One of the benefits that leading welding equipment manufacturers offer to their customers is a guarantee that the welding unit they purchase will not become obsolete because of software upgrades. The manufacturers, such as Lincoln Electric Co., ESAB Welding & Cutting, and Miller Electric Manufacturing Co., accomplish that by providing free software upgrades for new equipment.

The upgrades are available either as downloads from the manufacturers' Internet sites, or via email or computer disc.

For example: Customers who purchase an ESAB (www.esab.com) Aristo welding system are entitled to unlimited free updates for the operating system that is supplied with the unit. Those customers are entitled also to free updates for the synergic welding data that goes along with the systems.

Randy Broadwater, product manager for Advanced Manufacturing Systems for Miller Electric (www.millerwelds.com) said his company began to offer updated software for its Axcess welding lines several years ago.

Miller Electric established a separate Internet page for its Axcess lines (www.millerwelds.com/products/automation/axcess_systems/) to offer software updates, information and improvements for such processes as its Accuspeed and Accucurve MIG lines that are complementary to its Axcess lines, and for trials for other specialty premium processes.

One of the products that Miller put on that site is its Regulated Metal Deposition product, Broadwater said. The trademarked, Regulated Metal Deposition (RMD) product is a patented, software-based option that controls short-circuit transfers precisely. Miller Electric says its RMD product provides a method of detecting when a short is going to clear, then rapidly reacts to the data and changes the current (amperage) levels.

Similarly, Lincoln Electric Co. (www.lincolnelectric.com) provides updates for its PowerWave and other product lines at its Internet site.

The software that Lincoln Electric makes available includes its Wave Designer product that allows welders to customize operations to match the base metals and shielding gases that they are working with, and to optimize welding conditions to enhance productivity.

For most of the software updates, customers are able to check the revision of the software that is installed on their equipment, and compare that revision to the latest version on the companies' web sites. If the revisions don't match, they can update their software. Typically, the manufacturers also notify their distributors about upgrades, and often distributors pass the word on to their customers.

The software updates also are cumulative, so that the new features and benefits derived from a latest revision is passed on in the succeeding revision, and capabilities – and favorite functions – are maintained.

Besides providing software updates for their equipment, these welding equipment manufacturers are also developing new software products.

Both Lincoln Electric and Miller Electric are offering shop management programs that are based on handheld computers – such as PalmPilots and Blackberries – that can be used remotely. That is, you don't necessarily have to be in your welding shop to use them.

These systems offer access to information, set-up and configuration, wireless communications and such features as email, storage and transfer of welding programs. In effect, they turn handheld computers into remote pendant controls for welding equipment.

The ability to upload new versions of software and the new potential to control welding operations remotely by handlheld computer control both take advantage of the unlimited, 24/7 access inherent in the Internet, and allow welding shop managers to extend their control over their operations.