How to Select the Right Microwelding Service Provider
Teaming with the right provider can make all the difference for a mold shop.
For a mold shop, the key element in a successful strategy for developing a long-term relationship with a microwelding service provider is finding a provider who does microwelding as its core business.
Scanning the advertisements in trade magazines may be helpful, but moldmaking is a relatively small industry, so networking with your counterparts will help you learn about high-quality micro-welding service providers—some of which may even be local. If a desirable provider is not local, overnight delivery service is available nationwide.
Visiting the facility to verify that it is sufficiently staffed and equipped to do the job right the first time also is essential. This should be more than just a casual walkthrough because a careful assessment is critical to making the right choice. There is an element of risk in any new relationship. In this case, choosing the wrong provider could result in an unfortunate outcome—including excessive repair time and shortened part life due to poor workmanship. In the worst-case scenario, a critical piece could be damaged beyond repair.
Microwelding Service Provider Considerations
Perhaps the first quality to seek in a prospective provider is the ability to intelligently communicate with you—the moldmaker—in order to accurately evaluate where weld is needed and why. The next most important attribute to look for is a staff of experienced welders on hand who are skilled enough and numerous enough to initiate multiple jobs upon arrival and provide same-day shipment. Another important skill needed is the ability to speedily analyze issues and recommend alternatives in order to save the moldmaker what would otherwise be costly, wasted time.
The microwelding service provider should have in place a program that provides welders with continuing education on topics such as the effects of heat on welds, common tool steels, problematic tool steels, non-ferrous metals, and new materials
There should be a heat treatment area. The application or end use of a repaired item sometimes requires that heat treatment be done before and/or after the welding operation. A large furnace and oven, equipped to provide accurate control of both time and temperature, are essential.
There should be sufficient welding rod stock on hand to match the color, texture, hardness, and other variables in the base metals used by moldmakers. A machine shop capable of making fixtures, jigs, and components also is needed.
The microwelding service provider should have promoted an atmosphere in which the need for quality control to monitor weld sink and thermal distortion is emphasized. And finally, the firm should have the ability to apply microwelding techniques as a cost-saving alternative to many machining processes. Engineers are beginning to expand the use of microwelding in the design of cores and cavities where an abrasive or high-wear material will be run.
After screening the facility for the above-listed attributes, it would be useful to evaluate some of the staff members to assure that they have an understanding of basic welding practices—including surface preparation (clean, degreased, deoxidized) and pre-heating to diminish brittleness and reduce weld hardness, residual stress and sink.
A microwelder should know the appropriate filler material. That is, he or she should have the ability to select stock that will minimize cracks and maximize mold life and be able to evaluate characteristics of the tool to be repaired and the demands to be put on the weld. In general, it’s good to match the chemical composition of the base metal although there are occasions when a choice of different filler material is called for, and those exceptions to the rule should be understood.
The microwelder also should be able to place and form weld in complex shapes and sizes within specified tolerances like a moldmaker—with the ability to prevent, control and eliminate distortion caused by the welding process. Part of this is the ability to work in hard-to-reach places on thin blades or in other adverse conditions.
Having some seniority is important because it takes many costly years of experience to attain the skill level required to get results that do not compromise the integrity and longevity of the welded component. Acquiring the background in moldmaking and metallurgy, which is a lengthy process, is required to fully understand and apply the most effective welding solutions.
Welding is no longer a crude, last-ditch solution to repair or modify a mold component. Microwelding is now a highly technical, proven process that provides a moldmaker with substantial cost savings resulting from decreased downtime and increased tool life. Your mold shop might benefit from a relationship with a quality microwelding service provider.
Quality, Delivery and Cost
Quality, delivery and cost have replaced proximity in determining the way in which many companies team with others in today’s economy. In the moldmaking industry, nowhere is this more evident than in the selection of a source for the microwelding of key components, such as inserts. The relationship between Nypro-Asheville (Arden, NC)—a provider of injection molded products and services to customers in the healthcare and consumer packaging industries—and Advanced Technical Welding-ATW (Etowah, NC) is one example of a successful working relationship between a large molder and a microwelding service provider where quality, delivery and cost come into play.
In the not-too-distant past, welding was frowned upon; many mold shops had a no weld policy because the preheating and welding techniques employed resulted in large, unsightly welds that had a tendency to fail. The advances in technology recently—which led to microwelding—have changed that perception on the part of many, but not all, moldmakers. This has led a few moldmakers to develop an in-house capability for microwelding. More commonly, these shops have turned to firms that offer quality microwelding services primarily because of the assurance that the job will be done correctly the first time; a very limited supply of welders with the required skills available for hire; the intermittent and unpredictable need for microwelding services; and, the need for a dedicated work space equipped with special microwelding equipment.
The type of items being repaired by microwelding must be returned to the mold shop very quickly, often on the same day because these items are essential to the injection molding process. If items become worn or damaged, they must be repaired immediately when there are no spares available. Replacing a worn item by making a new one is not an attractive option. The time required to remanufacture the item would be far in excess of the time needed to repair the same item with microwelding. The importance of speedy turnaround cannot be over emphasized.
When considering repair costs, it must be remembered that although the amount of the invoice from the microwelder should be competitive with that charged by other microwelding service providers, that cost may not be the most important element. The cost of having a production line shut down while waiting for a key item to be returned from repair can easily run to thousands of dollars per day. Having the right microwelder could make the difference between a one-day turnaround and a five-day turnaround.
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