Lincoln Vantage 400

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Lincoln Vantage 400
The 3 phase power cord shown here supplies power to a compressor and plasma cutter.
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Vantage Instrument Panel
The instrument panel includes fuel, water and oil gauges plus an idiot light for the battery charging circuit. There are oil and water safety switches as well. The glow plugs are push button operated. There is no indicator as to how long to use them. Five or ten seconds in moderate weather is sufficient for a cold start.

Every so often one steps up to the plate and looks at the latest and greatest. Introduced in the Fall of 2005, the Lincoln Vantage series is one of those products. Over the last couple of years Lincoln Electric has been replacing their Commander series with the Vantage series of welders. They now now Vantage 300, 400 and 500 machines on the market. As is customary in the arc welder business the model number describes the amperage that the welder is capable of on a 100% duty cycle basis. As is common the welders will put out well beyond that number for a limited period of time. In the Case of the Vantage 400, it will put out something over 500 amps before the safety shutdown limits it.

The box you see to the right is the business end of the Vantage 400. It is in a stainless steel case 5 feet long and weighs in around 1250 lbs. At present it has no optional features, but is a brand new product. The row of covers at the bottom of the control panel are rain covers for two sets of breakers (far left and far right). Pair of covers one above the other contain two standard 15 amp 120 volt receptacles and 2 standard 20 amp receptacles. The big one in the center and center right position are the 50 amp 1 phase plug (NEMA 14-50R) and the 50 amp 3 phase plug (NEMA 15-50R). They are so close together that it is difficult to use both with standard Hubbell Plugs at the same time. Standard gauges include a fuel, oil and water.

Amperage is set with a single dial at the top center with a digital readout at the top left. The Weld Mode switch and the ARC force dials and a couple more switches are concealed behind the flip down 'Vantage nameplate'. The 'Arc Force' dial represents Lincoln Electric's implementation of their trade marked "Chopper Technology". The engine control row is just above the gauges and consists of an hour meter, engine shut down, glow plug button, starter button, and engine idle down button. The screw cap covers on the middle right are for various remote controls. The entire dash board is hinged just above the plug in row and is held up by 4 screws. Remove those screws and you have access to wiring harness. The rest of the box is is bolted up tight except for a lockable flip lid over the radiator cap and a lockable sliding door on the right side of the engine through which you can change the engine oil and filters. A fuel filter, priming pump, and fuel shut off are also provided behind the door as well as the dipstick for checking the engine oil level. Priming should not be much of a problem, as the fuel tank is mounted high above the stator and immediatley behind the engine providing gravity fuel to the injector pump. While it is never a good idea to run a Diesel engine out of fuel unless you really want to engage in a rassling match to get it started again, the gravity fuel system makes the job easier.

The Engine drive welder makers that need note in the US are Lincoln and Miller. Both have a long and storied history in the electric welding business. Lincoln has been in business for about 100 years and has a good business providing electrodes as well as selling welders. Miller is more focused on selling welders, and they have consumed the third engine drive manufacturer, Hobart. There are a couple of other manufacturers but their names are not household words.

It is beyond the scope of this note to discuss Mig Welders, Tig welders, or buzz boxes in general. The engine drive stick welder is the traditional product for field repairs of heavy machinery and the interest here.

In looking at welders of the engine drive style you can group them in several categories.

Engine Drive Welder Classes

  • Portables -- 300 lbs. 150 amp
  • 3600 RPM gas drives 200-300 amp
  • 3600 RPM Diesel Drives 200-300 amp
  • Speciality pipe welders
  • 1800 RPM heavy duty 300-700 amp
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Vantage 400 Weld output ratings

If you know anything about electric power you have likely heard of AC (alternating current) and DC (direct current) power. typical household current in the US is of the AC variety. Electric Arc welding traditionally uses DC power and a lot of it. IN the first half of the 20th century arc welding technology moved forward in the shipyards. Before the advent of electric welding ships had to be riveted together out of many pieces of steel. With the advent of the welder the pieces of steel could be joined as one in a rapid fashion. At least in communities near the seaports electric welding came to the masses as a result of World War II. Many thousands of people were recruited and trained to work in the shipyards, frequently as welders, and after the war the country was flooded with thousands of torpedo welders which put the electric welding within reach of the common man. The torpedo welder (so called because of its shape) was an 3 phase electric motor driven welder coupled to a DC generator. There were around 12 inches in diameter and around 3 feet long, hence the name. Because they assumed the availability of 3 phase high line power they obviously didn't find their way into the woods fixing logging machinery however.

