How S&S Electronics is Staking Claim in the USD $195 Billion Battery Industry
By Andy Jensen
The aisle is dimly lit. For unknown reasons, the big box hardware stores are unable to adequately illuminate their wares—except for the lighting aisle, of course. At the moment, I’m investigating battery-powered lawn mowers. Last year, this store displayed only one battery-powered mower. A year later and there are two different manufacturers offering two different models.
What’s going on here?
To my right, more battery-powered lawn tools are just as dimly lit. I see a trimmer, an edger, and a leaf blower. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, so it takes me half a second to understand all of these tools are powered by the same battery pack. I turn my attention back to the mowers.
‘Would anyone buy a battery-powered mower?’ I think. Then I’m asked to step aside as another customer loads a boxed mower onto a flattop cart. Later, I’m speaking to my daughter on my smartphone. She’s mowing her yard, her first yard, as she just recently purchased her first home.
Out of curiosity I ask, “What mower did you get?” Yes, it’s such a dad thing to ask, but super important, regardless.
“Umm...” She looks down to see. “It’s a battery mower.”
The Race Course
Batteries are in high demand because consumers prefer a battery over a gas-powered motor or an inconvenient power cord. Recreational transportation is also fanning the flames. Our urban centers are flooded with electric scooters and bikes. I did a quick online search for “ebike manufacturers” and found a list that included more than 100 manufacturers worldwide.
According to a May 2020 report published by Acumen, a research and consulting company, the battery industry will generate revenues of $194 billion US dollars by 2027. Manufacturers are racing to grab a piece of a large pie.
The great battery race is a boon for Javier Suniga, a 30-year veteran of the battery world who consults with manufacturers in the design of new battery packs. His company, S&S Electronics, with only 12 full time employees is recognized as a leader in the battery industry.
“There’s no shortage of business,” he says. “I’m consulting with aerospace guys and military people who need help in designing a battery to fit in a particular place. I’m helping retail establishments, like Batteries Plus, provide repair services for the mountain of battery packs that are sold with cordless power tools. And on the R&D side, I supply colleges and universities with the parts they need to design a better power cell. And I could tell you how I’ve helped Hyperloop, but we don’t have that kind of time.”
A walk through the S&S Electronics facility is fascinating. Aisles hold bins filled with the myriad number of parts that create a power pack: an assortment of plastic containers and metal tabs and connectors of different sizes, shapes, thicknesses, and types of metal. As a metaphor, perhaps S&S is the Amazon of batteries. Whatever you’re looking for, S&S either already has it or they can make it.
Organizations come to Javier for help with the design and also in the fabrication. “I provide many companies with pre-assembled components that speed up their manufacturing process,” he explains. “I have the tools that let me quickly create any laser-cut custom tab, something the manufacturer would rather source than create.”
Competition is Fierce
At one point in his life, a business merger forced Javier out of a company he loved and where he learned the battery trade. “The next day, I backed my car out of my small garage and got to work,” he says with a smile. “I turned my one-car garage into my workshop, my warehouse, and my lab. I’m pretty sure my wife was really happy when the company reached a point when the garage was too small. I guess that was just a perk of success.” Now, as an industry leader, competition comes from a different source.
By far, battery packs manufactured in China are attractive to US manufacturers due to price. Javier admits the Chinese battery manufacturers are fierce competitors. “They’re hard to compete against. I understand manufacturers have rigid price points and margins and Chinese prices help them reach those numbers. I can point to quality and transparency as my unique selling point, but that does not always deter a product engineer from going overseas. So, I don’t talk about price, I talk about efficiencies. I can help my customers explore design alternatives that will reduce the number of parts the battery pack requires, which decreases production costs. My ISO certification and reputation help me do what I can to keep US business in the US.”
What the Future Holds
Javier sees Li-ion as just another steppingstone. “When I got started in this business Ni-Cad was king,” he remembers. “It paved the way for everything to get smaller, especially in the electronics world. Today, Li-ion is the de facto standard. It’s done more for batteries than what Ni-Cad did. But it also has an ugly side.”
Javier is referencing the overheating problems the battery faced in its early years. He also recognizes lithium is a rare earth element, which pushes the US market toward dependency on international sources. Lithium also creates an environmental concern.
“S&S is not an R&D shop for creating new battery technology,” he explains. “We help customers take existing battery tech and make it work for their products. But the hydrogen technology I’ve seen is impressive. Whether that’s the next step for battery technology or not, I can’t tell you. But I can tell you with certainty, there will be another step. And it will be more revolutionary than ever. That’s very exciting to me.”
