360-Degree Review: Miller MIG/ TIG Welders And Plasma Cutter

When a person is serious and decides to take care of business to the fullest extent, they “Lawyer-Up,” and retain the best legal counsel available. The same could be said of our fabrication shop. We wanted to take care of business in a serious way and decided to “Welder-Up,” by securing equipment that would help our professional metalsmiths.

After doing an exhaustive search in the marketplace, we selected three different Miller welders and a Miller Plasma cutter that would cover all the bases. We’re going to share with you how we came to those selections and give you our review on the equipment that we selected. Anyone planning on getting “weldered-up,” will want to see what we have to say.

The powerhouse Miller lineup (From left to right) Backrow:- Millermatic 252, Millermatic 211AS, Syncrowave 210. Front: Spectrum 625 X-Treme.

Wants and Needs

Anyone in the market for a welder should realistically decide what their needs are before plopping down their hard earned money on the first deal they find. There are plenty of different welding machines on the market, each one that focuses on different capabilities.

These machines are very economical considering all that you get and can do with them.               – Andy Weyenberg

Anyone looking to buy a welder probably has a good idea of what type of welding they want to do. MIG and TIG are the most popular types of electric arc welding with both processes earning their rightful place in automotive shops.

The real question when selecting either MIG or TIG welding equipment is transformer power supply or inverter.

Inverter Welding Units

Inverter welding units change incoming AC power to DC current, a process that is called rectification. After the current is rectified, it is switched (inverted) into a stepdown transformer to the desired welding voltage or current. The switching frequency for welding is a higher frequency which requires very sophisticated components and circuits.

Inverter welding units, like the Millermatic 252, pack a lot of power compared to old style welders. These welders offer industrial capabilities at home garage prices.

The mass of magnetic components like transformers and inductors that are required for the power level is smaller as the switching frequency is increased. This means that the units are more compact and efficient.

In addition to the efficiency, inverter welding machines provide better control of parameters than non-inverter machines.

The inverter circuitry can also provide features such as power control and overload protection.

“With the inverters we can control every aspect of the arc. I can make that arc as sharp as a DC unit and that makes TIG welding aluminum easier than welding steel. It’s ridiculous,” said Andy Weyenberg, Motorsports Marketing Manager at Miller Welding.

Using aluminum welding as the measuring stick for welding difficulty, Weyenberg explained how a focused welding arc matters. “If you are welding two different thickness of aluminum, like a real thin piece to a thick piece of aluminum, that becomes a challenge. You have to really do a lot of torch english and point the torch more at the thicker piece so that the heat doesn’t get so hot that it burns through the thin piece. With the inverter welder, the arc is much more pinpointed so you can focus it right into the joint without burning out the thin piece and still have adequate power to weld the thick stuff too.”

The Syncrowave 210

We decided that Miller’s Syncrowave 210 would be perfect for most of the TIG welding in our garage. Miller’s Syncrowave line has become a favorite of industrial and hardcore hobby welders for a couple of decades. The latest version in the line is the Syncowave 210, and it is designed for the serious amateur welder.

“It’s the first syncrowave to get an inverter engine. When you hear other people welding with it, you’ll notice the arc sounds crisper and higher – more like a higher buzz. The tone is completely different,” said Weyenberg.

We fired up the Synocrowave 210 and tried it out on a header flange. The arc was as soft and controllable as Weyenberg said it would be.

What To Love About The Syncrowave 210

Miller has a power plug system that they call the “multi-voltage plug.” This system allows the user to connect to either 120 or 240-volt power receptacles just by choosing the plug that fits the receptacle and connecting it to the power cord. No other adjustments are necessary. This is the easiest to use multi-voltage power input that we’ve seen to date.

About the Multi-Voltage Plug (MVP) Feature:

In addition to the ease in which the input power requirements can be met, the option of using 115-volts for hardcore welding means that the welder can be taken along to the racetrack and used in the pit area with a generator. A huge bonus in our book.

The controls on the front of the machine are self explanatory and easy to use. The process selector knob allows you to choose between AC TIG, DC TIG, DC Stick, or MIG Spool Gun welding processes.

The proof is in the finished product.

Weyenberger explained the flexibility of the welder. “The software is upgradeable with an SD card on the front of the machine. You can buy a MIG program for it. So for a home guy, where 80-percent of his stuff is TIG, if he wants to do a little bit of MIG he can buy a $200 spool gun, get the MIG program for it, and turn his syncrowave into a MIG machine.”

In the past, multi-purpose machines have been larger units that did not excel at any one process but did a passable job with multi-process like TIG and MIG. Weyenberger explains why this one is different. “The fascinating thing about making a multi-process machine is that you have to make a machine with a transformer that does both processes, but with an inverter, we can control the amps, the arc, and the process because it is all done artificially. It is much easier now to make multi-process machines with inverters than it has been in the past with transformer-rectifier technology.”

