When someone says anything about "welding" chances are good that you envision a leathered and hooded figure, joining two pieces of metal. What about when someone says ''argon regulator"? Unless you're an industry professional, this may seem like a foreign phrase. Luckily, we are going to take a look at what an argon regulator is, why it is important, and how to use it.
Can you imagine someone welding the laps on Tutankhamen's Golden Death Mask in 1330 BCE? Things have come a long way since the first evidence of brazing in 3000 BCE.
Today we use MIG (GMAW) and TIG (GTAW) machines and the power of electricity to join two pieces of metal. This type of welding is extremely convenient, but only if we utilize the power of an argon regulator or argon flowmeter.
Argon is the most common shielding gas. Using it at the correct flow rate with the right cup, collet, collet body, or gas lens is the most important factor when fabricating.
Want to know all there is about argon flowmeters and argon regulators and why you need them? Keep reading to find out!
SPARC dual argon flow meter/regulator combos are perfect for MIG and TIG Welding.
Development of Inert Shielding Gas
In understanding argon regulators and argon flowmeters, it is important to know why argon, helium, CO2, and other gas mixes are used at all.
Oxygen and nitrogen contaminate a weld and mix with metals at high temperatures to oxidize the metal or create other compounds. Since the air we breathe is 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen (99%) this creates a large problem for fabricators.
Interestingly, the next highest element in the earth's natural atmosphere is argon at just under 1%. This makes it available in abundance, with wonderful properties for welding.
The discovery of argon in 1895 was one of the most important gas discoveries for welding. Argon is able to provide an inert atmosphere in which welded materials will not oxidize.
For these reasons, stick welding using electrodes and flux started to become popular. As the flux melts and vaporizes it creates a shield for the metal that protects it from oxidation.
This led to advances in pumping air into the weld area, reducing or eliminating flux in those cases. The goal, especially in WW1 shipbuilding, was to reduce the porosity of welds and brittleness.
Jumping forward to 1930, Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW or MIG welding) was invented and patented by Hobart. Enter gas flow regulation.
An original 1930s Hobart Gas Metal Arc Welding setup. (Source: https://www.purplewave.com/auction/131213/item/G9519)
CFH or LPM?
In the US, the standard flow rate of gas through your MIG or TIG welder is measured in cubic feet per hour. However, some fabricators do communicate using CFM (cubic feet per minute), instead of CFH.
If you're outside the USA, you're probably going to use the metric system, or LPM (liters per minute). Fortunately, both are easy to calculate.
Argon (and most other tanks) come in various sizes, such as 20, 30, 60, or 80 cubic feet. Anything above 80 to 300 cubic feet is considered industrial.
Cubic feet per hour, or CFH, of 10-20 is standard for most GTAW or TIG operations. Say you have a 60 CF tank and you have a flow rate of 10 CFH. It will take approximately 6 hours to empty it at that rate.
Your supply will always last longer if you are managing your flow surge with stop and start operation rather than constant flow. That 6-hour flow rate is the rate of actual time the arc welder is operating, including pre- and post-flow.
Trying to figure out how much a job is going to cost you in gas, electrodes, and more? Fortunately, there's information online to help. Check out these seven steps for accurate cost calculations.
If you have work you need to do along with a guide that gives LPM, don't worry. There are plenty of calculators out there that can help you find out your flow rate quickly.
Figuring out the proper flow rate is crucial to saving you time and money at each job.
Inert Gas Flow
Gas flow coming out of a normal collet body tends to undergo a massive amount of turbulence. There's a big problem with this. The goal is to completely shield the workpiece, the electrode, and the filler (if there is any) in inert shield gas.
The solution is laminar flow. Laminar flow is when a gas or fluid is coherent, much like a laser. There is not much diffusion or dispersion with laminar flow, and it displaces gas or fluid that is surrounding it.
Argon is denser than air, so it flows similarly to water. This means it always follows the path of least resistance. For that reason, the inside corners are always going to pool argon better than outside joints. When you do not have it, the laminar flow will save you.
The most common gas lenses you'll see are metal meshes and look similar to an aerator under your sink nozzle. Because you now have greater coherence with the flow of argon, you can extend your electrode beyond the norm.
