I am an undergraduate student at University of Edinburgh and worked under Professor Anil Gupta’s guidance for a little over 4 weeks to do a project on street side welding. When I first met Prof. Gupta (referred to as ‘Prof’ hereon), he talked to me about the possibility of welders depositing too much material while welding products for domestic market e.g. grills, doors, sheds. This was fuelled by the common observation of extra, ugly-looking material left between grill and door joints. So, he asked me to do a survey of as many small, non-industrial fabricators as I could to figure out what was behind this apparent inaccuracy and unaesthetic finishing.
Starting on July 24th, 2012 I visited welders in Ahmedabad to find an answer to this question. My first day was completely futile as I asked the wrong questions, expected the wrong outcomes and wandered cluelessly. At this point, I was saved by Prof’s friend Prof. Sanjay Sarma from MIT with whom I had a telephonic conversation. We talked at length about what I wanted to achieve, how I wished to do it and why I took this up. Thankfully, Prof. Sarma understood my confusion.
We figured the best outcome from our discussion would be if I get a direction. That’s what he gave me. He asked me to start asking welders about the power usage, kind of electrodes and equipment used, time the welding if possible and thereby calculate speed, and question their decisions for each of the above. But before any of that, he asked me to read documents on arc welding so that I knew the theory with which to compare the practice. Let me state here that we made a conscious decision to stick to arc (SMAW) welding for the survey due to its larger range of applications and commonplaceness in the domestic welding market.
What followed was a journey through the work of 30-odd welders, working primarily with mild steel and sometimes with stainless steel, fabricating products ranging from grills and sheds to racks and staircases. Within my first few meetings with welders, I realised that getting numerical data was extremely difficult since their welding jobs were short and unevenly spread throughout the day. What was unmissable though was some very important qualitative data.
Comments/problems/potential solutions that I came across while speaking to welders in and around Ahmedabad
- Most welders hardly ever use welding glass. They find it difficult to hold the work piece and see properly where they’re welding when holding the glass. There are special goggles but they are way more expensive than normal goggles (which welders like to use under the misconception that they protect their eyes). An idea is to invent a film that can be stuck on to the goggles to make them more protective against UV rays.
- Current output from welding machines cannot be regulated over small units i.e. jumps between consecutive values are big and abrupt e.g. 45-80-115-150 and so on. Idea: Using a dial to change current output could be useful; I only found this at one place- a factory in Vatva.
- Some welders were found to bend their electrodes slightly. While some would say it’s just a welder’s preference, a more logical explanation seemed to be ergonomics. Welders found it easier to keep their hand comfortably steady when the rod was bent at some angle.
- Mangilalbhai, a welder from Bopal, introduced me to an important procedure while making doors. He made sure that the MS sheet was properly pressed down before welding was done. He explained that this kept the door from buckling or being out of shape.
- An interesting thing to come across was the use of 2 welding rods to weld. Whenever a welder found too big a gap between two work pieces, he would use 2 welding rods- one with the covering material and one without- to form a thicker weld. It might be interesting to do a stress test and see how strong the welding is in this process.
- Portable welding machines were found to be extremely inefficient particularly because they have only one output amperage. The one I found was at 150 A which is much higher than what most jobs need. It would be worthwhile to look into how this problem can be solved while keeping the constraints of cost and weight in mind.
- Another ergonomic issue I came across was about exposing the site of welding. I saw a welder put a hammer under the door he was welding so that he could tilt it slightly and better expose the area where he had to weld.
- Something that struck me as very odd was when I saw a welder weld a Galvanised Steel (GS) wire mesh onto an MS plate. The problem with welding GS is that it produces zinc oxide fumes which are a safety hazard. Worth noting is that the welder here was Jayanthilal bhai, working in Bopal and having been in this line of work for about 25 years. He had also been a welder in Kuwait. This brings about a serious issue of negligence and lack of information.
- Although this has nothing to do with the aim of the survey, it is worth showing that educating the country’s work force is a still a major issue. What the welder here wishes to write is 11.6×2, 10.6×2, 9.6×2 and so on i.e. he needs to cut 2 sections 11.6 inches in length and so on. What is also notable is that this man doesn’t have the need to stick to proper notation. The dilemma is whether to try to train this man to the correct notation or simply let him keep doing his job which doesn’t seem to be affected. The welder in question is Pannalal bhai who’s been a welder for over 7 years.
- One of the statements that most rung in my ear was by Pradeepbhai Panchal, who has been in the fabrication line for about 30 years. He was hands down the most experienced man i came across. He was so confident about his welding that he claimed to be able to tell how the weld would be by just listening to the sound of the welding being done. I never got a chance to take him up on that claim but he said something very interesting. He said he works only on experience and has no place for theory in his practice. In a sense, he has formed his own theory. It would be nice to spend time with him and create a document with his knowledge of process parameters and then compare this to existing theory.
