Ultra-Tech Aerospace: Letting the Sparks Fly

How a Kansas-based aerospace company launched a welding department to better serve customers – By Katie Pacheco for AWS Welding Journal

Ultra-Tech Aerospace (UTA) didn’t always conduct its own in-house welding. A provider of manufacturing and distribution services to the commercial and defense aerospace industries, the Kansas-based company opened its doors in 1983 and originally catered to two businesses.

“I think they were successful being a niche supplier for two primary customers, and doing a very good job for those customers,” said Joseph Kane, UTA’s director of operations.

The family-owned business was purchased in 2013 by IBT Industrial Solutions, Merriam, Kans., but continued to operate as a separate division of IBT Aerospace. In 2015, the two corporate bodies joined forces under the name Ultra-Tech Aerospace. The merger has allowed UTA to expand its offerings and do more with greater efficiency and quality.

“Our parent company is modernizing processes and bringing in some more capital so we can upgrade, improve equipment, and continue to be a good supporter for our customers going forward,” explained Kane. “They also introduced a lot of new customers, so we became diversified to more than just the two primary customers we had in the old days.”

Today, the AS9100-certified company has 48 employees and serves more than 20 customers, the majority of which are associated with the aerospace industry. Aerospace military contracts for ground support equipment are UTA’s bread and butter. Some of its services include custom machine shop capabilities (e.g., milling, honing, grinding, assembly, etc.) as well as distribution of precision bearings and fittings for aerospace applications. According to Kane, what makes UTA stand out from other suppliers is its emphasis on engineering solutions and dedicated program management.

Ultra-Tech Aerospace, Kansas City, Kans., has built a 500-sq-ft welding department to conduct its own in-house welding instead of outsourcing jobs. The new endeavor is slated to improve lead times and reduce costs.

The company also separates itself from the crowd through its willingness to pursue different ventures. Most recently, after outsourcing its welding projects for decades, UTA decided to go out on a limb and try something new by adding in-house welding to its repertoire of services.

“There’s a certain skills set that we have in this building that’s hard to find, on the machine side. Ultra-Tech, even when it was a mom and pop shop, has always done a good job of retaining that skills set and making sure we have the best machinists in town. Now we’re trying to take our culture, our business model, and apply it to a new process, which is welding,” said Kane.

By creating a welding department, and getting it accredited, the company hopes to better serve the aerospace businesses that take advantage of its welding services.

“A great deal of the products we’re making for our customers are outsourced to various approved welders. By launching this welding department, by having that capability added to our tool belt, we’ll be able to support those customers better because we can do all of it in-house and not send it out for someone else to do,” said Kane.

Although the endeavor has not come without obstacles, UTA is now letting sparks fly in-house at its fully operational aerospace welding department.

Breaking New Ground: Inside UTA’s Welding Department

Ultra-Tech Aerospace began the process of launching a welding department from scratch about a year ago. Although its location has changed several times, the 500-sq-ft welding space is now located inside UTA’s warehouse (see lead photo). It houses two watercooled Miller Dynasty® 280 gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) machines and three Millermatic® 350P gas metal arc welding (GMAW) machines.

Fig. 1 — Ultra-Tech Aerospace’s welding department is set up with two fixture tables as well as several GTAW and GMAW machines.
Fig. 2 — Ultra-Tech Aerospace utilizes its rotating table (in blue) for handrail and large-frame builds.

It also contains two Förster 1108 fixture tables with copper-aluminum alloy tabletop bars (Fig. 1) as well as one Förster 4400 custom three-phase electric rotating table (Fig. 2).

“The capability these tables have is amazing,” said Liana Payne, UTA’s welding process supervisor. “I have been talking about adapting the rotating table to hold the same tabletop bars as the flat tables. The rotating table is primarily for handrail and larger-frame builds.”

The department is also looking into purchasing fume extraction and filtration devices, plus a Miller Dynasty® 800 GTAW machine.

This includes setting up the space to comply with the stringent standards required in the aerospace industry. For example, Payne keeps everything color coded and separated according to metal type and grouping, such as the tungsten holder, abrasives container, and filler metal container. This helps eliminate metal cross contamination, which can impact the finished product’s performance.

