The first overall objective to strive for with systems and equipment is efficiency.
Time and resource management affects everyone and, whether looking at a fabrication shop or a clean room laboratory, the first thing to consider is, “How can I make this process less costly to maximize the return on the investment?”
The first thing you have to do is to research and understand the requirements of the process or application so that you can correctly recommend a product or change of product.
You begin to develop gas handling systems with high efficiency by asking a lot of questions. Turn to co-workers who have prior experience in the applications that will be addressed, and talk to the manufacturers of the equipment that will be used for recommendations.
It takes time to set up gases cylinders that will be used at individual work stations, and it takes time to replace them when they are empty. Because welders and lab technicians are well-paid employees, it is highly inefficient to have them spend time swapping out cylinders.
You can consider having a member of the maintenance crew or the gas supplier's delivery team swap the cylinders once every week or two as required.
However, a long term way to reduce the number of change-outs would be to establish a main distribution point with cylinders in a manifold. That will require that lines are plumbed into work areas. By doing this, fewer individual cylinder change-outs would be required.
Such a system will require an initial capital investment, but that will be repaid in a short period of time through increased efficiency.
As new technologies come to the forefront, the process of changing from one mode to another can become inefficient, as is the case with oxy-fuel cutting, which has been replaced in many applications by plasma, water jet and now laser cutting.
While a default solution today is to spend the money and upgrade equipment, often the idea of change can affect a shop manager's decision on the equipment and technologies that his shop might require.
The limited understanding of a process or application and the current technologies or new solutions that may be available could be hurdles that have to be overcome as a shop moves from the old to the new to embrace the correct solution in a timely manner.
How to select equipment
A safety and performance audit (SPA) is a great tool that can be used to help a shop to run lean, mean, and safe, and it can be used to achieve several objectives. These objectives include the following three key points:
- An understanding of how the job shop currently does things.
- An examination of safety issues that could cause injury, and that need to be addressed immediately.
- An evaluation of processes that are being used and where opportunities are to upgrade to more efficient process or supply modes, such as changing from high-pressure cylinders to liquid cylinders and pre-mixed cylinders to on-site blending of shielding gases.
An effective safety and performance audit can be based on input from co-workers who are the shop's specialists and the manufacturers or venders of the equipment.
The safety and performance audit gives a shop a look at all of its equipment, gases and processes, and a complete inventory is needed so that the best recommendations can be made on how to make the applications efficient.
Improving safety is a big value-added benefit when systems are upgraded, so safety deficiencies and upgrades should be noted in the audit to ensure the application complies with state and federal requirements.
It is also helpful to consider the following when purchasing new gas and welding equipment for the fab shop:
If the shop is currently using cylinder gas at every work station, manifolding may be the answer.
If shielding gas is being used in a welding process, gas saving regulator flowmeters may provide increased benefits.
If oxy-fuel is the shop's main process, an alternative fuel, such as propylene may be a solution to replace acetylene.
Top equipment questions to ask
No safety and performance audit of a welding job shop is complete without assessing the following:
Type of gas used.
You need to know specifically what the application requires. Avoid making an assumption that the last person did it correctly.
Gas purity level.
This is critical in every application. Again, do not assume the last person recommended the correct gas product or purity level.
Maximum pressure required.
This is a big issue now as ways to conserve oil and gas costs are key.
Maximum flow required.
Gas-saver flowmeter regulators have been on the market for years, and can be used to great benefit especially when gas prices continue to increase.
Type of application.
While determining the applications requirement for gas equipment, knowledge about the specific requirements for a particular application is necessary. It is common for companies to use the same setups in one location as they do in others, and that may or may not be a good thing, depending on who set up the initial process or delivery system.
The operating temperature range for the equipment being used.
The shop's environment, including where the equipment is or will be installed and the seasonal climate it will be exposed to.
Equipment monitoring. This can be a critical function that has a costly or painful consequences if the equipment fails, runs out of gas, or shuts down. Alarm systems can provide the solution.
Equipment mounting. Correct installation is important to minimize the potential of death or personal injury.
Future requirements and expansion potential.
It should be determined if there is a potential of increased demands on the system down the road, and the equipment should be sized appropriately so that work can “grow” into the system without the need to remove it and replace it later.
With the answers to the above, the design of a gas system should be a slam-dunk.
Knowledge is indeed power.