CANADA'S LEADING INFORMATION SOURCE FOR THE METALWORKING INDUSTRY

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CANADA'S LEADING INFORMATION SOURCE FOR THE METALWORKING INDUSTRY

CANADA'S LEADING INFORMATION SOURCE FOR THE METALWORKING INDUSTRY

Spooling Efficiency

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by Noelle Stapinsky

Alberta-based virtual design and construction firm hones in on AI and collaborative robotics to drive consistency and capture critical data

The Challenge: Lack of skilled labour, weld consistency and uncontrolled variables 
The Solution: Investing in spool welding automation technology

Red Deer, Alta.-based RoboFab, an automated manufacturing division of ONSITE3D, specializes in technology services for the oil and gas industry and pharmaceutical and industrial plant applications where process piping is required. Over the years, the company has invested heavily in its manufacturing processes and downstream services. But when Wade Eno, CEO of RoboFab, started looking into how the company could improve quality control with welding consistency and provide the most transparent value to clients—two very critical aspects when fabricating high-pressure process piping—he began researching welding automation technologies for pipe spooling welding operations. 

Operating a collaborative robotic welding system makes the process safer as it takes the torch out of the welder’s hand and the operator can control the process from a safe distance using an intuitive control panel. Image: RoboFabHe was searching for a technology that would align with the workflow his company has developed in the engineering, procurement and construction industry. “If I hire 10 welders, I’ll get 10 different welds and different levels of quality,” says Eno. “It’s more about the consistency of the welds that I’m interested in. I’ve been studying robotics for quite a while and when I was looking for ways to streamline our pipe spool fabrication, that’s when I found Novarc Technologies.

Novarc checked all of the boxes and it is a Canadian company, which meant that support would be readily available, an aspect that Eno finds to be critical when adopting and implementing new technology. 

“We now have two Novarc Spool Welding Robot (SWR) machines. They offer a controlled environment with an automated process, consistency, efficiency, and
ultimately lower costs once the machines are paid off,” says Eno. 

The Novarc SWR is a collaborative welding robot that’s designed for pipe, small pressure vessels and other types of 1G welding. This technology can increase pipe-welding productivity from 200 to 350 diameter inches per shift with carbon steel pipes, and up to 998 diameter inches per shift with stainless steel. “That’s where the Novarc system really shines. We did a plant last year and one of the big highlights was the productivity of the stainless welding,” says Eno. “It’s a very tedious manual process that requires very skilled welders, which are few and far between these days. The SWR runs a solid wire process and welds faster on stainless than on carbon. So essentially, you’re taking a conventional process and expediting it, making it faster, while getting a consistent quality.”

Operating a collaborative robotic welding system also makes the process safer as it takes the torch out of the welder’s hand and the operator can control the process from a safe distance from the usual welding hazards using an intuitive control panel. Eno says that it’s less physically taxing and for the next generation of workers coming into the workforce, operating robotic technology is more exciting. “And you don’t need a journeyman’s ticket to operate it, so it opens up the ability to have more tradespeople operating it and you don’t need to have segregated trades on the shop floor for that welding process.” 

By implementing the SWR systems, RoboFab has been able to achieve about 250 diameter inches per shift and minimize the typical human error variables from an industry average of three to five per cent, down to less than one per cent.  Image: RoboFabRoboFab is data driven, so Eno wanted to find all the downstream services that could reciprocate the data back and not just take it out. “I needed a machine that had data logs for quality purposes to ultimately showcase the due diligence,” says Eno. “With the SWRs, it’s tagging all of the metallurgy of the welds, and from the parameters that are set, it provides quality reports. The big added bonus is the video logs of the welds and the ability to tag those back to our 3D models. This provides an ease of access for our customers to use our virtual portal to access very intuitive data logs with a visual aid. It provides a level of certainty when it comes to quality control.”

Traditionally, an operator would manually document quality inspections, which meant there was more room for error and interpretation. But when you’re working in the oil and gas sector, Eno says, quality control is critical. “These are high pressure, dangerous products. If you have a failure, it can be catastrophic. So, you need to have a high level of due diligence when building pipes and components. And with the Novarc system the data reports are expediential,” he says.

RoboFab is also using the historical data for different weld types to calculate the productivity elements of new projects. “We can work that data into our cost estimates and resource planning in terms of what we need for labour and consumables,” says Eno. 

By implementing the SWR systems, RoboFab has been able to achieve about 250 diameter inches per shift and minimize the typical human error variables from an industry average of three to five per cent, down to less than one per cent. And while this technology has enabled the firm to reduce its dependency on highly skilled welders, it has also experienced a 20 per cent reduction in overall production costs, specifically with its stainless-steel pipe processing. SMT

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