Welding Technology Spotlight: Sunstone Omega PA250i
Sunstone’s new battery welding system is a cardinal welder; a welder of all welders; a welder that all welders aspire to be. The Omega PA250i is packed with versatility and holds a black belt in the martial arts of welding.
Let’s start first with versatility.
The Omega is not a one-size-fits all answer. The engineers at Sunstone recognized the need for the welder to transform readily to meet the needs of any given organization, or any given department within an organization. That’s why the Omega is available in three different configurations, being able to meet the needs of many different types of shops.
For the R&D shop, the Omega provides advanced pulse-arc technology, 5X optics and Sunstone’s lauded digital welding interface. The pulse-arc and optics duo allows any lab to test myriad configurations to find the absolute best welding schedule.
For mid-size production facilities, the Omega can be paired with a manually actuated or pneumatic weld head that can keep up with production demands. Of course, the weld head is controlled by Sunstone’s digital welding technology, so operators can expect excellent weld results.
For production facilities that are totally automated, the Omega can be paired with a CNC table using the Janome Cartesian Robot. While the Janome takes care of where the weld is placed, the Omega controls the delivery of the weld.
The Omega’s versatility makes it a good fit for any type of shop. Or, for larger organizations, the Omega can find a home with the R&D team or on the production floor.
Let’s Talk about Features
The Omega’s welding performance is made possible by Sunstone’s digital welding interface. A 10-inch color touchscreen allows the operator to control every aspect of the weld, from power to agitation to weld length.
After the operator selects the desired attributes, the weld is displayed graphically as a waveform. The operator can see in real time how the weld is affected when different settings are selected. The digital control of the weld is what allows the operator to find, produce, and replicate the perfect weld.
Weld schedules can be saved and used for another time. Schedules can also be cloned to another Omega welder in a matter of seconds. The Omega is 100% PLC ready. One or many Omega welders can be controlled from one source, which is perfect for large, automated production lines.
One feature some operators will appreciate is the Omega’s on-board automation. Simply select the type and thickness of the metals you’re working with and the Omega will suggest the right combination of settings to deliver the perfect weld.
Bread and Butter Features
The Omega can deliver up to 250 Ws of energy. The operator can dial in the power down to 1/100th of a Ws. Weld materials between .003-.030 inches (.075-.75mm) in thickness.
The operator can store up to 127 different welds with the ability to lock out other operators from making changes to saved welds or the current weld. On a production floor, when operators change from shift to shift, locking the current weld settings provides the company with quality control.
Sunstone makes the claim that with the Omega’s digital welding technology any organization can turn to pure copper tabs to boost battery efficiency. “Copper is tricky,” says Thane Kennedy, Product Manager at Sunstone Engineering LLC. “When faced with the challenges of creating battery packs, manufacturers turn to nickel or clad to connect each individual can, because they are relatively easier to weld. The increase in production efficiency is offset by a subsequent degradation in battery efficiency. With the Omega, manufacturers aren’t forced to choose one over the other. They can now weld copper tabs just as easily as any other type of tab and enjoy increased battery efficiency.”
As a serious piece of welding technology, the Omega can be protected by a perpetual product protection plan called the Sunstone Circle. As long as you remain a member of the Circle via a monthly subscription, the Omega’s warranty never expires.
In the end, the Omega offers a great deal of flexibility tightly controlled by advanced welding technology.
By Andy Jensen
The economics are simple. Even the most mathematically challenged contractor can understand the attraction. But lest we keep anyone in the dark, let’s review:
A contractor’s best friend is a cordless driver, be it Milwaukee, DeWalt, or Bosch—it’s a personal choice. Fully charged, let’s say a DeWalt can put down 100 wallboard screws with one charge. Now, if a contractor can get another 40 screws out of the same charge, what happens?
Those 40 additional screws create a domino effect: Less time spent changing batteries; less batteries to buy; less batteries to charge; and certainly, increased productivity.
The single battery pack that came with the DeWalt out of the box was just one of hundreds of thousands built in one Asian facility in a day or two. And it was built by a contractor supplying the same basic battery to several other hand tool manufacturers. Bottom line: there’s nothing special about that battery. If that battery were a college football player, they’d miss the NFL the draft.