Another spin off of World War II did. Perhaps some of you are old enough to remember the aircraft search lights which used to show up at county fairs as attention getters. Those lights were carbon arc lights, not unlike the carbon arc's used today for gouging with a reflector behind them, and they were of course driven by a large engine powered DC generator. Well it turns out the first welder I ever saw was a military surplus search light generator converted to a welder and a pretty good one at that.

Here at the ranch we started our welding experience with a 2 cylinder Wisconsin engine belt driven to an aircraft generator. the planes ran on 28 volt DC current which was about right for welding, but the controls were sort of an afterthought, and although such a welder welded a lot of things, the crank start (sometimes) and the lack of decent control on the generator made welding a challenge.

Moving forward in time the the classes of welders now on the market, I will first briefly discuss the 'Portables'. Miller has a couple models out and Lincoln has one. 'Portable' I guess is relative. They weigh 300 lbs and often have a roll cage on them like a portable generator so they can be man handled. Typically they cost around $2000 presently and have a 10 horse gas engine. They are usable for light work, but not anyone's dream of a welder. Enough said.

The biggest selling part of the market is what I call the "Bobcat" class welder. Bobcat is actually the trademark of Miller and since Lincoln makes one too maybe I should think of a different name. Anyhow it is the welder that Miller used to nearly drive Lincoln out of the welder business. Twenty five years ago or so Miller came out with a cheap, lightweight powerful welder which became the standard for the contractor market. Weighing in at 500-600 lbs, this welder featured a 2 cylinder Onan air cooled engine with an electric start (a very good engine by the way), and on the electric end was both a 225 amp DC welder AND it produces a robust 8kw of AC power to it could serve as a generator for all sorts of electric appliances on the work site.

mode selector Arc Control
Vantage 400 offers 4 welding modes Miller DIGS for it

Miller flooded the market with these low cost essentially throwaway welders while Lincoln continued to make what they now call the classic DC only welder, which was much larger, heavier, and powered usually by a water cooled gas engine. Few would dispute the fact that the Lincoln was a good welder,but it was heavy, short on AC power, and expensive. The Miller blue box was everywhere. The Lincoln usually needed its own trailer, but the Miller could be handled skid mounted with a convenient crane hook, and was small enough and light enough to haul around. Today you commonly seem them mounted on the top of the tool boxes on service trucks. Ultimately Lincoln did push back and produce the Ranger Series. The horsepower has escalated from 16 HP to around 20 HP now, and many of the configurations have from 9KW to 10KW of AC Power, and will DC amperage ranges up to 300 amps.

The Onan engine has disappeared (in name), and is now produced by Suburu under the Robin name, and a look alike Kohler engine is also available. These units are now priced in the $3000 to $4000 range. The amperage is sufficient for medium welding work and the 9-10KW of AC power with one glaring exception meets most needs. None of this changes the fact that they are basically 'throwaways'. If you are going to make 60 cycle power you have to turn the generator at 3600 RPM (or some lessor speed such as 1800 RPM, 1200 RPM, or 900 RPM). Practically speaking this means that given today's engine technology you are going to find 3600 RPM engines or 1800 RPM engines direct coupled to generators. The trade off is simple. The 3600 RPM units weigh half as much, cost half as much and wear out twice as fast as the 1800 RPM models. The engine drives the cost of the unit, and those light weight air cooled high speed gas engines are both the good and the bad of this class of welder. We have an early Bobcat and while its size and weight make it it a mechanics truck dream---it fits, they are not run for ever welders.

