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Portable welding, Advantages & Disadvantages

JW Portable Welding & Repair's typical portable welder arrangement on manufacturer's premises. London, Ontario, 2020

Clients using welding services treat interchangeably portable welding as mobile welding service since both services are performed on their premises. This post clarifies many misconceptions regarding portable welding and clearly points to distinct differences between them. These differences affect technology, convenience, and price of the welding service. Therefore it is in client benefit to recognize these differences. To find out more about mobile welding please read my post “Mobile welding, Advantages and Disadvantages”

A basic difference between mobile and portable welding

As a mobile welder brings the self-propelled welding machine to the client that is setup for S.M.A.W. or Stick welding, the portable welder brings a specialized and portable welding machine. This portable welding machine connects to the clients’ power source and therefore its response time is cut to minimum. This difference provides a huge advantage to portable welders specializing in

  • on-site fabrication,
  • stainless steel welding repairs,
  • aluminum welding,
  • bore welding,
  • cast or mold welding, and
  • dies welding.

These welding machines provide precise welding parameters to weld specific materials in clearly defined environment. Therefore, specialized portable welders provide high quality, less convenient and high price service.

Portable welding takes advantage of technological progress.

The welding technology belongs to one of most technologically advancing industries. Equally important is to consider the welding technology that includes aside of welding machines also consumables such as welding rods and wires. Additionally, it includes abrasive materials and variety of tooling. And in my opinion, welding is becoming more complex and sophisticated as we weld more advanced alloys, cast and plastics.

JW Portable Welding & Repair welds cracks in a large steel cast in portable welding setup on client's premises, London Ontario 2018

JW Portable Welding & Repair welds cracks in a large steel cast in portable welding setup on client’s premises, London Ontario 2018

I have worked for many years in this field and the modern welding technology surprises me on daily bases. The technological progress increases welding efficiency and increases quality of welds.  Now it takes 3 hours to weld a similar project that used to take 8 hours just a few years ago. Now we can weld so called un-weldable projects and we can do it in matters of few hours. However, behind the high technology goes extended welding knowledge that includes metallurgy. And then along goes passion for improvements, and passion for research….and finally, finances to pay for all of it.

A portable welding service is a travel welding shop

In simple terms, the portable welding is a “mobile welding shop” that travels to the client and connects to client’s power source. This so called “mobile welding shop” is in essence a portable welding. The “mobile welding shop” finds its place on the trailer then travels to the client. Then welder manually quickly unloads the necessary welding equipment on client’s premises to perform specialized welding service.

In JW Portable Welding & Repairs, we employ variety of specialized welding machines (8 of them) that are powerful enough to accomplish the desired tasks and also are light enough to be unloaded from the trailer manually.

These relatively light welding machines are much smaller and can be manually quickly unloaded. Moreover, these machines have variety of modifications and attachments increasing their functionalities. Obviously, welding machines in a regular welding shop are heavy and you need a forklift to move them. They are also very bulky and moving them on the floor is rather very difficult. If you need a forklift to move your welding machines, you can not provide portable welding services.

Who are the clients?

The portable welder’s client requires specialized and sophisticated welding services and do not employ welders and/or employ low class welders. Also, this client does not have sophisticated welding machines necessary to perform this high quality weld but demands sophisticated and quality welding recommended by engineers.

Portable welder uses a trailer

The portable welder uses a trailer  as a transportation mode for welding machines and auxiliary equipment to haul them to the client. These trailers should accommodate to many different welding machines pending the project specifications. Moreover, they should accommodate to variety of specialized tooling used in the project.

Presently, we have 2 trailers within portable welding specialization. The bigger one is set up for Mig welding that includes, Mig stainless steel welding, and Mig aluminum welding with a spool gun, as well as Mig on-site fabrication. The smaller trailer is set up with Tig welding machines that include

  1. water cooled and high power, 25 feet lead, precise Tig operation setup for aluminum (pedal),
  2. small and air cooled stainless tig welding (scratch).
  3. medium size air cooled tig welding for stainless, steel or aluminum, (pedal or gun regulation).

The smaller trailer caries also our epoxy application services. If you would like to know more about portable welding projects accomplished by JW Portable Welding & Repairs click here.

Advantages of portable welding

The advantages of portable welding form a foundation of high demand for this welding service among variety of industries such as

  • manufacturing,
  • hospitality including fast food restaurants,
  • machinery building and maintenance,
  • specialized farming including cannabis,
  • high rise construction,
  • and building maintenance.

The market is relatively open for highly skilled portable welders with sophisticated welding equipment that use high tech. welding consumables. However, portable welder must deliver quality long lasting solutions to clients’ welding needs.

Portable Welding and Communication with client.

The communication with the client during portable welding project benefits client and portable welder. Client’s engineers and technicians should share their perspective on the problem’s root causes. Such constructive feedback helps welding professional to respond with correct solutions to the existing problems.

Portable welder should always welcome comments regarding structural cracks development and possible equipment improvements. Additionally, it should take into account in its designs possible operational improvements. These improvements could include material improvements or physical parameter’s improvements. Based on interviews, detailed pictures and possibly videos, a portable welder should be able to provide long lasting solution to the problem.

The welder should begin with understanding of forces acting on the parts of equipment, die or piece of structure. And then it should develop the proper procedural plan, drawings, or sketches. Communication between client and portable welder must be clear and both parties should be clearly aware of project’s objectives.

Daily job journal is obligatory

Portable welder should keep a project’s daily journal with notes stating accomplishments in particular day. Additionally, welder should note all obstacles and ways to avoid them. It should devote special attention remedies, notes of welding parameters, and dimensions. Such journal will be very useful to the owner as a reference base to quote similar jobs and resolve similar technological challenges.

