Advantages of Robotic Welding
5/29/2015 | Written by Ken Ham
The implementation of robotic welding systems at Quality Industries (QI) is a serious commitment to improved safety, quality, speed, and productivity. And QI has been managing the challenges—while reaping the benefits—of these robotic welding systems for years.
Currently, QI has nine robotic weld cells, which are used in both steel and aluminum applications. We currently weld over 3,000 parts per day. Further, we recently installed a 500-amp system with water cooled torches for high-speed welding (for heavier gauge metals), and a specialized power supply for welding aluminum—configured with 3 independent welding stations (for short-run or low-volume production).
Regardless of the varying capabilities and requirements of our robotic welding systems, there are general benefits that every shop should think about as they consider robotic welding.
Better use of skilled welding personnel
Metal fabricators face a shortage of highly skilled labor on a variety of fronts. The increasing levels of skill, knowledge, and experience required for welding and the shortages of qualified personnel make welding one of the most difficult areas to recruit and retain employees. Robotic welding is one way to help deal with these manpower issues and, at the same time, optimize the use of welding talent already in house. With robotic cells, one welder can monitor multiple stations and provide technical expertise, knowledge, and good judgment—while robotic arms provide the labor.
Deployment of robots on more simple and highly repetitive tasks also frees up other welders to work on applications which require more manual expertise and dexterity or more customized products that do not easily lend themselves to automation. Robotic welding has allowed QI to make the most of our welding talent, providing value to our customers.
Efficient use of space
Robotic cells should be set up to optimize the use of space. While space requirements may vary by operation, robotic arms can be retracted for minimal space commitment (when not in use) and cells do not need to be relocated for different jobs. As long as there is adequate space for loading and unloading parts (and the cell is located in a logical area for material flow), the robotic system can fit very smartly into a larger, well-designed manufacturing layout—integrating manual and automated production cells and systems.
Speed & reliability of production
Included in the long- and short-term benefits of robotic welding, speed and reliability are important, of course. A robotic system can maintain an optimal speed for extended periods of time, and its rate of production will be very consistent throughout entire shifts because, among other attributes, it will not experience fatigue factors late in the day or other fluctuations—such as breaks, team meetings, etc. Further, with the advanced technologies and performance levels of these robotic systems, there is little downtime. Quite simply, when focused on the right operations, robotic systems are very reliable and consistent performers.
While robotic cells can perform the same, repeated operation for extended periods of time, they also provide very consistent quality if correctly programmed on the appropriate types of applications. Once production factors—such as wires, power, and gases—are managed, robotic welding can be a great opportunity to create and maintain a highly consistent, quality-oriented operation. Naturally, this leads to a reduction in reworking processes (like grinding, machining, or additional welding). In fact, these downstream tasks may be eliminated entirely through the perfection of a robotic welding process.
While upfront capital costs for the purchase, installation, and startup of a modern robotic system may be considerable, the payback can be quick—due to increased throughput, higher material yield, reduced waste, reduced cleanup, and other positive factors. And cost savings in labor, of course, are quite tangible. Due to the optimization of labor from automated welding, a plant can assign its higher-skilled (and higher-paid) welders to critical manual operations, and its less-skilled operators (lower-paid) to automated operations.
Finally, we should not overlook the critical benefit of increased worker safety through robotic welding. Because dangerous welding operations can be automated and segregated into self-contained cells (with appropriate protective shielding)—while material handling in and out of these cells can be further automated or supported by safety-enhanced devices—robotic welding systems can dramatically reduce the probability and actual incidents of lost-time injuries, which are inherent in manual welding.
At QI, we have long managed the challenges and enjoyed the benefits of robotic welding. And, as a result, we are now investing in new automated systems for our future. Quite simply, robotic welding systems (and other automated systems at QI) fit very well into our practical philosophies of operational excellence—where SQDC (safety, quality, delivery, and cost) is paramount. And our customers certainly agree.