When seeking to improve any welding operation, companies must remember that the pursuit for greater throughput should not be separated from the drive to improve quality. Producing more parts per day is only beneficial if those parts are well made. Advanced welding information management systems (to be referred to hereafter as AWIM systems) support both goals by providing owners and management with real-time data that empowers them to evaluate their company’s welding operations and drive continuous improvement. AWIM systems carefully track and measure:
- Arc-on time
- Welding deposition rates
- Cycle time
- Value and non-value-added activities
Using these systems to find ways to increase arc-on time in the welding operation is valuable, but there is more to improving throughput than just spending more time welding. Having the ability to analyze and reduce downtime, and to optimize and evaluate non-welding activities is also essential to maintaining increased levels of productivity. Companies can also use AWIM systems to assess the effectiveness of their choice in filler metal and deposition rates (e.g. wire feed speeds) to ensure welding operators are as efficient and productive as possible. In other words, they can examine whether welding operators are at optimal travel speeds, while also minimizing over- or under-welding conditions, which helps keep costs down.
Analyzing and improving pre-weld activities
To increase arc-on time and throughput, there must first be efficient pre-welding processes in place. Although certain pre-weld activities are essential, they can still be streamlined.
AWIM systems can help identify what pre-weld activities are currently taking place, and help to identify which activities should or should not be occurring. By examining these activities, management can determine if the time being spent on pre-welding activities is reasonable or if there is room for improvement, and if so, where that improvement needs to be made. In some cases, it may be upstream in the operation.
For example, data may reveal welding operators spend an excessive amount of time addressing tolerance issues, waiting on parts or preparing joints that require the removal of mill scale. If this is the case, management can take steps to address the activities occurring prior to a part reaching the welding operation. Such analysis and actions help to identify and maintain accountability in the respective departments responsible for the issues; it can also provide managers some insight to improve the overall operation.
To further support activities that will happen later in the weld cell, AWIM systems help standardize work instructions by identifying what parts a welding operator needs, as well as part numbers and quantities. This ensures the operator has all of the correct and necessary parts to complete the task. In addition, these systems can provide details on how to load the part properly into the appropriate fixture and provide a tack welding procedure that ensures consistency in the sizing and location of the tacks. By offering insight into such activities, the welding operators are set up for success in the weld cell when welding takes place.
Improving efficiencies in the weld cell
In order to increase arc-on time and/or throughput, it is critical to have an understanding of what is happening in the weld cell when the welding operator isn’t actually welding. This is especially important, since in many cases the arc-on time in a welding operation is usually much lower than one might expect.
AWIM systems can help identify where there is room for improvement. They can be used gather input on every activity taking place and determine whether these activities need to occur within a weld cell, or perhaps can be addressed more efficiently and cost effectively elsewhere.
In many cases, non-welding activities are invaluable to the welding process, but not every task needs to be performed by a skilled welding operator. For example, rather than having a professional welding operator grind and prepare parts for painting — which could result in less arc-on time — a company could instead assign an dedicated employee to this task to free up valuable welding time for multiple welding operators.
AWIM systems also enable welding operators to indicate when consumable changeovers take place as another means to identify non-welding activities and generate greater efficiencies. This feature allows management to identify whether welding operators are replacing consumables too often, and if switching to a higher-quality, longer-lasting product may ultimately be more cost effective solution and contribute to greater arc-on time and/or throughput. Similarly, wire changeover may also be monitored as a non-welding activity to ensure that the most efficient type of packaging is being used.
Analyzing and validating productivity
AWIM systems can monitor wire feed speeds and deposition rates, providing insights into how adjusting parameters might yield better results. The data from these systems may also reveal an opportunity for a wire conversion to augment efforts that gain productivity and quality improvements.
Using cost-calculating tools in conjunction with an AWIM system can give companies a baseline against which they can measure and validate any improvements they make rather than analyzing them through manual time study efforts. This allows managers to track, in real time, whether the changes they’ve implemented are actually benefiting the welding operation.
For example, an AWIM system can track deposition rates to help determine how much more efficient a welding operation could be using a different filler metal, such as metal-cored wire — a product capable of increasing deposition rates and travel speeds, typically by 15 to 20 percent or more. These systems can then examine arc-on times and compare the entire cycle time of the job with old cycle times to calculate exactly how much more productive the operation is after such a filler metal conversion.
It is important to analyze all of these factors, as there could be scenarios where higher deposition rates will actually result in less arc-on time because of the faster travel speeds. In this scenario, the goal would be to maintain the current arc on time along with the higher deposition rates that can yield lower cycle times and increase productivity.
Setting parameters and gaining efficiencies
AWIM systems can help companies improve the overall quality of their products by ensuring welding operators follow the proper standards and guidelines. They can monitor and help control heat input, reduce distortion, and minimize over- or under-welding conditions by tracking weld duration and deposition, thereby reducing labor costs and filler metal waste, and improving throughput.
For instance, if a welding operator needs to make a 10-inch weld, one can calculate — based on the size, length, and wire feed speed — how much time that weld should take to complete. Management can program the AWIM system to give welding operators a window of time to complete the weld so they are not above or below the prescribed duration. Doing this ensures that 1) the weld is in place and 2) that the weld is properly sized. These systems also help prevent under- or over-welding by monitoring the weld deposit. Since some welding procedures allow for a wire feed speed range, and operators might prefer running at different wire feed speeds within that range, a company could set the system to track deposition instead of tracking duration and achieve the same result.
AWIM systems safeguard against mistakes by providing welding operators with guided sequences that take them step-by-step through the entire process. Welding operators must finish each weld, in the proper order, before proceeding to the next. The systems can alert welding operators to missed welds, incorrect sequences and over- or under-welding, and when they have violated a predetermined welding parameter. Any nonconforming weld or part can be flagged and an alert can be immediately sent to the proper department to address the issue before the part leaves the welding cell. This feature allows for immediate quality control and the quick correction of errors.
Management can also set AWIM systems to automatically select the proper program and predetermine the set of welding parameters an operator should use for each weld throughout the process, which may be different from one weld to the next. This saves welding operators’ time by automatically changing the programs and parameters throughout the welding procedure to the prescribed values. It also prevents the operator from having to walk back to the machine to make changes manually.
Boosting the bottom line
In addition to determining how to improve arc-on time and throughput, AWIM systems can track costs to help companies become more profitable. These systems can create detailed reports on part counts, arc-on time, equipment efficiency and more. Using the information gathered by these sophisticated systems, companies are better armed to make decisions about how to improve their process, reduce costs and drive continuous improvement.
In the end, AWIM systems provide a way to analyze the bigger picture within the welding operation, so managers and owners can optimize the entire process and confirm that their efforts are, indeed, saving money and time. They also empower welding operators to take greater ownership of the operation and help improve the company — and, ultimately, the bottom line.