The economy continues to challenge all of us, and it seems everyone is watching his or her finances (at home and on the job) and looking for innovative ways to save money. Your welding operation, just like any other portion of your business, offers opportunities to conserve resources. Consider these 10 money-saving tips for MIG gun care and maintenance, and don't be surprised to discover you will improve your welding performance in the effort.

Tip #1: Protect your assets

Keep your nozzles, retaining heads (diffusers) and contact tips in the original shipment package until you are ready to use them. This prevents scratches and/or dents where spatter can accumulate and will make them last longer. It also prevents dirt, oil or other debris from adhering to the consumables and inadvertently entering the weld puddle.

Remember, proper storage and handling doesn't just lower your actual consumables costs, it can also prevent weld defects that require costly rework.

Tip #2: Ward off spatter

Use an anti-spatter compound to reduce spatter accumulation on the nozzle and keep it operating better, and longer. Gels are the most common anti-spatter compounds for semi-automatic applications. Dip the front inch and a half of the nozzle into the compound to apply it, but do not submerge the nozzle! Submerging it can damage the nozzle insulator, causing it to fail prematurely.

Apply the anti-spatter as frequently as possible to prevent spatter accumulation and extend the life of your nozzle.

Tip #3: Inspect, clean and tighten regularly

Regularly perform a visual inspection of your nozzle — inside and outside — to look for spatter build-up. If there is accumulation, either clean the nozzle with a tool designed specifically for the job or replace the nozzle, if necessary. During your inspection, also check that the nozzle, contact tip and retaining head are still tightened properly, as these components can naturally loosen during welding.

Inspecting and tightening your consumables regularly (several times during a welding shift is ideal) helps to ensure good shielding gas coverage, reliable electrical conductivity and consistent weld quality.

Tip #4: Trim it properly

Always trim your MIG gun liner according to the manufacturer's recommendations, using the proper tools and cutting it to the correct length. Cutting the liner too long causes kinking, while cutting it too short allows debris to build up between the liner and the retaining head. Either way, the wrong liner length can cause poor wire feeding and premature failure of both the liner and the contact tip.

When possible, use a liner gauge to determine the proper length for your particular liner and be certain that there are no burrs or sharp edges after you cut it.

Tip #5: Line it up

Consider using a front-load MIG gun liner to ease and speed liner replacement. They cut installation time nearly in half compared to using a rear-loading liner, saving you downtime and unnecessary labor costs for changeover.

If you are unable or prefer not to use a front-load liner, be certain to install your full-length liner according to the manufacturer's recommendations. Keep the liner away from contaminants (e.g. don't let it drag on the floor!) during installation and be sure your hands or gloves are clean. This prevents contaminants from entering the weld puddle and causing costly weld quality issues.

Tip #6: Lighten up

When appropriate, switching from heavy-duty contact tips to standard-duty ones can help lower your overall consumable costs, while still providing you with reliable welding performance. If you have lower heat applications, brief arc-on times for short welds or tacks, or if you are using mixed shielding gases and small diameter wires, standard-duty contact tips should work just fine, and they cost less, too. You can also use these types of contact tips if you have applications with restricted access, as the smaller outside diameter can help to increase gas coverage and to reduce the nozzle's bore size, making it easier to reach tough joints.

Tip #7: Double the life

Look for contact tips that have a dual-thread design that can be rotated 180° and re-installed to create a new wear surface. This design helps extend the life of your contact tip even if one side of it keyholes. Keyholing occurs when the bore of the contact tip erodes due to the constant pressure of the welding wire feeding through it.

Also, look for a contact tip system that stays tight and/or has locking features to ensure good electrical conductivity, and to prevent overheating (caused by electrical resistance).

These features can lengthen the life of your contact tips and will improve your weld quality.

Tip #8: Keep it smooth and clean

As an additional defense against spatter accumulation, purchase nozzles that have a smooth, non-porous surface. Be sure that the nozzles are free of any sharp edges or flat spots that would further allow spatter to adhere. As when handling the liner, be sure you have clean hands or gloves when you are handling or installing your nozzle. Dirt, oil, grease or other debris can easily adhere to nozzles and later enter the weld puddle, causing weld defects. These contaminants can also cause premature failure of the component.

Tip #9: Size it right

Use the shortest MIG gun cable available for your welding application, as this helps prevent kinking and premature wear of both the cable and the MIG gun liner. It also helps to prevent wire-feeding problems that could lead to an erratic arc, poor weld quality and unnecessary downtime for rework or consumable replacement.

Also, remember to choose the correct diameter liner and contact tip for your welding wire, as this prevents similar problems and helps extend the life of these consumables.

Tip #10: Think long term

Whenever possible, purchase MIG guns and consumables that are backed by a reliable manufacturer's warranty — most protect against defects for a year or two and some will replace certain parts for a lifetime. Use all guns and consumables as intended so as not to void the terms and conditions of your particular warranty. For example, using your MIG gun as a chipping hammer (a common occurrence, believe it or not!) will definitely void a warranty.

Also, consider the upfront cost versus the long-term savings of purchasing sturdier and more expensive consumables. It's likely they will last longer, reducing downtime associated with changeover and the cost of the consumables themselves.

Keep these tips in mind and you can get back to welding faster … and keep conserving your resources.


David Bellamy is the product manager for the Tregaskiss semi-automatic/consumables group. Visit www.tregaskiss.com