Just ask Richard Price, a man with more than 30 years of invaluable battery wisdom. With his partner, Frank Ineman, he’s rebuilding battery packs for companies all over North America. “What you get in the box is mediocre,” he says. “But I can take that same battery, rebuild it, make it last much longer, make the customer that much more productive. And I can charge more for the rebuild than buying a new battery because the increase in productivity more than covers the cost of the rebuild. Our customers walk out of our shop with a happy story. It’s the best source of advertising for us.”
Frank and Richard’s story is classic American literature. Working for a battery company in the late 1990’s, the two were co-workers at the time, making a living selling car batteries to garages and dealerships. “We were actually doing very well,” Richard remembers. “Between Frank and I we were helping the owner of the company live pretty handsomely. So well, in fact, that he calls me up and says, ‘I’m selling the company!’ Well, that could spell trouble for us. And it did. Shortly thereafter Frank and I are sitting outside the office, out of work. But we were hungry. And I said, ‘Frank, we don’t need him. We can do this ourselves.’ And we never looked back.”
The two formed a partnership, rented space, and named the company after Frank’s high school mascot: Bulldog Battery. “We thought it sounded like we meant business, that we had the tenacity to do whatever it takes to keep our customers happy,” Richard says with a smile. “So far, so good.”
From the very beginning, Frank and Richard vowed to treat their customers the way they would want to be treated. “We’ll carry a battery to the customer’s car, something you rarely see these days. We believe in offering a level of service and respect that you don’t see any more. Our honest and straightforward way of doing business is what wins over our customers.”
The focus on service has worked for Bulldog Battery. Growth has been steady and successful. The company began renting one suite, then two suites, then bought the building in order to accommodate their growth. With 9,000 square feet of space and 12 full-time employees, prospects for continued growth are very good.
Bulldog Battery is geared for servicing and solving battery challenges. Whether a customer needs a battery for a laptop, smartphone, electronics, or a custom battery, they can deliver. “We get phone calls from all over the country,” Richard says. “Just last week I got a call from a crane operator in New York. The manufacturer of the crane wanted thousands to replace a battery. We were able to fix it for a hundred dollars. So, he’s thrilled. And once we get a customer, they spread the word like wildfire.”
When it comes to batteries, Bulldog has learned that nothing is ever obsolete. Frank and Richard have accumulated the experience to wake up nearly any battery. The company starts with the battery framework. They almost always keep the framework but remove and recycle the interior. “We replace the inside components and are able to increase the run time,” Richard explains. “We make the battery better than it was.”
Bulldog Battery can work with any type of battery. And that’s what Richard enjoys about the battery business: never knowing what new battery challenge will walk through his door. For him, going to work is an adventure. “We are always tinkering to find ways to wake up a battery and save our customers money,” Richard says.
Micro welding is a crucial to Richard’s ability to find solutions regardless of the challenges that come through his door. A good battery has good energy transfer connections, and a reliable micro welder can make strong, repeatable welds that increase battery efficiency. Choosing the right micro welder that offers a balance between power, precision, and price is very important. More power allows for thicker tabs and connections. More precision allows for truly individualized weld settings based on the application needs. The purchase price of the welder will greatly affect the ROI and profitability of the investment. Luckily, Richard was able to find a micro welding solution that checked all three of these boxes: power, precision, and price.
“Our welders let us do things we couldn’t otherwise do,” Richard says pointing to his three Sunstone micro welders. Richard spouts off a long list of different types of batteries he works with, including the temperamental Li-ion. “With the right micro welding technology and skill set there’s not a battery in the world that makes me nervous. We are able to wake up any battery and make it run longer or make it more powerful thanks to having the right tools.”
By Andy Jensen
Harley-Davidson isn’t afraid to dip a toe in someone else’s pool. For nearly a decade, the iconic motorcycle company has flirted with markets that don’t mix well with the company’s bread-and-butter, “God Bless America!” biker image. But the introduction of the Livewire, a middleweight e-motorbike, is a cannon ball with a splash that might soak even those who don’t want to get wet.
What’s driving Harley-Davidson’s pool hopping? Opportunity! According to a report published by Global Market Insights, the electric motorcycles and scooters market is expected to exceed $40 billion USD by 2026—a $10 billion USD increase in less than seven years! Granted, a good portion of that growth is in the scooter segment, a space which is a bit foreign to the company. Nonetheless, the 48V, 26V, and Li-ion segments are fair game.
For Harley-Davidson to plant a flag in either of those segments, and gain market share, the company needs to appeal to a different type of consumer. The typical hog enthusiast finds deep satisfaction in Harley-Davidson’s unique sound and emblematic power, both in a literal and symbolic sense.