It is common for folks in the construction and kraft industry to much prefer Diesel engines over gas engines. It is a deep bias instilled by a lifetime of balky gas engines that started hard usually after hand cranking and always needed a tune up as compared to diesel engines that seemingly ran for ever and used half the fuel doing it. Consequently both Miller and Lincoln have responded to this demand with Diesel versions of the 3600 RPM welder. The present favorite of both Lincoln and Miller is a Kubota diesel engine. It is a good enough engine, but the penalty is over 100 lbs in weight and about double the cost--up to 7-8K. The Lincoln 305D and the Miller Trailblazer 301D typify this class. Besides being heavier, the inline engine forces the box to be a few inches longer which is a disaster in some installations. The Gas powered units are all comfortable less than 48" long which means that they can be mounted crossways in a service truck which usually has 48" between the tool boxes. in the bed, but alas, the Diesels are longer and are water cooled so they have a radiator that needs clearance to suck (or blow) air on the end of them foreclosing the possibility of crossways mounting. For example one time honored favorite, particularly with an enclosed service truck is to mount the welder crossways in the front of the service body and cut out behind the right front door so you can access the control panel on the welder, but if the welder is too long to fit crossways this option is foreclosed. Likewise the extra 100 lbs isn't welcome if you are planning on mounting the welder on top the tool box as you aggravate a top heavy syndrome for the whole truck particularly if the truck is a light one to start with. My take: while I like diesel engines, their extra weight and size can in the service truck application compromise their usefulness, while their cost is almost as much as a 'real welder', sort of a compromise with the worst of everything.

I won't say much about the pipe welders because I don't know much about them except that pipe welding is sort of a speciality and has some special welders keyed into that market.

The 1800 RPM DIESEL'S

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amps vs ac power
Lincoln Vantage 400
The lower photo is a chart reflecting the trade off between weld output and AC power. The chart uses the continuous duty numbers. There is substantial AC power capacity remaining even when the welder is being used at its rated 400 amp welding capacity.

The article should have started here, but I couldn't resist a preface. The 'real welders' are of the 400-500 amp class, and not because you weld all that much with that amperage, rather because many activities require the ability to gouge, which may include blowing out broken or defective welds so they can be redone, or simple to cut a trench for welding to make a good bonding area. This has traditionally been done with an 'air arc' which is a special stinger with a compressed air nozzle on it, and which which you use a 'rod' which is actually a copper clad carbon. Bigger is better in Carbon Arc gouging. While there are small carbons for the 2 cylinder 'Bobcat' / "Ranger" class welders, serious gouging is in the province the the big welders.

Around 500 amps for a 3/8" carbon is sort of an industry standard. There are lots of wannabe big welder models. A long time favorite from miller is the Big 40. We have a Gas engine model dating back to 1979. It's an 1800 RPM water cooled unit with a 4 cylinder Continental Gas engine. The current Miller Big 40 has a Cat Diesel engine and will actually sustain 400 amps at 100% duty cycle and provide up to 500 amps at a reduced duty cycle. It is probably the closest thing to the Lincoln Vantage 400 other than the Miller 400 which actually uses the same Perkins engine as the Lincoln Vantage 400. Our older Miller Big 40 is actually a 300 amp welder that will peak to 400 amps.

As I write this in early 2006, the large welders are uniformly diesel models. Miller uses the 'Big 40' moniker, likely because this is a classic name in larger welders, and 'Big Blue' presently followed by a "400, 500, or Turbo", with the latter having a peak output capacity of 750 amps. Lincoln first pushed into this market with a full feature welder featuring the 'Commander series' which was replaced by the 'Vantage series' in 2005 in 300, 400, and 500 amp models.

Don't assume from my references to output that the Miller or Lincoln is very far ahead of the other. They are extremely competitive in both price and features. Popular engines in both include the Deutz and Perkins lines, with Miller tossing a Cat engine in the mix for a couple of models, and Lincoln tossing in a Cummins for a model. Lincoln is sort of the 'old line' in the welder business, but upstart Miller has been an upstart for 75 years now.

Neither Lincoln nor Miller make engines, and for the engine drive welders by and large offer the same engine options. On the generator end, other than the 'Lincoln Classics', the generator is actually an AC alternator for the same reasons that your car has an 'alternator' instead of generator on it if it is less than 40 years old---cost and weight. When it comes to features, performance and reliability, and for that matter price, Miller and Lincoln are nose to nose competitors. The competition is strong, and one doesn't have a new feature for long without the other answering.

