MIG Welding Equipment

Gas metal arc or MIG welding equipment consists of a welding gun, a power supply, a shielding gas supply, and a wire-drive system which pulls the wire electrode from a spool and pushes it through a welding gun. A source of cooling water may be required for the welding gun. In passing through the gun, the wire becomes energized by contact with a copper contact tube, which transfers current from a power source to the arc. While simple in principle, a system of accurate controls is employed to initiate and terminate the shielding gas and cooling water, operate the welding contactor, and control electrode feed speed as required. The basic features of MIG welding equipment are shown in figure 10-45. The MIG welding process is used for semiautomatic, machine, and automatic welding. Semiautomatic MIG welding is often referred to as manual welding.

MIG welding equipment

Two types of power sources are used for MIG welding: constant current and constant voltage.

MIG Welding Equipment : Constant current power supply. With this type of MIG welding equipment, the welding current is established by the appropriate setting on the power supply. Arc length (voltage) is controlled by the automatic adjustment of the electrode feed rate. This type of welding is best suited to large diameter electrodes and machine or automatic welding, where very rapid change of electrode feed rate is not required. Most constant current power sources have a drooping volt-ampere output characteristic. However, true constant current machines are available. Constant current power sources are not normally selected for MIG welding because of the control needed for electrode feed speed. The systems are not self-regulating.

MIG Welding Equipment : Constant voltage power supply. The arc voltage is established by setting the output voltage on the power supply. The power source will supply the necessary amperage to melt the welding electrode at the rate required to maintain the present voltage or relative arc length. The speed of the electrode drive is used to control the average welding current. This characteristic is generally preferred for the welding of all metals. The use of this type of power supply in conjunction with a constant wire electrode feed results in a self-correcting arc length system.

Motor generator or dc rectifier power sources of either type may be used. With a pulsed direct current power supply, the power source pulses the dc output from a low background value to a high peak value. Because the average power is lower, pulsed welding current can be used to weld thinner sections than those that are practical with steady dc spray transfer.

MIG Welding Equipment : Welding guns. Welding guns for MIG welding are available for manual manipulation (semiautomatic welding) and for machine or automatic welding. Because the electrode is fed continuously, a welding gun must have a sliding electrical contact to transmit the welding current to the electrode. The gun must also have a gas passage and a nozzle to direct the shielding gas around the arc and the molten weld pool. Cooling is required to remove the heat generated within the gun and radiated from the welding arc and the molten weld metal. Shielding gas, internal circulating water, or both, are used for cooling. An electrical switch is needed to start and stop the welding current, the electrode feed system, and shielding gas flow.

MIG Welding Equipment : Semiautomatic guns. Semiautomatic, hand-held guns are usually similar to a pistol in shape. Sometimes they are shaped similar to an oxyacetylene torch, with electrode wire fed through the barrel or handle. In some versions of the pistol design, where the most cooling is necessary, water is directed through passages in the gun to cool both the contact tube and the metal shielding gas nozzle. The curved gun uses a curved current-carrying body at the front end, through which the shielding gas is brought to the nozzle. This type of gun is designed for small diameter wires and is flexible and maneuverable. It is suited for welding in tight, hard to reach corners and other confined places. Guns are equipped with metal nozzles of various internal diameters to ensure adequate gas shielding. The orifice usually varies from approximately 3/8 to 7/8 in. (10 to 22 mm), depending upon welding requirements. The nozzles are usually threaded to make replacement easier. The conventional pistol type holder is also used for arc spot welding applications where filler metal is required. The heavy nozzle of the holder is slotted to exhaust the gases away from the spot. The pistol grip handle permits easy manual loading of the holder against the work. The welding control is designed to regulate the flow of cooling water and the supply of shielding gas. It is also designed to prevent the wire freezing to the weld by timing the weld over a preset interval. A typical semiautomatic gas-cooled gun is shown in figure 10-46.

Gas cooled MIG welding gun.

MIG Welding Equipment : Air cooled guns. Air-cooled guns are available for applications where water is not readily obtainable as a cooling medium. These guns are available for service up to 600 amperes, intermittent duty, with carbon dioxide shielding gas. However, they are usually limited to 200 amperes with argon or helium shielding. The holder is generally pistol-like and its operation is similar to the water-cooled type. Three general types of air-cooled guns are available.  1. A gun that has the electrode wire fed to it through a flexible conduit from a remote wire feeding mechanism. The conduit is generally in the 12 ft (3.7 m) length range due to the wire feeding limitations of a push-type system. Steel wires of 7/20 to 15/16 in. (8.9 to 23.8 mm) diameter and aluminum wires of 3/64 to 1/8 in. (1.19 to 3.18 mm) diameter can be fed with this arrangement.  2. A gun that has a self-contained wire feed mechanism and electrode wire supply. The wire supply is generally in the form of a 4 in. (102 mm) diameter, 1 to 2-1/2 lb (0.45 to 1.1 kg) spool. This type of gun employs a pull-type wire feed system, and it is not limited by a 12 ft (3.7 m) flexible conduit. Wire diameters of 3/10 to 15/32 in. (7.6 to 11.9 mm) are normally used with this type of gun. 3. A pull-type gun that has the electrode wire fed to it through a flexible conduit from a remote spool. This incorporates a self-contained wire feeding mechanism. It can also be used in a push-pull type feeding system. The system permits the use of flexible conduits in lengths up to 50 ft (15 m) or more from the remote wire feeder. Aluminum and steel electrodes with diameters of 3/10 to 5/8 in. (7.6 to 15.9 mm) can be used with these types of feed mechanisms.

Water-cooled guns for manual MIG welding similar to gas-cooled types with the addition of water cooling ducts. The ducts circulate water around the contact tube and the gas nozzle. Water cooling permits the gun to operate continuously at rated capacity and at lower temperatures. Water-coded guns are used for applications requiring 200 to 750 amperes. The water in and out lines to the gun add weight and reduce maneuverability of the gun for welding.

The selection of air or water cooled MIG welding guns is based on the type of shielding gas, welding current range, materials, weld joint design, and existing shop practice. Air-cooled guns are heavier than water-cooled guns of the same welding current capacity. However, air-cooled guns are easier to manipulate to weld out-of-position and in confined areas.