David Tally, the owner of Cactus Welding in Gilbert, Ariz., has spent 12 years perfecting the mobile welding rig. In 1997, while managing a larger welding facility, he started a side-business focusing on mobile welding repair. He outfitted a trailer with MIG and TIG/Stick welders and took on any work that came his way. Before long he quit his “job” and focused entirely on his own business.

One way that Tally has remained at the cutting edge of the mobile welding and fabrication industry is by finding new and efficient ways to weld a variety of metals. When he needed a newer, faster, more portable way to weld aluminum and stainless steel, and to simplify welding deep within buildings and plants, he found a surprisingly small solution: The Miller Electric Mfg. Co. Millermatic® Passport® Plus all-in-one MIG welder.

“We had actually stopped doing as much MIG welding as we used to,” Tally now recalls, “and that was all based on how much time we had to do a job. Many times it was quicker and easier to string out two leads and do a job than to drag out a MIG unit with the cords, hoses and extra material. But now, with this little machine, all we have to do is pull up one cord, plug it in, do the job and we’re done.”

Portability adds to capabilities
Cactus Welding fabricates all sorts of materials, from stainless steel and aluminum repair to mild steel handrail work in large package processing plants. The company’s work varies from maintenance/repair to fabrication and construction. Recently, when a customer needed a custom-fabricated, coiled heating tube to keep wax liquefied in a candle making plant, Cactus invented a system for fabricating it that no other tubing supplier could match.

“We’re millwrights, in a way,” says Tally. “We take care of any kind of fabrication and repair work that needs to be done. We even track belts. If something is broken, we replace it. We even do a little bit of electrical—in a pinch we’ll have to change a motor, and if an electrician is not available, we’ll do that as well.”

Sixty to 70 percent of Tally’s work is for mobile and on-site assignments. Adding a fully portable, all-in-one MIG welder has substantially reduced “hassles” for operators, such as stringing out dozens (occasionally hundreds) of feet of hose and welding lead. Also, it has helped to reduce clutter and improve safety on such jobs where lead and hoses were strung out over the shop floor.

The Passport Plus’ self-contained, 12-oz. CO2 gas cylinder eliminates the need to string out hoses for shielding gases, although it also runs off of a bulk gas supply in the shop through its dual-gas supply switch. This allows the operator to switch quickly to argon (for aluminum) or tri-mix (for stainless.) Its multi-voltage plug allows you to plug into any 115- or 230-volt power without having to run a heavy power cord all the way back to a generator on your truck. And, its compatibility with new spool guns means it simplifies MIG welding on more difficult alloys, such as aluminum and stainless steel.

Faster, reliable aluminum
Cactus Welding performs aluminum repair work with either 4043 or 5056 filler metals in diameters of 0.030 or 0.035 in. Matching the Passport Plus with Miller’s Spoolmate 100 Series spool gun gives Cactus Welding the power to MIG weld aluminum up to 1/8 in. on 115-V power, or aluminum up to 1/4 in. on 230-V power. Performing these repairs with MIG versus TIG increases welding speeds substantially, provides an easier process, and still results in a strong, attractive weld.

“TIG takes longer and costs considerably more than MIG,” says Greg Agan, welder/fabricator, Cactus Welding. “In many of these applications, where the repair is of a structural nature and you don’t need the look of a TIG weld, MIG works perfectly well. I‘ve used this on really clean aluminum and made beautiful welds.”

Using a spool gun for welding aluminum is ideal, as the filler metal only has five inches to travel compared to 12 ft. (or more) through a gun liner. Tally points out that this replaces the necessity of an expensive push-pull system while MIG welding aluminum. Agan adds that the Spoolmate 100’s small profile (8 in. from tip to the back of the spool, 11.5 in. from top to bottom) helps him work into tighter areas that would be more difficult with a larger spool gun.

“I haven’t had it ‘birds nest’ on me once,” he reports. “There’s no room for error with this spool gun. And it’s so short. My older spool gun was tough to get into corners, and I’d have to fight it to get the right angle. The size of this works great,” according to Agan.

Tally also sees an important aspect to the spool gun’s ease-of-use: an easier way to train welders to work on aluminum.

“If you had to hire someone to do the work,” says Tally, “there are a lot of people that could do a very nice job on aluminum with the Passport Plus and a spool gun, versus using a TIG process. There are very few people you can just hire off the street that could do a good job on aluminum with TIG.”

Stainless savings, better productivity
Cactus Welding first used the Passport Plus to modify 14- and 16-ga. 304 stainless steel hinges and brackets on top of six separate candle-making vats. Tally initially bid the work thinking of it as a TIG job, and planned to spend two days at the facility. While he has a portable TIG welder, he saw an opportunity to test the Passport Plus’ stainless capabilities on this job. The result: his team finished the job in less than a day. Tally attributed the increased productivity to the speed and ease-of-use of the MIG process combined with the portability of the welder.

