The Advantages of Lightweight MIG Guns
Welding is a very physically demanding job and very punishing on the welder's body. In this guide, you will read about the benefits a lightweight torch has on the welder’s physical health, their performance, and the bottom line.
This guide will go in-depth on more than just how a lightweight cable helps welders feel more comfortable. It will also detail how all parts of a MIG gun from the swanneck to the consumables to the components of the handle impact comfort
and performance. If you are a Shop Foreman, Production Manager, or Welding Lead and looking to evaluate your current MIG gun against other options on the market, you will want to read this guide before going any farther.
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Table of Contents
We hope that you enjoy this eBook and learn a lot about lightweight MIG guns and their benefits!
Your feedback and comments on questions not covered that we can answer are always welcome.
Many people have contributed to this eBook, in particular:
Alexander Binzel Schweisstechnik GmbH & Co. KG, Germany
Martin Bender, Product Manager Manual
Herbert Burbach, Art Director
André Faber, Product Manager Manual
Jan Hasselbaum, Director Marketing International
Katharina Röschegg, Marketing Specialist
ABICOR BINZEL UK Ltd.
Danny Seddon, Marketing Manager
ABICOR BINZEL USA, Inc.
Tyler Caudle, Marketing Specialist
Paul Pfingston, Key Accounts Manager
Matthew Sciannella, Director of Marketing
James Study, Product Manager
There are probably more than 1.5 million welders working around the globe every day. Joining metal together and building different products in industries sectors like Automotive and Transportation, Shipyards and Offshore, Heavy fabrication, Structural, Energy or General Fabrication.
Welding is a demanding job and working conditions are not easy. Safety is important, so every welder has to wear proper protective equipment no matter if it is 10 degrees in the production hall or the middle of the summer in Texas. And often welding jobs have joints that are difficult to reach, so the strain for the welders is high as well. Often, they even have to climb into big parts, weld overhead, sitting or on their knees. In most cases, it is dirty, dark and heat is an issue as well. What they always have to carry and bring in the right positions is the welding tool in their hand – the welding torch.
What is common for the majority of the welders is that they value the work. If you ask them, they take great pride in joining something piece-by-piece, and they want to be satisfied with every single weld seam.
The question while developing welding torches should always be how to support the welder in the best way and to give him or her the best fitting tool for carrying out their profession.
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Emil Schubert
Chief Technology Officer
When you think about the important parts of a lightweight torch, there’s nothing that contributes more to a reduced weight on the welder than the cable. The torch cable has a large impact on ergonomics, weld quality, and overall performance. Knowing what makes a good lightweight cable can help you determine the best lightweight torch available.
Studies show a significant reduction in muscle strain of the shoulders, chest, and arms from the use of a lightweight torch cable over a standard torch cable. The lighter the torch the better the welder performance, and since the cable of a welding torch is a major factor in the overall weight of the torch, it makes sense to reduce weight in that area as much as possible.
A lightweight cable is 30 – 50% lighter than a standard cable and it’s not as easy to achieve this as you might think. Simply stripping away material within the cable can make the torch lighter, but if done incorrectly will result in a less effective welding torch. Instead of using less material, it is preferable to switch to lighter materials.
Light Design, Strong Build
For example, a well-made lightweight cable will use copper-clad aluminum strands. Different materials are also used as the conduits in which the wire liner travels through.
Some use a stiff rubber, while others use thermoplastics that are vulcanized via electron irradiation or gamma radiation. Each has its impact on the weight and flexibility of the cable.
Rubber, although more flexible, tends to be a heavier material than thermoplastic, but thermoplastic cannot withstand nearly as much heat as rubber.
This goes for the outer jacket as well. The most common material used on the outer jacket is a synthetic or natural rubber for durability, though some opt for thermoplastics. On top of being very heat resistant, the rubbers that are typically used in a lightweight cable have a high abrasion resistance; this means you don’t have to worry about ruining your torch cable from regular use.
With cable conductivity, the same principles apply – how do you make a cable lightweight but maintain the conductivity of a standard cable? Amperage matters with welding, and a lightweight torch still has to be powerful.