The welding shop also has a designated cleaning space for small metal parts, as well as a fire container for used cleaning rags. Payne asserts that the cleaning and prepping requirements for aerospace applications are stricter than those found throughout the welding industry. When she receives the parts from UTA’s machining shop, she makes sure to properly clean all base metals prior to welding using denatured alcohol, or Weld-O preweld cleaner when working with aluminum parts.

Fig. 3 — This 4130 normalized chromium-molybdenum aero adapter for the military was built by UTA in-house using pulsed GTAW at 1.5 pulses per second.

Another vital part of the new welding department is Payne herself, the company’s only welder. She has 20 years of experience in the welding industry, and has spent some time as a welding inspector under the tutelage of an American Welding Society Senior Certified Welding Inspector. In the year she has been with UTA, Payne has played an integral role, along with Kane, in helping the welding department get up and running.

After prepping the base materials, Payne then welds according to the welding procedure specification. Although UTA’s welding department sees a variety of metals, its most commonly welded metal is aluminum, and its most-utilized process is GTAW.

Fig. 4 — Pictured is a 6061-T6 aluminum steering bar that Ultra-Tech Aerospace GTA welded in-house for a military application.
Fig. 5 — This 17-4PH® stainless steel forklift pocket for carrying spreader bars was built in-house by UTA with the GTAW process.
Fig. 6 — Made of 0.051-in. 6061-T6 aluminum tube, this support arm was GTA welded for military use.

Some of the components welded inhouse include chromium-molybdenum aero adaptors, which are utilized for military applications — (Fig. 3). Before Payne took over the department, about 200 aero adaptors were shipped for outside welding. Since then, she has welded approximately ten aero adaptors, each consisting of three individual parts. The department has also welded aluminum steering bars for a military application (Fig. 4), stainless steel forklift pockets for lifting a spreader bar setup (Fig. 5), and aluminum support arms for military use (Fig. 6).

Approximately 20 welding contracts have been completed in-house since the inception of UTA’s aerospace welding department one year ago.

“We’re not doing a lot of welding, but we’re working toward that…The only materials we are working with right now are aluminum, carbon steel, and stainless steel, so we’re not pushing a lot of volume through here yet,” said Kane. “The way our customers work, each of them has to come by and approve our process before we can start working for them, so the launch of the program is a slow and tedious process, but we’re moving along.”

The Next Stage: Nadcap Accreditation

Even though the welding department is operational and taking on projects, UTA is still outsourcing 30 to 35 welding jobs per year, but this will change once it passes its National Aerospace and Defense Contractors Accreditation Program (Nadcap) audit, which is scheduled for Dec. 9.

In the meantime, UTA is still able to perform welding for some companies because it is conditionally approved for Nadcap Class B ground support.

“We are currently welding in-house when we are authorized to do so. We have customers who allow us to do welding for them, and we have customers waiting for us to get Nadcap approved first,” explained Kane.

The company recently conducted an internal audit to prepare for its Nadcap audit and discovered a few areas that need to be improved. Having never been through a Nadcap audit before, the rigorous process has been a learning experience for the team. However, they are proud of both the progress they have made and the highend welds that are being produced.

“We have the standards and we understand the expectations, but getting through an audit and making sure you’re meeting Nadcap expectations is challenging if you’ve never done it before,” said Kane. “We’re a little unsure of ourselves in certifying this process, but there’s no doubt about the work we’re putting out the door. The welds are extremely high quality and the machine shop is making good parts.”

After the December audit, UTA will have 30 days to implement any recommended changes, so the department is expected to be Nadcap accredited in January 2020.

Looking back at the long accreditation process, Kane wishes they didsome things differently to facilitate and expedite the process. His recommendation to others pursuing accreditation is to work with an experienced person or third-party consultant.

“My advice would be to find someone who has done this before. Liana and I have been figuring things out as we go along. Working with someone who’s been through the Nadcap process and understands the expectations would have been quicker and easier,” he said.

However, Payne is hopeful UTA’s experience will serve as a roadmap for other companies that want to become Nadcap accredited.

“I think it’s going to be a tremendous benefit for the aerospace community as we continue to build this and demonstrate how you take a company with no welding experience and get them Nadcap certified,” she said.