As we bought the Vantage 400, the product was so new that the dealer hadn't even heard of it yet, and the introduction of 3 phase power as a 'feature' of welders is so new that most of the manuals don't mention it yet---even those printed fairly recently as that did not appear until mid 2005 on any Lincoln Model. Miller has more AC power or at least as much on every one of their gas drive models and on their top of the line 500 amp models, although they only offer it as an 'option' while Lincoln has made it standard. My assumption is that Miller will Tweak their 400 amp model soon as well. Plainly though at the moment the Vantage is a jump ahead of Miller and if Miller doesn't make a competitive response, Lincoln will roll over them in the 1800 RPM Diesel market. The Vantage 400 is simply a 'right sized machine'. The Vantage 300 by comparison is too small. With HP in the low 20's it doesn't have the horsepower to do anything that the gassers at half the price won't do. That doesn't mean that the 300 isn't a nice welder, but it lacks the horsepower either for carbon arc gouging, or to produce lots of AC power (as for a Plasma cutter). On the other end the 500 is a bemoth. With over 50 HP, the 500 gulps diesel like there is no tomorrow all for another 75 amps (the Vantage 500 maxes out at 575 amps while the Vantage 400 maxes out at 500 amp (ours actually says 508 on the meter). The 400 has an 33 HP engine which is very thoughtful about its fuel consumption. We don't have good real world fuel consumption numbers, but preliminary data suggests perhaps .75 gallons per hour.

The Good, Bad and Indifferent

Dipstick
Vantage Dipstick has surplus wires running to oil pressure sender unit bundled directly in the way of pulling the stick in an example of sloppy engineering.

We made our purchase decision over a Miller Big Blue 400 Deluxe based on the fact that Lincoln advertised 19kw Peak (17 kw continuous 3 phase power) compared to Miller's 15 peak and 14 continuous) 3 phase power rating. The 'Arc Force' feature which Miller calls "DIG" is something that we had never heard of, but is probably a good thing. As I understand now, it is important in pipe welding as it allows you to adjust your arc length without changing the amp setting, which can be important when welding out of position. We took it for granted that it would weld 'right', and were not disappointed. When it comes to making sparks, it does so with style.

As I noted above, the 1 phase and 3 phase receptacles are too close together to use at the same time with standard Hubbell plugs unless you grind one off a little on the side. However since either plug will draw the full capacity of the machine it is not clear that you would often want to use both plugs at the same time.

Also you should not think of this welder coming 'skid mounted'. There are no semblance of 'skids'. It is a welder in a box and if you want it skid mounted you best provide your own skids as it otherwise will sit on the ground or whatever you set it on. It comes with a crane hook for lifting on top, but if you plan on moving it around the job site on a forklift making some skids with forklift holes should be a priority. Indeed if you are going to do anything with it other than truck or trailer mount is making some skids should be a priority. Unlike many older welders however, the 'box' does have a bottom on it which I rate as a plus.

Looking back at the photo you will note the air intake at the extreme bottom right corner. There is a similar one just around the corner on the right. All air for cooling and running the engine is sucked in through those vents with the force of a Kirby vacuum Cleaner. If you set this thing on the ground or on a dirty shop floor it will suck everything up through these suction vents, cool the generator with it, and then move the air forward where the under hood engine air intake is, with the remainder of the air expelled through the radiator. It is my thought that having the welder far enough above the ground that it doesn't suck the earthworms out of the ground is probably a good thing.

I've tried to think of whether I think that the concept of a sealed box with a single airflow from end to end is a good thing or a bad thing. At the moment I'm not sure. I'm a bit more use to seeing welders with an engine cooling system and a generator cooling system rather than an integrated system, but I am not sure the integration is bad.

I have similar thoughts about the engine air intake being under the hood. Since the welder box is closed completely except for the two low air intake vents air to the engine has to come in the vents and pass by the generator before it is inhaled by the engine. This is probably good for the generator as more air means more cooling. It could be a good thing or a bad thing for the engine depending on just how it works. Anyone with experience with diesel engines knows that they are extremely sensitive to air pressure. For example if you drive a diesel truck in the mountains on the same roads with the same loads over time you will be able to tell what the barometer is doing by what gear you are in even with a turbocharged engine. If the generator has its own cooling fan that is driving air toward the engine air cleaner providing a little extra pressure under the hood at the point of the engine intake this will likely help engine performance and may offset the fact that the air has been heated up and has lost density due to warming. Likewise I have no idea what effect, if any, leaving the engine side door open may have on cooling efficiency.

