Walk the line
- Created: 2018-01-02
New technology reduces the steps welders have to take at the United States’ largest private real estate development
by Abbe Miller, editor-in-chief
They say everything is big in Texas. And while that may very well be true, it looks like the Big Apple is taking a page out of the Lone Star State’s playbook. Currently, the Hudson Yards project is underway in New York, and it is truly of epic proportions. The end result will be 16 skyscrapers that will total nearly 13 million sq. ft. of office, residential and retail space. Deemed the largest private real estate development in the history of the United States, it’s a huge undertaking.
While the scale is easy to see, the scope of the project isn’t as easy to wrap one’s head around. As just one jaw-dropping example, the project is taking place above an existing parcel of railyard space where off-duty train cars are parked. To retain that portion of the railyard, the buildings will sit on a massive platform supported by huge caissons drilled into the bedrock below.
To put all of that into perspective, one would need to walk in the shoes of the engineers, construction workers and welders that are on the ground making it happen. And although the team at FAB Shop Magazine didn’t get that unique opportunity, we did get the chance to speak with someone who did.
In September 2017, Joe Ryan, infrastructure segment manager at Miller Electric Mfg. Co., visited the Hudson Yards project and experienced first-hand what it was like to be a welder on the Manhattan job site. When he arrived at the nearly 10-city-block area, he immediately realized how uniquely challenging the project was.
“The contractor we were working with was building the support structure, a steel bridge essentially, which would serve as the project’s foundation,” Ryan explains. “To support the weight of the buildings above, they were welding 4-ft.-by-4-ft. solid steel columns in addition to trusses. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before.”
But it wasn’t just the support structure that caught Ryan’s attention. The location of the welding equipment in relation to the actual welding taking place also had Ryan doing a double take. The staging area for the equipment was placed at street level, two stories above the welders.
“They were welding in a ditch at the base of these massive columns, running the weld leads over the edge of the bridge, down the tunnel and into the ditch,” he says. “There was 200 ft. of weld lead running one way. And then, as they progressed up the tunnel further, they would have to add more weld lead. The furthest distance stretched as far as 800 ft.”
Long leads, such as the ones seen at the Hudson Yards project, create issues with voltage drops, which also causes welding issues, especially when welding to a procedure or code. The long leads also cause productivity issues when a welder has to stop working and walk to the equipment to make adjustments or use radios to have somebody else make the adjustments.
To add insult to injury, movement on the site – an active trainyard – was incredibly difficult. To cross the various train tracks, workers were required to wait for Amtrak or New York Transit security to provide a go-ahead. The time involved was significant, sometimes up to 30 min. round trip.
While on-site, Ryan’s role was to observe the way in which the welders were working, learn from their challenging environment and then offer suggestions as to how to improve the process. He was also there to demo the new ArcReach technology from Miller. With the tagline “Don’t walk. Weld,” the technology would allow Hudson Yards welders to make adjustments right at the wire feeder instead of walking to the equipment, hundreds of feet away.
ArcReach technology can be paired with many industrial welding systems from Miller, making parameter changes less of a hassle – especially on extensive projects, like the one at Hudson Yards. By simplifying the process, welders are also more apt to adhere to the welding procedures outlined by quality control, a much-welcomed bonus.
“At Hudson Yards, the procedure called for a self-shielded flux-cored wire, which required a wire change,” Ryan explains. “During the first pass, welders would run electrode positive and then when switching wires for the second pass, they would run electrode negative. Before the demo, a polarity change also required changing over cables. With the Big Blue 500 Pro, however, operators can quickly change welding polarity with a switch at the power source without having to change over cables -- saving time and improving productivity.”
Conducted with an engine-driven Big Blue 500 Pro machine with ArcReach technology, the demo showed the welders that they would no longer be left unsure of their welding parameters. Not only could the welders make changes to amperage and voltage at the weld joint, but they could also access controls on the wire feeder, such as an indicator that showed the correct polarity for the process was being used. This eliminates weld quality issues that can result from welding in the wrong polarity, and it also saves time and money in rework and wasted consumables.
The demo also revealed additional benefits. Because Big Blue’s power capacity could compensate for longer leads, voltage drops were no longer an issue.
For the demo, Ryan used an ArcReach Suitcase 12 wire feeder from Miller as well as Bernard DuraFlex self-shielded MIG guns in a variety of different necks.
“With these 4-ft. columns, they needed a lot of different necks to get into the first pass,” Ryan says. “As they welded out, they would change necks based on ergonomic reasons – many stemming from the tight welding location: in a ditch at the bottom of massive columns.”
The ArcReach Suitcase 12 feeder was used with 3/32-in. and 1/8-in. cored wire. In addition to the benefits of ArcReach technology, the feeder provided extremely consistent wire feeding due to a redesigned drive mechanism to help eliminate mistakes and reduce downtime in wire changeover.
Leading up to the development of the ArcReach technology, Miller surveyed contractors and determined that welders need to make some sort of parameter adjustment about four times a day due to poor fit-up, heat buildup in a part or changing positions. It was also determined that it takes, on average, about 15 min. per adjustment. At four times a day at 15 min., each welder is losing an hour of productivity.
“You could probably walk over to the power source and make the adjustment and walk back to the job at hand in about 15 min. – but that’s only if you don’t stop and talk to coworkers, check your phone or take a quick bathroom break,” Ryan says. “Using the 15-min. minimum time frame and an average welder’s cost of $40 an hour, making four trips a day adds up to about $11,250 each year.”
A view of construction cranes rising over the nearly 10-block Hudson Yards construction site from New York’s High Line elevated park.
At the Hudson Yards project or any project for that matter, those costs can add up quickly. It’s especially prevalent when there are a couple dozen welders required to complete a job in a timely fashion.
“In New York, it took about a shift and a half to weld each of the 4-ft. columns,” Ryan says. “Once the ArcReach technology came into the picture, they were able to reduce that time and, therefore, reduce their costs. When you look at the cost structure of construction and then factor in the cost of labor, the math adds up quickly in terms of ROI expectations with ArcReach.”