As mentioned, copper-clad aluminum is an alternative to solely copper-wire strands. Aluminum is a much lighter material than copper and even when adding additional aluminum strands to maintain equivalent amperage ratings, a significant reduction in weight is still possible.
Aluminum, however, is reactive and an oxide layer forms on its surface. To overcome this, a quality lightweight torch cable will use copper as a coating to eliminate oxide from forming which would otherwise lead to increased resistance and heat build-up. Additionally, the copper not only protects the cable from corrosion, but it also increases current transfer through the cable. Less resistance results in cooler operating cables.
Aluminum Stranding Downsides
The use of aluminum does have its downsides. The tensile strength of aluminum is less than copper, making it a weaker material under repetitive stress. This means that over time the possibility of an aluminum-based cable breaking may increase. The use of additional friction-reducing internal jacketing works to counter-act stress on the conductors, and this is just one way a quality torch maker will address limitations of aluminum stranded cable.
When choosing a lightweight welding torch, it is important to look at what materials go into the cable, as well as the quality of construction. With most lightweight cables you will see nothing but positive results after switching.
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A welder’s job is physically very punishing on their bodies. Depending on the industry they face many different welding tasks requiring many difficult welding positions, including standing, crouching, and welding on their knees. If only there was a welding torch that could be adjusted to suit the respective shape of a particular component by exchanging the torch neck, that is lighter than comparable torches and has excellent performance?
Suited for the Job
With a lightweight torch range that uses quick neck changes to suit the job at hand, those difficult to access, tight spots are much easier for a welder to accomplish. They no longer have to bend or rotate their body, they just quickly adapt their welding torch to the job.
The wide range of possible combinations with fixed and flexible torch necks in a variety of lengths and geometries offer the best possible accessibility, even in tight spaces. This is true of light or standard torches, but combined with a lightweight torch design, the performance difference is significant.
A torch line like the ABIMIG® AT, for example, will offer a wide range of replacement torch necks available so you get the best possible accessibility, even in tight space. Neck variations usually will consist of:
- Rigid or flexible
- Short, long or extra-long
- 180°, 45°, and 60° angles
Whatever the job, there will be a torch neck to suit.
When customizing your lightweight torch, it doesn’t stop at just fitting a different geometry swan neck. There is also the option of changing the front-end consumables to increase the flexibility of the torch further, especially if you’re using a fixed neck torch and there is only one neck option.
The most common nozzle shapes are:
- Tapered (i.e. conical small)
- Conical (standard nozzle)
The above differ in inner diameter size but the overall length remains the same. However, different length nozzles are available to adjust tip recess within the nozzle.
Nozzle Options Optimize Welder Access and Comfort
With the lightweight torch range such as ABIMIG® AT or MB EVO PRO there is the option of fitting specially designed narrow gap consumables.
By fitting one of the special nozzles and accompanying contact tip (bottle or tapered) you can access the most awkward areas.
Below are a few examples of the special contact tips and gas nozzles:
|Bottle Style - MB EVO PRO|
|Bottle Style - ABIMIG® AT|
|Tapered - ABIMIG® AT|
Achieve Flexibility, Improve Performance
Whether you like the switch on the top of the handle, fitted with a short neck and a bottle shaped gas nozzle - with more than 1000 possibilities, customizable lightweight torches like ABIMIG® AT leave nothing to be desired in terms of equipment specification and welder comfort.
It is common knowledge that welders not only use their torch for what it was specifically designed for, welding, but on occasion during the working day will also:
- Use it as a hammer to re-align their workpiece.
- Bang it on the bench to dislodge any spatter rings that have formed inside the nozzle.
- Drop the torch on the hard, concrete floor.
This knowledge is taken into serious consideration when designing the swannecks for lightweight torch necks. The body seat and the outer tube of the neck must be fixed securely into the handle to ensure the neck is protected in the best possible way.
During an internal test using MB EVO PRO torch necks, for example, the “hammering” effect is simulated and the static deformation of the necks measured. The results show a significant durability difference.
