By Tom Wermert, Senior Brand Manager, Victor Technologies

Northeast Welding 1

Like many others, Boston-area welder Mike Balboni became a statistic of the recession. Laid off from his job, “I could have waited for somebody to send me a paycheck, or I could go out and get my own payback.”

Refusing to be part of the problem, Balboni pledged to be part of the solution. With nearly 20 years of experience and holding multiple welding certifications for structural steel (including 7018 vertical up), sheet metal MIG and general fabrication, Balboni started doing miscellaneous metal fabrication projects. He took the projects that others wouldn’t take on, returned phone calls promptly, paid his bills on time and was honest in all of his customer interactions.

“I grew from working out of the back of a Jeep Grand Cherokee towing a trailer with a gas drive generator on it to now working out of a 2,000-sq.-ft. facility and running mobile truck on the road,” Balboni says as the proud founder of Northeast Welding, located about 30 minutes south of Boston in Attleboro, Mass.

Recent projects include building four 20-ft.-tall solar towers for a local professional sports team in two weeks, a massive decorative park fence project for a local municipality, making 80,000 1/2-in.-long TIG welds on a stainless steel conveyor system for a bakery, stainless steel art work and hardfacing on a excavator bucket.

“I have the advantage of not having to quit at 5 O’clock, as well as a background that includes everything from automotive repair to being an aircraft mechanic in the Navy,” says Balboni (officially AMH, E-3, or Aviation Structural Mechanic, Hydraulics). Other certifications include Certified Emergency Vehicle Technician with certifications in electrical, pumps, mechanics, aerials and lighting and safety. In short, if it’s got wheels, hydraulics or needs welding, Balboni can probably fix it.

Growing His Business

With only a gas drive welder and a 115V MIG-only welder, Balboni was forced to turn away a lot of stainless steel TIG work.

He went to his local distributor, who pointed him in the direction of the Thermal Arc Fabricator 181i. When Balboni learned that the machine had the support of Victor Technologies District Manager Tom Ferri, who helped him obtain some of his AWS certifications, he immediately had confidence in the machine and placed an order.

“With the Fabricator 181i being multi-process, highly portable and having more output power than my current machine, I knew it would allow me to take on work that I was turning away at the time,” he says. Since acquiring the unit in August of 2011, Balboni has used every process on the machine, including MIG aluminum with a spool gun.
“We take that machine into the field constantly. It handles all the abuse that I can give it, and it has not failed one time,” he states (view video).

Over the course of the next year, Balboni earned the bulk of his income using the capabilities of the Fabricator 181i, calling the capabilities of the unit, “phenomenal.”

More Power

Fabricator 3-in-1 Family of Multi-Process Welding Systems

Success begets success. By the summer of 2012, the numerous decorative railing projects for houses and small businesses such as coffee shops lead to a large municipal project where the deadline demanded two welders.

“Keeping in line with how I set my shop up,” he says, “I wanted the versatility of a 3-in-1 welder and the additional amperage that the 181i doesn’t cover. The Fabricator 252i fit the bill perfectly.”

The Fabricator 252i provides a 5 – 300 amp multi-process welding output, giving it the power for .045” solid and cored wires and 5/32” Stick electrodes. It offers best-of-class arc performance and, at 66 lbs., remains highly portable for job site work. Balboni appreciates the second gas solenoid valve so that he can connect two shielding gas cylinders at the same time. For him, those two cylinders are usually C25 for short circuit MIG welding and 100% argon for MIG aluminum with a spool gun or for TIG welding stainless. He also appreciates the fact that he can switch between the two processes in less than 30 seconds (view video).

The Fabricator 252i also provides a host of advanced functions that are typically only found on more expensive machines. They include gas pre- and post-flow control, spot and stich welding capabilities, wire sharp, crater and slope control for TIG welding and E6010 and E7018 Stick arc characteristics that would impress a pipe welder or structural steel fabricator.

“These Thermal Arc machines give me one platform that does a variety of processes. For a growing shop like mine, to be able to own one machine that lets me weld four different kinds of metal saves me a ton of time and money. I don’t have to have three different kinds of machines to do the job that one 3-in-1 welder can do.”

Adding Mobile AC TIG

Northeast Welding has offered AC TIG aluminum services, but only in the shop because their current AC/DC TIG welder weighs 400 lbs. and, “probably costs more in electricity to turn the machine on than I can make with it.”

As a result, Balboni had to turn down AC TIG work in the field, as well as TIG work where the procedures specified a non-contact, high-frequency (HF) arc start. As good as the Lift TIG capabilities of 3-in-1 welders are (they can repeatedly make inclusion-free welds), the Lift TIG process does not meet some specifications.

Knowing this, Balboni had been waiting for Thermal Arc to come out with a portable AC/DC TIG/Stick welder with HF arc start options, and in March of 2013 he purchased a Thermal Arc 186 AC/DC (view video).

This unit weighs less than 50 lbs., provides a 10- to 200-amp output and costs about half that of other welders that offer advanced controls, including:
•    AC wave balance control, adjustable between 10 and 65% electrode negative (EN).
•    AC frequency control, adjustable between 15 and 150 Hz.
•    Pulsed TIG welding controls, with a pulse frequency adjustable between 0.5 and 200 pulses per second (PPS) and a peak pulse width (pulse duration) adjustable between 15 and 80%.
•    Upslope and downslope/crater control.
•    HF arc starts for applications requiring non-contact arc starts and Lift TIG for positive arc starts without HF.

“Now I’ll be able to offer my customers the ability of mobile TIG. Out in the field, on the boat, under the car—wherever it is, I’ll now have the capacity for AC TIG and HF arc starts for code work,” he concludes