Upcoming changes to diesel engine-driven welders have become a subject of recent discussion throughout the welding industry in light of ongoing efforts by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
As part of the Clean Air Rules of 2004, the EPA has adopted a national program to reduce emissions from future off-road diesel engines – the heart of an engine-driven welder – by requiring engine manufacturers to integrate controls into their systems to reduce exhaust emissions to new tighter standards.
The initiative, introduced in stages known as “Tiers,” is in the Tier 4i (Interim) emissions standards phase until the end of this year. While a number of engine horsepower ranges are covered by the EPA legislation, the range that affects the welding industry the most is the Tier 4 Final (Tier 4 F) emissions standard for 25- to 74-HP off-road diesel engines. Beginning in 2013, the EPA will require that particulate emissions (PM) be reduced by an additional 90 percent. Diesel engines manufactured starting on January 1, 2013 for use in off-road products to be sold in the United States must meet these tighter compliance standards.
To meet these emission standards, manufacturers will either upgrade their engines, or produce new engines with advanced emission-control technologies similar to those already required for highway trucks and buses. Closely linked to these provisions are new lower-sulfur fuel requirements that will decrease the allowable levels of sulfur in fuel used in off-road diesel engines. This change will be from 500 parts per million (ppm) now per low sulphur diesel (LSD) fuel to 15 ppm per ultra-low sulphur diesel (ULSD) fuel. This is occurring, in part, because the emission-control devices used by the new Tier 4F-compliant engines can be damaged by sulfur contents higher than 15 ppm.
The need to incorporate new after-treatment methods will certainly affect product designs. This means that the size and shape of the products are going to change to house the new, added components.
Final prices have yet to be determined. As engine suppliers pass on their costs for new engines and welding OEMs invest in redesigning their equipment to accommodate the new EPA-compliant diesels, OEMs, including Lincoln Electric, anticipate price increases of up to 50 percent.
The EPA has built some flexibility provisions into the final rule aimed at helping manufacturers, including welding equipment manufacturers, to meet the requirements. Still, it’s all but inevitable that end-users will pay more for the re-designed equipment in 2013.
There is some good news. You don’t need to replace your existing 25 HP to 74 HP diesel engine-driven welders with the new compliant models immediately, since the new rules pertain only to new engines manufactured after Jan. 1. 2013. Equipment turnover can still occur as part of your regularly scheduled fleet maintenance and upgrade plan.
Because Canada is expected to follow EPA Tier 4F guidelines, the same redesigns and ensuing price increases are anticipated in 2013 for products to be sold and operated there as well. For areas of the world outside the United States and Canada, existing diesel welders will continue to be available in 2013 and beyond, with price changes expected to be typical of year-to-year changes.
Based on the anticipated 2013 price increases, if you do need to obtain new equipment this year, it is recommended that you order early to avoid the possibility of longer delivery times later in the year. And, if possible, it is recommended that you move capital expenditures from 2013 into 2012 for the same reason.
Products with lower than 25 HP diesel engines will not require significant emissions after-treatment and, therefore, will not be affected in a significant way by these new requirements. For these engines, expect cost changes and product price changes for 2013 to follow traditional year-to-year changes.
New environmental regulations will reshape how higher-horsepower, diesel engine-driven welders are designed, manufactured and sold in the United States and Canada. The year 2013 will be the beginning of a new era for these products. With a little bit of education and good planning now, you have the opportunity make a smooth transition into 2013 and beyond.