What Is Orbital Welding? A Complete Guide

Orbital welding is a specialized form of welding, which has seen a significant rise in popularity recently. The term orbital welding has for ages been an important subject matter when discussing the concepts of welding in the manufacturing industry.

If you’re a beginner level welder looking to get your hands on all possible welding techniques, then orbital welding is one skill set that you really do need to master. Even if you’re an experienced pro looking to enhance your skillset further, then you can benefit from the limitless potential of orbital welding.

Learning this welding technique is the need of the hour and will help enhance your skillset further. This guide will help explain to you the concepts of orbital welding and how you can practice them.

What is orbital welding?

If we study the definition of orbital welding, it can be explained as an automated form of welding for securing tubes or pipes through the use of a rotating electrode. This specialized form of welding uses a rotating arc and is known to be quite results-oriented.

The arc rotates around the pipe for the entirety of the process.

Orbital welding was originally developed during the year 1960 to improve welding techniques in the aerospace industry. The process was invented by Roderick Rohrberg from the North American Aviation to address hydraulic fluids and fuel leakages around the Rocket Research Plane X-15.

The 1980s saw a major enhancement in the demand for orbital welders. The combinations of control systems, machine portability, and power supply helped ensure that orbital welding machines could now easily be transported between construction sites.

Other ongoing improvements in this regard have made orbital welding an even more enhanced form of automated welding.

How do orbital systems work?

A specialized orbital welding machine does a good job at welding by rotating the welding arc at a 360 degrees angle around the clamped tubes and pipes being welded. The welding parameters for orbital welding are set through the use of a microprocessor and the settings can be stored and called upon whenever you require them.

Welders specializing in orbital welding need to have command over the requisite skills as they are required to operate and run the machine effectively. Workers do not need skills of their own, besides being skilled in operating the machine.

When to use orbital welding?

As we already know, orbital welding is a specialized procedure that isn’t commonly used. There are certain jobs and details that require and warrant the use of orbital welding techniques.

Orbital welding should only be used if:

The production cannot be handled manually

Some welding jobs require different positions and objects to be handled manually. Handling such products manually can be an extensive job and requires significant involvement and investment.

Such jobs can also have a safety impact on workers, as they are required to manage different products at a given time. This can be hazardous for their safety and isn’t a recommended procedure.

The location of the welding process and that of the machine can also determine the safety of the welder working. The automated procedure of orbital welding is your way forward if you believe that a worker’s safety will be compromised due to the manual process.

Large quantities of welds are required

Orbital welding is your go-to welding technique if you require large quantities of welds in a particular welding job. Because the process of orbital welding is fully automated, you can assume it to be perfect for producing a large number of welds.

The repeatability ensures that the machine does a stellar job at these welds, eradicating the risks and errors that can happen with human involvement.

If the production requires small quantity welds or customized parts, then you might want to go for mechanized or semi-automatic machines. Every job requires a specific procedure and level of automation based on the effort being put in.

Advantages of orbital welding

Orbital welding comes with a long list of advantages, which is why it is the go-to welding option for complex welding jobs. The automated welding process is a source of relief for factory owners, as they can head towards orbital welding whenever they come across a tricky scenario that requires multiple welds.

Helps boost productivity

An automated procedure such as orbital welding does a great job of boosting your productivity and cutting down the effort and time that will go into a job. Welding jobs that require a perfect weld to be made between tubes can be complex and difficult to manage.

Such jobs, when handled manually, happen to last for days without any conclusive progress. Orbital welding makes the job easier to manage and boosts productivity along the way as well.

The time you require for setting up the welding parameters and the machine isn’t that much either.

High precision

While time-saving and a boost in productivity are reasons enough for you to go towards orbital welding, we believe that the high precision on offer is another reason motivating you forward. Human errors in welding often result in multiple complications and issues.

Orbital welding machines negate the human error and make sure that the precision is of top quality. The precision of the weld is strong and the flawless finish lasts for a long time.

