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In the welding field, the coated electrode process, known by its technical name, MMA, is undoubtedly the most widespread at the hobby level, because at a reasonable price it is easy to obtain the first welding machine, including electrode welding cables and the first consumables.
This particular welding method is much appreciated because even an operator with little experience, after a few test electrodes and some good advice from more experienced operators, can weld. You can start working and realize projects with a minimum cost and maximum efficiency.
The qualities that distinguish MMA welding make this process widely used in various sectors, particularly the shipbuilding industry.
The most appreciated features of this welding process are its great versatility and the fact that it can be used on a wide range of different materials (given the wide choice of coated electrodes) and the ease with which it is possible to move the equipment needed to weld, if you do not have sufficiently long electrode welding cables and therefore have to move the generator.
The coated electrode process does not require any protective gas, and therefore the operator is not bound by the presence of the cylinder, which is large and difficult to handle, especially on construction sites or where there is no regular ground.
In the coated electrode process, the electrode coating (external part) burns during the melting of the metal core, creating an oxygen-free atmosphere that surrounds the welding pool. The residue of the molten coating is deposited on top of the weld bead forming a solid protection called slag. Besides acting as a barrier against the oxygen in the air, which could oxidize the still hot weld bead, the slag also enriches the weld pool with alloying elements.
Another factor that makes this welding process very popular even in the professional sector is the availability on the market of a large number of different electrodes with different materials and diameters to meet every requirement. Coated electrodes are divided into 4 large groups, classified according to the type of coating: rutile, basic, acid, and cellulosic.
Each group of coated electrodes requires welding generators with specific characteristics to be able to use all their potential and qualities easily. Rutile electrodes are the most common coated electrodes, they are easy to use. Those electrodes are commonly used with any welding generator equipped with DINSE connections for electrode welding cables.
High-end coated electrode welding power sources designed for professional use are often marketed by manufacturers without electrode welding cables. Cables are not supplied because the target audience of these welding machine requires electrode welding cables with specifications and features that best suit the operator's needs, or to meet the safety standards required to work in a given location, with different length, diameter, and coating of the cable.
The electrode welding cables, electrode holder clamp and ground cable normally supplied by the manufacturer with the generator are designed for hobby use because you generally have 3 kw of power on the home grid.
This set of cables for electrode welding machines is standard sized, on average around 10/16 sq. mm in diameter, with a length of around 3 meters and a PVC coating. This type of cable for electrode welding machines is not suitable for intensive work or for use on construction sites but is excellent for domestic use or for use in light carpentry.
A good quality cable with a diameter of 16 sq. mm has a work cycle of around 160 Ampere at 60%, enough to work without problems with 3.2 mm diameter electrodes. However, if you wish to use the same electrode with longer welding cables, you should choose cables with a diameter greater than 16 sq. mm.
The cross-section and length of the electrode welding cables are closely related: the greater the length of the cables, the greater the resistance that the electric current must overcome, and consequently the greater the heat released during the process. To dissipate the heat generated by the current, you need an electrode welding cable with a sufficiently adequate cross-section to prevent the cable coating from overheating dangerously or, in the worst case, from burning.
Even though it may seem trivial, the coating of electrode welding cables is important, and there are types that are more suitable than others for specific uses or for use in certain workplaces.
As mentioned above, the most common coating is PVC. It is a good coating that guarantees a fair degree of insulation and protection even on thick cables.
Cables with PVC coating have a good flexibility, and are excellent for use in closed, non-professional environments.
In special, less controlled environments such as construction sites, where the risk of water or unintentional damage to the electrode welding cables is greater, it is better to equip your welding machine with an electrode holder and ground clamp with a cable with a Neoprene coating. This material is less flexible than PVC, and the price of Neoprene electrode welding cables is higher for the same thickness, but it guarantees greater insulating power and greater resistance to stress than ordinary PVC cables.
Another precaution for working safely on construction sites is to replace the standard electrode holder clamp with an insulated electrode holder clamp. The special feature of this clamp is that it tightens and supports the electrode inside a coated protective shell which is accessed by a screw mechanism. This protective cover prevents accidental contact of the live clamps with the ground and contact with any foreign objects when the electrode holder clamp is placed on the ground.