Health and safety are the most important aspects of any welding project that exposes a welder’s sensitive eyes to high-risk work areas which are potentially dangerous. According to surveys, welding, which is a process of joining two pieces of metal in a semi-molten state, forms 10-12% of total manufacturing operations, and there are over 2 million welders who are working in highly volatile work conditions. The process is the foundation of manufacturing industries, but inadequate personal protection leads to unfortunate workplace injuries. Reports tell around 1400 welders sustain workplace injuries every shift. The welding arc emits a high proportion of harmful UV & IR rays, which are the primary cause of cataract among welders.
In such a scenario where the need of welding helmets for personal safety is a necessity, the invention of Auto Darkening Filter (ADF) by Optrel AG based in Wattwil, Switzerland has undoubtedly brought a paradigm shift and has completely transformed the outlook of stakeholders towards welding helmets. Over the years, welding has evolved into various sub-processes (MMAW/ GMAW/ GTAW/ SAW) but the electric arc welding process still remains the widely accepted and followed method in manufacturing. It is also pertinent to mention that the temperature is over 5000 °C and it releases high intensity heat and light energy which pose significant safety hazards for the welders. Understanding the severity of the challenge, Optrel AG started working on this technology in 1982-83 and came up with the concept in 1986 to help the welders not just in protecting their eyes, but also in improving welding productivity because of drastic reduction in eye fatigue.
The fixed shade level filters that are commonly used in welding hand shield and passive welding helmets (ex-DIN 11/12/13) with a fixed DIN Shade number come with many limitations. To protect welders from harsh welding UV & IR rays, a light filter is used with a particular opacity (DIN Shades). As the luminous intensity of the welding arc keeps changing, a fixed DIN filter is certainly not the right choice to protect a welder’s eyes. It also aggravates frequent dilation and contraction of the pupil.
On the other hand, the Auto Darkening Helmets have numerous advantages in comparison to their counterparts from health, wellness, and work productivity point of view. An ADF is fitted on a helmet shaped hood, thus creating an Auto Darkening Welding Helmet, enabling the welder to see the start and stop points, weld, geometry, weld groove, etc and also lowers the chances of weld defects up to 70%. The product developed by Optrel AG comprises two shade levels– light shade (when there is no welding) & dark shade (during welding). The switching from light to dark shade depends on the electronic controls of the ADF. To provide maximum safety, the ADFs are manufactured and tested as per international standard EN 379 (optical class/ scattered light/ homogeneity/ angular dependence). The helmets also come with low amp to high amp sensitivity adjustments for versatile use and to ensure well-rounded safety, the mechanical strength or the helmet shell and front glass are tested as per EN 175 & EN 166, following all safety protocols.
The latest features from Optrel include automatic shade level regulation during welding (Autopilot/ ShadeTronic); enhanced light transmission (Crystal Lens Technology); rechargeable battery pack etc. These helmets increase welders’ productivity as they eliminate unnecessary stop-and-start times and the need for welders to readjust the helmet and set up positioning. No flip-up of the helmet shell is required in between welds, or during job setting. This saves roughly 12-15 mins of productive time every shift. This has further resulted in reduced eye fatigue and fewer job breaks by welder. The payback time on such helmets are roughly 4-6 months. It means the helmet starts to earn for the owner for rest of it’s lifetime.
The visual features of a helmet may draw attention, but the protective features amalgamated with technology, comfort considerations are what welders should consider when selecting the right equipment for their needs. Keeping pace with the technological advancements, the Auto Darkening Helmet has also evolved into a high technology product. Right selection of auto darkening welding helmet for right applications is the key for leveraging maximum benefits. It is advisable to discuss the application with the helmet supplier, before making the right choice.