The hard work put into the welding department will be especially beneficial for UTA and is expected to herald many positive changes. For instance, it’s slated to help the company save money by reducing the amount of welding projects it outsources. It may also allow UTA to expand its offerings and churn out high-quality projects at a faster rate.

“This will make our relationship with customers stronger because we’ll be more of a one-stop shop. By welding in house, our lead times will drop as much as a month on any major project because we won’t have to ship it out and get into somebody else’s schedule,” explained Kane. “By being able to support our customer with shorter lead times and reduced costs, I have no doubt that it will bolster the company by bringing in quite a bit more work.”

To handle the increased work volume, Kane plans to hire a new welder sometime next year. He also predicts other departments within the company may need to hire as many as five new employees in the future to manage the additional workload.

Tackling Aerospace Hurdles

As UTA’s welding department continues to expand with increased demand, it has come upon several obstacles unique to the aerospace industry.

For instance, according to Payne, UTA may have to invest in an expensive welding machine for thick aluminum applications to avoid having to purchase helium, which is currently a high-cost shielding gas due to its shortage.

“Unfortunately, helium gas is extremely difficult to get ahold of and virtually impossible for a new company in our position that’s not on a contract with a gas provider, so that’s proven to be very challenging,” explained Payne. “I can’t get it, and it is so valuable in high-end welding. It is very challenging working around that.”

Another hurdle the company will likely encounter deals with the lack of skilled welders. This workforce shortage is particularly felt in the aerospace industry where welds are held to a higher standard. When the time comes to hire another welder for the new welding department, Payne predicts it may prove difficult to find someone with the appropriate knowledge and skills.

“Finding ‘the right’ people is a huge challenge for all high-end welding,” she affirmed.

Flying into the Future

Like the famous science-fiction writer Douglas Adams said, “Flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” Although UTA has experienced challenges on its yearlong journey toward launching a Nadcap-accredited aerospace welding department, the company is producing high-quality welds and is slated to reduce costs, improve lead times, and increase revenue once the department takes full flight after its Nadcap audit. Additional expansions are expected in the future as the welding department continues to grow to meet the new demands.

“It’s always going to be improving and getting better,” affirmed Kane.

To learn more about Ultra-Tech Aerospace, visit utaero.com

This article and images are property of Ultra-Tech and AWS Magazine

The Infinite Adjustability of Ergofix Ensures Top Quality Welding

Complex work pieces can make welding a backbreaking exercise. Furthermore, when parts that are being welded are difficult to access, the quality of work can be compromised for even the most experienced welders.

Ergofix is a welding manipulator that enables welders to adjust the height of the welding table, and manually rotate and tilt it. Because the welding table is infinitely adjustable in height, they can lower it to work over the metal or raise it to make the underneath parts more accessible. The height range is from 27.2 to 39 inches.

Once they have the work piece at the required height, the table can be rotated up to 360 degrees and tilted up to an angle of 45 degrees. This makes every inch of a work piece accessible without the welder having to bend or contort to get there. Rather, welders are able to maintain a good ergonomic posture throughout the welding process.

But Ergofix is not just about ergonomics. The fact is that when welders are standing or sitting in a comfortable position that doesn’t require physical effort, they can concentrate on achieving the best possible results. This, in turn, allows them to achieve optimal results and to produce top quality work.

The Infinite Adjustability of Ergofix

Manufactured by Forster Welding Systems, Ergofix relies on continuous hydraulic adjustment for rotation, tilting and for raising and lowering the welding table.

The welding top of the table also helps eliminate effort and improve quality. A primary feature is the rail design. Spaced 100 mm apart the rails allow the table surface to be adjusted too.

Ergofix Can be Used With Vakufix

Another benefit of Forster America’s welding table rail design is that it can be used with their high-temperature vacuum clamping plates. The patented Vakufix system allows welders to clamp parts quickly and securely, directly in line with the heat, at a three-dimensional level. Sheet metal is secured on a vacuum plate that requires a very small vacuum surface. Positioning the metal is therefore relatively easy and a lot quicker than it is when using regular clamps.