My nomination for the stupid award goes to the radiator cap. Lincoln makes a bid deal about having a lockable cover for the radiator cap (not bad), but inconsistently 3 feet from it is the fuel cap which is not lockable. Likewise about 5 feet away on the 'business end' are all the switches and control panel including the starter---none of which is lockable. While I don't object to the lockable cover over the radiator, the lack of a vandalism protection kit that secures the fuel tank and the control panel seems to be an omission of significance. Now the Vantage 500 has a battery disconnect switch with a lockout/tag out capability. There is no such thing on the 400. Indeed there is no way to keep the starter button from starting the machine short of removing the battery. I would have thought that a key lock ignition switch or a disconnect like the 500 has would have been better practice although it doesn't seem to be the custom on welders. Finally, among the nits to pick is the engine Dipstick. In a classic 'engineering by committee', the dipstick ends up behind the oil pressure wiring harness. Worse, the extra wire is all bundled up and snap-tied neatly in a bundle right above the dipstick. On our truck mount access to the engine service area is sort of cramped when the crane is home, and getting both hands in the engine compartment (so as to hold the wires out of the way and extract the dipstick is not convenient. However if you go in there one handed you come back with a handful of wires instead of the dipstick. Grrr!

A new optional (defaulted to off) safety feature provided on the Vantage 400 is what they call "VRD". It is an open circuit voltage limiter designed to limit the open circuit voltage to reduce the risk of shock injury to the welder. I know why they ship the welder with this device turned off with a hidden switch inside the welder. It sucks. Actually it works great and that is the problem. It turns the voltage down when you aren't welding making it a real pain in the B--- to get the arc started.

Three Phase Power

folding panel VRD switch
The Logo panel unlatches to expose the Mode and Arc Force controls. The entire dashboard folds down to expose the entire insides of the welder. Note the VRD switch in the middle. Much of the wiring including one of 2 computer boards is on the back of the dashboard.

The generous availability of 3 phase power on the Vantage is the reason we own a Vantage. The 19KW peak (17KW continuous) 3 phase rating IS a big deal. That is a lot of juice, and significantly more juice than Miller offers on its 400 amp welders. Our Initial interest in the 'big juice' machine was to run an 80 amp Plasma Cutter. The Plasma cutter story is another story for another day and another page, but the bottom line on the power issue is this. Miller has a variety of welders that will produce 15KW 3 phase power (14 continuous). Miller's Big Blue 400 is rated at 36 amps at 240 volts. The Lincoln Pro-Cut 80 is rated to draw 44 amps at 230 volt 3 phase, and the 17KW of the Vantage is 41 amps while 19kw is 46 amps. Of course it is a rare day that you will run a plasma cutter that big flat out but it gives you a hint as to why the extra KW's are welcome.

Not surprisingly Miller says that their 15kw generator units are adequate for their 80 AMP Spectrum 1000 model, and indeed it may be. The Lincoln Pro-Cut 80, though rated as an 80 amp output machine, has an 85 amp setting on it (at reduced Duty cycle). Bigger plasma cutters are usually happier with 3 phase power and they function much more efficiently. Miller makes you buy a Big Blue 500 which weighs in at almost 1700 lbs to get more than 15kw of 3 phase. By comparison the Vantage 400 is 1235 lbs. The weight and size can be issues if you are mounting your system on a truck as we have.

The addition of 3 phase power is a new wrinkle in the welder competition. It was not even present in the Vantage 500 introduced last year, however, now the Vantage 500 has been revised to include it. It shows up on a number of Miller machines but is usually limited to 15kw. Having 3 phase power greater than 15kw on a less than 500 amp machine is news, and really good news. It is the breakthrough that will allow engine driven welders to drive heavy plasma cutters in the field. While Plasma cutting is not a direct substitute for carbon arc gouging there is some overlap. What plasma cutting does do is provide a direct replacement for most cutting applications of the OX-ACY system, and this is a good thing. It is faster and more convenient. I'm not sure it is cheaper, however. Plasma cutters do use 'consumables' in the form of torch tips which are spendy.


