Gain Comfort, Productivity with the Right Welding Equipment

Taking into account the heat, the repetitive motions and the sometimes cumbersome equipment, gas metal arc welding (GMAW) can sometimes take a toll on welding operators in the form of aches, fatigue, and physical and mental stress. But there are tools and accessories that promote a more comfortable environment and minimize downtime.

A welding gun’s handle, neck and power cable design all can significantly impact the duration of time a welding operator can weld without experiencing fatigue or stress. Knowing the available options are key to improving comfort and efficiency.

A welding gun’s handle, neck and power cable design all can significantly impact the duration of time a welding operator can weld without experiencing fatigue or stress. This article discusses some things to consider that can help optimize comfort and productivity and, ultimately, the profitability of the welding operation by allowing for greater arc-on time.

Don’t overdo the amperage
One of the easiest and most important things welding operators can do to minimize fatigue and stress on the wrists and hands is to scale back on the amperage of the welding gun when possible. A lot of welding operators automatically use a 400 amp welding gun when a 250 or 300 amp model will do just fine for the job. Typically the higher the amperage, the larger the size of the gun handle and the more it weighs. 

MIG gun amperages reflect the temperatures above which the handle or the cable on the gun becomes uncomfortable. Using an underrated MIG gun for a higher amperage application can cause damage.

Look at the application’s duty cycle requirements and how much of the time the welding operator actually spends welding, and consider using a lower-amperage welding gun if the job allows. Duty cycle is defined by the amount of arc-on time in a 10-minute period that the equipment can be operated at maximum capacity. Some welding guns offer 100 percent duty cycle, while others are rated 60 percent or below. In some cases, MIG guns offering 100 percent duty cycle may list a 60 percent duty cycle rating, as well. 
Regardless of the MIG gun manufacturer lists the rating, it is unlikely that a welding operator will be operating the gun at full amperage and full duty cycle at all times. That makes it feasible to use a lower amperage model for many applications. Often, the higher amperage rating is needed only if the welding operator is running the power source continuously. In that case, it is also important to ensure that the gun is capable of running at the higher duty cycle to avoid failures.

In a shop setting, another option to gain greater comfort and productivity is using a water-cooled welding gun for GMAW applications. These guns can offer several benefits in production environments requiring extremely high heat applications. Water-cooled guns are generally smaller, lighter and easier for welding operators to manage for longer periods of time in high heat. However, they do come with more maintenance considerations and a higher price tag.  

Picking the right handle
GMAW gun manufacturers offer multiple handle and trigger options to increase welding operator comfort. Handles typically come in curved and straight designs, one or the other of which may be more comfortable for a given welding operator to hold and control. Some processes also may be more suited to a certain handle type, depending on what the work requires. But the choice between straight handle and curved handle often comes down to welding operator preference, so experiment to determine the preferred design. Usually, a smaller handle is easier for the welding operator to maneuver and many are available in the marketplace.

Some manufacturers offer vented handles, which can be beneficial in that they cool down faster after the welding operator stops welding, so they may be slightly cooler when the gun is picked up again.

Locking triggers are offered on some guns and can help alleviate “trigger finger,” which can occur from repetitive grasping and gripping of the gun trigger. When running a long, continuous weld, a locking trigger eliminates the necessity to squeeze the trigger throughout the whole weld, easing hand fatigue. Welding operators also can look for triggers that don’t have as much pull pressure or pull force required to maintain the arc.

One of the easiest and most important things welding operators can do to minimize fatigue and stress on the wrists and hands is to scale back on the amperage of the welding gun when possible.

Reduce strain with the right neck
Many GMAW and flux-cored arc welding (FCAW) guns are available with rotatable and flexible necks in various lengths and angles. These options allow the welding operator to select one that best suits the joint access required for an application, and they help minimize unnecessary movement.

If the weld requires a long reach or access at a tight corner, having a longer neck or an angled neck can improve comfort in that welding position. Flexible necks can be easily adjusted to fit different welding angles, and rotatable necks allow welding operators to rotate the neck as needed, making them a good option for welding out of position, including overhead.

Neck couplers are tools that allow welding operators to combine two necks when a longer one is needed. A longer neck also can help the welding operator stay further away from the heat of the welding arc. Many manufacturers make custom necks, as well, but these generally cost much more than a neck coupler and take time for welding gun manufacturers to develop. If a welding operator needs a more immediate and less expensive solution, the neck coupler may be the better option.

Another option to improve operator comfort are smaller, tapered nozzles. These can help the welding operator reach restricted joints, though remember that spatter build-up can be an issue since the opening to the nozzle is smaller and can become more easily clogged.

All of these neck and nozzle features can help minimize a welding operator straining to reach a weld joint, which reduces the opportunity for fatigue or injury.

Another accessory that can help with comfort and heat issues is a neck grip, typically high-temperature silicone rubber sleeves designed to reduce heat exposure and help the welding operator hold the neck in a steady position. They also allow the welding operator to rest the neck on his or her hand or forearm, using it as a pivot point to maneuver the GMAW gun more comfortably.

Benefits of shorter power cables
When selecting power cables, choose the smallest and shortest power cable possible that can still meet the needs of an application. Smaller and shorter power cables are lighter and more flexible, making it easier to maneuver these components without excess stress on the wrists or hands. They also can minimize clutter in the workspace, prevent excessive coiling and reduce tripping hazards. Less clutter and coiling also cuts down on the chance of poor wire feeding that could cause downtime and hinder productivity. Another advantage: Smaller and shorter cables tend to be less expensive.

Other helpful tips
Selecting standard-weight consumables can potentially ease forearm strain if the job does not call for heavy-duty consumables, as these are heavier. If the application calls for higher amperages, however, the welding operator may have to use the latter, as heavy-duty consumables dissipate more heat to prevent consumable damage and they can increase comfort in that manner — that is, by reducing heat stress.

Weld position is another way to maximize comfort on the job. Place the workpiece flat and move it into the most comfortable position whenever possible. Maintaining a clean working environment is important. In some cases, a fume extraction gun paired with the proper portable fume extraction system can be a viable option to replace wearing a powered air purifying respirator, for example, and lessen the amount of equipment the welding operator has to wear. To maintain compliance and safety, it’s always a good idea to consult an industrial hygienist to be certain that’s an appropriate step.

Parting thoughts
Having equipment that is easy to operate during the welding process is a good step in achieving a comfortable, safe work environment. Lightweight welding guns with appropriate handle and neck designs for the job and for the welding operator can help achieve safe and productive results. The reduction of heat stress, wrist and neck fatigue and repetitive motions can also help decrease overall physical and mental stress for welding operators.