Improving welding manufacturing productivity
by Erika Beauchesne
Worker health and safety isn’t usually a light subject, but there were giggles in the audience when Victor Andrisani broached the topic in his presentation at the recent Canadian Manufacturing Week.
Andrisani was showing photos of some of the most outrageous occupational health and safety risks he’s come across as an engineer with Omniweld Integrated Solutions, which offers services for welding companies.
In one of the photos, a company had stuck an air conditioner right by the electrical box to keep it from overheating.
Another company was using a forklift for parcels that were too heavy for the machine. To keep the back end of the lift from rising up under the weight, they welded a plate to the back of it.
Turning to a photo of one company that used duct tape to fix a broken conduit, Andrisani joked “this could’ve been done by someone who watched the Red Green Show before doing repairs.”
But the laughter stopped when he got to a photo of a welding shop accident that sent two workers to the hospital.
The company, which used propane and oxygen for cutting, had an explosion that shot a piece of shrapnel into the propane tank, creating a burst of flame. The Ministry of Labour is still investigating the incident, but Andrisani said it could’ve been caused by the hot, sunny weather that day or the fact that they weren’t using flashback arresters, devices that can keep flames from rising up in machines.
It was an example of how small details can add up to have a huge impact on a company, not only when it comes to safety, but the bottom line.
While tricks with duct tape or air-conditioners may provide a quick fix in some cases, Andrisani says that cutting corners usually catches up to a company.
One of the productivity issues he often sees when touring facilities is welding at the wrong wire speed.
Andrisani says the optimum wire feed speed is 650 inches per minute. Managers that want welders to work at a faster pace need to address it upfront.
“Some owners will wait until Friday night after everyone leaves and increase the wire speed to 600. Then, the next week, when folks are gone again, they’ll put it up to 650, thinking the worker probably won’t notice a thing,” Andrisani says.
The maneuver usually backfires.
“Welders will keep working at the same pace they’re used to and with the increased wire speed, you’re just going to wind up getting a bigger weld,” he says, adding “you’re trying to go two steps forward, but you’re just going two steps back.”
Instead, Andrisani recommends taking the time to talk with and re-train the worker.
The same thing goes for arc travel speed, with an ideal rate of 19 inches per minute.
“Anything over that is very difficult for hand-eye coordination to keep up all day. If you require greater optimization than that, you should look at automation,” he says.
Even slight speed adjustments elsewhere in the manufacturing process can make a significant difference in labor and material costs.
Andrisani pointed out that increasing the gas flow rate from just 40 to 50 brings up the price of production from $1.68 to $1.70.
“These are not very big jumps…but if you go to an auto company at full production, the two cents are large sums of money and they’ll jump all over it,” he says.
While larger manufacturing operations may see more savings from some of Andrisani’s recommendations, that didn’t stop one small company in the audience from banking the information.
“For the size of our company and what we produce, it’s nothing compared to the automotive side…but the cost-savings for are still good to know,” said Chris Fabricius, a welder with Sport Systems Canada, an Eastern Ontario sports equipment manufacturer.
Many of the session’s other points, like proper training, still apply in a small shop, he said.
“We’ve had younger people come in and start welding and without the right training, things don’t go right and it costs money,” he said, adding “it’s important to be able to put the time in and train the person.”