The Syncrowave welders are known for the stable arc that the squarewave technology features. Even though the Syncrowave 210 is an inverter powered machine, it still uses the squarewave output that helps eliminate arc stumble, arc wandering, and arc outages. Combine the operational advantages of the inverter with the squarewave technology, and you have a welder that almost welds by itself. If you can’t weld with the Syncrowave 210, then welding is not your métier.

What To Like About The Syncrowave 210

Because the Syncrowave 210 is built as an inverter powered machine, it is compact and lighter than most TIG equipment in this range. The unit comes standard with wheels attached to the frame, which makes it as portable as a welder can be.

According to Weyenberger, “It’s on wheels and a cart already, so you don’t have to buy anything else. You get a heavy duty foot pedal with it. You can also stick weld with it, which most other TIG machines cannot. It’s very economical considering all that you get and can do with it.”

The unit has plenty of space and special compartments for consumables and storage for cables, foot pedals, torches, work clamps, magnets, or whatever else you may need. A major plus if you are a tidy welder and like to keep all of your equipment together.

We were impressed with the clean layout of the syncrowave 210’s front panel. The large selector knob lets you choose AC TIG, DC TIG, or DC Stick welding while the other knob lets you dial in the voltage.

“It’s a much more robust machine,” said Weyenberger. It has 60-percent duty cycles instead of 30-percent, so it’s heavier duty.”

These units have been on the market long enough to have proven their rugged dependability like the entire line of Syncrowave welders. The addition of the inverter technology has made welding even more simplified with a great control of the process, drawing little power in comparison to other machines in this class.

Portable MIG Welding

Most automotive enthusiasts are familiar with the stripped down portable MIG welders at retail stores like Home Depot, Lowes, or Harbor Freight. These can certainly run a bead on thinner steel, but lack some of the “pop” that a dedicated industrial portable MIG machine has. Miller’s answer to that market is the Millermatic 211 AS.

What To Love About The Millermatic 211 With Auto Set

There’s plenty to love about the Millermatic 211 AS MIG welder. For a light industrial MIG welder, the Millermatic 211 has a low power draw, and can be operated in 120 or 240-volts by the same “multi-voltage plug” system used in the Syncrowave 210.

In addition to the dual welding voltage, the machine is constructed with heavy duty components that we have become used to seeing in Miller welding equipment. The machine works so well in the 240-volt input power that you may have to dial down the recommended power settings on the front panel.

About The Auto-Set Feature:

The arc stability is very dependable and even inexperienced welders can achieve great results with Miller’s Auto-Set (AS) function.  The auto-set technology is designed to take the guess work out of the voltage and wire speed settings. With the auto-set function, you simply select the wire diameter on the wire speed dial (either .030-inch or .035-inch), then select the thickness of the material that you are welding.

The machine offers the flexibility for experienced welders that want to fine tune the machine’s power output or control the wire speed for critical welds or welding materials of different thickness. Many welders in this class only have preset functions.

What to Like About the Millermatic 211 With Auto-Set

The Millermatic 211 AS is portable yet powerful enough to weld chassis components. Truly, there’s never been a MIG machine that is this powerful and flexible before.

The controls appear to have been designed with the welder in mind. The dials on the face of the machine, as well as the on/off switch are large enough to be operated with heavy welding gloves on. Likewise, the torch is easy to handle and control with gloves.

The best design feature in the torch is the slip-fit nozzle/gas cup. Many of the portable MIG welders have threaded gas cups that cross thread easily – especially with the operator wearing welding gloves. The tight slip-fit nozzle/gas cup eliminates the dreaded cross threaded gas cup and is well designed for light fabrication and repair work.

Weyenberg handles the motorsports accounts for Miller Welding. He explained that one of the larger NASCAR teams, Hendrick Motorsports, uses the Millermatic 212 to build their chassis and the Millermatic 211 to build all the body panels. Considering that “the team has about 30 of the Millermatic MIG machines, and they build 65 to 70 cars a year, along with all the rebuilds that occur, they are really humping when it comes to welding.”

“For a beginner, I like the 212 because it allows for growth as your skills get better. The 211 would be my second choice because of flexibility. It can run on 115 and 230. Both machines have the auto-set which really shortens up your learning curve. It means you don’t have to fumble with the adjustments on the machine,” Weyenberg added.

Our fabrication team was pretty excited to see the Millermatic 255 roll off of the delivery truck. This MIG is the staple of many fabrication shops.

Millermatic 252 -The Industrial MIG Option

There is an old adage that says, “Buy the most welder that you can afford and you won’t have to upgrade as often.” This is mostly true, but we’d also add that there are multiple types of welding processes. Between the TIG and MIG welders, there are many to choose from, but if you can only afford one or the other, a MIG welder would probably be the best choice. If you are only doing light welding on thinner material, the Millermatic 211 is a great choice. If you are looking at more serious welding on material that’s up to a half-inch thick, the Millermatic 252 is the machine for you.