Additionally, the vacuum clamps are designed so that they can be positioned without getting in the way of welding seams. This, too, makes welding more efficient.

Vakufix comes in two forms:

  1. A set that incorporates a pump, air chamber, plate or clamping table
  2. A set with all the accessories that can be customized to work pieces

Suitable for both manual and robotic welding, it incorporates a high-temperature vacuum plate with a stainless steel surface that can be replaced easily.

Ergofix Options

There are three different Ergofix models to choose from:

  1. The Ergofix 800 that measures 31.5 x 31.5 inches
  2. The Ergofix 1000 that measures 39.4 x 39.4 inches
  3. The Ergofix 1200 that measures 39.4 x 47.2 inches

If you would like to know more about Ergofix, or order, please contact us now. We also offer swiveling welding tables for jigs, and tables for jigs that lift and tilt.

The Best Welding Tables for Aluminum Welding

Welding tables are vital tools in any welding environment, however big or small it may be. A good, high-tech design can minimize down time and play a vital role in achieving consistently good work.

But how do you decide which tables are best for the different metals to be welded?

While the most common welding tabletops are made from carbon steel, welding tables with tops made from an alloy of aluminum and copper are also available and these are much better suited to aluminum welding.

About Steel, Aluminum, and Copper Welding

forster-america-welding-tables-alcuMany welders work with various types of steel including carbon steels, low-alloy steels, and stainless steels. Within these groupings, there are many different and more specific types of steel, the most common of which is mild steel, a type of carbon steel. While mild steel contains between 0,15 and 0,35 percent carbon, stainless steel contains considerably more chromium (at least 10 percent) than any other types of steel, and it doesn’t rust or corrode.

Aluminum (Al) is a non-ferrous metal that doesn’t contain iron. It has a low melting point combined with high thermal conductivity that can result in weld defects and discontinuities including porosity and both hot cracking and stress cracking. While used to make a wide range of items for a huge number of different industries, aluminum is also added to steel in tiny percentages to deoxidize it and refine the grain.

Copper (Cu) is sometimes added to steel to make it more resistant to corrosion and to make the steel more malleable and ductile. When used as an element in mild steel it makes the steel a little harder.

Generally, aluminum is not used in its pure form, and a number of alloying elements are commonly added. Typically, aluminum-copper (Al-Cu) alloys contain between two and ten percent copper, sometimes with the addition of other elements. The copper increases the strength of the aluminum and facilitates precipitation hardening.

While carbon steel is used for the top of tables commonly used for welding carbon and other types of steel, an Al-Cu alloy is a much better option for welding stainless steel and aluminum.

Benefits of Al-Cu Welding Tables

Suitable Al-Cu alloys have a much higher tensile strength than carbon steel. Additionally, the low surface hardness doesn’t cause pitting or ferritic scratches that are common when carbon steel is used.

Another huge benefit of using an aluminum-copper alloy top for welding tables is they have a very high thermal conductivity that minimizes adhesion of spatter. The welding process is consequently quicker and cleaner.


But it isn’t just the material that counts; a well-designed welding table is also essential when welding aluminum.

Aluminum-Copper Welding Tables From Forster America

Forster America specializes in cutting edge welding tables, including 3D modular tables that enable welders to complete projects in the quickest, most efficient way possible. Made with slats that can be moved to accommodate jigs and other invaluable accessories, these tables have unlimited options that be used to create a myriad of custom welding solutions. Better still they can accommodate Forster America’s innovative frame welding and railing welding fixtures too.

Ultimately, aluminum is a relatively expensive material and it is paramount that work is done correctly. Forster’s welding tables with Al-Cu tops incorporate the T-slot system that allows for 3D clamping, making it easier for welders to get their work right first time around.

So if you work with aluminum, there is no doubt that Forster America’s Al-Cu welding tables will help to improve quality and productivity. Call us today for more information and pricing.


Optimizing your welding process with ventilation, tables



Is there room for improvement in your welding operation? Choosing the right ventilation system along with flexible worktables can go a long way toward optimizing your welding process

Figure 1 - CleanAir Tower
Figure 1 – CleanAir Tower

The best way to optimize any welding process is to use up-to-date, well-designed equipment in a safe, properly ventilated environment. Not only does this enable you to work accurately and cleanly, but it also helps you speed up the production process and ultimately reap cost benefits as well.

