Welding is a hazardous activity. The welder is exposed to intense light, harmful UV/IR radiation, and spatter.
Hence, a welding helmet is arguably the most important piece of protection. Sensor technology and electronics have made possible the development of the so-called auto-darkening systems.
A welding helmet with auto-darkening is quite practical. By default, the lens is clear in what is commonly referred to as the “grinding mode.”
When you weld, several sensors detect the presence of an arc and associated intense light and radiation. This activates the electronic control of the lens, which turns dark to offer adequate protection. When the welding ceases, the lens automatically goes back to the grinding mode.
This increases time-efficiency since the welder doesn’t have to manually flip the lens up and down. High-end welding helmets with auto-darkening can shift from grinding mode to dark in a very short time.
This is referred to as the reaction time. Generally, the time to go from dark to grinding mode after welding is adjustable.
To function, this type of helmet needs a DC power source. The most obvious solution is to use batteries. And batteries were used initially.
The problem is that you need to change batteries often if you weld for several hours a day. This is the case of professional welders.
To tackle the problem of batteries, manufacturers started incorporating photovoltaic cells into this type of welding helmet. This is how the so-called solar welding helmets were born.
How does this technology help extend battery life? Is it convenient to invest in this type of helmet? Read on to find the answers to all these questions.
How Solar Welding Helmets Work
The principle is simple. Some photovoltaic cells are located on top of the helmet. The function of these cells is to convert solar energy into DC power.
What is this DC power used for? It is possible to feed the power directly to the electronics of the helmet.
However, in many cases, it is used to charge a rechargeable battery. This leads to the classification of solar welding helmets into three categories:
- Battery-Powered Helmets. They use batteries only. In most cases, they use disposable batteries;
- Solar-Powered Helmets. They rely solely on the photovoltaic cells to power the control electronics. When sunlight is not available, they use light and UV radiation from the welding arc to harvest energy;
- Solar-Battery Powered Helmets. This type of helmet uses a combination of solar energy and batteries. Here, there are two possible operation ways. The first is to switch to solar energy when sunlight is available and to batteries when it is not. The second one consists of using rechargeable batteries, which are recharged by the DC power harvested by the photovoltaic cells.
Nowadays, the most common type in the market is the one that uses rechargeable batteries in combination with photovoltaic cells. Hence, we will focus the discussion on this type of welding helmets.
A Particular Feature of Solar Welding Helmets
Unlike auto-darkening welding helmets that use batteries only, solar helmets don’t have an ON/OFF switch to start them. They automatically turn on when you wear it and turn off when you take it off. This is much more practical.
For beginners or forgetful welders, solar helmets are the best option. You don’t have to remember to turn it on first. This guarantees the safety of your eyes.
And you won’t have battery drainage problems if you forget to turn it off after welding. Thus, you will save some money since you won’t need to replace batteries so often.
Advantages of Solar Welding Helmets
Several advantages make this type of helmet the first choice for professional welders and DIY hobbyists alike. Let’s review some of them.
You will save a lot of money with this type of helmet. Since energy is harvested from a free source, you will economize on batteries. A rechargeable battery can have a very long operational life.
In climates where sunshine is abundant, using a solar welding helmet is even more reasonable. However, even in places without much sunshine, solar helmets still make sense. They harvest energy from the electric arc.
Batteries Are Charged all the Time
When you don’t use your welding helmet, you can leave it in the sun for some hours so that the batteries are fully charged. Also, as mentioned, the batteries can be charged while you weld.
Hence, the chances are that the batteries are fully charged all the time. So, you can forget about checking whether the batteries have enough charge for the day.
Automatic ON-OFF Function
This feature was already explained in the previous section. It enhances protection for the welder since it automatically turns on. Moreover, it helps extend the battery life since it turns off when unused, thereby preventing battery drainage.
Light Weight in Most Cases
This type of helmet tends to be lighter because of fewer controls and smaller batteries. Hence, you can wear a solar welding helmet comfortably the entire working day.
These helmets are quite versatile since they remain operational in all types of environments. Even if you work indoors, they will have enough energy to work indefinitely, thanks to energy harvesting from the welding arc.
In most cases, the auto-darkening feature makes them suitable for most welding techniques.
Can we say that solar welding helmets are the panacea for the professional welder? No. This type of helmet has some disadvantages also. Let’s review some of them.
Built-In Non-Replaceable Batteries
Some solar welding helmets have built-in batteries without the option to replace them. This means that when the battery life comes to an end, you have to discard the entire helmet.
Some of these helmets have an operational life of 2 or 3 years. In some cases, it may be a bad investment to purchase one of those helmets.
Limited Recharging Cycles
In some cases, the rechargeable batteries for this type of helmet may be hard-to-find and/or expensive.
Hence, opt for a solar welding helmet that uses AAA rechargeable batteries. These batteries are more economical, and you won’t have any issue finding them.
Solar welding helmets tend to be larger than battery-operated ones. They need some extra space to accommodate the photovoltaic cells.
Yes, they usually are lighter. But the large size can be a problem if you need to weld in tight places.
After weighing the pros and cons of this type of welding helmet, we conclude that the benefits surpass the disadvantages. Therefore, if you can afford a solar welding helmet, you should give it a try. Most likely than not, you won’t go back to battery-operated helmets after trying a solar one.