Lighter isn't Weaker
There is a feeling among skeptics that a lighter torch must mean a weaker design of the build. As a result of the unique internal geometry of the lightweight torch necks, which maximizes the neck‘s mechanical strength, there is a significant reduction in deformation when compared to a standard torch without the lightweight BIKOX cable.
When designing torch necks for the lightweight torch range, every aspect of the welding environment is taken into consideration. The most problematic is welding spatter, which is essentially droplets of molten material that are generated at the welding arc. Spatter is generally regarded as a nuisance and is a critical factor to consider when developing an application or product.
Small Parts. Big Difference.
In the development of the lightweight torch range ABIMIG® AT, for example, an extra shell was added to the torch neck interface to prevent the penetration of welding spatters. The additional part is easily replaceable when needed.
During the course of a working day, a professional welder can weld in many different and challenging positions, putting their body under hours of physical strain. The most difficult and stressful position is the overhead position, as it can require both hands to steady the welding torch and achieve good quality weld seams.
What Are the Options
It is proven that welding overhead has a significant strain on the muscles and also takes a lot of concentration to achieve a consistent weld. With a lightweight torch in their hands, the muscle strain is reduced considerably especially when used with a torch neck that is optimized for the job.
Testing Makes Perfect
It’s not just in the overhead position that welders benefit from a lightweight torch. We ran an internal handling comparison test with 5 experienced welders, performing 6 periods of 5-minute continuous welds (in total 120 mins including recovery periods). The test carried out was a constant oscillation in U-profile steel. The aim was to create torsion and strain on the wrist to test stress on the muscle.
It was unanimously agreed that the lightweight torches (in this case the MB EVO PRO & ABIMIG® AT) both improved handling and reduced strain on the hand and forearm against a standard MIG welding torch.
Adaption Makes Welding Easier
Scientific studies, taking measurements according to the PIMEX* method (PIcture Mixed EXposure, used to describe the synchronous recording and visual presentation of workload and employees’ medical data in real-time), show a significant reduction in musculoskeletal load when using a lightweight torch fitted with the right torch neck for the job.
The Results Speak for Themselves
To get the best results when welding, it is important to feel comfortable and use good posture. Selecting the correct torch neck (dimension, angle, and alignment) is crucial when achieving that. While welding overhead, we compared a welder using a standard torch against a lightweight torch, in this case, the ABIMIG® AT 355, which was fitted with an extra-long neck. The effects are shown in the graphs aside.
Reducing Downside Increases Efficiency
The front-end of any welding torch is subject to extreme conditions, mechanical and thermal, as well as spatter adhesion. As a result, the torch neck is the non-consumable part of the torch that will need replacing the most. The time required to replace a standard fixed torch neck could take from 30 minutes up to one hour and requires tools to do so. With the lightweight torch range ABIMIG® AT, a neck change takes less than 30 seconds.
Measurement results with the standard MIG gun neck. Here, the welder is mostly in an ergonomically awkward position.
Measurement results with the custom MIG gun neck. Here, the welder is mostly in ergonomically and physically friendly positions.
There’s a welder working on a large shipyard using a standard fixed neck MIG welding torch. Their torch neck becomes damaged and now needs replacing and replaced quickly as the job has now stopped.
There’s a problem though - they don’t have a spare neck and the tools needed in their possession, and the consumables stores/maintenance area is a 15-minute walk across the other side of the shipyard. Add that to the repair time, and production will have stopped for well over an hour - the production manager is not going to be very pleased.
With a torch neck system using quick-change torch necks – such as ABIMIG® AT, this scenario could be prevented. Now the welders can take a spare neck with them to wherever they are working on the site. If their original neck fails mid-job, they can quickly change it over themselves without any tools and be back to welding in under 30 seconds. This makes complicated, time-consuming on-site torch neck replacements a thing of the past.
