NEXT STEPS IN WELDING AUTOMATION: ELIMINATING VARIABILITY AND BEYOND
By Brian Doyle
American manufacturers are looking to drive out variability, push down costs and speed-up changeovers to better compete with overseas companies. Welding automation and the data flow into and out of the welding cell is turning out to be a gold mine of potential for creating a competitive edge.
The inherent advantage that a U.S. manufacturer has over foreign countries is the ability to respond to American customer needs without the significant distances that exist between customer and foreign-based manufacturers that force a natural slowdown of delivery. While proximity is a big advantage, if the manufacturer is unable to rapidly adapt process or increase output to the current need, the customer could look elsewhere. Today’s leading manufacturers are looking at automated welding to help drive out the variables, speed up changeover and meet the demands of customers.
In the modern manufacturing world of high-mix, low-volume production, adaptability and the elimination of variation in the production process is a critical component to leveraging that advantage of proximity. Offline programming is just one key component in achieving the goals of manufacturers who must plan for tomorrow’s run while producing today’s run of parts. Smarter robots that assist in set-up, more advanced 3D modeling and robots that communicate with one-another will help manufacturers seize a competitive advantage for years to come.
VERSATILE AND NIMBLE
The manufacturing world breaks down into two segments: high-labor cost markets (U.S., Japan, Western Europe) and low-labor cost markets (Eastern Europe, the “BRIC” countries, most of Asia). In a high-labor cost market like the U.S., finding the best productivity tools are crucial to success. Driving that productivity and quality is what allows the high-labor cost markets to compete.
One technology that will drive that competition moving forward is offline programming. Offline programming – available now, but not extensively used as of yet – allows everyone, from small fab shops to large manufacturers, to quote, plan, and prepare for runs of parts without ever leaving the computer room. Cutting edge modeling enables the simulation of part set-up that gives operators/managers accurate pictures of the process long before the actual welding begins.
Offline software creates an image of timing between parts, weld times, consumables used and the best patterns to accomplish the task. How will the work flow and what are the potential issues or roadblocks? What are the true costs when factoring in travel speed and how well can you drive out spatter and over-welding while maintaining arc starting characteristics and increasing first-pass weld quality?
With offline programming, these questions are answered much earlier in the process. Today the robot and associated software drives out the cost variability before a single part is run, creating a more competitive and profitable quote.
THE SMARTER ROBOT
Tomorrow’s welding robot will continue to improve as the receiver, collector and sender of data. Thanks to arc data monitoring, the next step will see the welding robot increasingly be the conveyer of critical information and even critical thinking. The robot itself will adapt and make decisions for the human operator.
Critical data-driven process decisions will occur on the fly. For example, disruptions in shielding gas that can cause weld porosity will be detected by changes in volts, amps, and short circuit frequency. Wire feed problems can be detected by monitoring the force necessary to feed the wire. The robot will recognize what’s going on and then make the needed adjustments or notify operators.
Not only will the robot send analytical information to the operator, but it will also be able to make individualized decisions to stop processes based on its own interpretation of the data, preventing breakdowns, insufficiently welded parts and significant production slowdowns.
With servo-driven wire feed systems the robot will be able to detect increased feeding resistance and diagnose issues. Is it a plugged torch tip causing the feeding problem or is the liner due for maintenance?
In the analog past, an operator may have noticed a wire feed problem and just cranked up the feed roll tension to “correct” the problem – to the detriment of the machine and possibly part quality. Now the robot will notify the operator of the problem and will also issue alerts to the specific problem, whether a liner issue, torch issue or other, taking out the variability for maintenance troubleshooting – no more cranking up the feed roll tension to “fix” the problem.
The bottom line is this: The automated system will be able to troubleshoot and notify of unexpected maintenance issues. A bad batch of wire could gum up the feeding system. The robot will let you know about the issue before a significant set of parts is run with inconsistent wire feed or if damage has occurred to the wire feed system.
Pages: 1 2
About the Author: Brian Doyle is the sales manager for Miller Welding Automation, 281 E. Lies Road, Carol Stream, IL 60188, 630-653-6819 ext. 5191, Fax: 920-735-4328, Brian.Doyle@MillerWelds.com, www.millerwelds.com.