You want a weld to be durable, sturdy, and precise and orbital welding offers just that. The process is hassle-free and provides long term benefits for a greater time period.

Improved workplace safety

Certain welds and scenarios can be difficult for a welder to work in manually. Such scenarios require the creation of risky welds that can risk the safety of the worker working on them.

In such cases, it is best that you use orbital welding techniques, as they take out the need for human assistance and give you the best possible results. Orbital welding helps you do things that a manual welder would never be able to do for you.

Safety is another one of the reasons why you should be using orbital welding.

There are multiple other benefits of orbital welding as well, but we believe the three above are good enough to sell the concept to you. Orbital welding comes with a unique process but helps boost productivity and keep the safety of the workplace intact.

Variations in orbital welding

While there are certain variations within the processes for orbital welding, jobs in this welding technique can generally be categorized into two distinct categories. These categories include orbital welding with a consumable electrode and orbital welding with a non-consumable electrode.

In the former, all your welds are performed through the use of a standard welding rod. The welding rod utilizes power from a wire feeder to provide metal for the arc and to create a strong bond between the host materials.

In the latter, a more traditional and common form of orbital welding is used. This form of welding utilizes the inherent orbital welding system comprising of encased electrodes and tungsten inert gas.

The combination of these substances helps melt the edge of the object you are working on, without really becoming part of the weld itself. Both these processes have their own application and benefits.

Application

Orbital welding techniques have gone up in popularity and are currently employed within a number of different situations. The success of orbital welding is owed much to the efficiency of the process and just how it can make complex welds easier to manage for those involved.

In this section, we look at some of the applications of orbital welding and how they have developed over time. These applications can help you gauge the scope of orbital welding and where there are indeed enough job opportunities on offer here.

Primarily speaking, orbital welding can best be used in processes where the pipes and tubes happen to be 100 percent smooth and reliable. Some real-life applications of the process include:

Food, dairy and beverages

Welds required in the food, dairy, and beverage industry have to meet the regulatory standards of sanitation and safety. All welds through other forms of welding do not have this kind of efficiency and sanitation associated with them.

Orbital welding can help achieve the smoothness and penetration you are looking at for your food, dairy, and beverage manufacturing products. The process ensures that safety and sanitation procedures are followed and that the product is prepared for future use.

Semiconductors

Semiconductors require a smooth surface so that the batch processes continue without delay. The buildup of contaminants through other welding processes can hinder the manufacturing process and can ruin efficiency.

Hence, it is necessary that you use the methods of smooth welding created by orbital welding.

Aerospace

Orbital welding was first made for the aerospace industry and is still used here for various purposes. Orbital welding is known to create welds that withstand the pressure that comes on planes during flight.

The welding techniques need to be smooth and flawless; something that orbital welding can offer you.

As we have mentioned above, orbital welding is also popularly used and implemented across industries to negate the impact of human error. In other forms of welding, such as GMAW, flaws are consistent and more frequent.

Orbital welding negates all such flaws and gives you just the kind of smooth surfaces you might be looking for.

Disadvantages

Since there are limitations to almost all types and forms of welding, orbital welding isn’t immune to them. There are limitations and certain disadvantages associated with the orbital welding process as well.

For instance, if you are welding different objects, you will require multiple heads for orbital welding. Each of these objects should be sized differently to fit the objects that you have with you.

Also, some objects just cannot be welded through an orbital welder. Regardless of the number of heads you have with you, some objects cannot be welded through orbital welding.

For the limitations that we have mentioned above, orbital welding is best used as one part of a welder’s arsenal, and not as the only tool that they rely on.

Equipment required for orbital welding

Orbital welding requires sufficient equipment to perform the job flawlessly. This equipment includes the following:

Programmable power supply

The programmable power supply is necessary for setting weld current intensities, setting pulse rates, shielding gas flow, dictating the travel speed of the welding head, and determining the options of wire feeding.

