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A key skill in manufacturing is welding and ensuring a good weld is vital for the integrity of a product. A brittle or porous weld presents a serious safety concern for industrial applications and the vast majority of manufacturers have rigorous procedures in place to ensure welds meet quality standards.
Here’s a guide to factors that will ensure a good weld.
Ensure a clean surface
Metal surfaces need to be thoroughly cleaned of impurities like water, oil, and flux before they are welded while aluminium needs to have the outside layer of oxide removed before welding commences. The presence of impurities will cause porosity in the weld – that is tiny holes that weaken the join.
Mind the gap
A factor that often results in welds failing is an incorrect gap or poor edge preparation between the two parts being joined. If the gap is too big there is a danger the weld bead will simply burn away the edges of the two parts, insufficient gap when joining thicker materials will result in lack of weld penetration. To ensure a good weld, you need to pay particular attention to the edge preparation and correct required gap.
Know the best process
There are a number of weld processes, such as MIG, TIG, Stick (MMA) and Flux-cored, and knowing when to use each technique is an important factor in getting a good weld.
MIG, or metal inert gas, is a type of wire welding that is suited to production welding of mild steel sheet and plate, it uses an inert gas to protect the molten weld pool, which sometimes makes it difficult to use outdoors in windy conditions. Another type of wire welding is flux-cored welding, which takes place without gas and is therefore more suitable for outdoor work. Stick welding is typically the best choice for quick onsite repairs while TIG, or tungsten inert gas, welding works well on stainless steel and aluminum where the look and presentation of the weld is important.
Inspect the weld
Once a weld is in place, it is important to check its quality. There are several ways of doing this. The simplest way is to check it by eye for cracks or inclusions in the weld and other problems. Welders also use a number of other so-called non-destructive testing (NDT) processes to inspect their work, such as liquid penetration and X-ray inspections. No matter what inspection is used, ensuring welds are strong and durable is an important step in the process and a vital part of quality assurance.
Typical weld defects
Designing the correct weld joint is important for cost, strength and visual appearance. The welding engineer has a number of options available, and selecting the correct joint and welding process for the job, along with accessibility is critical when designing a welded product.
According to the Office for National Statistics’ latest figures, manufacturing is responsible for just 10% of the UK’s £1.7 trillion annual GDP – a proportion that has remained fairly constant for the past six years or so. By comparison the services sector currently makes up more than 78%.
But go back 17 years to 1997 and manufacturing was at 18.5% – a level from which it declined steadily until 2009, as millions of jobs have been lost in the sector.
But these raw statistics do not really offer a full picture of the value of manufacturing to UK PLC today.
Firstly, while there has undoubtedly been a drop in the level of manufacturing activity per se over the past 20 years, this decline looks more pronounced in percentage terms because of the expansion of the services sector. There are also recent signs that the manufacturing sector is expanding. Trades body, EEF reports a 2.7% growth in manufacturing in the year to Feb 2015 at a time when other areas of production, such as energy and mining, have stagnated.
There is also the argument – one you hear a lot of in manufacturing circles – that the 10% of GDP that is manufacturing at this present time is much leaner and fitter than manufacturing operations two decades ago – the products are of a higher added value and the companies that make them more globally competitive.
This situation is borne out by export figures. According to UK Trade and Investment, exports of goods from the manufacturing sector totalled £263bn in 2013, representing an impressive 52% of all foreign sales. Top destinations for goods manufactured in the UK are the US, which imported £32bn of goods in 2013, Germany (£24bn) and France (£16bn).
Because the manufacturing sector is far more export-facing than any other part of the economy, policy body, the Work Foundation, reports that “it remains critically important to our economic health, because it is highly productive and accounts for such a huge share of our exports.”
Growing the manufacturing sector has been in the news a lot recently. The EU has stated an ambition to see manufacturing make up 20% of the region’s economy by 2020. The current coalition government has also made a lot of statements about “rebalancing the economy” and promoting the “March of the Makers.”
And there are a number of opportunities that have the potential to contribute considerably to the health of economy.
One relates to strengthening the UK’s manufacturing supply chains – a move the CBI argues could boost our country’s ability to offer greater innovation, quality and service than our global competitors and could potentially be worth up to £30 billion and 500,000 jobs by 2025.
Responsive supply chains will be necessary if we are to attract manufacturing operations back to the UK – a trend known as reshoring, which Ernst and Young, (now called EY) describes as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the UK” to add £15.3bn of GDP to the economy, and more than 315,000 jobs by 2025.
By supporting those sectors which offer the greatest return from reshoring in terms of employment and GDP – such as aerospace, defence, automotive, petroleum products and clothing, serving the European market – EY says the “UK will have a far more balanced, healthy and robust economy”.
