Distributor Team Develops Semi-Automatic Root-Pass System

In the world of distribution, there is one unshakeable fact—if it can be done faster, more efficiently and less costly, customers want it. And when there is a lot of pipe to be welded and a lack of skilled welders, customer desire for increased productivity ramps up.

Take the process of welding a root pass. The manual process typically takes about four man-hours per pipe, making the cost of labor an expensive outlay for an end-user.

The photo of the arc is the root pass on a pipe joint and illustrates the RMD software performance in welding an open root in a semi-automatic mode, rather than TIG welding the root. As seen, the weld joint appearance is excellent.

Dan Burgess, an outside sales field engineer at Alloy Welding Supply in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, a branch location of Lampton Welding Supply Company (Wichita, KS), often came across this challenge among his customers, and he knew it would make a huge difference if the time to do this manual process could be reduced. Burgess went to Lampton President Guy Marlin and said, “It would mean a lot for our customers if we could find a better way to weld a root pass. We ought to be able to do it.” Marlin gave the OK for Burgess to find a better way.

Over the course of a year, Burgess and some friends tinkered with equipment and processes. “I just started putting this and that together, saw how it worked, and eventually it came together,” he says. Burgess had figured out a way to convert the long-standing manual root process into a semi-automatic one. While his description of the process sounds simple, the reality is that what he and the Alloy team did has the potential to change the way root-pass welding takes place. They took the hand-weld root pass process that previously took four hours and reduced it to 41 minutes!

Making It Work

It took creativity, hard work, lots of patience and ingenuity to develop the system, which is being called the Pipe Jammer. Burgess had a positioner and manipulator, but needed a power source to connect them. He found it in a piece of Miller equipment that enables the root to be placed inside. On a typical pipe weld, the root pass is put in with TIG welding in order to get the integrity in the weld and complete a good finish weld to code. The TIG pass was eliminated and the root put in with MIG welding. Once the root pass is complete, the RMD mode is turned off and the fill and cap portion of the weld can be completed without having to retool.

The power source (background) of the Pipe Jammer system is integrated with the manipulator that controls the position of the welding torch and arc controls, and the positioner used to rotate the pipe beneath the arc.

With the power source integrated into the other two pieces of equipment—the positioner and the manipulator—the process became semi-automatic operating with what Burgess calls “one brain.” The equipment uses metal core, forgiving enough to compensate for poor fit-up.

Once the Alloy Welding team eliminated the root pass, they attempted the process on a seam weld. A job that typically took 6.5 hours was completed in 3.5!

They realized they were on to something remarkable. With the semi-automatic process, only one operator is needed, an operator who does not have to move from one bay to another. The welder’s hand is out of the process, so quality and consistency variables are also removed. Due to the metal core, there is less post-weld cleanup.

A mobile van was purchased and outfitted with a generator, the required gases, and equipment to perform demonstrations at customer sites. Says Burgess, “We don’t have to go into a shop to use their primary power to hook up. We have it on board. We simply drive up to a site and people come out with their parts to be welded. They can see the entire process, all in a neat package.”

Develop or Die

A completed coupon

As customers experience an uptick in production, anywhere from two-thirds to three-quarters faster than the manual process, the team is very excited about the possibilities for the Pipe Jammer, particularly in pipe-laden gas and oil markets. Potential customers have called from as far away as Canada.

The company expects to see black ink on its investment—which includes the trailer purchase and legal fees for the patent, which is now pending—within six months.

Well known for doing things differently, Lampton Welding Supply and Alloy Welding Supply hit a home run with the Pipe Jammer. The company tasks its team members to think outside the box and find solutions for customers. Creativity is encouraged; innovation is rewarded; and every employee is expected to be a resource to every customer. “People don’t typically consider distributors as those who go out and develop things,” Marlin says. “We do. Customer solutions are all about solving problems.”

Gases and Welding Distributors Association