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CANADA'S LEADING INFORMATION SOURCE FOR THE METALWORKING INDUSTRY

CANADA'S LEADING INFORMATION SOURCE FOR THE METALWORKING INDUSTRY

TECH TIPS: Qualifying a robotic welding application

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Welding robots are extremely impactful for production operations. That said, determining whether robotic automation is a good fit for an operation can be a daunting task and seeking the advice of experts can be a big help. IMAGE: Yaskawa

by Brandon Bollig

Once reserved for large-scale automotive manufacturing, high-performance robots are now being integrated into job shops and factories across a range of industries, completing an array of dull, dirty, dangerous and disliked tasks. Improvements for capability and flexibility, along with advancements in system tools and processes are fueling this usage, enabling a wider user group to leverage automation.

Commanding approximately 20% of the total amount of commercial welding that happens in North America, welding robots are extremely impactful for production operations. From increased worker safety, part throughput, product quality and operational flexibility, to reduced costs, labor turnover and more, these virtual workhorses provide a range of transformational benefits.

That said, determining whether robotic automation is a good fit for an operation can be a daunting task. For those considering the use of welding robots and systems, here are a few concepts that decision makers can weigh to make qualifying robotic automation easier:

Part Fit-up

Components coming into the workcell play a huge determining factor. If a manufacturer has a consistent process upstream and is loading consistent pieces into the weldment – without having to do excess pounding, grinding, etc. – that is an ideal situation for robotic automation. If manual workers are having to use clamps, pry bars, torches, etc. to get a piece tacked together (so welding can take place), that’s not a good candidate for a robotic application. Conversely, is a manufacturer has well-fitting parts and is not utilizing fixturing due to its unnecessary nature (i.e., in the instance of tab and slot laser cut parts), that is a good starting point.

Weld Content

The weld content of the part should also be considered. A manufacturer needing to process a million parts that only have two inches of weld on them will need a different system than a fabricator that has twenty parts requiring a lot of weld content. Understanding this point at the start of the decision-making process is helpful and sets realistic expectations. From the number of robots and positioners required, to the workcell size and model (pre-engineered vs. custom), the weld content of the part often drives the qualifying process.

Task Difficulty

It is generally advised that new entrants start with easier tasks, where smaller pieces can be welded. From here, the type of workcell can be justified. That said, working with an experienced professional at this stage can be extremely helpful – as a cycle time estimate can be done. This process, which makes educated assumptions about things like the number of welds, the amount of starts and stops, and whether touch sensing will be used on a percentage of the joints on the weldment, can serve as a good roadmap. From this estimate, manufacturers should have a general idea of whether a particular workcell will be used at 45%, 65%, 85%, etc. Usually, the more weld content a part has, the better utilization the workcell provides.

Labor Shortage

Sometimes, manufacturers that have already taken the robotics leap have a hard time finding operators to load existing welding workcells. As a result, a growing number of companies are starting to robotically load welding workcells. From fixture loading and tacking to loading a finish workcell, the use of high-performance material handling robots is more prevalent than ever, enabling operations to maintain on-time delivery goals in the face of workforce challenges. Note: each application is unique, and the loading of tab and slot parts via robots can sometimes cause issues in this scenario – as burrs/variation can still happen. Therefore, it may be necessary to remove the tabs and slots – and complete some light tack fixturing to get the part into a self-supportive state before it can be loaded robotically into the weld cell.

Production Efficiency

Select manufacturers are turning to robotic automation to meet greater throughput goals, while redeploying current welders to other value-added tasks such as performing custom orders. Operations with bigger parts that have a lot of short welds often see the biggest gain in throughput in this scenario. For example, manual operators that weld larger parts may have to walk/climb from one weld to the next, lifting their masks and moving or stopping for breaks between weld seams. This can be inefficient.

Watch as Yaskawa’s Brandon Bollig explains how to qualify a robotic welding application.

For manufacturers interested in robotic welding, there are a range of options that may be beneficial. From collaborative weld carts to fully customized workcells, and everything in between, a variety of solutions exist to facilitate optimal productivity. While determining if a welding workcell is the best fit can be overwhelming, experienced professionals can help make the process more fluid.

Brandon Bollig is a Regional Sales Manager with Yaskawa

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