UPDATE: Thursday, August 17, 2006

We have had the Vantage 400 around for 8 months now. The hour meter is approaching 100 hours (obviously we do not use it every day), but we are very happy campers with it, and as it turns out we are finding uses for it we never expected. One has to do with the 3 phase power. We don't have 3 phase power from our utility, but we have a variety of 3 phase tools in our shop and the like driven through phase converters. What we have discovered is that the Vantage 400 becomes a quick and dirty test bed for 3 phase equipment. If for example you buy a 3 phase machine tool, before you go to the expense of getting a phase converter and hard wiring it in, you might want to see if it works first particularly if you bought it at auction etc. This is a breeze with the Vantage. I made up an a "3 phase extension cord' and got some extra NEMA 15-50 plugs. (the type that the Vantage uses. Assuming the motor load is within the capacity of the Vantage you can simply put a plug in on your 3 phase motor load and plug it in. You do have to address some issues however, and it does expose a limitation of the Vantage with the 3 phase power. The load has to be small enough Vantage can handle it---10 HP and below aren't a problem. Additionally the voltage has to be correct. Three phase power may be in half a dozen different voltages (well almost). The most common are 220 volt and 440 volt, but there are others. The Vantage supports only 220 volt 3 phase. Electrical equipment is often wired at the highest available voltage because among other things smaller wire can be used. The message here is this. If you think you are an electrician and are running around plugging in your 3 phase equipment into your welder, don't forget to check the voltage. The equipment that is expecting 440 volts (or some of the odd ball voltages) isn't going to be happy. Happily most of the motors of the size the Vantage will run are either 220 volt only or 220/440 volt motors (changeable regrouping the 9 wires that come out of the motor), but you need to address the issue. If you have some of the weird and mostly obsolete 3 phase voltages, I have no clue what to do, and it might have something to do with why the motor was so cheap in the first place.


UPDATE: Thursday, January 01, 2009

Well, the Vantage 400 has been here at the ranch for 3 years now. It's performance continues to be flawless. During the three years besides doing a bunch of welding, it has powered our plasma cutter to cut up 300 tons of scrap iron, most of which was heavy scrap (shovels and the like). Most recently it has been sitting outside my house on the service truck where it has provided power to my house during the Christmas storms of this year. It will run everything in the house except the electric heat. I have a double throw switch on the meter post so when the power goes out I only have to throw the switch and start the generator. I did find one thing it won't do----While the wife was cooking Christmas dinner with most of the electric stove turned on, and probably the electric water heater going and what ever else in the house that might interest anyone the well pump came one which is a 5 HP pump. That didn't last too long until it tripped the breaker on the welder---so it can be overloaded.

The other thing I noticed had to do with the power quality. As you might guess I have some pretty massive computer systems and American Power Conversion (APC) battery backups on them. The APC units watch the cycles and voltage very carefully and complain if the cycles or voltage strays out of a very narrow range. While my computers worked fine, the APC's sometimes complained of poor power quality. My guess is that the governor lets the engine wander a little more than a really high quality electric generator does. I suspect that the Vantage uses the stock governor on the engine. If, for example, you have seen the generators the military has for Radar sets and the like, they have special fine veneer governors on them designed to hold RPM's within 1%. Probably only the Pentagon and radar sets care along with my APCs, as none of my electronics seemed to care, but governor wobble can be an issue in electric generation.

Later: I've reviewed the spec sheets for engine drive welders and notice that Miller brags about how their welder generators hold their voltage within +/- 10% of their target voltage throughout the load range. If we are to assume by implication (I can't find specs on Lincoln) that Lincoln performs similarly, this would explain the protests from the APC. Though the good APC's are programmable as to what they call an acceptable voltage range, the default range is a little tighter than that. Anyhow power quality is something to think about when buying a generator, and the one's that are really ratty are the 1 cylinder engine ones. You can see ethat by watching the light bulbs throb. The issues here are far more subtle than that.

The Bottom Line

inside view panel back
Once the dashboard is opened (remove 4 screws and hinge down) there is ready access to the electrical end of the machine. Back side of Dashboard. Note VRD switch and computer board. Although seemingly exposed the PCB card is covered with a thick layer of transparent rubber like material. It is soft to the touch but clearly seals the board from the elements.