“To me, the appeal of a Harley-Davidson is the bike’s power, the rumble, the stigma,” says Becky Hess, a long-time Harley-Davidson owner and enthusiast. While giving a clear thumbs-down sign, she continues. “I have no interest in an electric Harley-Davidson.”
Clearly, Harley-Davidson needs to shake off the leathers in order to appeal to the type of consumer attracted to electric vehicles. A significant portion of that group is suburban women, who find the simplicity, style, and adventure of an electric motorcycle appealing.
Harley-Davidson also hopes to win over a younger male market, who is typically attracted by the fast and furious. The rider on the bullet bike may be a bit bored by Harley-Davidson’s kick-back style. Thus, the debut of the Livewire is a metamorphic and strategic appeal to a different type of customer.
Says Jake Bright of TechCrunch, “With declining sales and the aging of the baby boomers—Harley’s primary market for chrome and steel gassers—the company needed to take a fresh turn.”
Hog-owner Hess agrees. “The only reason for an electric Harley is to get the younger crowd into bikes. Millennials aren’t buying motorcycles. They don’t seem to have any interest. But an electric bike may have more appeal.”
The Livewire is not your typical hog. It looks fast. Its lines say, “see how fast we can chew through the next five miles,” which is in stark contrast to the typical Harley-Davidson look that says, “see how well we can cruise the next 60 miles.”
The Livewire is more than fast: it’s quick.
Harley-Davidson’s all-new H-D Revelation™ permanent-magnet electric motor is rated at 105 horsepower (78 kW) and produces 86 ft. lbs. of torque. In short, the bike will reach 60 mph in three seconds. And when you’ve hit 60, and you need a bit more speed, a quick twist of the wrist gets you to 80 mph in 1.9 seconds. Suffice it to say the bike satisfies the need for speed.
With no clutch, the Livewire is simple to operate: twist the throttle and the bike goes. The absence of a clutch and the need to change gears significantly contributes to a faster learning curve for new riders, who Harley-Davidson wants to attract. Call it luck or brilliant engineering and marketing, the transmission creates a unique, electric sound due to the way the power is transferred to the back wheel. While the Livewire doesn’t have the patented hog roar, it does have a unique sound, nonetheless.
Battery life is key to winning over the hearts of a new market. Harley-Davidson states the Livewire will go 146 miles before it needs a charge, or 95 miles in stop-and-start traffic. At first sight, the range seems low. How does the Livewire compare to other e-motorbikes?
EVoke, Brutus, and Arc, for starters, boast ranges up to 292 miles of city driving. Zero, Damon, Lita, and Lightning all have models in the 120 to 200 mile range, as reported on their respective websites. Some manufacturers are reporting numbers on models that are yet to make it to full production, so the numbers are sketchy. To that point, a head-to-head road test between the Livewire and the Zero SR/F Premium, conducted by Cycle World in April 2020, revealed the Livewire outlasted the Zero in miles per charge, which casts some doubt on the reported numbers.
When it’s time to recharge, the Livewire needs 40 minutes to get back to 80% with a DC charging station. It needs another 20 minutes for a full charge. In comparison, eVoke will recharge to 80% using a DC charger in 15 minutes, the company reports.
The power source for the Livewire is a 15.5 kWh high-voltage battery consisting of Li-ion cells. The battery is positioned in the center of the bike’s frame and encased in a finned, aluminum housing, acting as a heat sink to cool the cells. Duct work built into the frame channels air to the fins to assist in keeping the battery cool.
How Harley-Davidson connected the Li-ion cells is a trade secret the company will keep close to their vest. With little surprise, Harley-Davidson politely declined to comment about the tools or processes used in production. However, given the challenges in creating an efficient power cell, it’s no trade secret the company utilized micro welding technology in the process.
“The challenge that Harley-Davidson and other electric vehicle manufacturers face is what type of material they choose to connect the Li-ion cells together,” says Jonathan Young, president of Sunstone Engineering, a manufacturer of micro welders. “In our very first science class in school we learned that copper is king when it comes to conductivity, due to its low cost and low resistance. But welding a thin copper tab to the top of a power cell is extremely difficult. The sweet spot for a durable weld, that doesn’t damage the cell, is very thin. Too much power and you damage the interior parts of the cell. Too little power and the weld will break. A Li-ion cell only compounds that challenge. Handled carelessly they can be dangerous. Only with the right technology and hardware can a manufacturer take advantage of copper.”