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Design and Performance
No matter the welder‘s industry, a lightweight, ergonomically formed torch lends itself to improved performance and greater value to the welder and company. The welder is satisfied because of an improved experience with the torch and the company will have increased productivity with an ergonomic torch. But how should a torch be designed to guarantee these benefits?
Weight and Balance
One important feature of an ergonomically designed torch is it‘s balance point. Lightweight torches from ABICOR BINZEL are optimally balanced near the trigger so that the welder does not have to exert unnecessary force fighting the weight of a heavy cable or neck.
Without the necessity to constantly fight an unbalanced torch, welders will notice a lot less neck pain during work. A balanced torch design can have a positive impact on the welder’s health.
What Else Keeps the Welder Healthy and Productive?
The welders’ hand and the welding torch are connected when performing the work. Therefore, the torch should fit the welder's hand perfectly.
The distance and angle between the trigger and finger are important because the welder has to apply pressure to the trigger many times during his workday.
It is important to find the perfect trigger angle and weight balance so that welders with different hand sizes can comfortably operate the torch for a full shift.
Also, the grip and the length of the handle are vital factors as to whether a torch is comfortable for a welder or not. The handle has to be friendly to grip and not too long. Unnecessarily long handles are difficult to maneuver in confined spaces and increased force is required to change welding positions.
Welding is a tough job, and lightweight, ergonomically designed torches can at least make this job a little bit more pleasant. With the ABICOR BINZEL lightweight torches, the welder has increased freedom of movement. Flexibility in the cable and the handle means the welder can change positions without problems. The welder is able to maneuver easier and faster with a lightweight torch.
Out-of-position welding is more comfortable with a light and ergonomically fitting torch. The welder can do the work without finding ways to reach positions all the time; instead, the welder simply adjusts the torch neck or installs the appropriate one, and takes the torch to the position he or she wants. A comfortable lightweight torch helps the welder to not tire so quickly. This means the welder’s body stays fit and they will have more energy to do their work better the entire shift.
Trigger designs also help in keeping the welder comfortable and expending less energy to do the work. A torch that has several available trigger options provides better handling – more comfort.
Flexibility is a significant issue for welders. Besides routine welding, the welder often has to adapt to new challenging welding jobs. Because lightweight torches weigh less than standard copper cable torches and the handle is made to adapt to the welder’s hand, the welder has the opportunity to change their grip quicker when they reach a different position.
A torch with handle features like cut-outs at the ball socket offers a higher degree of flexibility, so oscillation while welding is a lot easier for the welder.
The welder can move the torch side to side easily, and there is an improved balance while welding.
Whether it is because of difficult to reach areas or long welds, a flexible comfortable torch is always a superior option.
Lightweight, comfortably built ergonomic torches help the welder stay strong and energized.
With a less strained welder, the quality of the welding seam remains consistent for a longer period of time.
The performance is further improved by the ease of reaching challenging welding spots with lightweight torches.
The welder can move quicker and easier with a lightweight torch!
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Proving the Effect on the Welder
Physically, the work shift day of a welder is extremely tiring. Exactly how tiring it is was determined in a study by the Department of Sports Medicine at Justus-Liebig-University (JLU), Giessen, Germany.
“Making what the welder feels visible” was a good description of the goal. The aim was to investigate where the main exertions lie in the muscles. Based on scientific findings, compensatory exercise programs can be developed and posture recommendations given, which protect workers in the sense of preventing the consequences of one-sided exertion and permanent bodily injury. The data compiled should also be used in the development of new ergonomic welding torches.
Whether an athlete, laborer or welder, each delivers performance and becomes fatigued by doing so. With physical fatigue performance declines and concentration declines with it. In the course of an entirely normal shift, the welder is subject to severe physical exertion. Holding a specific posture over a long period, combined with high temperatures, the weight of the welding torch and the required protective clothing including the gloves and welding mask as well as high precision work with the materials – whether thick steel or thin aluminum – stretch the worker to the limit.
The existing statistics reveal that welders increasingly have back and shoulder problems, and therefore, the focus of the research work was on those muscle groups involved.
