Fairmetal Boats Reduces Costly Rework with Advanced Push-Pull System
Lincoln Electric Power MIG™ 300 Push-Pull System with 50-foot Python® Gun Facilitates State-of-the-Art Aluminum Boat Construction
Paul Mooney, President of FairMetal Boats, is serious about providing the highest quality metal cruising yachts possible to his customers. Before Mooney even contemplated fabricating a metal yacht with his new company, he spent two years researching metal boat designs, the market and the state-of-the-art in metal boat construction. This quest would take him to both coasts of North America, Holland, France and New Zealand, all before he ever put an arc to metal.
Mooney concluded that the designs of Denis Ganley, from New Zealand, represent the best in performance and functional design for steel yachts. He chose the Strongall aluminum building method, developed by Meta of France, because it offered the best aluminum designs and construction method. As such, Mooney arranged an exclusive agreement with Ganley Yacht Plans Ltd., for FairMetal Boats out of Ann Arbor, Mich., to be the exclusive representative for Ganley designs in the United States. He also received licensing from Meta to use its methods.
Thankfully, the quest for the right welder didn’t take nearly as long. By teaming with The Lincoln Electric Company and its Nextweld® Technologies, Mooney found the perfect unit for aluminum boat construction.
During his research overseas, where a significantly higher number of metal boats are built, compared to the estimated two to three percent market share of metal boats in the United States, Mooney focused his attention on some of the welding practices of metal boat builders. The predominant MIG wire feeding method for aluminum in Europe is the push-pull method rather than spool gun.
Mooney himself has performed a great deal of welding with spool guns with his previous metal boat business, Mooney Marine, which built metal yachts from 1976 to 1985. Through his experience, Mooney finds the push-pull method more convenient and flexible for yacht work.
Once it was determined what method of welding and wire feeding would best provide the quality Mooney demands his company provides to customers, he went on the search for a power source.
“We wanted a state-of-the-art welder with waveform control and a reliable gun with a 50-foot conduit for maximum flexibility and ease of operation. The gun was key as welding on these projects requires a lot of moving around and 3/64-inch aluminum wire can be pretty fussy when running in a 50-foot cable,” Mooney said.
With these requirements, Mooney began his search for a welder that would perform to his exacting specifications. When it came to the excellence in assembly methods and “highest quality in metal work” FairMetal boats refers to in its mission statement, Mooney found its partner in The Lincoln Electric Company.
Mooney tested equipment from Lincoln and two other welding equipment manufacturers. He chose Lincoln’s Power MIG 300 with Python® Push/Pull Package for two reasons – a competitive price for a full welding package, and it was the only welder at its price point with advanced Waveform Control.
The Power MIG 300 with Python Push/Pull package comes standard with:
- Power MIG 300 with integrated wire feeder
- 25-foot air-cooled Python Gun (upgraded to 50-foot for Mooney’s application)
- Gas regulator and hose
- 3/64-inch drive roll kit
- Factory-installed connection kit
- 16-pound spool of Lincoln SuperGlaze® aluminum MIG wire (ER 4043)
- Built-in Undercarriage & Cylinder Bracket
“All the dealings I have had with Lincoln Electric and its personnel on this project have been fair and knowledgeable. Local sales representative, Todd Stoughton, was able to clearly articulate the advantages of the Power MIG 300 over the competition’s machines, provided brief training and assisted with set up. He even demonstrated the machine and established credibility prior to guaranteeing the 50-foot Python gun,” Mooney said. “By far, Todd is the most knowledgeable in-the-field welding sales representative I have met throughout my lifetime. Todd's backup on aluminum welding issues, Mr. Frank Armao, was also a wealth of information and invaluable to this project.”
Armao is an application engineer at Lincoln headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio, and is considered one of the country's pre-eminent experts on aluminum welding, with experience at Alcoa® Aluminum operations.
Mooney conducted significant experimentation with the settings of the Power MIG 300 and has concluded that the patented Pulse-on-Pulse™ mode, part of Lincoln’s Nextweld Technologies, included on the unit, provides arc welding advantages on this aluminum project. With Lincoln’s Waveform Control Technology™, heat input can be controlled to a greater degree, minimizing the potential for warping. He was also impressed with the built-in waveform programs capable of welding a variety of alloys.
To that end, FairMetal purchased a Power MIG 300 and Python push-pull gun with a 50-foot feed conduit in 2003 from Metro Welding Supplies in Detroit. This welding setup was purchased specifically to work on FairMetal’s first aluminum hull boat project – a 22.5-foot tugboat Mooney designed based on the Strongall method. This boat will be used for water quality analysis testing by the not-for-profit Watershed Conservation Group in Grand Traverse Bay, Mich.
The Watershed Conservation Group will take delivery of the completed hull and pilot house with engine and drive train. Other than storage compartment hatches installed by FairMetal, the customer will complete outfitting the boat including portholes, galley, bunks, special-ordered composting toilet for the head, and other amenities.
This boat alone required Mooney and his other weld operator, Edgar Boettcher, to fabricate over 3,500 pounds of 5086-H116 1/8-inch to ½-inch plate. The hull is computer designed to create pleasing curves when the plates are pulled around the minimal frame. The hull is primarily constructed of ¼-inch and 3/16-inch plate. FairMetal’s design philosophy is to utilize thick plate to minimize framing structure and therefore reduce labor. In doing so, this process requires hundreds upon hundreds of feet of fillet welds with all seams being welded inside and out.
FairMetal is using 3/64-inch aluminum MIG wire with argon shielding gas. The use of thicker material adds durability. From a welding standpoint, it allows Mooney to use larger diameter wire, and put down larger welds. The larger diameter wire is also less expensive. In Mooney's opinion, thicker material and larger welds will lead to greater weld integrity.
Another advantage to using push-pull feeding is that FairMetal can purchase 16-pound spools instead of 1-pound spools used on spool guns, for a significant cost savings in consumable expenses on a per pound basis – and saving change-out time. With the tug nearly complete, FairMetal has used six, 16-pound spools of wire.
The push-pull system allows him to have a 50-foot gun cable, a preference in FairMetal’s boat construction. This allows the power source to remain stationary, conveniently and safely out of the way of the construction area.
“The Power MIG 300 and the Python gun on the 50-foot feed have run consistently great,” Mooney said. “Because aluminum does build up internal residue in the conduit, we knew we’d have to clean out the conduit after each spool. We developed a quick method of cleaning by blowing a solvent cleaner down the liner a few times between each spool, which keeps the gun running smoothly.”
Mooney has had other metal boat welders visit his facility and observe FairMetal’s welding operations. Their comments have been that there is substantially less rework on this FairMetal aluminum boat project compared to other metal boat building operations they have experienced.
Currently, Mooney and Boettcher are beginning work on a 32-foot trawler that they plan to market to the public.