The new SnapWeld collaborative welding robot by Universal Robots

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Pradeep David
General Manager, Universal Robots – South Asia

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Automation has been indispensable to the manufacturing industry for the last decade. Collaborative robots or cobots are the latest advancement making the automation processes easier in the manufacturing industry. They are light – weight, easy to use robotic arms, first developed by Universal Robots in 2008. Their latest technological advancement is in sync with Industry 4.0 – automated revolution in the manufacturing industry. Cobots are designed to work with humans and assist them with a variety of tasks which help automate and streamline repetitive and potentially unsafe processes thus, ensuring a safe work environment while increasing productivity and efficiency. With the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) set to grow, they are eager to adopt this technology. Universal Robots has pioneered the concept of cobots and has deployed them globally in a wide range of industries ranging from automotive, packaging, pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, metal working, and manufacturing.

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Some of the advantages of automated welding are Automated welding systems ensure weld integrity through electronic weld process controllers. Combining mechanized torch and part motions with electronic recall of welding parameters results in a higher quality weld than can be accomplished manually. This offers instantaneous quality control. Leak testing and vision systems can be integrated into fully automated systems to provide additional quality control. Mechanized welding provides repeatable input parameters for more repeatable output. Semiautomatic and fully automatic systems increase output by eliminating the human factor from the welding process. Production weld speeds are set at a percentage of maximum by the machine, not by an operator. With minimal setup time and higher weld speeds, a mechanized welding system can easily outpace a skilled manual welder.

Automating the torch or part motions, and part placement, reduces the possibility of human error. A weld takes place only when all requirements are satisfied. With manual welding, reject welds often increase when welders become fatigued. Depending on the value of the parts when they arrive at the welding station, the cost savings in scrap alone may justify the purchase of an automated welding system. Automation should also be considered when assemblers need to minimize the risk of shipping a bad part to a customer.

Lastly, reliance on human welders can dramatically increase a manufacturer’s labor costs. When planning for labor costs, manufacturers must consider the time that welders spend producing assemblies.

Cobots are now reaching for welding tools and Universal Robots along with ARC Specialties launched their MIG welding system at FABTECH 2017 in Chicago. The next logical step for cobots is to start tackling the tasks handled by industrial robots. This involves heavy assembly and more delicate tasks like welding. Welding is especially in demand now, as many skilled workers are retiring and not being replaced. The American Welding Society updated its forecast this year, predicting an estimated shortage of 3,72,000 welders by 2026. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Universal Robots (UR) is working together with ARC Specialties, and have recently introduced a new attachment to its UR+ line that offers welding capabilities.

Small job shops struggling with the budget, programming and space requirements of traditional welding robots now have an alternative solution. The new SnapWeld Collaborative Robot Welding package is an interactive welding system that can be deployed easily and flexibly in existing, manual welding booths, eliminating the need for costly new robotic cells. The ability to operate without a cage is one of the major benefits of cobots. The inherent safety features built into the robots allows them to safely operate near human operators as the idea is for humans and robots to be inter-dependent and achieve what each of them does best. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Universal Robots (UR), working together with ARC Specialties, recently introduced a new attachment to its UR+ line that offers welding capabilities.

The flexibility and ease-of-programming of cobot-based welding systems make them especially well-suited for low-volume/high-mix environments, as well as custom or small-template welding processes. With high accuracy and repeatability, these systems can also handle long runs with consistent quality. Welding tasks can be programmed in as little as half-an-hour by workers who have no previous experience and programs can be saved and reused, saving the expense of trained robot operators. Lightweight cobot welders can be mounted on tabletops, hung from ceilings, or installed into existing welding booths, offering more flexibility than manual welders or traditional fixed robots and speaking of manual welders, these will be increasingly harder to find.

The SnapWeld Collaborative Robot Welding package consists of a Profax wire feeder and a water-cooled torch enabling which can weld up to 600 amps—featuring a torch bracket, cables, and hoses. The simplified programming is developed with and verified by Universal Robots through the UR+ platform facilitating direct software integration into the UR programming environment, enabling advanced settings to be easily programmed directly on the robots’ teach pendant.

Another cobot welding system, the CoWelder, is available from Migatronic in Denmark. The CoWelder system includes a UR5 or UR10 robot—depending on payload and reach requirements—along with a Migatronic power source, start/stop safety box, and Migatronic welding torch and torch holder.

The complete welding robot solution fits on any table in any workshop as the flexible set-up is easy to move around making it ideal for even the smallest shops, with simple set-up and programming for significant savings over traditional complex robotic systems. The robotic welder ensures uniformity in series production, but it is so fast and easy to reprogram that it provides value even for small batches.

CoWelder is the smallest and smartest automated welding solution on the market. It is ideal for welding simple work pieces, no matter the quantity and frequency.  The solution consists of a Migatronic power source and a Universal Robots robot arm. The built-in safety system continuously checks the operator’s safety and can be tailored to individual needs. External safety components, such as welding curtains or screens, can be used with the CoWelder. It optimizes efficiency and ensures uniformity in series production, but it is so easy to re-program that it also pays off to weld small batches with this automated solution. CoWelder delivers uniform and continuously high quality and improves work efficiency.

Industrial end users have been the driving force behind this integration of welding systems and cobots.

The ‘Make in India’ campaign is driving change, innovation and investment in new processes throughout Indian manufacturing, not least in the field of welding and joining technologies. These technologies have been developed over many years, often in western economies, at a time when India was less well placed to invest. Conversely, India can now maximize its own investment strategies by leapfrogging intermediate welding technologies and acquiring, or developing for itself, state-of-the-art processes, especially for greenfield manufacturing sites.In a global welding equipment market of around $18 billion, more than $13 billion is still spent on arc welding machines.

In India, as in many other countries, more than 80% of all welding is arc welding ranging from traditional ‘stick’ electrode methods to more sophisticated automated systems, such as orbital TIG welding for critical parts including aerospace and pressure vessels.There is increased demand for ensuring best practice in traditional welding procedures. This creates good business for training providers, and fresh impetus for Indian home grown welding research.

All this technology push and the pull of end users of welding is making a major up-skilling drive inevitable.

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