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Inverter Welders, What is an inverter welder?

What do you
use an inverter welder for?
An inverter welder is a relatively new and innovative type of welder that has a host of advantages when compared with
the conventional welders that most of us are accustomed to. Inverter welders use sophisticated silicon based
technology as compared with heavy copper/aluminum transformers and rectifiers seen in traditional welders.

There is no denying that when inverter welders were first introduced they created quite a few teething problems as any
new technology would. However, since then, inverter technology has become reliable, cost effective and having its own
merits.

One prime advantage of inverter welder is it is small, compact and in a way portable and can be carried around like a
light weight briefcase. Inverters use much smaller transformers and hence they are sleek, more compact, weigh light
and portable. This is in striking contrast to a conventional welder that is notoriously cumbersome and can not fit into
narrow spaces.

Besides, they consume less power and can operate on normal household current. Lower power consumption means
that the inverter welder can be plugged into any normal 110v wall socket with household current instead of high voltage
current.

This is in striking contrast to a conventional welder that is notoriously cumbersome and can not fit into narrow spaces.
The inverter welder can be plugged into any normal 110v wall socket having domestic current instead of high voltage
current and thus eliminating the need to use an industrial generator.

Lower power consumption means that there will be savings in total energy costs. Additionally, an inverter welder will
better accept the impure power from generators than conventional welders and this can result in faster jobs and fewer
bad welds.

Because Inverters output power is electronically regulated, you have a wide power adjustment range from nil - 100%
enabling you to fine tune them to your specific needs. For instance, with regard to MIG welders sometimes setting 2
may mean inadequate power and setting 3 may be excessive. It is here that inverter welder helps.

Of course, this is not to say that the inverter welder is the ultimate and is the ideal device for all types of welding needs.
The fact that an inverter welder is able to operate on lower voltage current is due to the high-tech electronics
components. There is validity in the argument that inverter welders are relatively fragile and hence susceptible to more
frequent breakdowns and its usage will also result in a higher cost per amp.

A conventional welder, on the other hand, is of a much simpler and steadier construction and will be far more reliable in
the long run. It can be said, without fear of contradiction, that traditional welders will be a cheaper long-term
investment. If size, appearance and weight are not big considerations, a conventional welder is probably the right
choice.

But, in all fairness, if you can afford to pay a bit more for features like portability and use of normal household current
and willing to take pains to maintain the unit, buying an inverter welder will be in order. The inverter welders do not
provide solutions to all welding problems but it is certainly a milestone in the advancement of welding technology.

The advantages of inverter welding units over traditional transformer-rectifiers are many.
Inverters are more portable and lighter weight, making them easier to maneuver around the job
site. In addition, inverters offer high-quality, multi-process welding capabilities so that one
machine can handle Stick, MIG, TIG, FCAW, arc gouging and even pulsing. And even more
importantly, inverters take advantage of Lincoln's Waveform Control Technology™ to offer
greater control of arc variables and automatically fine tune the arc to create the best possible
weld, controlling problems such as burnthrough.

But did you know that using an inverter can also save you money in energy costs over a
traditional-type power source? Each year about $15 million worth of electricity is consumed in
the U.S. and $99 million worldwide for welding. To increase efficiencies and cut down on the
money your company is spending on electricity related to welding, an inverter is an attractive
option. In fact, because of their efficiency, these machines can provide substantial savings in
utility costs.

But how can a switch to an inverter save in energy consumption? In the design of inverter
welders, such as Lincoln's Invertec® V350 Pro, the transformer cores, transformer windings and
power electronic switching components are all carefully chosen to minimize operating losses.
Here are some other reasons that inverters save in energy costs:

 Greater transformer efficiencies are realized through the use of ferrite cores in the
inverter's power transformer. This reduces the current losses resulting in lower idle
currents in the supply conductors

 The inverter transformer coils are physically smaller than common transformers. A
smaller coil translates to less wire wrapping around the core - less wire
means fewer losses and greater efficiency

 The inverter's power electronic components have been carefully designed to reduce losses
and extend operating life

 Many inverters, such as Lincoln's Invertec V350 Pro, uses a copper conductor. Copper
has higher thermal and electrical conductivity compared to aluminum,
which will minimize losses and maximize efficiency

 Operating at higher frequencies than conventional welders, inverters require less output
inductance for smooth operation. The energy needed for stick welding or for globular
transfer welding processes is stored in capacitors allowing for smaller output chokes

 The compact design and relatively small physical size of an inverter welder means shorter
leads and cables (or even direct connections) between power
components. Shorter current paths translate to lower resistances and better efficiencies

 Because the inverter is designed to inherently have low losses, smaller cooling fans are
required. This means less power is needed for moving cooling air and, again, greater
efficiency

 The smaller size of the components inside the inverter machine translate into less heat to
dissipate and again, greater efficiency
How can you calculate how an inverter can save you money over a traditional transformer-
rectifier and which inverter is the best in creating energy efficiencies? Use the worksheet below
to make that assessment.

