Mobile welders, Pros & Cons


A smaller mobile welding unit from JW Portable Welding & Repairs servicing London Ontario

Mobile welders in Canada and America equipped with welding rigs or welding trucks with a welding generator on cargo beds provide on  site welding services  to clients every day. Generally speaking mobile welders provide welding services on client’s side and in place. In fact, most mobile welders do operate outside in the open air in variety of weather conditions. Certainly, exceptions do happen and sometimes mobile welders enter buildings, manufacturing plants and processing plants. However, they very rarely bring their welding generator inside any enclosure. In most instances, the welding generator stays outside the building on the welding rig. And, mobile welder drags the welding cables (welding leads) inside to perform some welding jobs.

Industries served by mobile welders

Mobile welders work hard and their welding business’ profitability depends mostly on industry served. Generally speaking, the pros and cons for mobile welders depend on industry served  within about 100 km radius from their location. Since the mobile welders’ business is rather locally oriented, mobile welders face difficulties to find clients located more then 100 or 150 km away from their location. Although mobile welders travel a lot, however they do rarely travel long distances.

Oil industry

Surely, the oil industry generally provides steady high income for mobile welders with well equipped welding rigs. These mobile welders have usually a good quality diesel propelled welder generator on their welding rigs. Especially oil refineries and oil pipelines hire welding rigs’ owners to provide welding services on their pipes. The work is good, high paid, and professional welders enjoy this environment.

In areas of where oil industry exists mobile welders’ business is fine. Unfortunately, the general prognosis for oil industry do not look good due to environmental factors, therefore the future of mobile welders with welding rigs also do not look either.

Farming

On the opposite site, you can find farming industry that needs mobile welders with their welding trucks. These mobile welders definitely can not afford the welding rig, but they will not go hungry to bed either. Farmers often try pay their mobile welders with meet. Therefore, occasionally you see poorly equipped welding truck with gasoline welder generator with a quarter of cow on it.

Energy industry outside of oil

The next industry employing mobile welders is energy industry. For instance wind turbines and solar panels installation do require help from mobile welders but they do need them so often. And also the prices for mobile welding look rather deflated there in comparison to oil industry.

However, electric power plants and electric power companies in charge of power lines employ very well equipped welding rigs in their projects. These welding rigs also haul very technologically advanced auxiliary tooling specific to this industry.

Infrastructure and Construction

The infrastructure projects with water pipes and and other welding projects such as bridges and water treatment plants provides occasional income for mobile welders with welding truck.  Furthermore, construction of apartment buildings, industrial plants, and warehouses do require mobile welders’ help.

Heavy equipment repairs

Heavy equipment whether construction heavy equipment or forestry heavy equipment require welding services of mobile welders. Unfortunately, these clients are not used to high prices and they do not require as sophisticated welding as oil industry.

Client’s confusion between mobile welding and portable welding

Most clients do not differentiate mobile welding from portable welding. Many of my callers use these terms interchangeably not realizing that there are huge differences between mobile welding and portable welding. These services differ in terms of  technology, convenience, and…. price. Certainly, both terms, mobile welding and portable welding, mean that the welding process takes place on client’s premises. Additionally, in both cases welding services take relatively a short time. Although, portable welding service usually takes much longer then mobile welding service.  Therefore, if client needs welding service on his/her premises than automatically mobile welding or portable welding comes to mind.  If you wish to find more information about JW Portable Welding & Repairs click here, however here can find pros & cons of portable welding on my blog.

Mobile welders with welding truck is a most common setup in mobile welding

Mobile welding with a pickup truck is most popular setup, however our setup looks completely different since we use trailers that haul welding generator and tools. The welding truck has a self-propelled welding machine, welder generator, mounted semi – permanently on its cargo bed. The self-propelled welding machine is at the center of the welding services provided by a mobile welders. These machines could be diesel engine driven or gas engine driven.

JW Portable Welding & Repairs, certified mobile welder setup at work in London, Ontario in winter 2019 JW Portable Welding & Repairs, certified mobile welder setup at work in London, Ontario in winter 2019

The diesel self-propelled welding machine appears to be a significant investment expense for a new welding business that will not necessarily provide a suitable return on its investment, especially in recessionary times. In most cases, the gasoline engine driven welding machine is much cheaper than the diesel driven but it hast to be refilled every few hours during more intense welding. It simply means that mobile welders with the gasoline propelled welding machine during the 8 hours of welding has to visit a gas station located close by or it has to refill the machine using portable gas canisters.

Mobile welders usually prefer Ford pickup over Dodge or Chevy. Although preferences differ pending the working conditions and climate. We drive Chevy and we like it very much.

Advantages of mobile welding

The mobile welding has clear advantages:

  1. flexibility of access,
  2. effective welding technology,
  3. relatively long reach due to long welding cables.

Wherever the truck can get the mobile welder can provide the welding service. The SMAW welding, stick welding, in hand of experienced welder can do magic and the long reach cables are very useful in farming, construction, petroleum, and forestry industries. Additionally, GTAW welding is more popular for mobile welders employed by oil industry.  Most certified and reputable mobile welders in Canada and USA are master of their trade or craft and their provide excellent quality welding services to their clients in tough natural environments and very difficult positions. They weld mild steel, variety of steel alloys and stainless steel with SMAW and some with GTAW technologies.

