Gas Management For Industry 4.0

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by Professor Emil Schubert

When thinking about gas management for welding applications, it’s one of the mysteries of an essential but difficult aspect of a weld to pinpoint the cost and the usage. It’s also one of the only ways to lower the cost of a weld without sacrificing weld quality. 

Gas makes up about 12 per cent of the cost of a weld when including G&A, materials, and labour, and for years gas management has been a matter of turning or adjusting a valve or a meter and expecting a reliable, but inexact and mechanized solution to regulate gas flow in a way that produces a quality weld.

But how do you measure that gas use? How is gas used and cost isolated over the course of a weld, a production run, or a shift?

With so little technology dedicated to the concept of gas management, it creates a perfect storm for innovation and for Industry 4.0. Every supplier of manufacturing products is testing, researching, and prototyping ways to insert the internet into their devices to give manufacturers what they crave – data acquisition and cost accountability in their operation.

So why does welding need gas management and what makes it a good fit? It comes down to all the givens manufacturers have taken for granted about arc welding: every welding machine uses a slow magnet valve; during weld breaks the magnet valves closes, but does so slowly; and the gas flow is constant during a weld, even when the amperage is changing.

These givens have not been challenged, so can they be improved upon? 

This brings forth the gas management solution EWR 2—short for electronic welding regulator. In the first iteration of the EWR, the object was to use fast acting solenoid valves to control gas usage flow, which improved upon the slower magnetic valves of the welding machine, and the results were savings of safely 40 per cent and as much as 60 per cent. That’s a large reduction in a critical manufacturing cost driver.

Eliminating peak starts were the dominant way in which gas flow
was reduced with the original electronic welding regulator. The largest usage of gas in a given weld is always on the arc start, and the object with the EWR was to gas flow supply very fast when the gas post flow was over and synchronize gas flow with the welding current.

But there had to be more to gas management than just improving the way it was delivered. What about Industry 4.0, and making an electronic device internet-compatible?

Looking at IoT in a gas management system, today’s manufacturing environment has plenty of devices that optimize or lessen or control gas flow through manual intervention. What’s missing is software that can interface into a company’s network and be remotely managed. Think of being able to control everything about your gas delivery system from your desktop without having to physically be present with the device, like you do with so many things you probably take for granted every day. Or how about having the ability to adjust gas type from CO2 to 98/2 Argon (or even a custom tri-gas mix), then set your desired gas flow rate and bar setpoint remotely? 

Even from hundreds of kilometres away, by accessing a VPN or remote desktop, you can adjust your gas delivery to account for different gas mixtures, delivery needs, and then capture all of the gas usage data from that device, log it, and compare it to the weld station’s performance.

What if that software package can access tens or hundreds of these devices in your plant to fully capture your company’s entire gas use over a period of time to see where cost savings can be realized?

This is gas management for Industry 4.0, and the problem Abicor Binzel sought an answer to. Hardware with a software package that not only works to better deliver gas in relation to the weld current, but also allows the data from that hardware to be captured, aggregated and analyzed.

The Net-version of EWR 2 Net can be connected to the Internet via a so-called field bus (CAN open interface is also an option) or with an Ethernet interface (similar to the plug you use to connect your laptop to the internet). 

Now you can control all functions of the EWR 2 Net via the internet using the service software. Not only set-up and adjustment are possible, but collecting the data about the achieved gas savings, used gas and welding current. SMT

Professor Emil Schubert is chief technology officer for Abicor Binzel USA

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