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The Road to Welding Automation – Why and When to take the journey.
Today, more than ever before more and more Companies’ are going in for Automation Solutions. The reasons could be.
- Address welder shortage
- Improve quality
- Decrease waste and rework
- Increase productivity
- Improve quality
Not all Companies those whose attempt the automation journey are successful. In fact those that begin without a well thought of road map are risking valuable time and investments and are likely to miss the full benefits of welding automation.
On the other hand Company’s that begin with a careful examination of their welding needs and current processes – including an accurate assessment of work flow and an evaluation of the potential ROI and develop a detailed plan with clearly established goals are likely to achieve a high degree of success in welding automation.
The benefits of Automation
- Labour accounts for 70 % of welded part cost. Automation system has the potential to reduce this cost substantially
- A robot can typically do the work of 2 to 4 people without attention, defects or absenteeism
The flip side of automation
- A skilled technician is needed to program the equipment
- Additional training to upgrade skills
- Relocation of existing work force could create HR issues
With the right automation system a Company can significantly improve weld quality reduce need for scraping or reworking parts, minimize or eliminate spatter. In fact, if a Company is using workers for applying anti spatter or post weld cleanup then it may be able to free up that manpower for other more productive uses elsewhere.
An automation system can reduce over welding common occurrence with semi automatic MIG process.
E.g. if a Company has welder who welds a bead i.e.3mm too large on every pass it can potentially double the cost of welding – both for labour and consumable .Also over welding may adversely affect the integrity of the part. Automation can prevent this part.
Finally robots are fast. They don’t have to weld all day to be profitable; they only have to weld more quickly than a manual welder. And they do. Faster welding means increase in productivity creating same number of parts in a shorter time and consequent decrease in labour cost and increased profitability.
Now that we understand the benefits, the next question is “How can our Company automate “. We will now try to look at this .However there are a few question that need to be answered first. One of the first things to ask when considering welding automation is:
- Does the company have a blue print, preferably electronic blue print of the components? If it doesn’t, it probably will not meet the basic criterion necessary to ensure the part or components is repeatable, and repeatability’s the key to automation.
- An automated system whether robotic or fixed needs to weld in the same place every time. If there are gaps or fit up issues then it can leave to increase in rework and scrap.
- If a company completely relies on its welding operator to compensate for fit up issues, it will need to look upstream in the manufacturing process to ensure consistency. What processes will need to change to make sure uniform parts are sent down stream by these welding operators. Or if vendors supply the components, can they guarantee that consistent quality?
Robotics or Fixed Automation
There is no single automation solution that is best for every company . The best solution will depend on many factors including the expected life time of the job, the cost of tooling involved and the flexibility offered.
Fixed automation as we all know is the most efficient and cost effective way to weld most components such as those requiring simple straight weld or round weld ,where the part is rotated on a lathe. For a company that wants to redeploy the assets when the current job ends, a robotic welding system offers more flexibility .A robot can also hold programs for multiple jobs, so, depending on volume, it may be able to handle the tasks of several fixed automation systems.
It may be cautioned here that robotic automation can be justified on
- An accurate assessment of goals
- Determine volume of work flow
- Identify 2 or 3 components that can be automated.
Now although the robot is more expensive than a fix automation system, Companies need to be sure to consider the cost of necessary tooling before deciding. Fixed automation system can become quite expensive if extensive changes are required to retool a part to ensure it can be welded consistently.
Ready to automate?
A streamlined work flow is one of the key benefits to automation. However to achieve this it is necessary to look beyond the welding department to ensure your Company can accommodate a smooth flow of materials. It would make little sense to invest in a automated system to increase productivity and then place it in a corner where each part has to be handled twice.
Companies need to have a dependable supply of parts to avoid moving a bottleneck from one area to another and should also look at the expected cycle time of the robot. A robot should not be sitting idle waiting for components to come down the line – this is costly and counterproductive.
It is important to determine who will oversee the automated system. Equally or rather more important is the training. Most robot integrators will offer a week long training course on how to operate the equipment .Simply put there is more to welding automation than just purchasing a robot or partnering with a competent intergrator.Only an automation specialist can help ensure success.
Typically, the automation specialist will
- Help determine if parts are suitable for automation ,and, if not, what is required to make them suitable
- Analyze the work flow and facility to identify potential road blocks
- Determine the potential pay back on the investment in automation
- Help identify the goals and develop a precise plan and time table to achieve those goals
- Explain automation options and help select those that best fit the Company’s needs
- Help select a welding power source that has the flexibility to maximize travel speed , minimize spatter, eliminate overheating ,provide good arc starting characteristics and increase first pass weld quality preferably sourced from indigenous manufacturing companies.
Please remember there is no single path to successful robotic welding automation. Still, a well thought out plan that included accurate evaluations is a good start to the journey!
This is an excerpt from a paper presented by Mr. Asit Sinha at a seminar of the Indian Institute of Welding.