KNOWLEDGE IS POWER: WELD DATA MONITORING
From sequencing of parts to tracking parameters, weld data monitoring provides manufacturers with actionable information to improve welding processes, ensure quality and productivity, and help streamline welding processes.
Weld data monitoring – the practice of using a software- and/or Web-based program to track and examine information coming directly from the point of the weld – is an excellent way for manufacturers to come to a better understanding of what happens every day in the weld cell. Either as a real-time human-machine interface (HMI) on the shop floor or as a historical digest in the welding supervisor’s office, weld data monitoring provides businesses with fact-based information to make decisions that will have a positive impact on everything from productivity and quality to training and consumable use.
In this column we’ll look at the benefits of weld data monitoring and how it helps your operation.
HOW IT WORKS
There are a variety of integrated and third-party weld data monitoring systems on the market today – fully integrated systems that offer seamless integration and minimal start-up time. Users are able to configure the software to monitor and report on the factors most important to them. The system uses Ethernet technology and your building’s existing network to transmit information from the welding power source.
As a Web-based program, anyone with credentials can access the information, whether they are in the weld cell, in an office down the hall or at a meeting on the other side of the globe. It also gives them the power to make critical adjustments to weld parameters and perform a variety of diagnostic functions remotely. Functionality within the software is limited or expanded based on the authority of the person logged in.
The HMI in the weld cell can be optimized with digital photographs and CAD drawings to further assist the operator in performing their job. Other documents, videos, audio files, spreadsheets and performance data can also be supplied through this interface to communicate important process, protocol and safety information — the ultimate goal of which is to give the operator every piece of information he/she could possibly need to succeed.
KEY BENEFIT 1: QUALITY
The greatest benefit of a weld data monitoring system is quality improvement. This includes critical functions such as identifying missed welds, identifying possible weld defects, reducing over- and under-welding, ensuring that weld sequences and tolerances are maintained, and identifying common problems experienced in the welding process.
The system is able to identify possible weld defects by monitoring whether voltage, current and wire feed settings have diverged from predefined limits and ranges. That “deviation” is then noted in the program and the operator is able to visually inspect the weld, submit it to testing and/or repair it before it moves on in the manufacturing process.
Similarly, welding sequence is often critical in terms of controlling heat input and minimizing distortion throughout the entire part. The HMI can show the operator the simple step-by-step sequence with a graphic display to ensure the part is welded as designed and that critical tolerances are kept. Likewise, over-welding can put too much heat into the part, and under-welding can leave a part short of strength requirements. Weld data monitoring helps identify and reduce these instances, thus reducing the lost time it takes to correct such issues.
It also helps identify what may be recurring problems or inefficiencies in your processes. If you examine the data and you see that there is a consistent problem with a certain joint or part, you can then assess whether you may have a problem with the fixture, with the fit-up, with the machine or the gun, or with another variable in the cell.
KEY BENEFIT 2: PRODUCTIVITY
While no one likes the idea of “Big Brother” looking over his or her shoulder, increased productivity through monitoring is a major benefit. Working with the operator in the cell to implement and understand the system can help alleviate the “Big Brother” concerns. Weld data monitoring allows the company to track such factors as the total number of welds made and total parts welded, percentage of downtime compared to arc-on time, and deposition rates. When analyzed, this data gives excellent insight into the productivity of each cell and a better understanding of how material flows through your operation.
KEY BENEFIT 3: COST ANALYSIS
A weld data monitoring system is also an ideal solution to better understand the true costs of your welding operation, as well as to provide predictive analysis of what changes to the weld process will cost, helping businesses determine the total cost of a change to the process before making it. The system helps to track labor (arc-on time and total fabrication cycle time), wire use, gas use and electrical consumption.
KEY BENEFIT 4: CONSUMABLE SAVINGS
Through the efficiencies achieved with a weld data monitoring system, such as making sure that a weld is only as long as needs to be, or that the welder is not depositing too much material into the weld, manufacturers are able to achieve quantifiable savings in shielding gas and welding wire.
KEY BENEFIT 5: TRAINING
Manufacturers who have implemented weld data monitoring systems report a shortened training curve for new operators who use the visual HMIs to guide the fabrication process. Since the system shows what sequence the parts are to be welded in and it immediately alerts them to any divergence from approved parameters, the potential for operator error is significantly lowered.
These are just a few of the benefits associated with a weld data monitoring system. Through real-time and historical data, businesses are able to identify opportunities to streamline processes and assess the overall performance and productivity of the welding operation. This knowledge arms engineers and welders with critical proof to make important business decisions that have a direct effect on the bottom line. Can you afford to follow your gut instead?
About the Author: Nick Peterson is a welding engineer and curriculum developer for Miller Electric Mfg., 1635 West Spencer Street, P.O. Box 1079, Appleton, WI 54912-1079, 920-734-9821, www.millerwelds.com. For more information, email Nick at email@example.com.