Pickled Steel Coils: Increasing Welding Productivity with Product Substitution

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Today’s quick quiz: What manufacturing job has an average age of 54 and is forecast to be short by 110,000 new positions by 2019? If you guessed welding, you would be correct!


Little help guys? There will be a shortage of me by 2019.

And though the discussion on our country’s welding shortage has primarily focused on job training and the need to recruit younger people into the profession, we’d argue that procurement has remained conspicuously absent from continuous improvement projects aimed at boosting the overall productivity of the welding function.

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If you could experience a 20% gain in productivity within your welding operation with a switch in material – such as pickled heavy gauge steel – would you consider it? If you knew in advance that some of the world’s largest industrial manufacturers generated that kind of improvement via product substitution already, would that make you switch?

Many OEMs have made the change by replacing heavy gauge blasted HR black coil with pickled heavy gauge (up to 1” thick) coil.

“Anyone who has spent any time in a welding operation knows that manual welding means the welder can spend up to 50% of his time welding and 50% of his time doing everything else to accommodate the welding process, such as grinding, scale removal and fixturing weld components,” said Joe DeWeese, a weld engineer at SFI in Conway, Arkansas in a recent interview with MetalMiner.

“That may sound like a generalization related to production welding, but the reality is that everything is supposed to be ready for the welder to start welding,” DeWeese continued. “The real standard is close to 75% doing the prep and post weld cleaning and 25% actually welding or ‘creating the blue flame,” he said.

How Does Pickled Heavy Gauge Steel Help?

Heavy gauge pickled material could streamline an entire manufacturing process by helping increase throughput. “In a perfect world, you’d have no movement of material from welding to blasting to the paint line. Material handling can cause bottlenecks, damage while moving, misplaced material and increased costs of production,” said Danny Lerman, VP of Marketing of Steel Warehouse LLC.

Pickling includes an electrostatic oiling process which applies a very slight oil film which protects from oxidation, and assists in resisting spatter adhesion and cleanup, and that allows welders to, well, do more welding!

“We had a significant productivity improvement in our robot cells and a major reduction in arc start failures when we switched from hot roll black to pickled material,” according to Gary Gibbs, president and CEO of Wrayco Industries.

So how does spatter cleaning relate to Total Cost of Ownership?

MetalMiner has long opined about the value of calculating total costs or total cost of ownership in all metal sourcing operations. Here are two articles exploring total cost – this one on offshore manufacturing and this one on Boeing’s machinists strike back in 2008.

Unfortunately, customers (e.g. procurement professionals) tend to compare the amount they pay for blasted sheets or blasted and oiled vs. the price paid for pickled, and that’s not a fair comparison, according to DeWeese. To compare the cost of hot rolled, blasted or blasted and oiled to pickled, you really need to include the cost of re-work, extra prep time to remove weld spatter, the cost of buying media, removing media, material handling, bottlenecks resulting in lower factory throughput and even the overhead of a blaster taking up space on your premises.

Moreover, if you look at welders as a resource for which their time is “dear” and/or they spend more of their time on prep vs. weld, the equation quickly starts to make pickled a lot more attractive.

“Many don’t calculate these costs correctly,” DeWeese said, “and too many procurement professionals make a piece part price calculation ignoring production costs because they are rewarded for procurement pricing rather than productivity gains.”

Slowly but surely, many types of industries have begun considering a thick gauge pickled alternative from tank manufacturers (e.g. air tanks, pressure tanks and tank ends) to hydraulic and fuel tanks, locomotive oil pans, agriculture and commercial grade scissor lifts. Any 25% welding productivity improvement may go a long way in justifying the initial higher piece part price.

Comments (2)

  1. what about the time it takes to clean the oil off the steel prier to welding, as compared to the time it takes to clean the weld spatter, I fail to see the justification

  2. Joe DeWeese says:

    The amount of oil that is electrostatically misted onto the surface is so miniscule, that an untrained eye would not notice any presence of the oil. A typical low hydrogen filler material would mitigate hydrogen issues within the weld for those still concerned. Pickled may also be purchased in dry form without oil. Either product eliminates the time consuming operation of blast prior to weld should you be bound to codes or customer specifications.
    The resistance to spatter adhesion is simply an observation of welders as compared to the adhesion they experience when welding on a blasted parent material.

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