Of course, the tools and equipment you choose must meet the requirements of the welding job to be done. The ventilation system you select is determined, to some extent, by the location in which you are working.

When working in a welding workshop or industrial warehouse, the best option is to use a system that delivers full-room ventilation. In addition, modular welding tables that can be adjusted are ideal for most workshop environments, particularly those that accommodate a full range of welding tasks.

Welding Workshop Ventilation

Health and safety are vital issues for welders who, by the very nature of their jobs, face daily health risks from exposure to fumes, smoke, and welding dust. Protective safety gear and clothing are essential, but it isn’t enough. Effective ventilation is paramount, because bad ventilation contributes to polluted air, employee illness, and decreased productivity.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) has minimum health and safety regulations that relate specifically to ventilation and protection in welding, cutting, and heating. Mechanical ventilation must meet these requirements.

Specifically, the regulations state that mechanical ventilation must consist either of a local exhaust system or a general mechanical ventilation system. The standard states that:

  • General mechanical ventilation should have sufficient capacity and be arranged so that it can produce the necessary air changes to ensure that welding fumes and smoke are maintained within safe limits.
  • Local exhaust ventilation should incorporate hoods that are freely movable so that the welder can place it very close to the workpiece to get rid of fumes and smoke at the source.

But both have their challenges.

For example, even when exhaust systems are in place, pollution concentration levels can exceed OSHA’s exposure limits, exposing all employees in the building to poor air quality. Welding creates smoke, fumes, and heat. Warm, polluted air rises to the ceiling; as it cools and then sinks, it distributes contaminants, negatively affecting workers on the production floor.

When the traditional push-pull ventilation system is used, the inevitable air turbulence it causes (however slight) results in some pollutants getting into what should be clean air. This type of system relies on pipes that push clean air into the workshop and pull the contaminated air out. Essentially a duct system, it works reasonably well where dust and smoke levels are quite low, but it certainly isn’t foolproof.

Additionally, this is a minimum OSHA specification. Ideally, a local exhaust system should be used in conjunction with a good, general mechanical system for maximum protection. In any case, when local extraction doesn’t work adequately, or at all, good general mechanical ventilation is the answer.

Figure 2 - Partially covered welding table
Figure 2 – Partially covered welding table

Full-room Ventilation

The best system for ensuring that the air in the welding workshop really is clean and pure is a device that works according to the principles of displacement ventilation, such as a freestanding air tower (Figure 1) that takes advantage of the natural convection cycle.
These energy-saving, general indoor ventilation systems are designed to release fresh air throughout an entire production facility. Quick to set up, easy to move, and self-cleaning, they use source-capture fume-extraction technology that is fully OSHA-compliant.

A clean-air tower works by pulling warm, contaminated air into its filter system through a 360-degree intake at the top of the tower. It then releases cool, clean air from the bottom of the tower to ensure welders are able to breathe fresh air all the time. The polluted air is filtered through an internal filter cartridge, and dust particles are captured in a container for easy removal and contamination-free disposal.
Thermic flow is fully supported without creating any air turbulence, so it’s virtually impossible for dust and gases to pollute the purified air.

Adjustable Welding Tables

You have many choices when it comes to welding tables, including those that are partially covered, movable, have steel support surfaces, and can incorporate their own tool racks. But for anyone working with mild steel and stainless steel, a 3-D welding table with a T-slot system is ideal (Figure 2). Modular, these adjustable designs are able to hold accessories and 3-D components for most welding tasks.

A quality 3-D welding table with a T-slot system allows the welder to access all sides of the workpiece, which increases overall efficiency and improves productivity. The size of the table can be changed, and the slats opened and adjusted to accommodate accessories required for the job. Additionally, the table slats can be adjusted at any time during the welding process.

To further speed up the process and make it even more cost-effective, an adjustable 3-D welding table can be used with a 3-D clamping system, which eliminates the need for the welder to move or change position to access the workpiece.

With the right ventilation and fixtures, you can optimize your welding process and work quickly and cost-efficiently.

Long Term Health Effects of Welding Exposure

At Forster America our focus is to make each welding job faster, safer and more efficient through the use of our products. However, the health effects of welding exposure are also something that we’re very passionate about. The detrimental long-term health effects of welding exposure are well documented, with studies showing that there are many chronic conditions and deadly diseases that many welders suffer from.

In fact welding has been labeled the most potentially hazardous activity in America.

Of course because of the many hazards involved, there are comprehensive health and safety procedures that must be followed, including the necessity for protective clothing and safety equipment. But perhaps the most dangerous aspect of welding is exposure to the fumes that are produced by molten metal and the gases that are released during the various welding processes.

Studies and Research

Welding Fume Hazards | Forster AmericaOne organization that has collated studies and research results is the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) that lists both short-term and long-term effects of exposure to welding fumes. Common short-term effects range from eye, nose, ear, throat and chest irritations to coughing and shortness of breath, bronchitis, pneumonitis (the inflammation of the lungs), encephalopathy (a syndrome that results in brain dysfunction) and nausea. Another short-term effect is known as metal fume fever that has flu-type symptoms that last between 24 and 48 hours.

But some welding fumes are more deadly than others, and the Society warns that work involving metal that contains cadmium can result in death.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is actively involved in studies involving fumes that contain manganese (commonly added to carbon steel to make it strong and hard), and these studies have found that Parkinson’s (or something with the same symptoms) is caused by exposure to manganese fumes.

According to the ASSE, other common long-term health effects of welding exposure include pulmonary infection and heart disease, respiratory illness, lung and throat cancer, stomach problems, kidney disease, and a variety of neurological problems.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) has issued a health and safety fact sheet that details many of the welding hazards welders need to be aware of. The American Welding Society (AWS) also has a number of safety and health fact sheets that are more detailed and focused on each of the areas of concern – more than 40 in all.

Some Chronic Long-Term Health Effect of Welding Exposure

Hundreds of research studies have been carried out in an attempt to identify the chronic long-term health effects of welding exposure – there are 554 listed by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) US National Library of Medicine alone. Many are specific, relating to one or a number of related conditions or diseases. Others consider solutions that will help welders overcome the dangers so many of them face on a daily basis.

Check out these facts from AFSCME.org on welding hazards.

The AFSCME fact sheet is more general, but like the ASSE guidelines, gives general insight into the problem. It warns that welders have an increased risk of developing lung cancer (more so if they are smokers), and are vulnerable to cancer of the urinary tract and larynx. The causes cited are the very large quantities of toxic substances found in welding “smoke” as well as the well known cancer-causing agents found in metal and various other elements, specifically (in alphabetical order):

  • Arsenic, which occurs in many minerals and is used to strengthen many copper alloys
  • Beryllium, which is often added to strengthen alloys of copper, aluminum, iron, and nickel
  • Cadmium, which has historically been added to metals to make them less corrosive – but which is being used less and less due to its known toxicity
  • Chromium, which is added to iron and carbon steel to increase the metal’s rust resistance
  • Nickel, a hard, ductile metal that is resistant to corrosion

Welders may not develop cancer, but many experience chronic lung problems including asthma, bronchitis, decreased lung capacity, emphysema, pneumonia, as well as pneumoconiosis (a dust-related disease), siderosis (also dust-related but specifically caused by iron oxide dust), and silicosis (which often develops when welders have been exposed to silica).

And it doesn’t even begin to stop there; additional health issues that research has found to relate to welding include skin diseases, heart disease, loss of hearing, chronic gastritis and gastoduodentitis (which causes the stomach to become inflamed), and small intestine and stomach ulcers. Those exposed to nickel and chromium have been found to be especially vulnerable to kidney damage.

Reproductive risks have also been shown to be an issue, with welders displaying an inferior sperm count (and quality) to men working in other jobs. Those welding stainless steel appear to be more at risk.

Ultimately, welders are undoubtedly at risk of developing a number of horrible long-term health effects, but it is also true that if the proper safety procedures are followed, these risks will be dramatically curtailed.

For more information about products to reduce welding fumes check out KemperAmerica.com – their solutions for welding fumes and exhaust help to combat these hazards from full room ventilation to source fume removal.