If you want a 1800 rpm Diesel class welder, and like us, Like Miller, take a deep breathe and count to 10 before buying a Vantage. If you don't like Miller anyway, don't bother counting. The Vantage 400 is a class act with only a few minor flaws such as no battery disconnect or lockable fuel cap or vandalism protection package, and Miller simply doesn't have an answer to this machine yet anyway. I like Miller, and hope they have sense enough to figure out that they are dead meat in the diesel market if they don't find a way to make a machine that is competitive with this welder.

I don't know how many engineers it took to make the oil sender unit wiring harness conflict with the dipstick, and I am not sure what the solution is--one less engineer i.e. getting rid of the engineer to thought of that, or one more engineer--- i.e. someone with brains enough to fix it, but hopefully these little annoyances will get worked out. Ditto for getting the 1 phase and 3 phase plugs so close that standard Hubbell plugs won't fit in both at the same time without a little modification. I know there are space constraints on the dashboard, but.....

As for things that could be done in the future to make a more useful product several things come to mind. First, a usable accessory drive on the engine would be welcome. The vast majority of welding is done with far less amperage than this machine is capable of. To be sure the capacity is there for certain applications but much of the time there is HP that isn't being used. This provides an opportunity for integration with other functions. Small air compressors are naturals for integration, but another that would solve a lot of service truck blues would be a modest hydraulic pump. Now many service trucks typically have to leave the truck engine running to provide air or hydraulic service to the crane. It would be much more efficient if all these additional functions could be integrated. One should not have to run 3 or 4 engines on a service truck to get a job done.

The next thing that needs to happen is that the Plasma cutter needs integrated into the welder. It's an electric thing. Why can't I have one box take care of it. A key feature of my welder in an AC to DC inverter. A key feature of my plasma cutter is an AC to DC inverter. Why do I need two inverters in two boxes? We seem to be able to make a welder with modes for CC, CV, Mig, Tig, and all kinds of things that I don't even understand. Why can't I have a mode that says "plasma cutter"? I'm probably better at logging than electrical engineering, but as nearly as I can tell plasma cutters want 120 volt DC juice and some air. Now it looks like the guys with propellers on their hats can make a welder with a MIG mode that kicks out around 60 volts and it would seem that if they could find another port to make that come out 120 volts they would be most of the way there, and I wouldn't need another 90 lb box riding around in my truck. Then if some rocket sceintist could invent an umbellical extension cord so that the torch would reach more than 50 feet, I would shut up. Of course, I wouldn't buy one, because I just bought the 2 box solution.

Vantage revised for 2009

The Vantage series was revised some for 2009. The significant change is that the engine is now an EPA 4i emission controlled engine. A Kubota engine is now optional in lieu of the Perkins and a 20 gallon fuel tank is provided. This is probably a good thing. Ours has around a 12 gallon tank which is enough to run as many hours at full load, which if you fill it every day isn't a disaster, but it was sort of annoying when I was using it as a generator to light my house.

Vantage 400 compared to Commander 400

Lincoln Commander full view
Commander 400 Control Panel
Lincoln Commander 400
Deutz 3 cylinder
Deutz F3L 912 Diesel Engine

Lincoln, after long ignoring Miller's alternator powered welders, began their pushback on the high end with the Commander series. There were Commander 300, Commander 400 and Commander 500 models. the 300 and the 500 were the most commercially successful. The 400 is the least seen. The reasons for this are not completely clear.

For what ever reason the Commander 400 was the most forgettable of the otherwise well regarded Commander line, the Vantage 400 seems to be from early returns the most successful. The differences show. The Vantage 400 uses a 33 hp Perkins while the Commander has a 44 hp Deutz. This likely impacts fuel consumption. The Commander was somewhat more robust as a result. It was able to produce 575 amps at a low duty cycle compared to 500 amps for the Vantage.

The Commander 400 appeared in 'Stick only' models as well as 'Stick and Wire' models implying that some of the Commanders floating around don't do wire which is standard on the Vantage. On the AC power side, the Commander, though big on AC power for its day is a wimp compared to the Vantage producing 10kw, 100% duty cycle single phase power.

Then there is the weight, a hefty 1650 lbs for the Commander and around 400 lbs less for the Vantage. Presumably a smaller engine and a correspondingly smaller fuel tank (15 gallons instead of 25 gallons has something to do with the weight loss.

