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MANUFACTURING is a key driver for job creation and economic growth in Canada, and the country's 500,000 welding positions represent a “fairly significant economic platform,” but the full scope of the recovery will not be realized unless improvements are made in welding.
In “A Framework to Profitability and Competitiveness,” Ken Pearce, manager of corporate sales for the CWB Group, said there are challenges to competing nationally and abroad:
- Increased offshore competition and quality.
“A lot of companies are complaining that they're faced with increased competition. In Calgary, we had a bridge recently built. It was designed and built in Spain and came to Canada, and it's now a year late because we had to grind the welds out and re-weld it. Why didn't that bridge get done in Calgary? We just don't understand why that decision was made.”
- Reduced productivity and competitiveness.
“We're really good at fabricating things, but tend not to be as productive as other countries in the world. That has an impact on our competitiveness. It costs us more to build things than other countries.”
- Inconsistent and out-of-date welding education programs.
“Each of the jurisdictions has different curriculums.”
- Canadian welding and safety standards are frequently ignored
“They call it the Wild, Wild West. We have all these Canadian standards, and everybody's doing something different, ignoring standards, using American standards, or something applicable to them.”
Pearce said Canadian quality and productivity are declining. According to the most recent statistics (2008), Canada is lowest-ranking G8 country in productivity, with an annual growth rate of -0.6%.
“We do lag in terms of GDP, so we have to find other ways to be competitive in this industry,” he said.
He said that in a recent survey with CWB clients on international competition, 25% felt that they will lose 22% of their business to offshore competition.
“So we've been on this campaign to talk about welding and how we can help companies be more competitive and productive,” he said. “Most welding operations are 20 to 30 years behind their sister machining operations. The machine industry has developed fantastic CNC multi-access machines that improve on productivity, but we haven't caught on the welding side.
“Workflow systems are out of line 15% to 75%. The productivity of the average welding operation can be improved by 20% to 40% with little or no capital investment. Welding and labor overhead are 75% of costs and materials are 25%. If you cut material costs by 10%, you increase the bottom line by 2.5%. And if you cut welding labor and overhead by 10%, you have a 7.5% increase in the bottom line. The greatest productivity opportunities are realized in welding labor and overhead.”
- Workplace design and layout.
“It has a significant impact on the operating factor (arc time/total time). It has a huge impact, especially when dealing with welders and workers, if they have to stop what they're doing to move things around. Are you dealing with cranes or forklifts? How are you marking your material? You have to mark it or you will grab the wrong thing. I've been in a lot of shops where welding cables are all over the place and people trip. Good housekeeping has a significant impact on how easily you can get things done.” He recommended reading The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement, by Eliyahu M Goldratt.
- Joint design.
“Important considerations are: safe performance under service conditions; welding position (flat verses overhead); joint geometry; access for welding; and edge distance for fillets. Reduction of distortion, residual stresses, and the resulting post-weld corrective measures are cost-saving. People forget that the more weld you put in there, the more heat's going to get spread out, and you introduce some hydrogen and cracking. The wider that joint or groove, the more material you have to put in and the longer it's going to take. There will be a lot of heat buildup, which can be detrimental to a fixture.”
“Health and safety are important. We do a day-long seminar on CSA 117.2. Skills and qualifications: Have you proved the competency of that person? Can they do what you're expecting them to do? Training and mentoring: I like to have that feeling where older guys are going to mentor younger guys, especially when older guys are leaving in droves. It's a tremendous opportunity to mentor the younger ones to show them the right way to do it.
“Fatigue plays a role. That will be a detriment to their duty cycle. You only get so much, and then things start to decline. Do you have proper tools for the job? Are you maintaining them? As welding technology improves, we're going to start to see these welding torches become delicate. You have to look after them.”
- Weld quality and inspection.
“When I see people handing a measuring gauge to a welder, that's a good thing to do. Let the welder measure what he's going to do. Are specifications available? Is acceptance criteria documented? Are personnel qualified to perform visual inspection?
