A piece of comfort

By Nick Wright

Above: With the Tweco Classic No. 4 welding guns, designed for comfort, welders at BMW can endure long hours without fatigue.

Tweco’s Classic No. 4 welding guns ward off welder fatigue at New England shop

October 2013 - Think about all the things you do with your index finger. Click. Pull. Swipe. Scratch. Imagine doing that for eight or 10 hours, then coming back each day for a week. If your employer’s productivity levels hinge on the endurance of your digit, there’s no way around fatigue except to make the task at hand as comfortable as possible. Because no foreman or fab shop needs to hear about how tired your hand is. They already know.

At Bellingham Metal Works, based in Bellingham, Mass., the owners focus on gaining every advantage to grow in the competitive field of bidding on fabrication jobs. Aside from the typical targets of optimization, like automating material handling or minimizing machine downtime, BMW wanted its welders to be comfortable while putting in hard, long days of welding. Plus, the company wanted the equipment its welders use to last.

To satisfy both criteria, BMW supplies its welders with Tweco Classic No. 4 welding guns, manufactured by Victor Technologies, St. Louis.

Ergonomically, the Classic No. 4s are the most comfortable welding guns on the market that will stand up to normal abuse inflicted by a fabrication environment, says Bob Stow Jr., project manager of BMW. “We’re in the business of production. We don’t want to keep replacing our equipment.”

BMW mainly makes steel fabrications such as stairs, railings, ornamental and miscellaneous metal. On the bigger end, BMW fabricates products up to 300 tons, the largest of which are structural beams and columns. The AISC-certified shop also fabricates small bridge components for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. 

Many of BMW’s jobs call for repetitive duties on the part of employees. Especially bridge rails or any other type of post, I-beam or column project, where welders are making weld after weld, they need to be comfortable. The welder needs to be settled into a mindset so as to focus on producing as much weldment as he can in a day. Having a gun that’s comfortable to use, that won’t fatigue the welder’s hand, is where the competitive advantage comes in.


Forego fatigue

There’s no doubt about the adverse effects of fatigue that set in after hours of repetitive motion. This is a concern that BMW had the foresight to address after 32 years of being in business. The way Bob Stow sees his shop succeeding is by processing every shape that BMW routinely makes with the greatest speed and accuracy allowed by budget. Although using the Tweco welding guns is only one piece of the puzzle, it’s an easy accommodation to make for the welders.

“It’s important that we invest in the right equipment for our guys,” he says. “They know we care about their well-being and have the desire to compete in small business. The better our shop does, the more we can give back to our employees. Without them, we can’t produce and can’t grow.”

BMW welds mostly grade 50 mild steel structural shapes, as well as channel, tube, plate, flat bar and angle. The shop, located within the triangle made up of Boston, Worcester, Mass., and Providence, R.I., employs 13 people full time. The 15,000 sq. ft. facility cranks out metalwork for all of New England, plus New York and New Jersey. 

Meticulous engineering and fabrication go into each bid, but that doesn’t change the fact that BMW runs its equipment hard—the Tweco Classic No. 4 welding guns in particular. Welding guns emit white-hot heat and molten metal, plus they get accidentally knocked, dropped and showered in sparks. Welders might remember the “legendary Tweco No. 4” guns, of which the Classic No. 4 is a carefully executed refinement. The guns include higher impact resistant materials, an interlocking handle designed for toughness, and an angled trigger for more comfortable pull, all within keeping the features that made the original No. 4 great, according to Ross Fleischmann, senior brand manager at Victor Technologies. 

The Classic keeps a rectangular cross-section handle, which gives the welder more leverage in his or her grip to counter cable twist. “Expanding on the benefits of the paddle-shaped handle, this shape enables the operator to better maneuver the gun when cable twist is coming into play, such as when weld beads follow complex or curved lines as well as welding in awkward, out-of-position applications,” Fleischmann says. 

FFJ-1013-welding-image2In terms of where the Classic No. 4 fits into Tweco’s overall product line, its consumables are optimized for short circuit transfer MIG, the process that dominated the industry when the original Classic was introduced in 1969. Using Tweco’s interchangeable consumables, the guns can be reconfigured to optimize welding for spray transfer, pulsed spray transfer MIG welding or welding with tubular wires such as the gas-shielded flux cored process used at BMW.

A welder’s ability to accomplish hours of welding precisely depends not only on the gun’s comfort, but its durability when used. Forklifts, conveyors and overhead cranes maneuver heavy steel pieces around. There aren’t too many parts BMW handles that are in the 10 lb. range; most are hundreds or thousands of pounds. 

“So, handling all these heavy components, plus factoring in sparks shooting out of a half dozen machines at any given time, can be abusive on the guns,” Stow says. “These guns are very rugged. They’re definitely built better than the competition, and it’s a pretty tough environment.”

The Tweco Classic No. 4 is compatible with virtually every major industrial wire feed system. BMW has eight guns that work seamlessly with Miller, Lincoln Electric and Thermal Arc welding platforms. Typically, the company uses 0.045 in. flux core wire, 0.035 in. hard wire, as well as some stainless and occasionally aluminum.


BMW is no stranger to the Victor Technologies (previously Thermadyne) product line. Years ago, owner Bob Stow Sr. bought Thermal Arc welders and two Thermal Dynamics plasma cutters. The welders used Genuine No. 4 Tweco guns then, which predictably needed service after many hours of use. According to Tom Ferri, Northeast district sales manager for Victor Technologies, Tweco repaired a couple of the older Genuine No. 4 guns with new front end parts and liner replacement O-rings when it came time.

“Those guns ran like new for less than $50 in parts,” Ferri says. “The welders like the Tweco gun and commented that this is the gun they learned to weld with.”

The newer Tweco Classic design maintains the field-repairability legacy of the No. 4. It has no specialized crimps or connections. The only tools operators need to replace gun components are a standard Allen wrench and screwdriver.

With well-versed welders armed with one of the most comfortable guns on the market, BMW fuses talent with its CNC technology to be efficient and bid competitively. Welders can excel at both the routine tasks and complex welds—hallmark demands of any successful fabrication shop—with top-notch machinery behind them.

BMW’s metal and steel services include CNC plasma cutting, pipe bending, and rolling (pipe, tube or plate), powder coating, anodizing, chroming and galvanizing. Its Ficep drill line can scribe and machine metal, and its Peddinghaus angle/flat bar line makes short work of cuts. The synergy of CNC equipment with talented fitters, welders, detailers and operators leaves BMW poised to tackle what the business world of metal fabrication has to offer, Stow says.

“The better our shop does, the more we can give back to our employees,” he says. “Without them, we can’t produce and can’t grow.” FFJ



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