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March 7, 2018

Can Industrial Fans and Welding Mix?

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It’s a commonly held belief that airflow from large, overhead fans can disrupt shielding gas, minimizing its effectiveness and decreasing the quality of the welds. Because of this, it is easy to understand the reluctance to have industrial fans anywhere near where welding takes place.

While large industrial fans provide a cooling aspect to the welding environment and to the welders themselves, they also can help diffuse welding fumes, control condensation, and reduce heating costs in winter by pushing hot air down to the shop floor through a process called destratification.

It’s true that fans can disperse shielding gases, but it is by no means a certainty. Thousands of welding facilities have installed fans successfully—it simply required following a few more steps and relying on a little more expertise than installing a ceiling fan in, say, a dry-goods warehouse or a living room. It’s all about finding the sweet spot—the combination of the correct fan speed and size, as well as adequate distance from the welding area—to achieve a cooling airflow without blowing away shielding gases.

Each facility has a distinct layout and unique processes, which makes a one-size-fits-all solution impossible. But with the right testing and support, overhead high-volume, low-speed (HVLS) fans can work in most welding facilities, while variable-speed column fans can take care of the rest.

Choose a Fan With Variable-Speed Controls

One of the most important methods for guaranteeing a fan won’t disperse shielding gas is variable-speed control. Also known as infinite-speed controls, these controls allow you to set a speed anywhere from 1 to 100 percent of the fan’s maximum revolutions per minute (RPM).

Most column-mounted fans and even some HVLS fans are equipped with the same speed options as a common residential ceiling fan—high, medium, and low. These speeds can limit their usage or effectiveness in some welding environments. For example, medium speed could be too low to produce a cooling breeze, while high speed could be too powerful, dispersing shielding gases.

Bottom line: When installing a fan, make sure it includes variable-speed controls. The trick is to find a speed powerful enough to provide the desired cooling effect for employees, but light enough not to disperse the gas. Variable-speed controls are often the only way to achieve that ideal speed.

Look for a Speed Limiter

As any office manager knows, if you tell employees not to adjust a thermostat, the first thing they’ll do is adjust the thermostat. The same holds true with industrial fan controls. It’s hard to blame employees—comfort is personal, and working in uncomfortable conditions can be a drag.

Look for a fan that has the ability to limit the speed of the fan. This prevents employees from manually adjusting the speed themselves, unintentionally causing detrimental effects on shielding gas coverage of the welds.

Location, Location, Location

Installing a fan directly over a welding area will almost always affect shielding gases. However, many who’ve steered clear of HVLS fans don’t realize that they don’t have to be located directly overhead to provide cooling airflow.

Much of the breeze from an HVLS fan isn’t a result of air being pushed downward by the fan. Rather, it’s from air that impacts the floor and flows outward, creating what’s known as a floor jet. Floor jets create the gentle, horizontal breeze people feel in facilities with large, overhead fans.

To have the smallest impact possible on shielding gases, fans should be installed away from the welding area, giving the floor jets enough space to slow down before reaching the welding station. At the correct distance, the fans can provide all their normal benefits—summer cooling, winter destratification, and improved air circulation—while floor jets can even send a few degrees of cooling to welding technicians.

Do Your Homework

Occasionally, it’s simply impossible to install an overhead fan without affecting welding gases. In the rare case an HVLS fan proves detrimental to weld quality, large mobile and column-mounted fans can provide a more direct airflow.

Again, it’s important that these fans have variable-speed controls; most portable and column-mounted fans don’t. Although these fans can more easily be directed away from welding areas, ricochet air jets can still interrupt the welding process without careful speed control.

In the event an HVLS fan is needed despite affecting shielding gas—for example, if a shop needs the fan for winter destratification as well as summer cooling—a weld curtain can protect the weld at the expense of limiting airflow to the technician. However, the airflow will still benefit all the other employees in the facility (as well as the welder, on breaks. Additionally, toolboxes, crates, and even the welder’s body can obstruct horizontal floor jets before the air reaches the arc.

  • With a little research, planning, and the right system, large industrial fans and welding can coexist without wreaking havoc on shielding gas coverage.

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