Changing trends in semi-automatic MIG guns

New features, configurations help welders improve training, reduce costs.

By Andy Monk August 21, 2015

There are many considerations that factor into a company’s ability to achieve the best quality and highest productivity in the welding operation. Everything from selecting the right power source and welding process to the organization of the weld cell and workflow play a role in that success. Although a smaller part of the whole operation, MIG guns also play an important part.

In addition to being responsible for delivering the current to create the arc that generates the weld, MIG guns are also the one piece of equipment that directly impacts the welding operator—day in and day out, shift after shift. The heat of the gun, along with the weight and repetitive motion of welding make it necessary to find the right gun to improve comfort and allow the welding operator the opportunity to put his or her best skills forward.

With that in mind, MIG gun manufacturers throughout the industry have identified ways to make MIG guns more ergonomic and perform better. Changes that help expedite welding operator training and improve the welding environment also continue to emerge, as do MIG guns designed to reduce costs.

Building in features

Manufacturers continue to build features into MIG guns to help welding operators gain the highest level of quality, while also assisting them in producing a greater level of throughput.

While it may seem like a minor advancement, the addition of a swivel at the base of the MIG gun handle has become an important feature that contributes positively to welding operator comfort and productivity. MIG guns that provide a 360-degree swivel offer greater maneuverability for accessing weld joints and are less fatiguing to adjust throughout the course of a welding shift. This feature also reduces the strain on the power cable, resulting in less downtime and costs for changeover. The addition of rubber handle over-molding, which is becoming more popular in industrial settings, can further improve MIG gun ergonomics by providing welding operators with a more secure and comfortable grip. The over-molding can also help reduce vibrations during the welding process, minimizing hand and wrist fatigue.

MIG gun manufacturers are also adding in features to their products that help minimize costs. Among those are front-loading liners. These liners, as their name implies, load from the front of the gun (after the initial installation of the system), as opposed to conventional liners that load from the back of the gun. The benefit to front-loading liners is that they simplify installation.

After the initial installation of the front-loading liner system (completed similarly to a conventional liner), the welding operator or maintenance personnel needs only to remove the nozzle and retaining head, pull out the existing front-loading liner and replace it with a new one; the gun remains attached to the feeder during this process, and wire also remains in place. As a rule, front-loading liners can cut installation time in half, minimizing costly downtime.

Some manufacturers also offer a spring-loaded module that works in conjunction with a front-load liner to help minimize issues if the liner has accidentally been trimmed to an incorrect length. These modules sit in the power pin and put forward pressure on the liner after installing it from the front of the gun, providing up to 1 inch of forgiveness if the liner is too short.

Reducing fume

As companies seek out ways to address environmental regulations and create a safer, cleaner and more compliant welding operation, fume extraction guns have increased in popularity. These guns capture weld fume and visible smoke right at the source, over and around the weld pool. They operate by way of a vacuum chamber that suctions the fumes through the handle of the gun, into the gun’s hose through to a port on the filtration system.

While effective in helping remove weld fume, fume extraction guns in the past have been rather heavy and bulky; they are larger than standard MIG guns in order to accommodate the vacuum chamber and the extraction hose. This extra bulk could increase welding operator fatigue and limit his or her ability to maneuver around the welding application.

Manufacturers today offer fume extraction guns that are smaller (near the size of a standard MIG gun) and that feature swiveled handles to make them easier to manage. Some fume extraction guns now also feature adjustable extraction control regulators at the front of the gun handle. These allow welding operators to easily balance suction with shielding gas flow to protect against porosity.

Configuring a MIG gun

As the fabrication and manufacturing industries evolve, companies need to seek out welding equipment that can meet those changing demands—and no single MIG gun can do the job for every application. To ensure companies have the exact MIG gun necessary, many manufacturers have moved toward configurable products.

MIG guns can be custom built, usually using an online configurator, according to multiple options: amperage, cable type and length, handle type (straight or curved), and neck length and angle. These configurators also offer the option to select the type of contact tip and MIG gun liners. Upon selecting the desired features for a given MIG gun, companies can purchase the unique part number through a welding distributor.

Adding to the configurability of many of today’s MIG guns are accessories designed to augment their performance. Flexible necks, for example, can save labor and time by allowing the welding operator to rotate or bend the neck to the desired angle. Neck grips can add to operator comfort by reducing heat exposure and helping the welding operator maintain a steady position, leading to less fatigue and better weld quality.

Other trends

With the advent of advanced welding information management systems—software—driven solutions that gather weld data and can monitor most every aspect of the welding process—specialized MIG guns with a built-interface have also been introduced to the marketplace. These guns pair with the weld sequencing functions of the welding information management system, using the screen to guide the welding operator through the order and placement of each weld.

Similarly, some welding performance training systems feature MIG guns with built-in displays that provide visual feedback regarding proper gun angle, travel speeds and more, allowing the welding operator to make corrections as he or she trains. Both types of guns have been designed to help streamline welding operator training and, like other MIG guns in today’s marketplace, can help support the creation of high-quality welds and positive levels of productivity in the welding operation.

Andy Monk is senior product manager at Bernard.