NEXT STEPS IN WELDING AUTOMATION: ELIMINATING VARIABILITY AND BEYOND
By Brian Doyle
The arc data monitoring will allow external software to improve processes. Months of data and use will be analyzed and incorporated into software – taking lessons learned in one cell and easily transferring it across the automated welding system. Those lessons learned could be as simple as understanding that a change-out of a contact tip at six hours rather than every eight hours may have a positive impact on the process.
DIALED IN AND EXPANDABLE
Software is also driving the mathematical advantage that a robot has over the human eye and allows for even more control over the process.
Eyeballing tip-to-work distance in a robotic welding cell set-up works for simple straight welds, but the eyes may deceive when it comes to curves, corners and the true path of the welding tip. The robot is able to analyze, through real-time feedback from the arc, the real impact of stickout distance as the tip makes the corner or rounds the radius. The robot can “see” the amperage needed, adjust the stickout real time, and deliver consistent penetration, surface speed, and increased weld consistency. The weld is dialed in and variation is squeezed out.
The variation squeeze extends out from bad programming as well. Throughout a manufacturing process even slight variations in materials or fit from downstream could impact weld joint penetration – sometimes such downstream process are out of our control. So tomorrow’s smarter robot will be on guard for such variations, allowing us to control what we can. The robot will adjust tip to work distance and torch angle within the variable to ensure proper penetration, meeting standards and maintaining quality.
ROBOT TO ROBOT
Duplication is the next step in dialing in efficiency and driving out variability. The software and data that is working in one part of a plant can easily be transferred and uploaded in duplicate cells.
Take the example of an oil industry manufacturer that builds pressure vessels – let’s call them oil/natural gas separators for this example. This manufacturer has set up and utilizes a robotic welding cell to produce the vessel. The set-up time for the robot was extensive, taking months of programming and fine-tuning. The result is part production that ensures high quality and cost effective welding, allowing the company to be efficient.
The installation is successful and demand for the product is robust. The oil industry buys into the quality of the manufacturer’s work and orders more vessels. The industry is booming, the success of the manufacturer grows and soon even more pressure vessels are demanded – now.
In the past, setting up a second robotic weld cell that included programing and dialing would take weeks, if not months, of work . . . even with the lessons learned from the previous cell set-up. Today setting up a new cell might only take a few days, or even hours, thanks to these technologies.
The emerging know-how allows the same program that lives on the welding cell next door or across the country to be downloaded from the existing system and uploaded onto the new cell. A few tweaks with the new robotic cell and the company is producing parts, providing for its customer needs and making money in days. This type of adaptability, thanks to offline programming, can make a manufacturer more nimble and competitive and able to meet production changes.
3D MODELING THE FIXTURE AND THE WELDING CELL
There’s nothing new about 3D modeling in manufacturing, but emerging technologies take 3D modeling several steps deeper. Tomorrow’s engineers will use 3D modeling to set-up next part, the fixture used to hold the part, and design the weld cell that will produce the part before it’s ever built. All the planning occurs while the current production never slows down.
All of this boils down to a battle of time. The manufacturer who can plan for the next production line while wrapping up the current order will find inherent savings in time, investment, and responsiveness to customer needs by expanding the modeling that is available.
Current “flatwork” 2D cutting is a great example of what welding automation will be in the near future. There is little downtime between processes as the machine is programmed for the job of the day while another employee creates or simply uploads the next job. Squeezing out the variation in manufacturing, speeding up the adaptability of the operation, and the ability to plan and design for the next round of output tomorrow while maintaining a productive weld cell today are the tools that allow a manufacturer to leverage the location advantage.
The stars are aligning in this country to regain manufacturing that was previously lost to overseas competitors. The future of welding automation is exciting and will play a crucial role if manufacturers are to be successful in exploiting the strengths of American industry to deliver high quality, consistent parts, in time to meet customers’ expectations.
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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.