Copper has other key advantages over nickel or clad, which is frequently used in developing a battery. “Copper is half the price of nickel,” says Young. “Copper has four times the conductivity of nickel, which greatly improves battery efficiency—the amount of energy lost to resistance is four times better with copper. And the peel strength of a copper tab is 66% stronger than a nickel tab, which speaks to durability. None of this is a secret. Every electric vehicle manufacturer knows copper is the secret to a more efficient battery. But copper is also the challenge. It’s not easy to weld, especially on a production floor.”
Young points to Sunstone’s Omega PA250i battery welding system, which he says makes copper welding not only possible but a viable option for the production floor. “We sell the Omega in three different versions: in an R&D configuration, small shop configuration, or for a fully automated production facility.”
Compared to other manufacturers in the e-motorbike space, Harley-Davidson is a bit late. Sure, they have dabbled here and there, putting their toe in the water, as mentioned earlier. But the Livewire has the full attention of the Harley-Davidson executive management team, indicating the company recognizes the strategic value of a successful Livewire launch.
Other than Honda, the mainstream motorcycle manufacturers don’t appear to be paying any attention to the e-motorbike market. And even Honda is just now filing patents that indicate active research and development in the e-motorbike market.
In a June 2020 article by Kevin Cameron of Cycle World, BMW’s Dr. Markus Schramm indicated motorcycle companies would follow the consumer. “In the car sector, it’s basically government regulations which force the industry, and thereby the customer, into e-mobility,” Dr. Schramm is quoted as saying. “But in the motorcycle industry you are not forced (by government regulation) to ride electric, and therefore your decision to do so is decided by how much fun it is to ride such a vehicle. That means it’s customer driven, and so I think it’s important to direct our strategy with this in mind.”
BMW can stand by Dr. Schramm’s flippant wave of his hand to e-motorbikes by pointing to the 180,000 bikes the company sold in 2019, the ninth year of consecutive records sales. A quick review of the BMW website reveals BMW does sell electric scooters, so the company has not totally dismissed the EV market.
“I don’t believe any motor vehicle manufacturer is ignoring or in absolute denial that emobility is the future,” says Young. “Obviously the manufacturers are approaching the challenge differently. Some are more market driven, some a bit more opportunistic, and some are probably hampered by a weaker R&D capability. But two things are true: they’ll all need micro welding technology to bring vision to reality. And, of course, in the end the best go-to-market plan will win.”
By Andy Jensen
Perhaps the Patrick McMillan story is better told by telling another story, the one that began on an autumn day in 1890 amid the industrial neighborhoods of Birmingham, England. With horse-drawn carriages clacking down the cobble stone street and the air carrying a hint of burning coal and soot, the president of the Birmingham Jewellery and Silversmiths Association cut a ribbon to open a new school at 84 Vittoria Street: The Birmingham City Institute of Jewellery.
Through 130 years of continuous operation, the Institute has amassed a trophy wall that rivals the most decorated Olympian. The Institute nabbed 16 prizes and the College Cup at the 2017 Goldsmiths’ Craft and Design Council Awards, just to cite one example. A steady stream of British royalty calls on the Institute for official state visits regularly. And the Institute’s graduates are part of the backbone at prestigious jewelry names: Tiffany’s, Tag Heuer, Cartier, De Beers, and others.
To study at the Institute, one does not simply register online or walk through the doors and start classes. Today, the Institute is part of the Birmingham City University umbrella and, like other higher institutes of education, one must apply for admission. Though the Institute accepts nearly 300 new students every year, the number applying is much higher.
Understanding the Institute—the royal visits and 130-year-old Oxford-style architecture—sets a scene of grand contrasts. Meet Patrick McMillan: American boy raised in the mid-south, where British royalty may never have cause to visit and the oldest building in town may be encroaching on 100 years.
Raised by parents who shared a passion for creativity (his father was an editorial cartoonist and his mother a travel agent with a love for arts and culture), Patrick was enrolled in a high school focused on the fine arts where he was introduced to sculpture. After high school, he studied at the Memphis College of Art and interned as a blacksmith. “My mother loved to travel, and she was very supportive of the idea to travel and study. Her high school years were spent in Belgium. She took me on a trip to Nova Scotia in the summer of 2000 where I discovered the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and later found out it was a part of MCA’s exchange program,” he recalls.
After enrolling, Patrick was introduced to jewelry by a friend. “I was sharing my frustrations with my friend, about not feeling quite satisfied with sculpture. And he said, ‘you should try jewelry and metalsmithing; it joins your interests in metal with your more creative side.’ I haven’t looked back since.”