Disadvantages of mobile welding

The mobile welding shares disadvantages that impact welders and their clients.

Practical restrictions of mobile S.M.A.W. technology

The limitations of S.M.A.W technology cause unpleasant surprises for welders and their clients. These unpleasant surprises most often refer to

  • thin materials,
  • huge gaps between welded parts,
  • lack of access to the welding piece,
  • high elevation welding in construction industry,
  • unexpected metals such as stainless steel alloys and aluminum alloys,
  • variety of metal casts,
  • lack of advanced welding consumables’ knowledge and persistent use of 7018 rod,
  • lack of special abrasives,
  • and lack of additional material needed.
  • limitations of mobile welding setup

Therefore, both mobile welders and their clients must work in tandem to finish project successfully and if they do not work together then they both suffer. Both parties must understand limitations of mobile welders and project’s technical characteristic must meat mobile welder’s capabilities.

Initial communication with mobile welders.

If I would compare mobile welding to a large cleaning brush that is so useful to clean variety of surfaces such as floors and walls then a portable welding could be compared to a tooth brush. For instance, you would not use a tooth brush to sweep the floor, and on the other side, you would not use a large cleaning brush to clean the teeth. Therefore even the best mobile welders have to be told in advance what they will be welding. And  sometimes if the welding job does not suit the mobile welding capabilities, some of them will refuse since they are not set up for it.

The initial communication with client is crucial for all mobile welders. Mobile welders must know in advance

  1. type of weld expected,
  2. thickness of material,
  3. type of metal,
  4. distance from the welding truck to the jobsite,
  5. elevation concerns and,
  6. fire hazards conditions

If the client is an engineer or a technician than the initial communication is relatively smooth, but based on my personal experience, most clients are not able to provide even basic information. Therefore, the mobile welder must visit the workplace to determine all details. If the mobile welder does not visit the workplace, then the unpleasant surprises happen.

High competition among mobile welders.

Another group of disadvantages relate to high competition and associated low prices of mobile welding. Many mobile welders entering the market do it on part time bases and they lower their prices to the bottom in order to attract customers. Unfortunately, sooner or later, they find that they can not afford better quality welding rods, and expensive attachments to their, welding generator, self – propelled welding machine. They can not afford more specialized tooling, and abrasives. Finally, when their gasoline engine self – propelled welding machine breaks down, they cannot afford repairs.

Part – timers and low integrity.

These part – timers sometimes are good and skilled welders but overall, their do more harm than good. Lack of capital determines their future. In fact, their main income comes from regular employment and the mobile welding provides extra cash for another day.

In many instances, they try to weld with 7018 welding rods something that should not be welded with this rod, instead of welding with more suitable rods. As usual, since they compete in lower price market, they use so called “wide brush to clean the teeth” and they weld everything with 7018 rod. And it is a 1/8 rod. Additionally, many of them exhibit low integrity for job done since it is highly probable that they will never see this client again. On the other hand, clients usually have no idea how the project should be done properly to last long. These clients can not afford higher prices anyway therefore they are most concerned with immediate results.

In low price market, mobile welder cannot afford

  1. new welding attachments giving him/her access to other welding technologies,
  2. more advanced welding rods that are very expensive,
  3. new abrasives
  4. and variety of tooling.

Part – timers look differently on your project

Most of part – time mobile welders are there to get your money. They perceive differently your efforts to get your project done. First, they will take high risk projects with their substandard equipment and they will quote the lowest price possible. Once they are in, they will try to weld your project with their equipment and they do not care if this is done right. Most clients can not recognize bad welds from good welds anyway. Therefore client will pay anyway. Later, if the client will find out that the welds do not hold, cause more problems, or severely damaged your project then the part – timer will say he is not available. The part-timer is probably telling the truth since he is working somewhere as employee during the week. And, he knows very well that he is not capable to fix the problem.

Finding mobile welding companies is a challenge, especially that welding companies perceive your vetting process differently.

Part – timers and low price that cost a lot

The low-priced mobile welder provides technology from the 70’s and 80’s in 2020 in less efficient way. Therefore, the every mobile welder’s goal should be to grow up from the lower price market as soon as physically possible. One way to grow is to realize that clients want quality, and they are willing to pay for it. You just have to be able to provide it. Many mobile welders will disagree with me and they will say that quality is expensive. Well, if the client must hire you 3 times to weld something that it supposed to be welded the first time, then your labor cost is much more expensive than a better welding technology, and better welding consumables.

Mobile welding setup.

Finally, the mobile welding traditional setup is in many instances a disadvantage. Although, the traditional truck setup provides maximum flexibility but also exposes the welding machine, additional equipment, and tooling to winter environment. It also makes theft of your expensive equipment and supplies possible due to less secure storage. Moreover, it makes longer jobs rather difficult since any additional travel with the truck is associated with folding down the welding cables.

I personally prefer the trailer setup since the trailer provides cover for equipment and tools, as well as it provides security against unexpected theft. Moreover, it makes arrangement to travel for diner relatively easy since I just need to disconnect the trailer.

In summary, I hope my post will clarify many questions faced by clients hiring mobile welders and it will clarify questions faced by mobile welders themselves. If you want to find out how I am managing my mobile welding operation click it here and if you want to read about portable welding, please click here.