Bulk MIG Wire Selection

How to Choose a Bulk MIG Wire Package
By Lisa Byall, Portfolio Manager, The Lincoln Electric Company

In these challenging economic times, manufacturers find themselves on a constant quest for ways to cut costs and streamline welding operations in the most efficient, productive manner. Effective solutions to this end result aren’t always born of big changes, but small ones.

One such way to achieve long-term cost savings and production efficiency focuses on wire packaging. By switching from small packaging to bulk packaging such as a drum or box, most shops will be able to reduce changeovers and costs almost immediately.

Bulk MIG wire packaging of 250 pounds and larger in bulk packages such as drums, reels, or boxes can offer many cost advantages. Since it was first used several decades ago, bulk wire has been used to maintain consistent, continuous, efficient wire feeding to the welding drive system.

If you decide to use bulk MIG packages, it’s necessary to evaluate the different options on the market and determine which solution is the best for your particular shop. No two shops have the same wire feeding needs or layouts and this should be taken into account when choosing the best wire delivery system and package.

Evolution of packaging
Bulk MIG wire has evolved over the years and now comes in a variety of options that offer different features and benefits that enhance a variety of welding shop environments and applications. Important factors to consider include the number of waste streams (e.g., cardboard box, plastic overwrap, steel frames, wood reels), wire placement in the welding joint, risk of tangling, set-up, floor space, and storage.

The first bulk wire made its way into shops in the form of reels and drums that needed to be rotated for proper wire payout, a choice that is still available today. These options provide the best wire placement, giving welders, automated torches, and robots the ability to continuously place wire accurately and precisely in the weld joint.

Bulk reels provide additional advantages for shops with limited storage and floor space, as they can be stacked on top of each other up to three high.

However, rotated reel or drum packaging does have some disadvantages. They are the most expensive package to set up, as additional, relatively expensive bulk wire feed payoff equipment is required to provide rotation. The setup also requires additional changeover time from one reel or drum to the next compared to some of the newer packaging options.

Bulk reels provide limited protection for the welding wire, as most of the wire is exposed to the environment while in use. There are protective covers for bulk reels, however, these add further expense.

Rotated reels or drums are ideal for applications where critical wire placement is a must, such as on thin-gauge material or where small weld deposits are needed. Other ideal applications include automated or robotic applications without a welder to compensate for wire misplacement. Such jobs include welds on water or propane tanks.

The next bulk wire option type, non-rotated reel packaging, also offers good, accurate wire placement and like any product on a reel, minimal tangling. Auxiliary set-up is cheaper and simpler than rotated reels. And, storage is simple, as these reels also stack well in areas with limited space requirements.

Like rotated reels, non-rotated reel packaging also exposes wire to the environment while in use.

This type of bulk-packaged MIG wire is ideal for hard automation applications or for shops that already use rotated reels.

All types of wooden reels – rotated and non-rotated – can be recycled, and in many cases, reused by the reel manufacturer.

A third type of bulk wire comes in the form of non-rotated fiberboard drums. The biggest advantage of this packaging type, outside of the fact it offers good wire placement, is that the wire is not directly exposed to the environment during use. In terms of change outs, this packaging option offers simple set-up with inexpensive, auxiliary payoff equipment, although some do require a payoff hat. In storage, non-rotated drums can stack up to three high, minimizing floor space usage.

The biggest disadvantage to this type of bulk wire packaging is that it can feature multiple waste streams that are difficult to separate for disposal and recycling, including fiberboard and steel used for structural support at the top and bottom of the drum. These drums also are more susceptible to material handling issues as they do not have integrated pallets or straps and are often more challenging to lift and move. Drums can not be tipped or tilted as the wire loops can move and cause tangling during payout.

The best applications for non-rotated drums are high-volume, semi-automatic welding, robotics, and those with space limitations.

A fourth option is a non-rotated corrugated box that provides good wire placement. This 100 percent recyclable alternative has a limited number of materials that are easy to separate into only a few waste streams. It also offers integrated payoff, with no auxiliary payoff equipment required.

Multiple product handling methods include straps or attached integrated mini pallets that are forklift-ready offering maximum portability and recyclability.

This packaging choice can require more storage than other bulk options and can stack only two high for 1,000-pound boxes and three high for 500-pound packages. However, because such packaging is stackable, it still can reduce traditional storage methods by 50 percent or more, depending on the shop.

Robotic and semi-automatic welding applications are the best fit for this bulk packaging option as it minimizes changeover to increase productivity.

Questions to consider
Now that you’re familiar with the different options in bulk packaging, as well as the features, benefits and challenges of each type, you can better assess which of the products would be the best for your bulk wire needs.

In order to get the right bulk wire solution, consider the following questions during the selection process:
Is recycling a major concern? If so, look for a package that has a limited number of waste streams

Would you like multiple lifting method options (e.g., one that can be picked up from the top or bottom)? If so, consider using packaging that offers an integrated pallet
   and strap options

Are you looking for bulk packaging that requires less auxiliary equipment? Consider an option with integrated payoff

Is wire placement critical? Rotated reel packaging is your best option, followed by non-rotated reel packaging

Do you have limited storage space? Be sure to select a product that has proper stacking ability

Every manufacturer requires different packaging solutions to achieve cost savings and increased production efficiency and productivity. Understanding your needs and how different packaging options can meet them is the first step in selecting a bulk MIG wire package that works best in your shop and ultimately will reduce downtime and changeovers to lower your bottom line.

Lisa Byall is the Portfolio Manager for welding consumables at The Lincoln Electric Company.