After completing his undergraduate studies in Nova Scotia, Patrick’s talents were put to use by a startup jewelry company based in Memphis. He also freelanced, which allowed him to expand his skill set and explore. Now armed with the beginnings of an expanded portfolio, Patrick applied for admission to the Birmingham School of Jewellery in 2006 and was accepted into the Institute’s master’s program in Jewellery, Silversmithing and Related Products.
The Foundry of McMillan Metals
“London was a great experience,” Patrick reminisced. “After graduating I worked with a startup blacksmith while working the exhibition scene. It’s during that time that I really came to understand that I wasn’t one who is content to color inside the lines. I am more experimental. I have a rebellious style and I like to push the envelope, which keeps jewelry fresh.”
Seeing that his time in London was coming to an end, Patrick moved to Rhode Island to join friends. And in 2011 he started his own business, McMillan Metals, setting up shop in a home studio.
“Initially, my focus was on my craft, and creating my own line of production work to sell online and in local shops. Later, I started providing more custom work, including engagement and wedding bands, rings, bracelets—creating pieces that the customer could envision but could never find,” says Patrick. “I wanted to create art that spoke to the customer.”
Patrick’s focus on personalization is best illustrated in a wedding band he created for an architect. “He wanted certain symbols designed into the ring. For him the band needed to be very symbolic, and he’d never find what he was looking for in a retail shop. My customers also enjoy the experience of working with me to create exactly what they envision. The adage, ‘it’s not the destination but the journey,’ is very fitting.”
As all businesses do, the McMillan Metals’ business plan has changed over the years. He took on production work from other jewelers and was able to move and expand the studio to 1,250 square feet. He also started renting space to other independent jewelers and teaching different workshops through the Rhode Island education system.
How Technology Has Shaped His Craft
Along the way to growing his studio, Patrick discovered the Orion pulse arc micro welder from Sunstone. “A colleague had a competing brand in his studio that he demonstrated to show how he used it in his studio,” says Patrick. “I thought I understood the value, but as I was just starting my business, I was not prepared to invest in a welder.
“A few years later, at the annual Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG) event, I walked past the Sunstone booth and the Orion welder caught my eye, because I kind of knew what it was. I spent a fair amount of time speaking to the folks at the booth to get a greater understanding of the possibilities of what their welder could do and saw how it would be beneficial in my studio practice. I was impressed.”
The Orion micro welder delivers a small weld in a precise location. How small? With an Orion micro welder, the weld spot can be as small as 0.2mm. And how precise? Microscopic optics are used to position the welder’s needle-like electrode in the right spot. Heat is not a worry. The weld is completed in milliseconds, which reduces the amount of energy transferred to surrounding materials. Unlike solder, micro welding poses significantly less risk to precious stones.
“Honestly, I mastered and understood the full capability of the micro welder in less than six months,” Patrick says. “I’ve not soldered a jump ring in five years and probably never will solder a jump ring ever again. With the micro welder, I can accomplish the job in a fraction of the time it would take me to do it with solder. Patrick uses his Orion micro welder to tack the different parts of a piece together first. “After I tack things together, I may go back and solder,” he says. “For assembly and production work, the Orion is invaluable. My students get really excited when they understand what the welder can do for their craft, for production pieces, or for tasks they may do over and over again—they’ll love the welder for repetitive jobs.”
Giving Back to the Craft
In 2017 Patrick moved his business to a larger studio space where he launched his new business, The Bench Jewelry and Metalsmithing Studio. The studio layout is simple: One large worktable in the middle surrounded by various tools. Students surround the table and as a small group they learn the jewelry craft from Patrick and other local jewelers and metalsmiths. Jewelers also can rent out private benches to build up their new business and portfolio, have access to all the shared machines and tools, and have a professional area to meet clients.
“Prior to the pandemic the studio was seeing about 30-50 students every year,” Patrick explains. “Each class lasts about four to eight weeks and students can choose a daytime or evening class period. Lately, I’ve been working to develop virtual workshops and have launched a few over the past few months.”
When the pandemic ends, Patrick plans to expand his studio to accommodate more students and more subjects. “The space next to me just opened up and I’ve already inquired about it” he says. “Interest in the jewelry craft has grown significantly, stoked by 3D design technology and printing. It’s never been easier for an artist to design a ring and then, with one click of the mouse, print its various components.”