Last but not least, the era of clunky mechanical controls is over. There are no big mechanical switches to set range amperage on the Vantage. You Dial it in on an electronic dial akin to a volume control on a radio and read the result on the digital readout. The Commander had the classic clunky range set fine tuned with an electro mechanical rheostat. The elimination of these creatures on the front panel (and all cables that went with them) is one of the reasons the Vantage can have a fold down dash board. I suppose one can lament the disappearance of the big electro-mechanical switches, but I don't. They weren't perfect in their reliability and I presume the PC board oriented ones aren't either. What is clear is that the new generation is truly a new generation with fully integrated circuitry for everything (except the engine), and its simplicity and ease of use and small size are all good things. I say 'simplicity' with a word of caution. I don't mean that integrated circuits are less complex than electro mechanical contraptions.

As for engines, the Deutz air cooled engine is very popular and has a lot of fans (pun intended), but for my part I have no problem with the Perkins. We have had Perkins engines around before and they have a solid reputation (as does the Deutz). The next generation of engines out will show up in 2008 when the next level of EPA emissions rules kick in. Presently the small diesels are at Tier II and are exempt from Tier III, but they do jump to Tier IV in 2008. At that point they will have to have all the stuff on them that 2007 trucks have implying that they will be electronically controlled, turbo charged and have particulate filters on the exhausts. The electronic controls on the engine will offer some opportunities for integration while adding major dollars to the cost, and complexity. It is going to be a wild ride.

Bottom Line Comparison

My guess is that the downside of the Commander 400 is that it had the power and weight of a 500 amp machine (using the same engine as a Miller big Blue 502), but simply wasn't.

Related equipment

What's next in Engine Drive welders?

I've already mentioned the emissions issues which will change the engines, but the interesting thing that is floating along is the inverter technology. The bugaboo of AC power has always been that CYCLES were tied to RPM's of the engine, and the cycles had to be right. This has implicitly locked welders into either 1800 RPM units or 3600 RPM units. They have to turn precisely at those speeds or bad things happen. Enter computer technology. In recent years we have seen the variable speed drive for electric motors.---profoundly machine tools. You simply dial in the speed you want and the motor turns that speed through the magic of computer manipulation of the cycles. This solves a 100 year issue of getting drill presses and lathes to turn the right speed but it also presents an opportunity for welders as well. You simply stand this technology on its head and run the generator (actually an alternator) any speed you want and let the computer fix the resulting mess. Profoundly with the advent of computer controlled engines, you can adjust the throttle to match the load instead of turning the engine as a predetermined RPM whether there is any load or not. The electronic controls on a Diesel engine will necessarily be calculating the fuel charge for every cylinder fire and so the response time need be no more than the next cylinder fire. I see opportunities for noise, durability, and fuel conservation. For example if you are welding at 100 amps, there is no need for the engine to produce any more power than needed to output 100 amps.

Is this all my idea? No. Actually Miller is already offering a prototype of this technology in the Pipe Pro 302. They still have it overpriced, and it is on a 3600 RPM engine, but conceptually it is there. When the regulatory folks force Tier IV engines in 2008 much of the cost of the electronics will be embedded in the welder anyway, so the opportunity will exist to recover some value, and it wouldn't surprise me if Miller answers the Vantage advantage in due course with a push back by taking the PIPE PRO design and extending it into the Big blue 400 and 500 categories, and making these into multispeed welders. If they don't their engineers are napping on the job.

The Vantage series from Lincoln provides a good base to do this as well, as they have disposed of all the clunky mechanical switches making the welding controls all electronic which will smooth the way to add new electronic features. this is one of the updates between the Commander and the Vantage---the disappearance of the big rotary switches for setting amperage. Among the benefits is that this meant that the big wires running to the switch could disappear which in turn made it possible to have the drop down front panel for access---something that you could never do with a host of heavy cables running to a rotary switch on the front panel.

Don't be surprised if you are hooking your welder up to the internet one day soon to take a download of a software update.

- - Updated 12/29/2012
- - Updated 04/20/2008
- - Updated 8/17/2006
- - Updated 10/08/2006
- - Updated 03/21/2008