If you’re in the structural repair business, you may have already started to see aluminum-based vehicles come through your shop. And that’s a trend that will continue as manufacturers work to build lighter vehicles that are more efficient, have higher load capacities and perform better. Prepare for the shift by making sure you have the proper (and best) welding equipment for the job. Working with aluminum alloys is a whole new ballgame, so you’ll need different tools for the task. Here’s a breakdown of what makes aluminum different, plus what to look for when choosing welding equipment.
The Aluminum Challenge
Returning aluminum-based vehicle bodies to manufacturer standards is different than working with steel because aluminum has a much lower melting point and higher thermal conductivity. That means your standard equipment likely won’t work for these jobs. There’s a higher risk of burnthrough with this type of metal, and aluminum welders have unique technologies to reduce that risk.
Let’s examine the features of two types of welders you might use in your shop – MIG welders and stud welders – and explore what to keep an eye out for as you choose an aluminum-capable machine for your shop.
Aluminum MIG Welders
A big player in vehicle repairs, these welders are key to the success of your body shop. There are several things to look for when it comes to MIG welders for aluminum, including:
• Synergic pulsed technology: Most OEMs require this type of technology when welding aluminum – it simplifies controls with preprogrammed settings. Be sure your welder is OEM-approved.
• Inverter power: Welders that use this kind of power supply allow for better control over power outputs, which means better welds.
• Torch design: The wire used in aluminum MIG welding is softer than that used for welding steel. A specialized push-pull torch will keep the softer wire from getting tangled. Also consider a setup that keeps the gun light and easy-to-manage. For example, the MultiMig 522 houses the spool on the main machine rather than the gun, making it easier to use.
• Input power voltage: Take note of the power capabilities of potential welders. A higher rate means you’ll be able to handle thicker aluminum materials.
Ultimately, you’ll want to choose a versatile welder that can handle the standard steels you’re used to seeing but also switch gears to take on a larger variety of jobs. Can you switch between torches? Does it have the techonology to handle both types of jobs? Look to answer these questions as you make your selection.
Aluminum Stud Welders
These welders are essential to dent repair jobs and will be an important part of your aluminum repair arsenal. When shopping around, keep these key considerations in mind:
• Capacitor discharge technology: One aspect that complicates aluminum patch-ups is surface aluminum oxidation, which occurs naturally. To combat this, look for a stud welder that offers capacitor discharge technology, which delivers quick, high-current pulses to break through the aluminum oxide layer.
• Consider amperage: In order to work with aluminum, a stud welder needs to have a higher amperage so be sure to check the specs.
• Consistent quality: Besides offering the necessary technical requirements for aluminum, you’ll also want a machine you know you can count on to consistenly produce strong, safe welds. Your techs – and customers – will be glad you did.
For both types of welders, as with any equipment, you’ll want to make sure the tools you choose are reliable and come with stellar support after the sale. The need to repair aluminum vehicles will continue well into the future. Make sure the equipment you purchase now will be around for the job.