The general rule for electrodes is to have the tip out only as far as the width of your cup. For example, the 7 cup (7/16") should only have the electrode out to 7/16". However, it can be extended a bit more with a gas lens.
This increases visibility and maneuverability. Did we mention you need less actual inert shielding gas flow in most situations? This means more time under the torch and less money going up in fumes.
Interestingly clear cups are starting to come into fashion. These increase the visibility on your electrode tip even further. The metal mesh screens allow more uniform diffusion, despite a typically shorter cup.
Clear cups increase visibility on your electrode tip, increasing the potential of the electrodes. (Source: https://www.weldingtipsandtricks.com/tack-welding-aluminum.html)
Argon Regulator or Argon Flowmeter?
To take advantage of this you need more than flow pressure alone, you also need flow volume. Too little gas flow and your puddle gets all kinds of impurities. Also, if you're welding stainless steel pipe, the sugaring starts to get completely out of control.
With everything we've talked about so far you need to know how much:
- Argon remains in your tank
- Pressure you have
- Flow you have
A regulator will help you to regulate your pressure and reduce flow surging. The flow rate is the actual volume of argon gas going through the line.
It's important to note that more pressure does not equal more volume. We don't measure volume in PSI or pounds per square inch. However, you can generally tell how much volume is left by the remaining pressure in your tank.
A much more accurate way to do this is to use a double or single argon flow meter. A flow meter is more accurate than a regulator for checking the flow of inert shielding gas. It works with a regulator to give you the complete package.
How does a Flow Regulator Work?
A flow regulator doesn't use power, oil, pneumatic control devices, or almost anything else. It's a simple precision machine that balances between two forces.
A simple flow regulator is made of a set screw, spring, diaphragm, and a plug. The set screw is used to either increase or decrease pressure. It usually presses on a plate that compresses a stiff spring.
The spring pushes against a diaphragm that presses against a pin or plug. This plug opens the flow of gas (whatever that gas is). The pressure of the gas pushes against the diaphragm and the spring is compressed from the bottom.
When this happens, the pressure displays on the gauge. Most cylinders hold roughly 2000-2250 psi up to 125 CFH gas cylinders.
By knowing your starting psi, you can figure out, how much is left in cubic feet. This can help you know how much time you have left on your cylinder for a given job.
If you're welding with a tank, the first regulator tells you how much pressure is in the tank right now. If you started at roughly 2000 psi and you're now down to 1000 psi, you're halfway through your tank.
Argon regulators with an SP00006 outlet fit both female 9/16"x18 nut or a male 5/8"x18 fitting. You can also often find a 5/32" barbed fitting. Miller, Hobart, and Lincoln welders often screw right in with a 5/8"x18 male nut.
How Does a Flow Meter Work?
An argon flow meter is very easy and simple to set up, and usually runs between 0-50CFH. As we already said, a regulator operates on pressure instead of volume. This means a flowmeter will always be more accurate than a regulator for flow volume.
A flowmeter is an outer tube with another glass tube inside, marked for flow in CPH and liters per minute or LPM. A small ball bearing inside indicating the flow.
It will connect to the bottle with the same standard connection.
To get the desired flow, you will have to pull the trigger on your torch. There is a knob on for easy flow adjustment.
You can't beat a flow meter and regulator combination. A single argon flow meter rig will often have a dial with a built-in regulator that can not be adjusted without modification.
It's set by the factory for a specific pressure. Once it hits zero, the tank is empty.
The CFH you use is going to be a key aspect, especially when welding aluminum, tungsten, and other picky metals.
SPARC regulator and flow meter combos are great for MIG and TIG welding.
The Argon Regulator and Flow Meter: A Match Made in Heaven
With an Argon regulator and flow meter combo, you can't go wrong.
SPARC's regulator and flow meter combos are ready for MIG and TIG welding setups. From 0-60 CFH, no matter what the situation, it can handle it.
SPARC is an industry leader in welding equipment, accessories, and tools. We are conveniently located in Denver, Colorado.
Shop our inventory including gas torches, back purging tools (including purge blocks), regulators and flowmeters for various gases, TIG electrodes, and more.
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