Quirky stories: The following anecdotes have nothing to do with the survey. They’re just some funny stuff I picked up on my journey.
Another one was when I saw a guy light a cigarette using a welding rod! Wish I had a picture!
Visit to Junagadh:
I’d spent a lot of time seeing what welders were doing but to put into practical perspective I decided that I needed to learn welding. I talked to Prof and he immediately gave me the contact info of Amrutbhai Agravat, a senior Honey Bee member, and his son, Bharatbhai Agravat. I left for Junagadh on Aug 12th and reached on 13th morning. I spent the next couple of days experimenting enthusiastically in Amrutbhai’s workshop amid painful realisation that welding is in fact a very involved technique.
Bharatbhai, a true innovator at heart, suggested that we experiment on pieces of different sizes and thicknesses with varying current to see the quality of welding with each setting. We experimented with 19 samples and the ultimate conclusion was that we got the best result when Bharatbhai would weld with his intuition. This came as much as a surprise as a sigh of relief. It explained to me that most welders form, over time, a mental note of welding propriety and tend to stick with it. The only problem is how to shorten that time period that it takes for them to reach that stage. And in the process, also preserve aesthetics of the product. Below are some pictures from Amrutbhai’s workshop.
An extremely exciting event during my training was this:
Now anyone who’s done welding will be able to appreciate how big an achievement this was for me. It is only when you have the perfect weld that the upper layer of slag rises up automatically like it is in the above picture. I was elated to say the least!
Meeting with welders:
As a conclusion to the survey, Prof proposed that we call in welders for a discussion with members of Sristi and among themselves to facilitate free flow of ideas and also encourage them to come up with solutions. So that’s what we did. On 18th August, a group of 20-odd people gathered in wing 11 of IIM to discuss about what changes they wished to see in welding and how they could be brought about.
From left: Kamal K. Gupta (businessman, engineering manufacturing), Abhihek(businessman), Chhote (welder), Dinesh (welder), Abhinav (student intern), Ajay (welder), Jagdish (businessman, fabrication unit), Professor Anil K Gupta, Pradeepbhai Panchal (businessman, fabrication unit), Sunilbhai (businessman, fabrication unit), Rakesh Maheshwari (Innovation Officer, NIF), Chintan Shah (businessman, fabrication unit and mineral water), Chintan Vinod Shinde (Research Scholar), Hiranmay Mahanta (NIF), Nazeembhai (Innovator), Marianne Esders (Research Scholar)
In a long discussion where Prof introduced Honey Bee to the welders and welcomed them to use Honey Bee’s resources for research an innovation, a lot of new information emerged. When the welders were shown pictures of poor welding across the IIM campus, they got together to give us details about what’s wrong in the process and how it can be improved. A brief summary of the discussion is as follows.
Non-process factors that influence welding:
- Machine: Cu or Al windings, air cooled or oil cooled, rectifier ( to convert AC to DC) used or not, current limitation (amperage output cannot be changed) of portable machine
- Electrode: quality issues- chemical covering may be too thick
- Material: Quality- re-rolled sheets are harder thereby reducing welding efficiency, material is not smooth – Cutting- Material is not cut/ shaped properly, V sections not made where welding is to be done
- Current- function of material thickness, output of welding machine, depends on how well-educated the welder is
- Measurement- Use of inches instead of mm! , material is not leveled before welding
- CUSTOMER- welding can be better or worse depending on what the customer demands, saving both time and money adversely affects quality
- Pradeep bhai mentioned ‘apni khushi ke liye kaam karna’ – to work for satisfaction rather than just money e.g. used a strand of hair to check smoothness of material after welding
- Tools/ devices for stress test are needed for welder and customer to realize how strong the weld actually is
- Machine maintenance is a problem- mainly due to many users for the same machine and no proper protocol
- Prepare a flow chart for new welders to follow
- Research better machines/ practices (offered to bear costs of material consumed, etc)
- Innovate on tools and machines (like a welding rod holder that can be moved in a straight line using an automated mechanical device)
- Use various available facilities (fab lab, industrialists’ establishments, welders’ workshops) to come up with solutions
Some examples of bad welding across the IIM campus:
The survey and discussion brought to light some very important aspects of street side welding. We have discovered a number of hurdles in the way of precise and aesthetic welding. With the help of welders, industrialists and innovators, we can come up with solutions to solve this problem and make street side welding products both strong and beautiful. Professor Anil Gupta has offered welders to use Sristi’s resources for research and innovation. Hopefully, in due time, we will be able to overcome the challenges and make Indian streets centres for precision welding.