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Selecting an aluminum MIG welder

Tuesday, September 8, 2015 - 07:00
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Ever since the debut of the aluminum‑intensive 2015 Ford F‑150 at the 2014 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, I-CAR®, the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair, has been at the front lines helping answer questions about tools, equipment, clean rooms, training and other “how to” questions on aluminum repair.

Selecting the proper equipment, paired with completing the appropriate training, is going to set the tone for how collision repair technicians will be able to address increasingly aluminum-intensive vehicles expected to hit the roads over the next couple of years.

Selecting an aluminum Metal Inert Gas (MIG) welder for your facility is an important step in overall aluminum repair preparedness. Below are a few tips to help guide the decision-making process.

Tungsten Inert Gas vs. Metal Inert Gas Welding Processes

In the metal fabrication industry, welding thin-gauge aluminum is often done using the Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG) welding process. However, in the automotive collision industry, that is not the case. MIG welding is the process of choice among all the vehicle makers that require welding for collision repair of their aluminum-intensive vehicles. One of the concerns with TIG includes the high-frequency signal that some TIG machines emit that can damage sensitive vehicle electronics. Additionally, TIG welding requires a lot of practice to get proficient at it, where in contrast, it’s widely thought that the MIG pulse welding method can be learned more quickly and easily, and that collision technicians are already much more familiar with MIG welding than they are with TIG.

Aluminum MIG welding machine differences

There are many MIG welders on the market with an array of options, features, and levels of welding capability. So, how do you know which one to choose? If you are considering becoming an authorized collision repair facility for a specific vehicle maker network, the OEM will direct you on the specific machine, or machine specifications with which you will need to comply.

However, if you are only planning to purchase the machine that will best meet your broader needs, you will have to know a few key considerations; two of which are:

1)    Whether a facility should select a 110-volt or 220-volt machine; and

2)    whether a single- or three-phase powered machine is better.

Welding machine technology has improved dramatically over the last few years, allowing for more efficient conversion of the high-voltage, lower-amperage power at the plug, into the higher-amperage, lower-voltage output of the welding machine at the torch. This can make selecting a machine based on input tricky, especially considering knowing a welding machine’s capability is not always easily understood. It is generally safer to go with a 220-volt input machine, but in the best interest of finding the ideal machine to fit your needs, it’s more important to focus instead on the amperage output and duty cycle rating of the machine rather than the input line voltage. Many of the higher-end automotive market welding machines are in the 220-volt, 30-50 ampere input, with a 200 to 300 ampere output range. Some may think this level of output is overkill for welding aluminum in the 0.9 mm to 4.0 mm thickness range of aluminum, which is the typical thickness of the majority of the aluminum sheet commonly used, but keep in mind that an output “cushion” is important at arc start-up and also helps ensure you are operating on the low end of the duty cycle, which helps prevent the machine from overheating during continuous use.

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