MetalCraft Marine Charts a Course

Monday, December 1, 2014

Nearly five years ago, Ontario, Canada-based MetalCraft Marine, an integrated designer and builder of custom high-performance aluminum work boats, faced a much-needed welding-equipment upgrade. Old machines were failing and downtime for maintenance and repairs was on the rise. In addition, inefficiencies in energy consumption forced the company to run fewer welding machines than the workload required. As all of these issues undermined fabricating productivity, management at the boat-building company realized it had to plot a course for more reliable equipment, lower operating costs and more efficient processes.

MetalCraft Marine boats
MetalCraft Marine produces boats for firefighting, marine patrolling, search-and-rescue and related functions. Most of the metal alloys used in production are aluminum grades from 5⁄32 to 1 in.; welds are either butt or fillet welds, with occasional plug welds.
The MetalCraft Marine factory in Kingston, Ontario (a second factory is in Cape Vincent, NY) produces boats for firefighting, marine patrolling, search-and-rescue and related functions. Founded in 1987, the firm supplies government agencies in North America and around the world—the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Coast Guard and various local and regional port authorities. Although 70 percent of its customer base is in Canada and the United States, it also services customers in Oman, Zambia, Kuwait and Australia. The company employs a staff of 140 in Canada and 17 in the United States, and registered $20 million in sales in 2013.

The vast majority (97 percent) of alloys used in production are aluminum grades. Other materials include mild steel (2 percent) and stainless steel (1 percent). Plate thickness ranges from 5⁄32 to 1 in.; welds are either butt or fillet welds, with occasional plug welds.

Aesthetics play an important role in the MetalCraft Marine work ethic. So, while sound welds may be the backbone of a well-constructed boat, every member of the MetalCraft construction team also takes pride in the appearance of every weld on every panel.

Energy and Quality

In 2009, MetalCraft Marine’s arc-welding equipment was approaching the end of its service life. In updating its equipment, general manager Michael Allen and his crew saw an opportunity to improve productivity and realize energy savings.

“We had been using the same welding equipment for 15 to 20 years, and our processes were not very automated,” says Allen. “The idea of acquiring welding equipment with some built-in intelligence was new to us, and we didn’t really know what to expect.

“In addition to improving production efficiencies and reducing energy costs,” Allen continues, “adherence to quality standards in the midst of updating equipment and processes was a big concern. We already had established an industry-leading 10-yr. warranty on hull seams, and we were committed to maintaining that warranty. We had to ensure, with the transition to new welding equipment, that we did not fall behind in terms of quality. That meant we had to take care to define the right welding procedures in terms of travel speed and other parameters so that the quality of the work did not suffer.”

In addition, because of the age of the previous welding equipment, the need for maintenance, repairs and proper calibration had become increasingly frequent, and replacement parts were getting difficult to find. Also, the older welding machines were large and heavy, and often got in the way of operations.

 Power Wave S350 power sources and Power Feed 25M wire feeders from Lincoln Electric
MetalCraft Marine welders use Power Wave S350 power sources and Power Feed 25M wire feeders from Lincoln Electric to assemble frames (above) and hull sections. The new welding equipment has dramatically improved energy efficiency, and allowed MetalCraft to run as many as eight machines at a time rather than just four with its previous welding equipment.
Energy consumption also was prohibitive to the company’s overall workflow. The old machines drew a full 30 A, limiting the shop to running only four machines at a time. “That’s enough for one of our welding teams, and we use one team per boat,” says Allen. “That meant we could only weld one boat at a time, or two at a time at a slower pace. This combined with the frequency of equipment breakdowns often put us behind schedule.”

New Technology a Lifesaver

To the weld shop’s rescue came new arc-welding power supplies and wire feeders—Power Wave S350 power sources and Power Feed 25M wire feeders from Lincoln Electric. Together the combination has dramatically improved energy efficiency at the Kingston facility, enough for MetalCraft to run eight machines at a time rather than just four.

“By running eight machines,” says Allen, “each of which draw only 8 to 12A most of the time, we have doubled our daily welding output, and even tripled it in some cases.”

But more than just an infusion of new equipment, the welding-productivity solution at MetalCraft also included technical welding support and onsite education.

“Lincoln spent a great deal of time with us, specifying exactly what we needed,” says Allen. “And then, when we brought the equipment on board Lincoln representatives spent four or five months returning periodically to work with our welders and bring them up to speed. They also helped us redefine our welding procedures to take full advantage of the new and more advanced equipment.”

With the Power Wave machines up and running, MetalCraft Marine then took the next step toward optimizing its welding performance by making a change in weld wires. The new wire on board: Lincoln’s SuperGlaze 5356 aluminum gas-metal-arc-welding (GMAW) wire.

“When it comes to weld wire, I’m looking for consistency day in and day out,” says Allen. “With SuperGlaze, our welders appreciate how it comes off of the spool properly. And, we avoid any problems with porosity or any of the other issues typically associated with poor weld-wire quality.”

The quantifiable and dramatic improvements in MetalCraft Marine’s overall operation were almost immediate, says Allen.

“The new equipment, and the consulting advice that came with it, has enabled us to improve our aluminum-welding efficiency by 20 percent,” he says. “That’s a 20-percent reduction in the time it takes to build a boat. As a result, the new equipment paid for itself in less than one year. We’re experiencing less rework, better weld appearance, fewer quality inspections and improved efficiencies. While our welders used to spend a lot of time changing the parameters on the old power supplies just to make things work, now they have the right tools to do the job.”

Other Opportunities

The MetalCraft Marine story doesn’t end with the installation of the Power Wave machines, new wire feeders and a change in weld wires; Allen continues to seek ways to improve productivity and efficiency. One option he’s considering is Lincoln Electric’s advanced module for the Power Wave that adds gas-tungsten-arc welding (GTAW), AC GTAW and high-frequency GTAW capabilities to the machines.

“We think that has some real potential,” he says. “We don’t need a GTAW machine full-time, but every welding team—which consists of four or five welding machines—at some point needs to perform some GTA welding. Adding that module could provide a big benefit by giving us flexibility without requiring a huge investment.”

Allen also has invested to improve the air quality in the 10,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing plant. While he first considered a solution requiring pushing fresh air through the top of the plant and collecting particulate from the bottom, he discovered that the airflow would not have been very manageable.

“Lincoln Electric’s environmental specialist then explained to us why we needed to go with a filtration system that’s up in the ceiling and pushes air from one side while pulling particulate from the other,” Allen says. “We’re really happy with the resulting air-filtration system that we developed with Lincoln.”

Investing in Workers

In addition to improving efficiency, productivity and environmental safety, MetalCraft Marine’s ongoing relationship with Lincoln Electric has opened up training opportunities for new hires that might lack the necessary experience to weld aluminum hulls.

“We set up a training program, and the feedback we get is that the new welding equipment is relatively easy to use,” says Allen. “We have good procedures identified in preset user memories, so that a welder just has to press a button or two and he’s ready to weld.”MF

Article provided by Lincoln Electric Co.,


See also: Lincoln Electric Co.

Related Enterprise Zones: Welding

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