As a distributor, your job is to solve problems. From questions about quality and productivity, to maintaining inventory, and more, your customers rely on you to provide them with the answers that keep their welding operations running. And, like every welding application, the solution to each of their problems is unique. Sometimes, however, metal-cored wires may be exactly the right product to address your customers’ welding challenges.

Working from some of the most common questions, here are some details about metal-cored wires to help you determine when and why these products could be right for your customers.

Why should I sell metal-cored wires?
In the right applications, metal-cored wires can address many of your customers’ quality and productivity issues, and they can also lower their overall operating costs.

Metal-cored wires are certainly not new (they were developed in the mid-1970s), but they have definitely changed over the years. Today, these types of wires provide significantly more reliable, higher quality welds than earlier versions. They also provide better gap bridging capabilities and faster travel speeds, along with lower spatter levels and higher deposition rates.

The wires achieve these results because of their chemical and mechanical structure.

Metal-cored wires consist of a hollow metal sheath filled with metallic powders, alloys and arc stabilizers. These special chemical formulations provide distinct benefits, from increasing deoxidation to providing higher impact strengths and/or reducing silicon deposits in the final weldment. They also allow metal-cored wires to weld through mill scale and other contaminants while producing little to no spatter.

Metal-cored wire also produces a broad, cone-shaped arc and a wider penetration profile compared to solid wires, for example. This wider arc shape results from the current traveling through the outside of the metal-cored wire’s metal sheath during the welding process (generally, a spray transfer mode). The broader arc provides higher deposition rates, minimizes porosity and reduces undercut in the final weld.

The benefit for your customers? With metal-cored wires, they gain the potential for welding more efficiently, reducing quality issues and minimizing rework.

These benefits, however, do not come without a price. On the average, metal-cored wire costs more per pound than other types of filler metals. Still, they can yield productivity increases that help your customers negate that upfront cost. And as a distributor, they may also offer you the opportunity to improve your cost margins and revenue compared to many other types of filler metals.

How can I identify good customers for metal-cored wires?
You might have a variety of customers who are good candidates for metal-cored wire. Typically, those operations that weld materials 3/16 inch thick and greater, or those who weld material with mill scale can achieve the greatest benefits from these products. This includes customers in the heavy equipment and agricultural equipment manufacturing markets, as well those in heavy trailer manufacturing, railcar fabrication, and automotive, chassis and wheel manufacturing. Metal-cored wire usually can be alloyed to meet most types of steel found in these industries, from mild and stainless to low alloy.

Customers with flat, horizontal and vertical down-welding requirements are good candidates, too. Metal-cored wire can be used for overhead and vertical up-welding if your customer uses a pulsing power source and high-argon shielding gas mixtures (75 percent minimum). Doing so, however, is slower than in other weld positions. You and your customers need to determine whether the benefits of metal-cored wire can make up for that slowness, or if another product would be better suited for their overhead welding applications.

Your customers with applications using high-strength steels — 80 to 100 KSI — may also benefit from metal-cored wires. Again, these wires can be readily alloyed to meet the chemical and mechanical strength of those materials. Often, they are also less expensive for these applications. Even though lower-strength metal-cored wires (70 KSI) are more expensive than similar strength solid wires, higher-strength metal-cored wires tend to be less. These savings are particularly true for 90- and 100-KSI metal-cored wires.

How can I show my customers the value of metal-cored wire?
Converting to metal-cored wires doesn’t have to be difficult for your customers. Still, you may need to help them justify the process change, especially to their superiors and/or to purchasing agents who may look only at the upfront cost of the company’s filler metals.

One of the best ways to help your customers justify a process change to metal-cored wires is by assessing the non-valued added activities in their welding operation. Non-value added activities include grinding, sand blasting, applying anti-spatter, or any of those tasks that do not directly contribute to their company’s productivity. These types of activities are very typical in many welding operations; however, they are often completed to compensate for deficiencies in the current welding process. They can also hinder productivity by causing bottlenecks in workflow.

Metal-cored wires are capable of welding through mill scale, dirt, oil, grease and other debris while still producing quality welds, which eliminates your customers’ need to grind materials before sending them to the weld cell. And, because the wires produce little to no spatter, they eliminate the need for pre-weld anti-spatter application or post-weld grinding, too. As mentioned previously, they also offer faster travel speeds than other wires and higher deposition rates.

The benefits of such features are threefold. One, your customers can gain greater productivity through faster welding. Two, they can add to that productivity by eliminating unnecessary steps in the pre- and post-weld areas. And, three, they can reallocate labor from those areas to other portions of the welding operation that contribute directly to the company’s throughput.

You can help your customers quantify the potential improvements metal-cored wires can provide by monitoring their current welding process and assessing the time and cost of their non-value added activities. First, you should quantify how much time customers spend on grinding or other such pre-weld activities, along with the amount and cost of the labor necessary to complete them. Remember to factor in the cost and time for maintaining, repairing or replacing grinding or sandblasting equipment, too. Likewise, if your customer uses anti-spatter, calculate the cost for purchasing the solution, the labor necessary for applying it, and the time and labor needed to clean the area. In the post-weld area, quantify the labor and time that your customer uses for grinding spatter and/or reworking rejected parts, along with the associated costs. Discuss if and where they could reallocate labor from the pre- and post-weld areas to other areas of production (upstream or downstream) if they reduced the volume of non-value added activities.

Lastly, help your customers consider the possible improvements that would occur in the welding cell by converting to metal-cored wire. Remember, metal-cored wire can increase welding time and overall productivity. Set up a sample of metal-cored wire in the cell, a trial that is especially successful if they have a robotic welding application. Robotic systems offer the truest assessment of travel speeds and deposition rates, as they are precisely programmed.

How can I complete my customers’ conversions to metal-cored wire?
As you know, changing your customers’ welding process isn’t as simple as swapping out a welding wire. It takes time to monitor and assess the operation, conduct trials and work with your customers to complete the transition. Converting to metal-cores is no different. Plus, you have the added challenging of helping your customers (and their superiors) understand the long-term savings of a higher costing product. Just remember, be patient. Take the time to listen to your customers’ concerns. And most of all help them obtain the data that they need to make an informed decision.

Doug Krebs is the business unit manager for heavy equipment markets with Hobart Brothers Co., a manufacturer of welding filler metals available under the brand names Hobart, Tri-Mark, McKay and Corex.