Portable welder can not afford to guess.

Guessing contradicts quality. In portable welding there is no guessing since the equipment is too expensive and possible failures are impossible to repair. Therefore, portable welder should test in the shop the welding parameters on same material prior welding on client’s premises. Keeping notes from testing and then during welding is crucial since conditions could change and welder will have to adjust welding parameters accordingly. I recommend also performing tests of metal composition unknown alloys and then research the appropriate welding rod or wire to improve weld physical parameters.

Portable welding with specialized welding machines and high tech welding consumables.

The key advantage of portable welding in comparison to mobile welding is a highly specialized welding equipment. This welding equipment provides precise welding parameters for particular task or job. The precise setup should take place in the shop during the testing stage therefore on the job there is no surprises.

Additionally, portable welder should take advantage of technologically advanced welding consumables such as welding rods and wires that improve physical properties of welds. The specialized welding machines can be precisely set up to use these high tech. consumables.

Many of these welding consumables have their metal composites protected by patents therefore during the testing I highly recommend testing the strength of these welds and possibly expose them to conditions similar to your client’s conditions.

Portable welders and their equipment

Every portable welder should bring to the jobsite at least following equipment:

  1. preheating torches with variety of nozzles,
  2. variety of angle grinders in different sizes with modern type of abrasives,
  3. variety of supporting tools such as different pencil grinders and beveling equipment,
  4. high range temp. guns,
  5. heating pads and fans to eliminate radical cooling,
  6. tarps for isolation from public,
  7. fans for air movement,
  8. basic rigging equipment,
  9. positioning vises for more precise setup,
  10. and…….technologically advanced welding machine(s).

A technologically advanced welding machine is paramount since advanced and complex welding procedures require a very precise setups. Moreover, having in disposition good quality tools improves portable welder’s efficiency.

Disadvantages of portable welding

As any human activity also portable welding has some disadvantages that  portable welders and their clients need to take into account. Disadvantages include, higher price, necessity of knowledge or experience, longer setup time, specialization restrictions, and possible access problems.

Specialized portable welding is pricey

Specialized portable welders are much more expensive than mobile welders due to service specialization that demand expensive welding machine, advanced welding consumables and/or shielding gases. Supplementary equipment is also pricey and high-quality abrasives add up to the price. Additionally, there is cost of testing in the shop and possible testing of alloys adds up to the cost. I personally recommend waving the cost of testing in the shop in case of longer project that will last more than a week.

Portable welder must be knowledgeable and skilled

I have listed knowledge on the disadvantage side since it acts as detriment for many welders who try to become skilled portable welders. Many certified mobile welders fail as portable welders due to lack of metallurgical knowledge and engineering experience as well as lack of mechanical background.

In my opinion, the knowledge of specialized welder consists of theoretical knowledge regarding the specialization chosen, technological knowledge of welding machines’ parameters and how these parameters affect metallurgical processes during the welding. They should also posses extensive knowledge of welding consumables used in specialization and ability to draw conclusions from testing these welding consumables. And most of all, they should posses skill to implement the knowledge into practice. Please remember, that your first certification does not qualify you as a portable welder since this is a first step in on the long, long road and the goal is in many miles ahead of you.

Many portable welders are in fact certified in multiple processes and many of them are journeymen of different trades, millwrights, technologists, and engineers. They are the masters of the welding craft.

Portable welder’s setup

As I have mentioned, the portable welding machines are on the trailer and the welder has to unload them and then connects them to the client’s power source. Then the workstation and the whole workspace has to become secure. Portable welders should use screens to separate their work stations and/or tarps to separate themselves from the public. These activities take time and are not as straight forward as many clients expect.

As we all know, in North America there are multiple different plugs used in the industry pending the electrical current parameters. Therefore, experienced portable welder must provide a proper adapter fitting to the client’s outlet. Certainly, the electrical current parameters must meet the the welding machine’s requirements.

Portable welder minimizes hazards of flashing, welding fumes, and fire when setting up the workstation and the whole workspace. And he/she should be sensitive to overstepping boundaries of client’s production and maintenance crew.

Specialization and its restrictions

Every portable welder should expect small surprise projects that do not fit the established setup.  The unexpected small projects can cause unnecessary disagreement between client and a welder due to lack of required setup. These projects usually require a different setup or a totally different welding technology. Therefore, I recommend to always have at the back of the trailer a standard stick welding machine and a pack of 7018 welding rods.

Portable welders do have access issues

Portable welders do require more space to the workpiece comparing to traditional S.M.A.W.  or Stick welding. We also get closer to the workpiece for additional visual control over the welding process. The portable Tig welding requires a minimum 1-foot radius of free space for complicated welds if welding is only possible from one angle.  In some cases, however, creating space for a welder is not as easy task and technicians have to remove some components.

The length of welding leads provide additional access restrictions for welder. Therefore portable welder must have variety of extension cables or/and longer welding leads. The extension cable appears to be a much cheaper solution to this problem. Please note, employing longer leads will affect initial setup parameters.

In summary, clients demand portable specialized welding and a highly skilled welding professional when they face challenging project. The portable welding service lasts longer and it is relatively more costly in comparison to mobile welding. The welding process uses usually high tech. consumables, advanced abrasives, and some testing is required prior coming on site. The project needs a portable welding service if it requires

  1. top management supervision,
  2. engineering input, inspection and feedback during implementation,
  3. on site alignment to existing machinery, possibly multiple alignments
  4. extensive involvement of other trades,
  5. enhanced security due to intellectual property protection,
  6. enhanced security due to high value asset being welded,
  7. precise testing after each stage of welding,
  8. high quality weld on structures and/or equipment that can not be removed off site