Stainless Steel weld cleaning machines have become a common piece of machinery in the modern fabricators’ toolbox. Manufacturers have seen the clear advantages these devices have over the traditional and more dangerous method of using pickling paste to passivate surfaces.
Although this technology is still relatively new, there are end users who still have doubts about their capabilities. If you haven’t seen one of these tools in action before, you may think you are watching a magic show. Rest assured, the resulting finish will ensure the manufacturers craftsmanship and longevity will be widely recognised in years to come, hence bringing more work through the door. So why is there all the doubt about stainless steel weld cleaning machines.
1. “Alternatives are the same as Weld Cleaning Machines!”
The obvious question and the number one misconception. Why would I bother with a stainless steel weld cleaner? Well, you have just finished welding your stainless steel and are left with a couple of challenges – removing the oxidation on the surface and the discolouration or heat tint of the weld looks unsightly. There are some very simple solutions to this, but the results can vary quite a bit.
Do you want to take the easy option and quickly clean the weld, so that you can deliver the item to the customer to make more margin? Or are you looking to showcase your workmanship, exhibit how your processes will be long lasting and durable, ensuring both you and your client can look back at the piece in years to come and admire the quality of finish, as it has shown no indication of rust. Well a stainless steel weld cleaner can do that, however the alternative may be less than pleasing.
Pickling Paste works by etching off the surface and generally changes the appearance of the surface finish to a dull, matte look. If you are applying to a particular area, you will be left with a patchy result. As such, users tend to pickle the whole area, which could add unnecessary time and money to the project. Ultimately, it comes down to the danger of being exposed to this style of product. The risk levels to the operator and environment are very high and it is why users are looking for much safer work practices.
Abrasives are another option widely used in the marketplace. The heat tint and oxidisations can be quickly removed, producing a gleaning finish. However, the surface is not passivated at all. Some fabricators will paint the finish to try and negate the rust effects. Dependent on the final environment, corrosion could set in quickly and your workmanship looks second rate. This is not an ideal look when you are trying to promote your business to get repeat customers for your shop.
Stainless steel weld cleaners capture the un-bonded irons in the material. As part of the process, it will remove the oxidation build-up, clean the heat tint discolouration back to a natural finish whilst applying a protective coating to the surface, ensuring corrosion is prevented in the future. Simply put, stainless steel weld cleaners cover all the alternatives but importantly, the long-term aesthetics are second to none.
2. “There’s no difference between weld cleaning machines and alternatives.”
High-quality stainless-steel weld cleaners are much more than just cleaners. They will have different operating modes that allows the operator to be able to polish their stainless to a near mirror finish. This is ideal when you have a surface that may have been weathered, damaged or contaminated previously.
Additionally, these tools have the capabilities to be able to ‘print’ or ‘engrave’ your own branding on the surface. This is very important way for Fabricators to have their work easily recognised by other potential clients. Varying sizes and types of stencils can be made for either single use, like a serial number or heavy-duty versions that will last hundreds and hundreds of times dependent on how they are looked after.
3. “I’ve tried one of these stainless steel weld cleaners and was very disappointed.”
Over the last few years, there has been a range of lower cost alternatives that have flooded the market. Compared to a good quality machine, there are some significant differences and you can identify these yourself.
The first giveaway is all in the casing. Does it have vents because if it does, it is relying on a fan to keep it cool. These types of tools are notorious for sucking in debris, just like a cheap welder.
At some point, you will need to rinse the cleaning surface and as such, these machines are not waterproof. Look for a unit that is IP65 rated. It is also likely to have a 100% duty cycle, so it can continuously operate. So, where does that become a problem? As the carbon fibre brush starts to wear, many machines cannot deliver a consistent current to the brush. The impact is that the machine starts to cut in and out, making a quick job all of a sudden very frustrating.
If you have the opportunity to test a machine, be sure to check its performance when the brush is worn. This is the real test of performance under load.
4. “Weld cleaners are just as dangerous as other methods.”
No not at all. Usually manufacturers of these machines will use a phosphoric based cleaning solution. During the cleaning process, the fluid is heated, and you will see smoke arise from the surface. This is made up of 90% steam and is much safer than fumes emitted from welders. The key is to ensure the right PPE is used. A good quality weld cleaning machine will come with the appropriate P2 mask that has a carbon neutral filter in it. Eye protection and nitrile gloves are necessary protection which is more than adequate for all day usage.
5. “Weld cleaning machines can’t clean MIG welds.”
This is a very interesting point. If you look at a lot of machines on the market, they will showcase their product on a nice clean TIG weld. Let’s face, any decent weld cleaner is going to be able to do that. But what about in the real world where you may have MIG welds that have generated a lot of heat that are blue/ purple. Well amperage is not necessarily the answer. It is more about whether the unit has the capability to work under a higher threshold to remove this. The cheaper alternatives fail miserably in this area. It comes down to the technology under the hood and delivering performance is difficult for a lot of machines under load. You may be forced to adjust different settings to find the optimum result and this have no success.
6. Pads versus Carbon Fibre Brushes
This one is a really easy answer. How effectively can you get into the corner with a pad that might be an inch wide. What about the lumps and bumps in the weld? A carbon fiber brush has much more flexibility to get into all those tight little spaces and is much more effective in doing so. All you need to do is look at manufacturers of the brush technology. Do they have a pad – no. But manufacturers of pads have bought out their own version of brushes to be more effective.
7. “I’ve seen weld cleaners in action, and they leave a ‘white haze’”.
This is absolutely correct when the operator has decided to try and cut corners. White hazing is generally a result of some form of contamination – could be dirty water, cross contaminated brushes, even an old rag. Remember we are dealing with an acid here. It needs to be rinsed off, neutralised and rinsed again. Leftover residue causes this haze to appear. It is not the fault of the weld cleaner you are using but the procedure you have undertaken. Follow the process and your results will be amazing.
This is just 7 misconceptions about stainless steel weld cleaning machines. There are plenty more ‘smoke and mirror’ stories that we will get into in some of our future blogs.