“You can control weld quality and avoid weld repairs. Worst thing you want to happen to have a product in the field and have to send somebody out in the pouring rain to fix it.”
- Weld size.
“The importance of controlling weld size is often overlooked. The rationalization is that more is better. Welding wire size can contribute to oversized welds. Oversized welding can increase labor and overhead costs as well as waste wire and gas. If our welder puts in a 3/16" fillet weld instead of the 1/8" that an engineer wanted, that's a 125% volume increase. Think of the implications of that. First of all, it'll take a heckuva lot longer. It's a lot more wire and gas, and you're putting more heat into it. That costs a lot of money. Even 3/8" instead of 5/16" is 43%.”
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Preparation methods. “Are you grinding a joint or sandblasting it?”
Power sources. “Old machines are getting tired and costing you more money than you'd expect. Take a look at new ones. Changes in technology are so significant.”
Thickness and type of joint.
Degree of penetration. “We see a lot of instances where an engineer calls up a weld symbol, and the welder isn't clear on what it says. If he calls for a partial-penetration weld but the welder perceives it to be full penetration, there's a lot more heat going into it.”
Gas delivery to the weld. “Look at the flow meter and watch it hit the top of the glass tube, and then it sets there for four or five seconds before it comes back to the optimum 20-24 cubic feet per hour. That surge of gas is probably 135 cubic feet per hour. Just by putting on a surge protector, you can save $6000 a year on gas consumption.”
Education. “We have tons of curriculums for learning about welding.”
Automation/mechanization. “I've seen a lot of shops that put in a robot and it sits there for a couple of years before they figure out how to use it. Can you diversify it so it does more than just one part?”
Pearce said the CWB Group is dedicated to the enhancement of public safety and the success of its clients.
It is an administrator of CSA standards, a certification organization, a private, not-for-profit organization, and is funded solely by the industry from fees charged.
It is not the welding police, a branch of the government, an inspection organization, a standards-writing body (CSA does that), or an association, society, or club.
He said CWB offers a value optimizer, which is a productivity assessment tool to evaluate the productivity of a company's manufacturing operation, including welding. The Value Optimizer Assessment examines and advises on 10 key areas: workplace design; joint design; over-welding; joint preparation and fit-up; preparation methods; auxiliary equipment considerations; welding-process selection; operator efficiency; welding parameters; and use of procedures.
Pearce said the CTEA Welder Evaluation is a free evaluation service to CTEA members in which welders test with a CWB representative at the welders' facility. A “T” joint with a fillet weld is evaluated on site and a brief report is presented, including a table with the welders' names and the results.
The CWB Group includes:
Canadian Welding Bureau, with five regional offices across Canada: Ontario (Milton); Alberta (Edmonton); Manitoba (Winnipeg); Quebec (Lavelle); and Atlantic (Halifax).
Quasar, the group's ISO registrar offering management systems auditing services.
INTEG, offering NDE training courses for non-destructive testing.
Canadian Welding Association (CWA), a professional association for the welding industry, a not-for-profit division of the CWB Group, a national membership-driven association, and advanced Welding Technology Centre.
He said the CWB Group tests over 50,000 welders a year, and welders must be tested every two years.
“Why certification?” he asked. “Client specifications call for certification, and it mitigates their risk. Some jurisdictions legislate certification, including the National Building Code. Welder competency is helped by knowing best practices in welding processes.
“The benefits: third-party accreditation, audited twice per year; weld procedures and data sheets include documented parameters; you have qualified welders; trained supervisors assist with quality control; there's access to extensive welding expertise and outside observations from field reps; there are continuous improvement opportunities; and there's management of welding quality and costs, and prestige.”
Certification takes an average of two to three months, with the average fee for up to eight welders being $3780 for the first year and $1410 for subsequent years. There is a $1000 fee for an optional welder supervisor course.