Choosing a Robotic Welding System
Investing in welding automation for the first time may seem daunting. How do manufacturers know if automation in the welding process is a good fit, and how do they choose which type of automation system best suits their needs?
The right fit is important to optimize an automation system. It often comes down to how complex the parts are and how much part manipulation is required.
Benefits of welding automation
A robotic welding system can help manufacturers improve efficiency, reduce waste and generate higher quality welds. A general rule of thumb is that an optimized automated welding system can produce a three-to-one output improvement over a human operator.
Also, more companies are turning to automated welding as an answer to the skilled labor shortage in the industry.
Questions to ask before implementing welding automation
For manufacturers new to automation, there are many options to consider. Focusing on the answers to a few key questions can help operations choose the right system.
Start with these four questions:
- What type of parts am I producing?
Simple, repeatable parts — high part volume with low part sophistication — are well suited to welding automation. Large, complex parts are often more difficult to weld robotically. Working with a robot integrator or robot OEM can help operations determine what options are best for their specific production needs.
- What do my upstream processes look like?
A repeatable upstream fabrication process is crucial to welding automation success. A manufacturer that fails to look at upstream processes to ensure they are in good shape isn't maximizing the automation investment. Part preparation and fit-up need to be consistent for the robot to produce quality welds each time. While robots can adapt to part fit-up or weld inconsistency, this may require more expensive options and complicate the process. This makes it key to load repeatable parts into the fixturing to produce quality parts. Upstream efficiency is also important since these processes may need to move faster to catch up to the performance of the robot.
- What results am I looking for?
Operations must understand their goals to choose a welding automation system. Do they need to improve productivity, reduce rework and scrap, or make it easier to train new welders? With the right welding automation system, a company can significantly improve first-pass weld quality and reduce the need for scrapping or reworking parts. These systems also offer advanced welding processes designed to minimize or eliminate spatter. This in turn reduces the need to apply anti-spatter or perform post-weld cleanup — both of which are labor-intensive processes.
- Do I have the right people in place?
Part of the investment in welding automation includes having or hiring employees who will oversee the process. Operations must employ the right people and provide them with the necessary training so they can operate the system properly. Robots can reduce the bottleneck of the welding process to free up hand welders, who can then focus on parts of the process or operation that cannot be automated. Resource these personnel to sections of the line that will become new bottlenecks if other areas cannot keep up because of the high throughput of the robot.