m going to answer it myself in this article, slanted toward welding. But the biggest power of the question lies in the searching and the analysis, because ultimately that’s not the question that needs answered. The question that any leading company executive or engineering manager really needs to answer is this one:

“Which new paradigm-shifting technologies can I take full “disruptive” advantage of in my marketplace segment or new segments?”

Answering that question effectively requires research and analysis, as well as a keen visionary eye.  Because in evaluating a new technology for feasibility and disruptive profit potential, you must accurately envision what can realistically be, not what already is. Essentially, you must think innovatively.

Take for example, this recent article in Fabricating & Metalworking on Hybrid Laser Arc Welding (HLAW) as “the future of welding”, which leads off with this statement:
“This innovative technology is the most disruptive in a generation, leading some to believe hybrid laser arc welding will be a core welding process in the next five to ten years.” Read the rest of this entry »


Cutting Costs or Slow-Motion Suicide

January 28, 2010

What factors cause business failure? Certainly there are many external burdens such as our draconian corporate taxes and regulation that depresses American companies against foreign competitors who pay little or no taxes.  But beyond that, America has a wildly popular and successful internal business management recipe for putting our own companies out of business: shift focus from getting more profitable, to “cutting costs”.

It’s a subtle yet critical difference.  “Cutting costs” seems harmless and sounds sooo responsible.  But it tends to ignore the value and necessity of essential core technical expertise and instead mislabels them as financial liabilities that could be trimmed.  Is it a matter of ignoring, or of ignorance?  Instead of pressing groups for ideas and project execution to improve profits, they press for input on which essential business functions to cut. The mantra is usually “we all hate to do this, but we don’t have any choice.”  The result of this lose-lose is a painful decision to eliminate the very expertise that drives the effectiveness of Continuous Improvement, visionary process quoting, training, process stability, IT systems, and much more.  In short, it creates a top-down management culture of plant-closing through “slow-motion-suicide”.

In a superb article, noted industry expert and author  Bob Sproull summarized it like this: “It was also evident that operating expense had a functional lower limit, and once you hit it, you could actually do more harm than good to the organization by reducing it further.”

I’m not talking about whether you can trim your controls engineers from four to three positions.  I’m talking about trimming from two to one, or even eliminating the position completely – without any analysis of the ROI of value-added cost-reduction projects, or of the critical production support roles that could double or triple downtime and late shipments because of the six dozen automated systems out there on the plant floor. Sounds crazy because it is, but some company executives are crazy enough to do it.

Unfortunately, if you embrace a path that cuts the costs of the assets that produce income, you are essentially downsizing the future profitability of the company.  Cutting profit-generators will make it impossible to remain competitive: the company will  go out of business.  I hope my thoughts can spark a good discussion and some effective ways to recognize and resist these suicidal business practices in your company.

One example of this is the trend I’ve noticed toward trying to hire “jack-of-all-trades” engineers.  They want a trained engineer who works like a tech (“hands on”, “bias toward action”) and yet can do CAD drafting, IE functions, Six Sigma, Lean, PLC programming, robot programming, welding systems, program launch management, capital appropriations requests, and executive powerpoint presentations.  Apparently they want to hire a messiah like this (for the pay of a mediocre one-discipline engineer) to handle their 80-robot process automation and launches, because they don’t have quality or control or welding or maintenance engineers to do the work and can’t get approval to hire them. They might as well post for an engineer who walks on water and has a standard 12/6 work-week. What will it take for them to realize that while they can hire someone who lies about having all those skillsets, the extremely rare one who actually might is either being paid $85k+ (USD) as an engineering manager, or has started his own systems design and integration company?

Ken Payne of The Columbus Group recently pointed out to me that while classic Industrial Engineering (IE) breaks everything into the Man, Machine, and Material categories, most companies have lost sight of a simple overarching fact: everything in a company – including Machine and Material – is driven by the Man factor. Payne and Demming both point out that manpower is the source of all value streams.  So the value streams are ultimately driven by the human energy in the form of work, passion, expertise, inventiveness, entrepreneurial drive, and cohesive teamwork of the company’s manpower.  That manpower is a combination of individual expertise and passion, and company culture.

Read the rest of this entry »


Manufacturing Welding Companies can Grasp Rare Opportunities in Economic Upheaval

February 27, 2009

These are days in American and world history of unprecedented business pressures and explosive economic upheaval.  There are so many unknowns and variables that even the best “crystal balls” look cloudy.  Yet there remains some general agreement from those who analyze international manufacturing trends and competition, that in the end, companies who are best able to harness flexible high-performance automation will come out the winners and leaders in 21st century manufacturing.


Many companies manufacture welded assemblies, but precious few realize that even in product design, quoting and launch, their entire business is wrapped up in selling their expertise at manufacturing welded assemblies:  having never realized this, they have never sought and developed true expertise in high-profit welding – yet it’s their most complex core process.  Instead, over 90% of companies (and too many welding engineers) are content to merely enable the welding processes, oblivious to the potential to achieve 40-95% improvements in them.  The few competitors who grasp this potential can leverage an advantage that’s as great or greater than union vs union-free manufacturing.


For a moment, consider one picture of an ideal profitable company of the future:  working as a team who is sharply focused on applying formidable expertise in the mechanisms, controls, and processes of flexible welding automation, supporting a structure that enables Continuous Improvement and “closes the loop” of design, launch and manufacturing.

To do this well will require assembling a team of technical expertise that is fully capable of effective CI, DFM, and DFSS thinking in every core discipline.  The critical essentials that are perhaps most often overlooked are a smart controls engineer and a smart welding engineer (SWE).  And “closing the loop” requires leadership with the experience to shape a team and craft mechanisms that can move past the traditional hurdles that are so commonplace in industry.  Accomplishing this, bridging this chasm between design and production, has been my passion.  So I believe that it could be worth millions to your company to consider some of my perspectives. Read the rest of this entry »