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Key Drivers for Selecting a Welding Work Cell

Top considerations shops should weigh when automating weld processing. When it comes to work cells, more players in the industry are offering mobile carts, AI path programming and more.

Posted: June 11, 2024

Cobot welding solutions can easily be rolled into place next to large, heavy workpieces or inserted next to manual welders for supplemental fabrication tasks. Photo courtesy of Ergonomic Partners.
A growing number of organizations are utilizing Robots as a Service (RaaS), due to attractive financing programs, which are enabling the use of scalable robotic automation. Photo courtesy of Path Robotics.
Industrial and cobot work cells are making a substantial impact on welding operations.
Motoman, Welding work cell, automated welding, moblie carts, AI path programming
A growing number of organizations are utilizing Robots as a Service (RaaS), due to attractive financing programs, which are enabling the use of scalable robotic automation. Photo courtesy of Path Robotics.

In today’s rapidly evolving technological landscape, automation can be a critical component to increasing safety, efficiency, productivity and profitability —  with manufacturers in various industries constantly looking for ways to streamline processes, reduce errors and keep competitive. For fab shops and larger welding operations, alike, this continues to culminate in the integration of high-performance robots and pre-engineered welding work cells.

Commonly used for aerospace, agriculture, automotive and electronic tasks, the welding robot market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 10.6% by 20321. As a result, robot suppliers, integrators and start-ups are creating a range of solutions to accommodate growing demands, opening up a world of possibilities for the manufacturing sector. While reasons for automation will differ and may dictate a particular automation style, there are several concepts decision makers may want to consider when determining which robotic option to integrate, including:

  • Know Your Key Robotic Drivers

From increasing quality, accelerating throughput and alleviating bottlenecks to improving safety, supplementing labor and optimizing profitability, multiple reasons may prompt an organization to automate. Having a good grasp on these strategic factors is often the doorway to knowing which type of robot or work cell to select. For example, if labor is hard to find or retain, a collaborative robot (cobot) or simple workstation with a single robot and easy-to-use tools may be a smart choice. On the other hand, if production output needs to be increased, multiple industrial robots with faster cycle times should be the focus. That said, understanding “the why” behind automation is priority to knowing which type of robotic system will have the most positive impact on your operations.

  • Gauge Your Interest in Growing Expertise

If an organization is implementing robotic automation and looking to professionally cultivate their internal workforce, traditional automation is ideal. Often prompting training courses for those responsible for robot operation, this helps employees develop the technological expertise and professional know-how needed to sustain long-term organizational growth — as the key features and full benefits of robotic automation can be harnessed. Select manufacturers are even going as far as to hire a “work cell champion” — an employee completely accountable for existing robotic operations on the production floor. This includes the actions pertaining to implementation, maintenance, programming, operator training and part replacement.

Motoman, cobot work cells
Industrial and cobot work cells are making a substantial impact on welding operations.

Fabricators less concerned with throughput requirements and wanting a robotic system with a higher ease of use and quicker implementation should consider cobots. Inherently safe by design, Power and Force Limiting (PFL) cobots can work with or near human workers without additional safety measures (pending a thorough risk assessment of any robotic system, including the application, robot, workpiece, work area and end-of-arm tooling). For example, to grow automation into potential applications, cobots can be easily rolled-up to large, heavy workpieces or placed beside manual welders for supplemental fabrication.

Effective at combining the skill of a human welder with the precision and efficiency of robust robotic automation, safe and intuitive cobots help to bridge the welding knowledge gap. What once required weeks of training by a human worker, is now filled with a cobot welder, intelligent software and robust peripherals in a matter of hours or days. Overall, this enables organizations to do more with less, bolstering smaller workforces, aiding tighter budgets and accommodating floor space restrictions.

A growing number of organizations are preferring to authorize an outside vendor to “take the reigns” and are turning to Robots as a Service (RaaS), where flexible financing programs enable manufacturers to effectively utilize scalable robotic automation. Operational excellence (OpEx) approaches, such as those offered by Formic or Path, allow fabricators to conserve resources and mitigate risk by utilizing day-to-day operational expenses rather than capital investments. Often responsible for robotic system integration, programming and maintenance, RaaS vendors make automation fast, affordable and accessible for all skill levels.

Fabricators interested in arc welding solutions for the manufacturing of similar parts varying in scale may find the systems offered by ABAGY and Path Robotics, respectively, are an ideal fit. These solutions use intuitive software that combines artificial intelligence (AI) and machine vision with robust hardware, allowing users to upload a 3D model of a product in a CAD format then set weld parameters. Once the welding specs are entered, the software then generates the appropriate weld path, facilitating an expedient click-and-weld approach.

  • Determine the Right Peripheral Tools

A variety of tools exist to streamline processes and improve part quality, subsequently reducing downtime. Offline programming (OLP) software, for example, brings robot programming to a virtual environment for the efficient deployment of a robot system. Using a treasure trove of convenient tools, OLP provides a 3D representation of a robotic work cell that visually demonstrates the robot moving along its programmed path. Similar to CAD software, these PC-based platforms enable users to design, test and adjust a robot program before implementation on the production floor.

Additionally, weld sensing solutions for position and seam tracking, as well as groove detection and material thickness monitoring, continue to facilitate optimal weld accuracy. Showing marked improvements in speed, reliability and costs over the past several years, profile laser technology is especially reliable for tracking and compensating weld joint variation.

Groundbreaking weld monitoring and control systems by companies, like Xiris and NovArc, also enable a robot to adapt a programmed path based on characteristics of the weld puddle. Capable of automatic tack detection, as well as root pass seam tracking and gap measurement, systems such as these combine intelligent image processing with state-of-the-art AI algorithms and advanced robotic controls to fully automate a weld process.

  • Maximize Your “Why”

By identifying specific goals and needs, manufacturers can determine the most effective automation solution to drive success. For many fabricators, a pre-engineered robotic system is the most flexible and cost-effective option (offering quick payback) to modernize workspace, maximize efficiency and improve quality. From extremely compact, one-station work cells that require as little as 15 sq. ft. of floor space to large, high-volume options with dual workstations, multiple pre-assembled systems exist to facilitate high throughput goals. This includes a growing number of collaborative arc welding options including space-saving weld carts with minimal features and a single cobot, as well as portable job shop work cells that are designed for human-collaborative interaction and come complete with all the necessary safety features and tools for fast deployment.

Unique application requirements will typically require a variation of a standard work cell. Innovative solutions like this often contain multiple robots to minimize weld and cycle time, while maximizing output. High-speed positioner options and leading-edge process technology can also be included to fulfill stringent productivity demands. Manufacturers looking for major quality improvements, a specific level of flexibility or dramatically increasing their throughput may have a better opportunity maximizing their “why” via a custom or modified solution. That said, the parts being welded and their respective weld specification will always be a factor, and will help application engineers know which type of system is best.

The Path to Robot Success

Automation is a powerful tool that can transform production operations and drive growth, but sifting through the growing list of robotic options can be daunting. Manufacturers that have a solid grasp on corporate objectives and the reasons behind robot implementation will most likely navigate the robotic selection process with ease. Those unsure of where to start should reach out to a robot supplier or experienced integrator for a site visit to help identify automation opportunities. This will go a long way to gathering the appropriate information needed for choosing the ideal robotic solution, setting the course for success.

End Note

1.Global Robotic Welding Market Outlook, EMR, 2023

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