On this note, Patrick hesitates, contemplating the future of metalsmithing, perhaps. “Technology allows any person the ability to create a ring, pendant, or whatever. But I feel the craft is preserved in the artistry that goes into the design. Technology has not reduced the amount of time required to envision a truly stunning piece, though it has expanded the boundaries of creativity. And that’s truly exciting.”
The blunt contrast between the hi-tech digital interface and the fundamental pulse arc stylus is not lost on anyone who first bumps into the Orion 200i micro welder from Sunstone. The contrast is stark, but the relationship between the tech and the arc runs deep.
Let’s start first with the digital interface, because what happens at the end of the electrode begins with the touchscreen. The technology is what differentiates the Orion 200i from any other pulse arc welder on the market—that and the available power (up to 200 Joules!).
The purpose of the digital interface is to provide the operator (that’s you) absolute control over the weld. As an artist working with all types of metals, being able to adjust power and how the power is delivered allows you to work with any medium.
For operators who are new to micro welding, the touchscreen interface can be set to display the ‘basic’ control tab, a screen that lets operators configure their weld parameters in three easy steps:
The display will update after each selection to illustrate how the selections affect the weld. The Orion 200i has been programmed with different presets based on 12 different metal types and five different applications, meaning there are more than 60 different combinations available to help anyone find appropriate settings and make successful welds.
For operators who prefer to go a little deeper into the weld settings, the interface can be set to display the Arc control tab. In the Arc screen, operators have one-touch access to complete weld customization. With every project you can quickly adjust the waveform, weld energy, pulse time, agitation settings, ignition options, and more.
So what does “going deeper” into the weld settings mean? The Orion 200i is unlike any other micro pulse arc welder in the amount of control and adjustments it offers the operator. For starters, the Orion 200i has a power range from 0.15 to 200 Joules, and the energy can be adjusted by as little as 0.05 Joule increments. Jewelers and artists who find themselves needing to weld 34 AWG (0.16mm) wires together on one day, and then needing to weld 1/8” (3mm) thick armature and sculpture wire the next day, can do so with the Orion 200i.
What is also helpful, when making adjustments to the energy, is that the user interface will display an approximate spot size (or weld size). The estimated spot size takes some of the guess work out of determining how much energy to use for a particular job.
The Orion 200i is capable of welding many different types of metals and can be used for a large variety of jewelry production and repair applications. The Orion 200i comes with presets for the following metals, but rest assured that this list is not all inclusive of what the Orion can weld: yellow gold, white gold, titanium, silver, palladium, tungsten, aluminum, brass, and many others.
Operators can become proficient welding the following applications: prong re-tipping, ring resizing, closing jumprings, adding wires, filling porosity, eyeglass frame repair, chain repair, hollowear, springs and clasps, and temporary tacking prior to soldering.
The Orion 200i can be used for a wide breadth of different applications. So much so that Sunstone’s YouTube channel contains a long playlist featuring application shots using only the 200i.
In addition to the weld parameter controls, the Orion 200i has many other menus and tabs that empower the operator. The welder’s operation manual and how-to videos can be quickly accessed on screen. All the material is indexed and includes a search option for faster searching.
The Orion 200i also includes dozens of application videos. When you select an application video suitable to your current needs, you have the option to load the weld settings used in the video. That one-click feature will save lots of setup time.
How has the Orion200i been accepted by bench jewelers? “I use my pulse arc welder every day,” says Jeff Bramblet, owner of Ross’s Fine Jewelers. “The ability to weld small or large items is fantastic. Between my Orion pulse arc welder and laser welder there is nothing I can not handle at my bench.”
The Orion 200i has a MSRP of USD $8,000 and can be shipped to nearly any location. Contact Sunstone Engineering at +1 801-658-0015 for more information (you can call or text to that number) or visit www.sunstonewelders.com.
One of the most profitable uses for micro welding in jewelry is rebuilding or re-tipping a prong. Re-tipping saves a tremendous amount of time and effort. The stone doesn’t need to be removed from the piece, which is where you’ll save time. As a result, with re-tipping you can complete the repair in a matter of minutes rather than hours.
To begin, you want to ensure that you protect the stone from sparks or the small amount of heat generated during the weld. Gem Guard is a useful product that creates a barrier to the stone.
Once the stone is protected, use a 26 to 30 AWG wire of the same material as the piece you’re repairing. Straighten the wire to about a three-inch section so that it will stay extended.
Now, turn your attention to the welder. The weld settings should be started low and you’ll gradually add more power to get the desired melt. Where you set your power at the beginning depends on the type of material you’re working with. For gold and silver, start at 6 to 8 Ws of energy with no agitation.
