Feeding Aluminum MIG Wire: It Doesn’t Have to be Scary

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by Michael Klee 


Usually, when you speak to someone about aluminum welding, their first reaction is to look a bit panicked. The perception is that aluminum is difficult to deal with – from cleanliness, to the thermal conductivity, bead appearance, and feeding that soft wire when MIG welding. It can all seem a bit intimidating if you’ve never had to deal with it before. On the last point, if you’re just performing semi-automatic GMAW using a spool of aluminum wire, feeding it is relatively simple. Ensure your contact tip, drive rolls, and liner are correct, use a good quality push-pull gun, and you should be off to the races.

More and more aluminum is being welded in an automotive environment today than ever before. This usually means some form of arc welding robot system is being used to weld parts. In this situation, a 20 lb spool of wire is really not practical to use. The robotic systems are meant to have high uptime, so stopping to change a spool out all the time isn’t productive. Just like steel though, aluminum can be packed in bulk to help increase productivity by eliminating spool change over time.

But now we’re introducing another potential problem. As aluminum is a soft and active wire, there can be some challenges when trying to feed from a bulk system. The wire will have a tendency to tangle, which creates a pretty big feeding issue, and you’re left with downtime, which will cost you money.

Lincoln Electric has created a product that helps with this problem – the Gem-Pak. This system uses glass gems to help eliminate tangles while feeding aluminum wire. Fewer feeding issues means less downtime, and high production rates for your welding systems. A forklift-ready mini pallet is attached to the box, as well as straps to lift it – a completely mobile bulk package either by
forklift or crane. Since the package is made from cardboard, glass gems, and aluminum wire, this system is also 100 per cent recyclable when you’re done with it.

The Gem-Pak offers up to 300 lbs in one package to achieve maximum up time – approximately 30 minutes for a change over, or 540 minutes total change over for the equivalent weight in spools (about 18.75 spools per one Gem-Pak). This can mean as much as a 94 per cent decrease in spool change over time. That’s a lot of production time gained. Depending on how much welding you’re doing, usually a package will only need to be changed once or twice a month.

Case studies have shown that the Gem-Pak not only helps to reduce downtime, but end users can boost their productivity by increasing wire feed speeds. The unique winding and packaging reduces the amount of pull force required to feed the aluminum, which helps to increase the usable wire speed range and increases deposition rates.

In one specific case, an end user reported that they previously had to reduce their wire feed speeds with other bulk packages to reduce tangles and feed issues. By switching to the Gem-Pak, they were able to increase their wire feed speeds, as well as travel speeds. This particular automotive user reported a 12.5 per cent increase in productivity, a 3 per cent decrease in rework, and a 50 per cent reduction in contact tip and liner usage, realizing $722,983.61 in annual savings.

As there are many different aluminum applications, and many different alloys, the Gem-Pak is offered for 0.035 – 1/16 in. diameters and all the major filler metal welding alloys. SMT

Michael Klee is a welding engineering technologist with Lincoln Electric.

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