Pipe welding operations are being squeezed on both ends of the talent spectrum and it’s only going to get worse.
On one side, the current crop of welders is aging. The average age of a Canadian professional welder is in in the mid 50s, which means retirement is not far away. On the other side of talent spectrum lurks the fact that finding young and qualified pipe welders to replace the ones about to retire is tough.
“There is going to be a massive shortage (of welders) by 2024 and this is the stark reality,” says Rick Campbell, vice president sales for Novarc Technologies, a north-Vancouver based company which provides automated welding solutions. Campbell was part of a recent webinar entitled Introduction to Collaborative pipe spool welding robots and high deposition HyperFill technology, hosted by CWB Association’s BC chapter.
Novarc’s Spool Welding Robot (SWR) is designed for pipe fabrication and can support roll welding requirements of pressure vessels and process pipes under significant standards such as ASME B31.1 and B31.3 for pipes, elbows, neck and slip-on flanges.
Campbell believes SWR is a solution to the industry’s pressing talent shortage, addressing the physical needs of both the older workforce and experience needs of the younger staff.
Investing in a robotics solution helps extend the career of older welders, who over the years likely have developed aches and pains that lead to physical discomfort over the course of a shift, says Campbell.
“Giving them a tool like this, where they can literally sit in a chair and weld, and they’re not overtop of the fumes and away from ultraviolet light, it will really extend their careers,” he says.
At the other end of the talent spectrum, qualified young welders are not only hard to find they also lack the years of experience necessary to produce x-ray quality welds day in, day out.
“You take someone who is just out of welding school and theoretically they know what they’re supposed to be doing but they don’t yet have the cycles, the fluidity, the motion and experience to give you high quality welds, day in and day out,” says Campbell. “…You put them on (a robotics-enabled system) and they’re all of a sudden capable of competing against some of the most experienced guys in the shop and beating them in diameter inches per shift.”
Productivity averages around 60-80 diameter inches per shift for North American shops using manual welding processes. Top performers can hit 80-100 inches per shift. SWR productivity with a single wire welding process reaches 200-350 diameter inches per shift, according to Campbell.
“No matter which bookend you choose, it’s about making sure you are combating the challenges of low productivity and inconsistent weld quality. It’s another way of looking at how you can leverage a technology to enhance the skills of what is going on within your workforce,” Campbell says.