Watch this space.
In a previous post we reported on the trend towards some UK companies, who had formerly manufactured their products in China and the Far East, bringing their manufacturing operations back to the UK.
This development, known as ‘reshoring’, is widespread with a survey from the manufacturing lobby group EEF showing that up to one in six of UK manufacturers has brought back at least part of their manufacturing activity in the past three years.
But just why are firms turning their back on China and other traditionally low-cost destinations in favour of Old Blighty? Here we can only talk from own experiences.
Our customers say that if they were to move operations to China they would lose control of vital parts of their business. They love being able to visit us at short notice to discuss things or to see their products in production. By staying at home they can develop a close relationship with their producer and know that there is unlikely to be any cultural misunderstandings or language problems.
For many years China benefited from the low wages of its workers, which manufacturers in the UK have struggled to compete with. But wages in China are not as low as they used to be while manufacturing in the UK has had to strive for efficiency and has become increasingly automated, reducing the need for manual labour and bringing down costs. Rising energy costs have also made shipping products half-way around the world more expensive and hit company’s bottom lines. All these are key factors in narrowing the gap in costs between using China and the UK.
High volume manufacturing in the Far East, on paper, has looked to be more competitive than UK, but in practice the hidden costs and risks involved with high stock holding and storage together with trying to manage fluxuations in demand and the inability to implement design changes and product development has made this inflexible form of supply far less attractive.
Because we are geographically close to many of our customers we are also able to turn things around much quicker compared with our Chinese counterparts. Using us means clients don’t have wait many weeks, months even, for their products to be shipped to them. Deliveries can be flexible and tailored to suit our customers needs to help them reduce storage space and cash tied up in stock. Should there be any product design changes we can implement these almost immediately.
A lot of UK firms are also concerned about China’s patchy record on intellectual property protection. We’ve all heard of cases where new ideas that are shipped to China end up being copied – leading to the market being swamped with sub-standard fakes that demean the original. While we are told the Chinese are getting to grips with this predicament, concerns still abide. In the UK this is not a problem as any reputable manufacturer would be happy to sign and adhere to a non disclosure agreement and handle all confidential information with extreme care.
Finally, we have noticed a growing feeling from many UK firms that they want to keep as much of their sourcing and production in the UK as possible. It’s about supporting UK PLC and it’s about the quality status the Made in Britain still carries.
Of course, the price has to be right and business case sound, and for the reasons listed above an increasing number of UK firms are choosing their home shores.
Innovation, skills, tax incentives, investment and support for SMEs are the key issues facing the manufacturing sector as we get nearer to the General Election. That is, according to the All-Party Parliamentary Manufacturing Group (APMG) that recently published a Manufacturing Manifesto aimed at keeping the challenges facing the sector on the radar of the major political parties.
The APMG, which is made up of politicians as well as representatives from manufacturing industry organisations, says that long-term government policies devised in collaboration with industry is the “single best way to instil confidence and stability in the UK manufacturing sector”.
Here’s a précis of the things they are calling for.
Small and Medium Enterprises make up the majority of manufacturing businesses in the UK, so the APMG would like to see support given to these companies. It is calling for a more diversified funding environment, through a mix of business angels, venture capitalists, private equity, bank finance, and crowdfunding; as well as “a permanent and robust advisory service dedicated to supporting SMEs”. It would also like to see information for SMES disseminated through trade associations, local enterprise partnerships, universities and chambers of commerce.
Trade and Investment
Measures being demanded include support to businesses looking to locate or re-locate production in the UK; an expansion of the capacity of UK supply chains; and a commitment to encourage international business links and foreign direct investment to aid the export of manufactured goods.
The APMG would like to see all parties committing to protect funding for bodies such as Innovate UK and the High Value Manufacturing Catapult. In addition, there is a call for strong protection Intellectual Property rights and a permanent system of R&D tax credits to be established.
When it comes to skills, the APMG wants to see engineering and STEM-related apprenticeships made a priority and has called for stronger links between education bodies and industry. All parties are being urged to address the negative perception of manufacturing and to take steps aimed at increasing the number of women coming into manufacturing and engineering.
Finance and taxation
There are calls also for a competitive tax regime as well as steps to streamline the process of applying for government support schemes. Strategies to support high employment manufacturing industries, such as textiles and food and drink, are requested.
Overall, the manifesto represents a comprehensive list of the main issues facing our sector and a useful rundown of action points needed to support the resurgence in UK manufacturing we have witnessed in recent years. It remains to be seen how far this is adopted by politicians as we enter this important year.