Top Welding Tips
Mike Croker is no stranger when it comes to the proper welding skills within the collision repair shop. Croker, global repair and training product manager, collision, for Chief Automotive Technologies, says it is important for the technician to know how to use a welder and be comfortable using it.
In today’s collision repair industry, shops see aluminum and steel materials on vehicles more frequently than ever. Ten years ago, technicians only saw steel materials and maybe one type of wire, Croker says. With the changes and improvements in vehicle materials, technology and complexity, some welding practices have changed, like silicon bronze MIG brazing, that uses less heat in the process.
According to data from collision repair consultant company Collision Advice and CRASH Network’s July 2018 frame and mechanical work “Who Pays for What?” survey, 27 percent of shop respondents reported being paid to set up and perform destructive test welds “always” or “most of the time” by eight largest national insurers—a number that is going up, which consultant Mike Anderson says in the report is promising because it is an important step in the welding process with the introduction of more and more new materials.
While the welding process itself can vary in time depending on skillset and take the technician up to 10 hours, Croker, who has been in the collision repair industry for more than 18 years, shares his top tips to make sure the technician is correctly prepared for the welding and can focus on these tips when there is an overload of information in the industry.
Tip No 1: Make sure you choose the right welder.
Croker says the important step is for the technician to have practiced ahead of time on the welder and selected the correct welder for the vehicle material.
He says a lot of instructors might assume they have the correct welder and not practice. So, stop assuming. Older welders can slow down a technician, he says. With an older machine, the technician might take as long as six additional hours to complete a weld, whereas with a newer welder model, the weld can be done within a few hours.
Tip No. 2: Do your research and make sure you are properly trained.
Welding has more components that you might assume. First, Croker says the technician needs to research what the OEM recommends, and what type of wire should be used for the weld. For example, there are double pulse MIG welders and pulse MIG welders.
“Make sure you’re trained by the supplier when you buy [the welder],” Croker says.
He says a common scenario is that the shop gets ready for a test-weld day and realizes it does not have enough consumables. This means that there are no extra materials on hand for the technicians, including wire or tips for the welding gun or nozzles for the gun, he says.
“You can’t just go to a welding supply store down the street,” he says. “These welders can be super high-tech.”
Tip No. 3: Be aware of different vehicle materials and components.
Croker says he sees more and more shops not train for welding silicon bronze. And, shops are not aware of the process of silicon bronze MIG brazing, which is a type of welding used for steel.
When welding steel wire, a technician physically melts two pieces together, but the problem in the process is that it puts a lot of heat into the panel, he says. Silicon bronze, on the other hand, has a lower melting temperature to it.
This material is showing up in a lot more vehicles today, Croker says. It can be in the unibody, quarter panels or core supports. The tricky aspect that body shop employees need to watch out for is that when it is painted over, it can look like a MIG weld that has been painted.
Tip No. 4: Don’t forget about safety concerns.
Remember, Croker says, when getting to weld, the paint is not the only fume that can cause health damage to the technician. Other fumes, like the weld fume, particulate. Welding fumes consist of metallic oxides generated by the heating of metal being welded, the welding rod, or its coatings, according to the Center for Disease Control. Fumes could consist of fluorine, arsenic, copper, silicon and beryllium.
When it comes to toxic fumes, Croker says he does not see technicians use fume extractors nearly as often as they should be. In the market now, there are welding torches with fume extractors built into the welding gun. Proper ventilation systems cost roughly $3,500, he says.
Croker personally prefers a welding helmet with an attached fume extractor. Fume extractors are critical because while there might be standards out there, some chemicals and fumes, like the ones used in manufacturing, are so severe they can send you to the hospital, he says.