Around the weld

By Bill Atkinson, Tri Tool Inc.

Ten factors to consider when implementing orbital welding

March 2014 - As welding technology has progressed, more and more companies are considering orbital welding as a cost-effective alternative manufacturing and fabrication process.

Today’s systems offer welders the remarkable ability to sense current properties of the arc in real time. Using advanced algorithms and stored data, these systems can moderate and adjust the current at incredibly fine increments to achieve essentially perfect welding results on small and thin-walled components up to heavy weld profiles with complex “J” and compound bevel geometries.

The programmability of today’s welding systems empowers a new generation of operators to produce welds that would have been nearly impossible for even the most accomplished welders using the unmechanized equipment. This is especially true today with hard-to-weld exotic alloys and strict compliance to welding codes and certifications.

The key to choosing an optimal orbital welding system is to thoroughly evaluate present requirements, while factoring in what additional welding processes might be desirable to maximize the versatility of welding operations. 

Understanding all the features and benefits offered by the wide variety of today’s welding systems can be a daunting task. A good starting point is to consider some of the essential operational aspects of these systems, and how they can benefit an operation. 


Here are 10 key points to look at when investing in today’s orbital welding equipment:

1. POWER. An ideal welding system needs to be versatile enough to cover a broad range of applications and power levels. Systems that provide a wide range of operating currents will be more flexible and will provide weld development over a wider range of sizes, material types and weld thicknesses. Different welding processes require varying degrees of power for optimal operation. Power levels also need to be considered when applications for orbital welding require high levels of travel and deposition.

2. CONTROL. Orbital welding can be degree-, length- or time-based. Digital weld controllers that offer more than one of these modes of operation can offer increased choice to best fit the application. Some basis of control is more prevalent in different areas of the world than others. Having a choice of control modes allows the welding system to better address the mode that is more familiar or offers operator options to best correspond with a specific application. 

Another important manual aspect of control is provided through a pendant controller. This greatly increases direct interaction with the welding process. A well-designed, user-friendly pendant monitors values and adjusts the weld control program immediately without the operator having to enter those settings into the main control unit. The controller should keep track of those modified inputs for further evaluation. 

In some instances, the operator can use the controller to sense and monitor welding arc characteristics in real time and make immediate changes to produce repeatable high-quality welds.

3. AVAILABILITY OF PARTS. Orbital welding is a considerable investment that can yield ongoing cost and time savings. One factor in a welding system is the availability and nature of component parts. Welding is a process that places extreme demands on working components through heat, smoke and spatter. Many parts exposed to these factors degrade over time and wear quickly. A welding system designed to use standard, readily available parts is a system that will be much more cost effective to your business.


4. MULTIPLE PROCESSES. When discussing any form of orbital equipment, one of the prime factors to consider involves the modes of operation required for welding. Mechanized processes in orbital welders typically include GTAW, GMAW-S, GMAW-P and FCAW. Any single welding system that provides multiple welding processes offers versatility to perform a wide range of work requirements. Combining those processes in multi-process procedures can be extremely productive.

5. FLEIBILITY. Flexibility in orbital welding for multi-process systems is the time required to reconfigure from one process to another. Can this changeover from GTAW to GMAW, for example, be performed without removing the weld head from the mounting track? In some systems this changeover can be accomplished in just a few minutes. Mounting rings for orbital weld heads should compensate for variances in pipe diameter produced by heat transfer from the welding process. Rings should work with several different pipe sizes to reduce the number of mounting rings required to cover the pipe sizes you work with. A flexible welding system can deal with process changeover without the need to purge gas lines due to having discreet gas inputs for different gases.

6. SAFETY. Concerns in the workplace mean the hazardous nature of hexavalent chrome exposure, flux fumes and other products are monitored and regulated more than ever before. Welding systems with advanced circuitry to reduce smoke and spatter reduce exposure levels, improving the operator’s working conditions while saving time through reduced compliance measures, ensuring a safer, healthier workplace.

7. PERFORMANCE. Orbital welding systems are available that perform with unprecedented levels of weld deposition, significantly impacting project costs and time. Today’s high-performance systems can deliver high travel and deposition rates while maintaining critical weld integrity and compliance. 

FFJ-0314-welding-image38. WELD PROCEDURES. The weld controller is where computer technology makes its greatest contribution. The programmability of mechanized welding incorporates the ability to define a weld procedure, either a subset of instructions for a individual process, or a comprehensive, dynamic program containing all stages of the weld from the root pass to the cap pass. The controller interface works with the welder to provide a practical, reliable means to precisely direct the mechanized weld head through control inputs for speed, duration and current properties that perfectly complement the weld profile and material being joined. The ability to loop, chain and link program elements is extremely beneficial to program development. When QC procedures are required, controller screen monitoring and modification screens, combined with saving and printing that data, facilitate procedural compliance.

9. SYSTEM CONFIGURABILITY. Modularity is another aspect of orbital welding where specialized mounting can be designed to convert the welding system from an orbital configuration to a weld cladding system. In addition, the capability to easily convert the weld head from ring mounting to flat (track) mounting, as would be required for joining flat or curved plate, adds a tremendously beneficial configuration and operation option to any orbital welding system.

10. EASE-OF-USE AND TRAINING. Simple, logical input screens, welding symbols and references, and an effective control pendant, all help the welder while learning a new welding system. All the features need to operate together for the system to be easily mastered by the operator. Some equipment manufacturers offer excellent—and often free—customer training and support programs to effectively use all system advantages. 

Today’s advanced mechanized orbital welding systems offer a wide range of dynamic features and processes that provide more control, versatility and reliability than ever before. Implementing one of these high-performance welding systems into your workplace will ensure that you get repeatable, quality welds for increased productivity, time and cost savings. FFJ

Bill Atkinson is the technical writer at Tri Tool Inc.



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