Implementing robotic welding can significantly improve a manufacturing operation’s productivity and weld quality, but what are the robotic welding basics you should know to be successful? From choosing the right welding wire to establishing proper tool center point (TCP), many variables play a role in optimizing robotic welding cells to produce the best results.
Shaving even a few seconds from each weld cycle can save time and money. Minimizing the unplanned downtime for adjustments or repairs in the weld cell can also have a substantial impact on your bottom line. Success with robotic welding requires a well-researched plan. The more planning done upfront, the less time and money you could spend later making fixes and process improvements.
Learning some basic tips for setting up a robotic weld cell can help to establish a repeatable and consistent process — so your operation can produce quality welds, reduce rework and maximize its investment.
1. Use Proper Weld Settings
Proper weld settings for the application are based on factors including wire size and material thickness. Some welding power sources offer technology that allows welders to simply input the wire size and material thickness, and the machine will suggest recommended parameters for the application.
Without this technology, finding the correct parameters can involve a bit of trial and error. Sometimes the robot manufacturer, welding power source manufacturer or system integrator can assist in choosing and testing specific materials to provide a starting point for the proper welding parameters. Utilize the experience of these partners to help you arrive at the best starting point and be prepared for the future.
2. Consider the MIG Gun and Consumables
Robotic MIG welding guns and consumables, including the nozzle, contact tip and gas diffuser, have a huge impact on performance in a robotic weld cell. The right combination can reduce unplanned downtime and improve overall efficiency of the cell.
Be sure the welding gun is rated with enough duty cycle and amperage for the application. To avoid excessive wear and premature failure, the MIG gun should not rub against any part of the system or another robot in applications where multiple robots are being used on the same tooling.
Robotic welding systems typically operate at higher duty cycles than semi-automatic welding applications, and they may utilize transfer modes that are especially harsh on consumables. Consider using heavy-duty consumables that are more heat-resistant than standard-duty consumables. Chrome zirconium contact tips or tips specifically designed for pulsed welding processes are good options.
In addition, ensure all consumables are properly installed and tightened. Improper or loose connections produce more electrical resistance and heat that causes faster consumable wear with premature failures. Another common failure in robotic welding is improper liner installation. Always follow the manufacturer’s directions for liner installation and cut length. A liner that is cut too short can cause premature failures of other consumables in the system.
3. Choose the Right Wire
The choice of filler metal for a robotic welding system can significantly impact productivity, weld quality and the overall investment. Selecting the right wire for a robotic application is typically based on the material type and thickness, as well as the expected outcomes for the welded part. Welding equipment and filler metal manufacturers often offer charts to help you match a welding wire to your process needs.
While solid wire has been the industry standard in robotic welding for many years, metal-cored wire is an alternative that can offer productivity and quality improvements in some applications, particularly in the manufacture of heavy equipment and automotive exhaust, chassis and wheels. However, be aware that each wire type offers pros and cons for certain applications, so it’s important to research the type that is best suited to your application.
4. Ensure Proper Fit-up
Proper part fit-up in the upstream process is critical to consistent weld quality and robot path programming. Inconsistent fit-up or large gaps between the parts lead to weld quality issues such as burn-through, poor penetration, porosity and others — resulting in additional unplanned downtime to deal with these problems. Large gaps between the parts may also require double weld passes, adding to cycle times.
5. Establish TCP
For repeatable and consistent weld quality, it’s critical to establish and maintain proper TCP. Welding operations can set their own standards for the acceptable amount of TCP drift, depending on the application and type of weld being made. When considering the tolerance of TCP variation, an acceptable starting point can be half the thickness of the wire diameter.
Many robotic systems today can use touch-sensing features to monitor TCP and determine how far it has moved from the original programmed settings. If a MIG gun is determined to be out of the acceptable TCP range, the robotic gun neck can be removed and recalibrated offline to factory specifications with a neck straightening fixture. Some systems also provide the capability to adjust TCP automatically with the robot. A third option is to leave the robotic MIG gun in place and adjust the robot teaching to accommodate the modified TCP. This is the most time-consuming solution and, therefore, often not acceptable for the manufacturing operation. It also requires the need to reprogram the robot if new factory specifications for TCP or a new neck are ever put into place — which is why this method is typically the last resort.
Set a schedule or standard for checking TCP, whether it’s every weld cycle, once a shift or even every time the torch goes through a reamer cycle. The length of time between checks is a matter of preference and weighing your priorities. It can be time-consuming to check every weld cycle, but this can save money in lost scrap and rework if a problem is found before welding occurs.
Making it Work
From wire and consumable selection to TCP, many variables play a role in weld quality and ultimately, the success of your robotic welding system. Careful planning at the start of the process and continued monitoring of these key factors helps optimize performance — so you can get the most from your robotic welding investment.
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