Building Barges: It’s No Picnic

If you’re a fan of the Discovery Channel Show “Dirty Jobs” with host Mike Rowe (now no longer airing), you might think that you’ve seen all the jobs out there that are either really messy or really difficult. We’d beg to differ, and we submit that Eagle Fabrication, LLC, has the chops to have been potentially featured as a “Dirty Job.”

The 32-employee company, based in St. Louis, builds specialty custom deck barges, including crane, spud, dock and ABS class barges. And they handle all parts of the process for typically 10 to 12 different customers per year.

“We do full from-scratch assembly, everything from raw structural and plating material till the finished product,” says Matt Thomas. “We have a plasma table that cuts stock plates to size. We have our own mechanical press. We bend all our pieces ourselves, and we do full assembly and launch.”

As you might have guessed, there’s also a lot of welding in that process, too. Thomas estimates that there are probably about 8,000 lbs. and thousands of feet of weld on a barge. However, this varies from job to job.

“It’s all determined by weight, because there’s such a broad difference in sizes of barges, but pretty much every 100 lbs. of steel on the barge is one man-hour,” he clarifies. “The average weight of a small barge is 600,000 lbs., and we’ve gone all the way up to 1.4 million lbs.”

Based on this, a barge can take anywhere between 60 and 120 days to build from start to completion. The work isn’t done in the most ideal conditions, either, and this where the “Dirty Jobs” candidacy would have entered the picture.

Eagle Fabrication does all assembly outside, in all weather, hot and cold. And on top of that, they’re next door to a sand plant, with sand piles eight stories tall that are constantly blowing fine debris into their operations.

Such conditions thus require a tough and rugged welding solution, and the company has one in the form of ESAB’s Warrior welding machines.

“We work in pretty much the worst conditions you could have for electronics,” explains Thomas. “We beat the heck out of the machines because we’re outside.”

“The sand, the weather – we have the machines in containers, but they get freezing cold when it’s freezing cold. They get extremely hot in the summertime. In St. Louis, we’re getting 120 degrees in the summer, and right now, it’s zero. And the Warriors have all withstood wonderfully.”

With the exception of sub arc, Eagle Fabrication uses their Warrior machines for all the welding required in their barge construction, and the majority of their welding is dual shield, allowing them to get the speed and quality needed for their operations in such conditions.

ESAB’s Warriors are multi-process welding machines that deliver high productivity – up to 500 amps at a 60 percent duty cycle, according to the company. They’re also built to handle the extreme heat and cold that Thomas mentioned, as well as a wide variety of heavy-duty applications – not just ship building, but other ones like rail cars, construction and pipeline fabrication.

The unit is also built for outdoor performance, as, according to ESAB, it includes a sun-friendly display readable from many different angles and an autofan and air tunnel design that both help to keep out dirt and other contaminants.

Eagle Fabrication first incorporated ESAB’s Warrior welding machines into their production 18 months ago, during the summer of 2012. Before that, they were using Lincoln 500s and Lincoln 600s. For Thomas, it came down to power supply and price point between the “Big Three” welding companies.

“Basically, when I took over all operations, we were predominantly using all transformer power supplies,” he explains. “I started shopping out the inverter power supply options, and it was pretty much between ESAB and Lincoln. Those were the two I looked at the most, because Miller was just too expensive.

“But basically we were trying to switch a lot of the old transformer power supplies over to inverters. We had 13 employees sharing electric. Then we went to 30-plus employees sharing electric, and we had to find a way to make it stretch.”

As a result, Thomas says that he did a 90-day trial on an ESAB power supply. It worked, because after the trial, Thomas ordered his first six Warrior welding machines.

“I’ve been really happy with them,” he says. He also mentions that they’ve experienced a significant productivity boost, as they can now perform all processes with the same power supply, rather than having to switch to another unit – an ability that they didn’t possess before.  “We have a lot less downtime.”

The full digital display on the Warriors is also a helpful feature for Thomas, both with training and with keeping within tight welding parameters.

“It helps me a lot with my younger welders,” he says. “They’re used to having more current equipment like in school. Instead of having to explain and get them very comfortable with using older technology, my younger guys are really comfortable with the Warriors.”

Thomas also speaks highly of ESAB’s technical support and service. He notes that they received on-site technical support in helping to get set up on the Warrior machines, which cut the learning curve on transferring everything they were doing to the new setup.

On top of that, Thomas says that his ESAB sales reps are always available. “I have two reps that will answer the phone no matter when I call, and they’ll always be there. If they don’t know the answer, I’ll have it in 24 hours.”

Overall, Eagle Fabrication is very satisfied with their Warrior welding machines. Says Thomas, “I’ve actually talked to other people making the same purchase, and I gave them my OK. I would recommend the Warrior machines.”

Reprinted with permission from Fab Shop Magazine Direct, March 2014.  

See Warrior in Action at FABTECH!

Warrior 500i and Warrior 400i Multi-Voltage will be demonstrated at FABTECH, both featuring our newest wire feeders for smooth, even feeding and higher welding productivity.

You’re truly ready for battle with the added versatility of the Warrior 400i MV voltage unit in 230V 3-phase or 460V 3-phase power combined with Warrior Feed Dual 304, a high-productivity dual-feed system designed for multiple processes.

The Warrior 500i will demonstrate its efficiency in MIG, Flux-Cored, Stick, TIG welding, and Arc Gouging. This unit will feature our new Mobile Feed 201/301 AVS, which extends your reach with wire feeding farther away from the power source.


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