“If we had done TIG on the entire project it would have taken much longer,” he says. “And, in this situation, where we had to hold the hinges in place, you’re kind of missing a hand when you’re doing fit-up with TIG (whether you’re using foot or hand controls). Having a portable MIG machine here made a big difference in simplifying that project.”

On another recent job Tally was called in to a restaurant to repair various pieces of stainless steel equipment. The Passport Plus trimmed what would have been a four-hour job into two hours.

“We had never done stainless steel MIG welding for this customer,” says Tally, “but everything he brought me I was able to do with the Passport Plus. There were drain pans he wanted to add steel to: They hacked a big hole out of it that was a half-inch bigger than the fittings, so we filled that in.”

Another repair involved re-attaching a handle to a large freezer unit. Not only did the portability of the Passport Plus make it easy for Tally to get to the freezer and position himself for the weld, but the ability to weld it faster than TIG, with less heat, also provided a key process benefit.

“There is insulation on the other side,” says Tally, “and when you weld something like that with TIG, by the time you get your puddle hot enough, it blows out because the insulation inside is outgassing, and it makes a mess. With MIG you can just zap it in there.”

Another benefit that the Passport Plus provides is inductance control, especially on stainless steel. The Passport Plus allows the operator to increase inductance for a softer arc or reduce inductance for a stiffer arc. Stainless steel is notoriously difficult to “wet-out” and, without increased inductance, is prone to lay a “ropey” weld. Increased inductance improves puddle fluidity on stainless steel and ensures proper penetration and aesthetics.

Proven portability
One of the greatest examples of the Passport Plus’ portability is the work Cactus Welding does for UPS. In addition to standard repair and mechanical work, the company also installs 1-1/2-in. square tube handrails high above the belts and workings of the plant floor at UPS’ package handling facility in Phoenix. This often requires the welders to climb up 18-in. wide stairwells, 30 ft. above the ground, and to find access to power in inconvenient locations.

“I do handrail work where, if I had to string my Stick welder all the way down the aisle and through the legs and bars of the plant, I’d have to move my truck several times throughout the day to get better access,” says Agan. “With this, I just plug into each little area and find power in the building, and I don’t have to move the truck each time. It has saved a lot of time in a lot of ways that I don’t think any of us were expecting.”

Using 0.030-in. flux cored wire in this application provides three major benefits over Stick welding: less spatter, faster welding speeds and less heat into the weld. Agan reports that the Passport Plus lets him fill gaps quicker than with a Stick welder and that the sensitivity of the Passport Plus has allowed Cactus Welding to switch to a thinner-wall tubing on handrails, which passes savings (as much as half the material costs) to the customer and reduces the strain of working with a heavier material.

“We always tried to use 1/8-in. wall tubing because it was easier for us to weld with Stick. With flux-cored wire, we can go to a lighter material – either 16 ga. or 14 ga. That brings the materials costs down, and it’s a lot easier to get into some of those places, and to hold it while you’re welding. And, a lot of times I’m welding to sheet metal or a side pan that’s not very thick, and it helps balance out when I can weld equal materials and not have to worry about burning through or distorting things, because it doesn’t put as much heat into things (as Stick) either.”

Agan mentions that, when joining handrail to thin sheet metal by Stick welding, he has to make fast, short welds along the entire length of the joint in order not to put too much heat into the workpiece. With the MIG process he can weld continuously without blowing through or causing the material to warp. This creates a stronger weld and gets the job done faster.

“I can quickly run a nice bead down it and move to the next one,” he says. “It saves a lot of time.”

Savings and customer satisfaction
Tally and his Cactus Welding colleagues can perform a wide variety of repairs on different materials with a single machine. The lightweight versatility of the Millermatic Passport Plus has allowed the company to weld faster (without sacrificing quality) and has made life easier on the company’s workers.

“It’s a great machine,” says Agan. “I would consider this for my own personal welder because of the versatility. There are so many different things you can do with it. I can weld on my Jeep as well as gates out in the field or out in the yard, and I won’t have to have a whole lot of power and a very expensive extension cord. It’s one of the first things I consider when I get something off the truck now: can I do it with this or do I need to get everything else out? And it just saves a huge amount of time, which saves the customer money, … which makes everybody happy.”

Tally hesitates to say just how quickly the machine paid for itself because most of his customers are charged hourly rates and he has passed those savings on to his customers. But, with the increased productivity that allows them to move on to the next job faster while still providing superior quality, Tally is confident that the machine paid for itself quickly and continues to provide a great return on investment.

“This machine saves my customers a lot of money,” claims Tally, “and they see that. They realize it saves them money by allowing me to work faster without sacrificing quality. That ensures that we get called back for the next job.”