Take time to clean and sharpen the electrode on the welder. A clean, sharp electrode will channel the energy more accurately and leave a better weld.
Begin by holding the ring in your non-dominate hand with the prong to be welded pointing upward. The wire should be in your dominant hand with the straightened section pointing toward the prong to be welded. The wire should point directly out of the prong, as if the prong is being extended.
With the wire touching the very end of the prong, touch the electrode to the prong, not the wire. The weld will initiate, melt the tip of the prong, and will pull the wire into the prong. A successful weld will result in the wire being melted into the tip of the prong.
The next step is to get the wire free from the prong, leaving the melted section attached. This can be accomplished by using the welder. Place a weld about an eighth of an inch away from the prong on the wire itself. This will cut the wire and shape the prong.
Further welds can be applied directly to the prong tip to give a nice rounded and shaped prong. A file or prong shaping tool can be used to get the desired prong shape. And, of course, you’ll want to buff and polish as needed.
To learn more about how to re-tip a prong, you’ll find a number of fine tutorials on YouTube. A quick search will generate a sizable list of applicable videos. Sunstone recorded a live demonstration of re-tipping that you can watch here.
HEPA air purification systems are often misplaced in shops like yours. You, your team, and even equipment dealers are rarely educated on the nuances of where to place air filtration devices in the shop.
Why is indoor air quality important?
According to the World Health Organization, four million people die each year from indoor air pollution. Research published in the journal, Science of the Total Environment, has shown indoor air to be two to five times more dangerous than outdoor air. Add an additional hazard, such as smoking or soldering, and those numbers jump to over 100 times more dangerous.
Sure, no one is dropping dead or rushed to hospital after breathing bad air, but keep this in mind: related deaths and illnesses are typically from long-term exposure.
Why HEPA is So Hip
So, what’s the best and most cost effective way to improve air quality? Use HEPA air purifiers. Air quality and biological aerosol transmission are one of the biggest threats for workers in general. And, due to the recent pandemic, the CDC has weighed in on this topic. As recent as June 19th, the CDC emphasized that, “ventilation systems that provide air movement in a clean-to-less-clean flow direction reduce the distribution of contaminants and are better at protecting staff…”
The recent pandemic has highlighted the need for air purifiers; however, units can be nearly ineffective if not properly placed. According to a paper published by the Ontario Health Technology Assessment Series, “The efficiency of any in-room air cleaner is its strategic placement and set-up within a room, which should be done in consultation with ventilation engineers, infection control experts, and/or industrial hygienists.”
Where is optimal air purifier placement?
A poorly positioned air cleaner may disrupt airflow patterns in the room, which compromises air cleaning efficiency. Simply put, a properly positioned system will capture dirty air, filter it, then expel the clean air. But, there are several key factors that affect how well this is done with any HEPA air filtration device.
To correctly place an Air Purifier in a facility or lab, use the following steps:
Identifying Rooms Needing Filtration
Ideally, each room should have proper air filtration. In cases where this is not possible, air purifiers should be prioritized in areas where aerosols and airborne transmission is highest, including break areas, lobbies, bench stations, or anywhere people congregate.
Next, identify HVAC supply vents and return vents. This is important because supply and return vents can affect room air flow and the capabilities of the air purifier if turbulence occurs. Supply vents push the air into a room; you will typically find one in each room. Return vents pull the building air into the HVAC system through a filter and then redistributes the air using the supply vents.
Placing an air purifier directly below a return vent will result in the filtered air going into the HVAC system. This can work well in small locations but is not ideal in larger facilities. Once you know where your return and supply vents are located, you can begin to understand the general air flow of the building. Identify air flow without turbulence, which allows for optimal filtration.
Finding the Right Equipment
Purchasing the wrong equipment without considering your air volume needs first can cause major issues. After all, the entire point of purchasing a HEPA air purifier system is to properly clean the air. You simply won’t be able to achieve this with improperly matched systems.
Select an air purifier with enough CFM to achieve your desired ACH rate for the room it’s in. You’ll find a number of online calculators to help you with the math, or visit www.vaniman.com.
After you determine what kind of device CFM is required, place the unit in a location where the direction of clean air flow isn’t affected by a supply vent. And make sure the system has plenty of access to the room air—avoid corners and tight areas if possible.
When all these factors are taken into consideration, your air purifier system can effectively work to capture and filter adequate amounts of air for your specific needs.