Step #1 - Calculate Output Power


First look at your machine to determine the output voltage (Vout) which is given as volts on
your machine. In our example this is 32v. Then multiply that by the output current (Iout), found
on your machine in amps. In this case the amps are given as 300.

Vout x Iout = Output Power (Wout) in watts


32v x 300 amps = 9,600 watts OR 9.6 KW (1,000 watts = 1 KW)

Step #2 - Calculate Input Power


Now take the output power from above (KWout) and divide by the efficiency (Eff). The
efficiency is given by the machine's manufacturer. Calculating this will give you input power in
kilowatts.

KWout ÷ Eff = Input power in kilowatts (KWin)


9.6 KW ÷ 88.2% (or 0.882) = 10.88 KW

Step #3 - Calculate Operating Costs During Welding


A) Next, you will calculate the kilowatt hours used in one day (KWh1/day) by taking the input
power calculated in Step #2 (KWin) multiplied by the hours per day that the machine runs (for
our example, we will assume welding is performed four hours per day.)

KWin x #Hrs/Day = Kilowatt hours used in one day (KWh1/day)


10.88 KW x 4 Hrs. = 43.52 KWHrs/day

B) Now take your input power calculated (KWin) multiplied by the number of hours per day the
machine runs multiplied by the price per KW hour of the power. Note: the price of the power is
calculated at $0.12578 which is the industry average.

KWin x #Hrs/Day x Price per KWHrs ($/KWh) = Daily Operating Costs Welding
10.88 x 4 x $0.12578 = $5.47

Step #4 - Calculate the Operating Costs During Idle


A) You will now calculate the idle consumption per day (KWh2). To do this, take the input
power (KWIdle) multiplied by the idle hours per day. (We are assuming that in an eight-hour
day, if welding is performed four hours, idle hours will be four as well.)
KWIdle x Idle Hrs. = Idle Consumption Per Day (KWh2)
0.4 KW x 4 Hrs. = 1.6 KW hrs

B) Now take the input power idle (KWIdle) which is given on the power transformer in watts -
in this case 400 watts (or 0.4 KW) - multiplied by the idle hours x the price per kilowatt hour of
power.

KWidle x IdleHrs x Price per KW Hrs = Daily Operating Costs Idle


0.4 KW x 4 Hrs. x $0.12578 = $0.20

Step #5 - Calculate the Total Operating Costs


Now take the daily operating costs welding calculated in Step #3 and add the daily operating
costs idle from Step #4 above equals the daily operating costs in dollars.

Daily Operating Costs + Daily Operating Costs Idle = Daily Operating Costs (Total $/day)
$5.47 + $0.20 = $5.67

By comparing this number against a traditional transformer-rectifier or another competitive


inverter, you can easily tell which machine will provide the cost savings.

An inverter with a list price of $3,200 and efficiency of 87 percent compared to a traditional
transformer rectifier that has a list price of $2800 and a 67 percent efficiency rate would save
approximately $300 in utility cost on an annual basis. The payback for the difference in price
would then be in one to one-and-a-half years.

The inverter-based power source is one of the welding industry’s most important technology advances of the last two
decades. But before that welding was ruled by transformer machines. Welding Engineer Jason Mahugh briefly
discusses the roots of each and how they differ from one another.
If you want to start a civil war in welding, just ask a group of welding experts which is better, an
inverter or a transformer machine. The short answer to this question is, “It depends.” The long
answer, however, is a lively debate surrounding pros, cons, and specific applications of the
machines.
The first transformers were developed when electricity became commonplace in the late 1800s.
Soon after, in the early 1900s, it was discovered that transformers could be used in the arc
welding process, which was in its infancy at that time. It took a number of years to work through
various electrical designs to be able to control the arc, which also brought about the need to
create covered (or coated) arc welding electrodes, a process that is commonly referred to as
shielded metal arc welding (SMAW) or stick welding.
During World War I, welding underwent significant research and development because of how
heavily it was used in steel ship and tank construction. Keep in mind that before welding, steel
was joined with rivets, forging, and gas welding. During the 1920s and 1930s, arc welding and
transformer welding power supplies became commonplace, and as the power grid grew, arc
welding grew with it. By the end of World War II, the U.S. was experiencing a welding and
manufacturing boom. From the 1930s to the 1980s, almost all arc welding machines produced
were transformer-based, giving engineers and manufacturers more than 50 years to perfect the
design and create incredibly reliable arc welding machines.
The 1980s ushered in a new era of technology that centered on electronics, coinciding with the
growing popularity of personal computers. As the electronics and software industry grew,
engineers soon realized that software-controlled inverters could be used to weld, opening up a
new world of possibilities. As is the case with most new technologies, inverter-based welding
power sources had its share of growing pains during the 1990s. Many early machines were
plagued with reliability problems and were at the center of hot debates regarding user interfaces,
controls, heat dissipation, and moisture concerns. These issues are still at the core of the inverter
adoption debate. But by the early 2000s, these units were becoming popular because of their
versatility and ability to control the arc.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road


