Guidelines for Selecting a Portable Wire Feeder

Because wire welding improves productivity, contractors often pair their engine drive with a wire feeder. To be suitable for field use, portability, rugged cases, reliability, "sun-friendly" digital meters and good feeding performance are table stakes. That said, there are two basic types of portable feeders: remote control or voltage-sensing.

Remote control feeders only work with DC Constant Voltage (CV) welders. They provide remote control of wire feed speed and voltage at the feeder but require a "brain cable" between the feeder and the welder; this cable also provides power for the feeder's drive system and meters.

In comparison, voltage-sensing feeders draw power from the arc voltage; they are "powered across the arc" in layman's terms. They work with both CV and DC Constant Current (CC) engine drives, a benefit to contractors with mixed fleets. Voltage-sensing feeders eliminate the brain cable, but operators must return to the power source to adjust voltage (or shout out to a helper). In practice, operators learn what voltage works best for an application and stick with it.

"Construction sites require long cables. A 100-ft. brain cable can cost as much as $1,000, and they're heavy, making it even more difficult for contractors to move feeders around," says Greg Stauffer, Technical Consultant, ESAB. "When it comes down to carrying an extra cable that might get damaged, contractors opt for the simpler solution – they get rid of the brain cable."

When paired with a CV power source, today's voltage-sensing wire feeders also produce quality MIG short arc welds with smaller diameter solid wires (e.g., .030 or .035"). This makes them handy for construction side projects, such as handrails, as well as for miscellaneous fabrication projects back in the shop. For a contractor who wants to use one wire feeder in the shop and field, standardizing on a voltage-sensing feeder simplifies equipment management.

Warrior Feed

About Greg Stauffer:

Greg Stauffer is a technical consultant for ESAB Welding & Cutting Systems. Greg has 40 years of industry experience. He spent 35 years in various engineering, sales and management positions with ESAB. Most recently, he served as VP of sales for ESAB's arc equipment line.