What to Love About the Millermatic 252

As with the other Miller equipment, the front panel and controls are simple. One knob for voltage and one for wire speed. Like the 211 AS system, the knobs are large so they can be operated with thick welding gloves on. The M25 welding gun has a 15-foot lead which offers a large work area to operate within. The ground lead was 10-feet long however, but this doesn’t seem to cause a problem because the unit is on wheels and easily relocated if needed.

There is a lot to love about the Millermatic 252. While the unit is heavy, especially if you are loaded with two bottles on the back, it is still portable. When used with the multi-voltage plug, this portable MIG machine offers industrial welding power anywhere.

What really stands out in the machine is its welding arc. The arc is very easy to start and once started it is easy to control–even in difficult welding positions such as overhead welding. Weyenberg claims the difference in arc stability is the improvements that have been made in welding efficiency. “We build all of our transformers in-house,” he says. “The efficiency of the machines have gotten so much better. We even make our own circuit cards in-house. Being in control of the design elements helps make the machines efficient.”

We tried the MIG process from multiple angles on our chassis components. The arc was solid and easy to control.

What to Like About the Millermatic 252

Miller’s internal programming seems to be its greatest asset for welders that perform industrial or light industrial work. Our hardcore shop fabricators liked the controlled welding arc that is the result of Miller’s Active Arc Stabilizer system. “Using the 252 is so smooth that Helen Keller could lay down a perfect bead with this welder,” said Dean Jigamian. “If you can’t weld with this machine, you need to find another occupation. The arc is soft and easy to control with any size metal,” Jigamian added, “There’s no arc turbulence or arc wander in any voltage setting.”

Even when the welding position was close to being overhead, the bead was easy to control.

The Millermatic 252 is an all-in-one MIG welding package that covers anything that you can throw at it. Engineered for performance, the machine can easily handle half-inch steel. MIG welding aluminum is easy with the “Auto-Gun-Detect” and the optional Spoolmatic 30A spool gun. Just pull the trigger on either gun and you are ready to weld. The machine automatically detects which process you are using. Helen Keller could probably weld aluminum as well with this function.

The proof is in the finished product.

The Spectrum 625 X-Treme Plasma Cutter

Getting clean and crisp cuts can be the most difficult task in a fabrication garage. Gas torches, Sawzalls, and cutting discs all have their place, but nothing compares to a plasma cutter. Miller’s latest, the Spectrum 625 X-Treme XT40, is the most powerful yet. The amazing part of this unit is that it’s only 21-pounds and has a shoulder strap that allows the operator to move the unit from location to location, yet it packs a powerful punch. Capable of cutting through 5/8-inch metal cleanly, this small but powerful cutter is the result of years of technology.

“Plasma cutting technology has leapt forward in the past 10-years and it has gotten much better,” said Weyenberger. “This machine is also inverter based technology. We’ve had inverters, but the transistors, modules, and stuff that we are making now is much smaller in size. Years ago, if you wanted a module to carry 100 or 200-amps of power, they didn’t make them. They only made modules in 60-amp increments or something like that, and you had to parallel all these modules together like adding batteries to a circuit to get more power.”

From the first moment that you open the case, it is obvious how portable the Spectrum 625 X-Treme plasma cutter really is.

What to Love About the Spectrum 625 X-Treme

Basically there has been a game changer in the last 15-years that opened up the doors to higher amperage, higher speed modules. Insulated-gate Bipolar Transistors (IGBTs) are high speed switching transistors that have a much smaller size and carry more power than previous transistors. Nothing says “modern compact” like Miller’s Spectrum 625 X-Treme with XT40.

“So the new 625, which is about the size of a kid’s lunch box, is rated at 5/8-inch solid steel. It will actually cut 3/4-inch steel but at a slower speed than our standard rating of 15-inches per minute,” said Weyenberg.

Not only is the plasma cutter part of the new inverter based technology in today’s market, but it also incorporates Miller’s multi-voltage plug technology too. Weyenberg added, “There’s no more big transformer in the machine where you had to change the voltage into another voltage. Now it is as simple as changing the plug on the end of the cord, which is included. Now you can go from 115 to 230 with changing a little flip/flop plug.”

Final Word

Electronic technology in the arc welding market has changed the entire landscape for auto enthusiasts. Now you can get industrial quality machines for your home shop that are still small enough and lightweight enough to bring to the racetrack with you if you wanted to.

This family of Miller equipment has found a permanent spot in our shop.

The most pleasant aspect of the technological breakthroughs in manufacturing welding equipment is the affordability of the new products. When compared to past machines with industrial quality capabilities, the modern welding machines offer a great value for the dollar – which is a benefit that everyone can love.

Article Sources

About the author

Bobby Kimbrough

Bobby grew up in the heart of Illinois, becoming an avid dirt track race fan which has developed into a life long passion. Taking a break from the Midwest dirt tracks to fight evil doers in the world, he completed a full 21 year career in the Marine Corps.
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