So, how exactly do transformers and inverters stack up against one another? Sure, inverters are
certainly considered the industry standard nowadays, but some welders still prefer transformers.
Let’s compare.
Reliability. This is a hotly contested issue for those who engage in the transformer versus
inverter debate. For nearly a century, transformer machines underwent extensive R&D to create
reliable and rugged machines. By comparison, inverter machines have had only a fraction of that
time—roughly 30 years, give or take. The argument can be made that transformer machines are
more reliable than the best inverter machines, but it is worth noting that the gap between the
two has narrowed considerably in recent years. Gone are the days of the 1990s when failures on
inverters were the stuff of nightmares.
Versatility. There was a time when transformer technology combined with inverter technology
to create what was thought to be the ultimate welding machine. However, this technology was
overly complicated and expensive. It soon became obvious to engineers that the advances in
software and electronics were opening up a new challenge in the world of welding. If you have
any doubt about this, think about the first computer or cellphone you owned and compare it to
what you have today. That same transition occurred in the evolution of welding machines. You
now can buy inverter welding machines on which you can adjust just about any electrical variable
imaginable with software to create unmatched versatility. Inverter machines are also much lighter
and more portable than transformer machines. The edge goes to inverters regarding versatility.
Arc Quality. When discussing welding machines, we can’t ignore arc performance and the welds
produced. If you are the type of welder who welds only on mild steel all day, every day, you
won’t need to look past a transformer machine. However, we live in a welding world that
demands weld perfection in any position and on any material. In this demanding world, inverters
really shine.
Since inverters can be programmed to do just about anything, we now see advanced pulse gas
metal arc welding (GMAW) performing as well as high-skilled gas tungsten arc welding
(GTAW). There is a world opening up to us with software and advanced electronics that have
really changed what a welding machine can do. It even makes a mediocre welder like myself look
pretty good at times. I give inverter machines a thumbs up for weld quality and innovation, but I
still like to keep it simple for steel.
Cost. The last variable usually discussed is price. In the past inverter machines were incredibly
expensive. The high price was due to component costs, specialized manufacturing costs, and
engineering costs. Those costs have changed a lot over the last 15 years as inverters have entered
the world of high-volume electronics manufacturing. Inverters are starting to become less
expensive than transformer-based machines, even though they are significantly more complex.

The inverter-based power source is one of the welding industry’s most important technology
advances of the last two decades. But before that the welding was ruled by transformer
machines. So how do they compare? Is there still a place for the old amongst the new?
When considering a machine’s cost, be sure to factor in the following:

 Initial purchase cost. At this time, the initial cost investment for the two is probably
about even.
 Power (electricity consumption). In general, inverters use less electricity than
transformers.
 Maintenance costs. After the warranty period ends, it costs more to maintain an inverter
than it does a transformer.
 Downtime costs. This is up for debate because these costs really depend on how the
machine is being used. Certain applications and environments are more problematic for
inverter machines and contribute to machine failures or the need for repairs. For instance,
gouging with an inverter, while possible, is generally not recommended and puts a
significant amount of stress on certain inverter components, which can create failures.
Dirty, dusty, and high-moisture environments can also create inverter board failures.
While certain manufacturing and design changes help inverters deal with less-than-optimal
conditions, they still are not as reliable as transformer machines for certain applications.
 Quality of weld costs. There is a debate whether some of the quality and productivity
improvements ascribed to inverter machines are real. For instance, many claim that
pulsing improves productivity, but others claim pulsing can lead to lack of fusion. There is
truth to both sides of the debate. Some claim that pulsed GMAW can replace GTAW, and
maybe that’s true for certain applications, but a highly skilled TIG welder is still the gold
standard for high-quality welds. In many cases, the software and number of variables that
can be changed with inverter machines have outpaced the general welding knowledge and
how to best implement the technology improvements.

All of this boils down to whether transformer machines or inverter machines make more sense
for a particular application. The following chart is a generalized opinion based on experience and
lots of discussion.
Inverter welding machines have changed a lot in the last 15 years. They continue to improve in
both performance and cost, but that doesn’t mean we need to dig a grave for transformer
welding machines, as they still have an important place in our industry. In the end, it comes
down to a personal weighted decision based on many factors. At the end of the day, the choice is
yours.