The perfect programmable power supply for orbital welding should:

  • Be portable and lightweight enough for one person to carry
  • Have control over at least 4 axes
  • Be compact

The weld head

The weld head is necessary for major functions and does the following jobs:

  • Holds the electrode in its place
  • Manages the flow of the welding current
  • Maintains optimal heat temperature
  • Applies pressure on the workpieces that are to be welded

Wire feeder

You also need a wire feeder system as part of the welding equipment. The wire feeding system can either be welded within the head of the device or can be used as a separate device.

Coolant system

The coolant system performs the function of preventing the welding equipment from overheating. This is necessary for making sure that the heat from the processes does not damage the operator or the person entrusted with looking after the main system.

Coolant systems come in two forms; water coolant system and air coolant system. You can get the one that suits your needs better.

Orbital welding tips

As with all other welding techniques, skills are needed to set up and manage the orbital welding process. Some tips you can follow to make the process as efficient as possible include:

Planning and preparation

In orbital welding, planning and preparation is the difference between a good weld and a bad weld. Preparing the welding environment and the objects that you will be welding beforehand gives you a better chance to ensure that the results are in favor of what you want.

Make sure that you have everything in hand before you start working on the welding process. We have mentioned all the objects required for welding above, and hope that you are able to procure them before you start welding.

You should also learn how to familiarize yourself with the orbital welding process so that problems are dealt with during the actual process.

Material selection and weldability

As we have already discussed, orbital welding cannot be practiced on some materials. The selection of materials can vary based on the environment and application that goes into welding.

You need to make sure that the right metal is selected for the job, as it will help you reduce the quantity of welds required for a good finish.

You should consider the presence of alloy elements within the selected materials. Variation in trace elements and alloy elements can lead to inconsistent head conductivity, ultimately leading to a poor weld.

You need to ensure beforehand that all chemical elements of your chosen metal boast of the same variances and tolerances.

Tube-end preparation

Preparing tube ends is a vital step for succeeding in your pipe and tube welding projects. The steps mentioned below will help you enhance the durability and longevity of the welds you create here:

  • The pipes and tubes you use here should be even. The width or durability of your welded material doesn’t matter because the surfaces are required to be even.
  • You shouldn’t distort or damage your tubes when you are clamping them down. Distorting the tubes will make your own job a lot more difficult.
  • To avoid distorting the tubes, make sure that your cutting blades are sharpened.

Welding gases

Welding gases are as necessary for orbital welding as they are for other welding processes. 100 percent argon gas is usually the go-to gas for welding steel, but it isn’t considered the right option for welding exotic alloys and carbon steel.

Orbital welding requires specialized mixtures of gas so that the process is able to achieve the smooth results you want.

  • 100 percent argon gas is used for welding most materials through orbital welding. Exotic alloys are welded through a mixture of 95 percent argon gas and 5 percent hydrogen.
  • Walls with thickness of more than 0.1 inches require the use of hydrogen gas mixed with argon. The mixture can depend on the materials being fused here.

Gas mixtures that are typically used for orbital welding include:

  • 98 percent argon and 2 percent hydrogen
  • 95 percent argon and 5 percent hydrogen
  • 90 percent argon and 10 percent hydrogen
  • 75 percent helium and 25 percent argon

These gas mixtures are common and can typically be used.

Summary

There you have it – a complete guide on what orbital welding is, how it’s used, and some tips to become more effective with orbital welding. By taking the time to understand these guidelines and best practices, you should be well on your way to stepping up your welding game (hint: books help too, though!).

About Pierre Young

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Hey, I'm Pierre Young a qualified AWS Certified Welder. I got into welding in 2009 as a side hustle. Ever since then, I've been doing all kinds of welds - both for business and pleasure. While immersing myself in this wonderful hobby, I've learned from hands-on experience what welding gear works and what doesn't. Welding Headquarters is the site where I share everything I've learned.

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