With the aid of electromyography, the muscle tension was measured. Heart rate, blood pressure, and lactate were other parameters for measuring exertion during welding work. The test welders had to take up various working postures and use two welding torches of the same amperage but of different weight – one with a lightweight hose package and one with a standard hose package. The PF, or up-hand seated, position and the PD, or horizontal/overhead standing position, were observed.
In each position, welding was carried out for 5 periods of 5-minute welding with pauses of 30 seconds between stages. After their performance, blood lactate, blood pressure, and heart rate were measured and the subjective perceived exertion was queried during the welding activity. To assess the subjective perceived exertion the Borg Rating scale was used (known as Borg RPE). On this scale from 6 to 20, with 6 being “no activity at all” and 20 being “maximal exertion”, the evaluation of the exertion increases linearly with performance and can then be related to the physiological measurement parameters.
The muscle activity was measured using 8-channel EMG and the software for computer-aided recording and analysis of the data. In addition, at the same time, the welding activities were recorded with a video camera. Eight muscles were measured on the dominant hand.
And the Results!
The results for the perceived exertion show that the welders feel significantly less exertion when working with a lightweight torch. Evidence of this is also provided by lower blood pressure values. The most important result is that the muscular exertion on 5 out of 8 muscles is significantly lower in both welding positions when the lightweight torch is used.
The scale shows the results for position PF (up-hand) and those for position PD (overhead). The shoulder and arm muscles, in particular, were subject to significantly less strain. In practical operation, this results in fewer complaints and consequently lower downtimes caused by absence due to injury.
The Borg scale is an evaluation method invented by Prof. Dr. Gunnar Borg (Stockholm) for the evaluation of subjective perceived exertion.
To summarize, it can be stated that it is primarily the shoulder and arm muscles that are strained during welding work in the PF and PD positions and that a lighter welding torch proved to be advantageous and less of a strain. This became the first study ever published that verified that a lighter torch has a significant impact on the performance of the welder. Lightweight welding torches have been in use on an industrial scale for many years now and have received a very positive reception among professional welders. The weight reduction means that welders feel less strain in their daily work.
Effects of Lightweight Torches
The strain on the welder during the welding process should be relieved as extensively as possible. Muscular strains can cause pain in the area of the musculoskeletal system. The less strain there is on the body, the better the welding results and illness and sick leave can be prevented. Less illness and sick leave lead to major cost savings.
Lighter torch hose packages, for example, provide “lighter work” in positions that are often very static, for example in the case of overhead welding.
Lightweight Torch Muscle Strain Study
Another scientific study of the Department of Sports Medicine of the Justus-Liebig-University Giessen in Germany examined the strain of muscles and its effect on the welder performance in form of welding seams using a low weight torch compared with a standard torch of the same amperage. Both welding torches have been tested by the probands in the welding positions PE and PA.
The scientific data show significant relief, especially in the neck muscles. More relaxed welding and a better feeling after work. In the study carried out under real working conditions, quality measurements were taken for welding speed, torch angle, arc length, seam appearance etc., these were then recorded in an augmented reality welding simulator.
All measured factors have a real impact on the quality of the welding seam. Therefore, science proves that reduced muscle strain makes better welding possible.
This really brings the scientific studies to the next level and proves that the positive effect claimed by welding torch producers is not just another marketing slogan.
Measured subjective operator fatigue, when using the Borg RPE scale, highlighted an improvement of up to 25 %, when comparing the weight reduced torch to the conventional air-cooled torch of the same ampere performance level.
Here again one can state that using a lightweight torch gives a better feeling to the welder and results in more fun while carrying out his profession.
Taking all the positive effects on welder´s health, fitness, overall feeling, and performance a trial of low weight air-cooled MIG guns really can be taken as a good idea. The use of reduced weight welding torches really is a win-win situation. Welders feel fitter, can work more comfortably, have more fun welding and welding seam result are better. For the company, this leads to less rework, increased productivity in the welding departments and lower costs for illness and sick leave. So the investment in one of these innovative products – welding torches with a weight-reduced cable assembly – will pay off for sure.