Running a Shop

Choosing the Right Welder

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​Over the course of his 15 years in the collision repair industry, Brian Wasson has become a big believer in taking equipment for a test drive. 

He learned long ago that, if you make an ill-advised investment in equipment like welders, it can steer your business into uncomfortable territory. 

“Let’s face it, this equipment is not cheap—welders range from about $2,500 up to $30,000,” notes Wasson, manager, program delivery with I-CAR. “So, you’re not only investing in the equipment, but you’re investing in the company that’s supplying you the equipment.” 

These days, Wasson says, the welders being used in the collision repair realm basically boil down to two types: standard welders like MIG welders with perhaps one knob, and pulse-type welders that are becoming more popular due to the increasing prevalence of vehicle materials like high-strength steels and aluminum. 

“The newer [welders] just make it easier for the end user to make adjustments on the fly very quickly,” he notes.

FenderBender recently spoke with Wasson and others throughout the industry, in an effort to get shop owners up to speed on the best methods for choosing the ideal welder for their facilities.

Examine your market. 

Santiago Lozano, the owner of Akins Collision Center in Santa Clara, Calif., has steadily built his business to the point that his two locations combine to produce $4.5 million in annual revenue. One of the keys that allowed him to become profitable is the fact he closely monitors his market, 

including the types of vehicles his shops see most often, along with its typical production level. That allows him to budget wisely on shop staples like welders. 

“You want to prepare for the future,” Lozano notes. “So, you want to make sure you’re allocating your resources where you’re going to get the most bang out of your buck. It’s best to prepare for what you’re seeing most commonly.” 

Wasson agrees, adding, “First take a look at, ‘OK, Honda and Toyota, for example, are the two makes that I’m working on.’ Then, do research on those specific makes and repairs on equipment that the OEM is calling for—that’ll narrow down the field of welders that you have to choose from.” 

Speak with industry peers. 

What better resource for feedback on equipment than a shop staff that has already used it? That’s the belief among the leaders of Akins, an I-CAR Gold business. In short, Lozano feels that, the more feedback he receives from colleagues, the less chance he has of making a costly error when investing in a welder. 

“Ask other shops that have gone through the certifications and have some of the equipment” you want, the shop owner suggests. “Pick their brain. Because my experience is that they’ll be pretty straight-forward, and say, ‘You know what, I’ve got four welders and they’re just sitting there, and I have yet to see a return on investment.’” 

Poll your employees. 

Ultimately, a shop’s technicians need to be on board with the purchase of a particular welder. After all, they’re going to be the ones entrusted to put the valuable piece of equipment to use. 

“You typically know which guys in the shop you need to get buy-in from,” Lozano notes. “So, say, ‘Hey, the requirements say that we need to get a pulse welder, and these are the ones I’m looking at.’ Get with the technician to see the equipment’s functions, and make sure that they’re comfortable utilizing the tool.” 

It’s critical to get feedback from employees before investing in a welder, Wasson says, “because, once you purchase it, it’s quite a hefty chunk of dollars you’re dropping down.”

Request a demo. 

One easy way to gauge if an investment in a welder will pay dividends is by the feedback that suppliers provide; if a particular vendor doesn’t sound eager to bend over backward to provide you a prompt demo when requested, for example, then their equipment might not be worth your time. 

“Pieces of equipment break down over time, and that’s just a matter of fact—it’s if, not when,”Wasson says. “So, it’s important to have that solid support structure from that specific manufacturer where, if there’s something wrong with your welder, you can pick up the phone or email them, and they’ll be out there to get your equipment up and running. Because, if the equipment is not up and running, that’s lost production and everything grinds to a halt. Then the equipment’s just sitting there—collecting dust.” 

Then, when a vendor arrives at your shop for a visit, Wasson suggests asking them questions such as, “‘How easy is it for me to get the common [parts] that wear out on this equipment? Will I need to put in a special order?’” 

He also notes that, if a shop can’t currently support new equipment, vendors will often invite a shop staff to their facility for a demo. 

Note your shop’s wiring. 

It can be a costly mistake for a shop owner to purchase a welder without taking into account their facility’s wiring and outlets. Lozano found that out first hand, considering Akins fairly recently invested $20,000 in a welder—before learning it would require another $15,000 expenditure to bring the shop’s wiring up to par to meet that equipment’s requirements. 

“Make sure that you have the appropriate plugs to connect it to the voltage that it requires,” Lozano says in reference to a new welder. “A lot of times you’re just looking at the equipment itself, but you have to look at the infrastructure that goes behind it, where you’re going to be welding, to make sure that you have the proper amount of outlets.” 

According to I-CAR, shops would be well-advised to utilize a 200-amp or greater, pulse-capable, synergic welder for aluminum welding, and a 140 amps or greater welder for steel jobs. Shops also need to take note of how many electrical items are pulling from the same circuit that a welder operates on because, if several items are pulling from the same circuit, a welder won’t operate at peak performance. 

To ensure that a facility has the proper wiring setup to accommodate a new welder, Wasson suggests having an equipment supplier, a facility’s production manager, and a reputable electrician discuss what’s needed to properly outfit the shop. 

“The best method I’ve seen,” Wasson noted. Because “the equipment supplier can provide what that equipment requires to operate, the production manager can provide where the equipment will be used and the frequency of use, and [they] can provide the qualified electrician the necessary information to determine what level of outfitting is needed.”

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