It’s hard to believe, but the second-most common element in the universe is getting difficult to come by. Helium has long been considered one of the manufacturing industry’s go-to gases, but today, it’s used for much more than fabrication. Helium has become a critical component in a wide range of applications — everything from party balloons and parade floats to MRI machines and advanced scientific research. As a result, companies worldwide are scrambling for their share of helium. Kevin Lyttle says the severity of this global shortage wasn’t something most people expected — or prepared for. But Lyttle, who is senior development scientist at Praxair’s Research & Development division in Tonawanda, N.Y., says when it comes to welding, helium can be replaced with other gas blends. That’s where Praxair’s Stargon SS® blend comes in. Stargon SS blend is a carefully controlled blend of argon, carbon dioxide and nitrogen designed for joining a wide variety of stainless steels. Because it can be used with all types of metal transfer, it’s well suited for all-position welding. However, unlike traditional helium-based blends, it offers excellent performance when joining light-gauge material with short-circuiting transfer. Lyttle said the benefits of Stargon SS blend — combined with its advantages in welding thinner-gauge stainless steels — go a long way toward making it one of the industry’s best alternatives to helium-based gas blends.
“One aspect of helium is that it transfers heat to the base material well. But in some cases, too much heat is not good. When welding thin material, it’s sometimes difficult to use helium blends. Stargon SS blend works very well on thin material, and we’ve found that — in some stainless steel applications — this is critical.” According to Lyttle, the blend allows Praxair customers to focus on what’s most important: increasing productivity instead of worrying about helium-based gas inventories. “The immediate advantage of Stargon SS blend is availability. It’s not helium-based, so it is readily available. The second advantage is that we can typically offer it at a lower cost. On top of that, it works well in applications where helium has previously been used. Performance-wise, it allows you to weld thinner material better, with much less distortion.
Haberkern said trainees immediately realize the difference between “playing a video game” and learning how to perform a weld in real time with a live arc. He also pointed out that the system is purpose-built to improve the consistency of instruction while also providing organizations with a critical human resource management tool. On this point, Forquer said that giving employers a way to pass-fail trainees in an objective and unbiased way is one of the RealWeld Trainer system’s most compelling benefits. “Rather than have a fixed twelve-week course,” said Forquer, “employers can reliably and confidently fast-track people who are naturally gifted, or are quick learners, or who already have skills and simply need to adapt to the individual processes of that manufacturer. “And with the RealWeld Trainer system in place, you’ve got objective, reliable passfail data that’s backing up decisions about your workforce.” In addition to streamlining competency screening throughout the hiring process, another benefit the RealWeld Trainer system offers is replication. “There’s one thing we know in this industry,” said Haberkern. “On a go-forward basis, thousands of master welders are retiring.” Forquer’s conversations with manufacturers echo the same concern. “People I talk to say, ‘We don’t have a strong training program. But we have this brilliant master welder, and if we could just replicate what he does.”
When Forquer hears concerns like this, he knows another RealWeld Trainer system has found a home. Out of the crate, the system comes preloaded with nine Welding Procedure Specifications (WPS) supporting Flat, Horizontal, Vertical, Fillet, Lap, and Groove combinations for shielded metal arc, gas metal arc, and flux-cored arc welding. WPS thresholds and parameters can be modified, added or deleted, providing instructors with a powerful tool to create and manage curriculum based training. But what makes it a “no-brainer upgrade” for many organizations is the RealWeld Trainer system’s ability to capture the welding technique of a master welder in real time and then incorporate “signature welds” into a training curriculum. This feature — along with benefits in productivity — make the machine a true game-changer for the industry. “The adage for producing good welders is practice, practice, practice,” he said. “With the RealWeld Trainer system, we’re providing immediate, objective, data-driven live feedback so organizations can produce great welders who are ready to work.”The RealWeld Trainer™ system is one of Praxair’s newest solutions in the StarSolver® Productivity Enhancement Program, a unique program that helps organizations find creative, cost-effective ways to improve competitiveness.
Got questions? Fill out our Blog Contact form below: