setting mig - weldreality approach?

Hi All, I was reading ed craig's weldreality last night and got to thinking about my own welding practices; specifically setting up. Most of my
selding is done on site with a small Lincoln sp-170 and this has only two controls, a 5 setting switch for voltage and another for feed. Setting it up is pretty easy since I use it all the time, but I sometimes think there could be a better setting. We use .045" flux core for most of or galv work and mild steel and .035" solid core with gas for stainless. I set my voltage until I get the penetration I want on a test piece and then dial in the feed until it sounds/feels right.
In the workshop its a different story entirely. We have a bunch of welders there, and they're all different makes and models. Most have just been bought over the years depending on feelings at the time. All are large 3 phase models in the range of 300~500 amps. Setting the voltage source on these guys almost makes me dizzy, some of them have more switches and controls than my car. I dont get enough weld time on any one machine to get to know it's characteristics, so I spend too much time getting voltage right. Dialing in feed is pretty easy once I've got it set though. We use c02 in the shop, and I dont really adjust the flow often. It's either enough to shield the piece or it isnt.
Reading the welding quiz at weldreality made me think there must be a more systematic approach to this. How many of you guys can walk up to any welder, loot at your workpiece, dial in every setting you need to and just weld away without a test? Are most people setting up on a test piece or do you just know?
Do any of you actually carry a multimeter around to find out how much voltage you're really getting? Finally, I was thinking of buying ed craigs book and maybe the video with the hope that I would really get up to speed with set up times and remove that nagging doubt about whether I could have a more optimal setting. Does anyone have any other suggestions re: better books or videos, or a review of ed craigs materials? It's a fair ammount of money to shell out without any idea of what you're getting.....
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At least once a year, all the machines in our shop undergo "calibration". Using a good electrical test meter, that is capable of amps and volts, and calibrated to a known standard, a series of test welds is done, with the machine set to various positions. Volts and Amps at each test position are recorded, and a copy of the calibration sheet is laminated and left with the machine, so that operaters can refer to it in order to set the machine, without having to re test the settings.
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Well, yes I can, but that is because of 7 years of teaching on a large variety of older machines.

Again, I do, because we know that certain wires like certain settings. Like 1/16", ESAB 7100 Ultra, Dual Shield, loves 23 volts and 200 amps. It will weld anything you want at those settings, and our older machines have enough variations that it is easier to just put a multimeter and amprobe on it to really dial it in.
I tell my students to carry around a small pocket notebook to record settings for each process on each machine.

I think he knows his stuff on the large machines and heavy production equipment, but he gives little info about smaller machines.
He has a whole section of his site that is devoted to convincing everybody that multi-gas mixes are a load of bunk, yet he fails to mention that on stainless steels tri-mix gasses are quite superior.
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never ever had a chance to do a multimeter test, it is a good pratice to be able to find out problems wheather a machine is in or out of calibration, I would rather see a welding machine go through a cleaning and check-up every 6 months, at our work place that will never happen, it is usally when it welds so poorly and one can no longer compensate to make the welding machine produce. Than does it get fixed. I find that keeping your machine clean, nozzle, tips, wire cleaning pads, rotating the gear drives, streaching the whip out, keeping the ground clean, and grinding away from the machine cleaning the cover vents for smooth air travel and blowing it out with air once a month, keeps the machine smooth in operation, less of a chance braking down. most welding machines I encounter have marks to where they will run sweet depending on the running condition this might vary slightly and your own travel speed, after a few years of experience with different materials, it becomes old hat of gauging

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where would you attach the meter leads on a mig welder? between the tip and the workpiece while welding? or do you go inside the machine and pick the voltage up there?
have never done it myself, but am curious now.
-tony
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Usally the clip the voltmeter between the ground and the wire feeder lug.
The Amprobe you clamp around the gun stinger or the ground cable.
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In adition to this, I wonder does anyone measure their wire feed? I've seen mechanical devices availaible that after a 6 second feed will tell you what you're getting in inches per minute for around $80. There are also digital ones available for more. I figure though, for 6 seconds you could just feed the wire and measure it yourself then work out the math and get *pretty* close.
All the voltage sources at work have pretty well quantified measurements for voltage, some with digital displays, but the wire feeds are pretty much just the '1-10' and take your pick type......
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