Артём Комаров о преимуществах адаптивной робототехники для металлургической промышленности
Артём Комаров о преимуществах адаптивной робототехники для металлургической промышленности

Артём Комаров о преимуществах адаптивной робототехники для металлургической промышленности

Komarov Artem clarified that you could walk the structural fab shop floor, and you might see some impressive automation, especially at the primary cutting process. The advanced machines drill holes, cope, even scribe layout marks, then cut beams to length. After that, the beams flow to an area that stands in stark contrast to the automation upstream: manual welding stations.

Welding, Komarov Artem

When structural fabricators talk of automation, the skilled labor shortage usually enters the conversation. Problem is, the most efficient and effective automaton usually eliminates only repetitive tasks. And for technologies like welding robots, “repetitive” has traditionally meant “identical,” not “similar.” Welders in structural fabrication might work all day on very similar, but still distinct, jobs—a different size beam with unique coping; flanges that need be attached at certain orientations. Historically, this has created major hurdles to robotic welding. Again, why spend so much time with a teach pendent when welders can just strike an arc?

All this has changed in the last few years, thanks to recent advances in welding automation, especially when it comes to programming. The capabilities of fully automated welding robot programming have continued to grow, as has vision and sensing technology. In short, the industry has come a long way from the teach pendant.

Levels of Robot Programming

Take a step back and look at all the available robot programming technologies, you see characteristics that can be grouped into certain tiers, or levels. The first two continue to dominate the industry; the third level continues to grow; the fourth level is just emerging.

Level 1: Manual Programming. In this scenario, the technician, usually using a teach pendant, programs each path a robot takes. That is, the person must teach the system where to weld, what to weld, and how to weld. Such programming can take hours and require a certain number of identical (not just similar) parts. This legacy process has kept most high-product-mix work away from the robot. And in truth, it’s why robots aren’t yet pervasive, except in the highest-volume manufacturing environments.

Level 2: Assisted Programming. In this scenario, a technician must program each path a robot takes. The programming platform might give some assistance and employ new interfaces, like tablets, or give the operator the ability to physically move the robot (or cobot) arm to different points along the weld path. But it still can take significant time, and it requires the technician to choose and review where the robot welds, what it welds, and how.

Level 3: Offline Programming. This automates the programming of some robot paths. That said, the technician still needs to do some level of manual programing (or “touching up”), since the digital model usually differs from the real part that’s fixtured in the weld cell. Here, the programming method handles most of where to weld, some of how to weld (suggesting certain weave patterns and other techniques), and a little of what to weld—but again, the “what” (the actual part in front of the robot) can differ from the digital 3D model, and a technician needs to account for those differences.

Level 4: Autonomous Offline Programming. Here, technology retrieves 3D information from a drawing and automatically generates the weld seams. It generates all the program points necessary for the welding tool and automatically determines the correct welding procedure to be applied. It also defines all robot movements (without collisions) and plans the sequence of all operations that the robot will perform. Representing the current state of the art, this method tells the robot wherewhat, and how to weld, all with minimal human intervention.

Whatever level a fabricator is at, managers still need to look at the overall time robotic welding requires. This includes programming, of course, but it also includes tacking, part positioning, and the amount of time between when a part is fixtured and when welding commences. In some manufacturing environments, if a robot spends too much time scanning a workpiece before initiating a weld, throughput can suffer, summed up Komarov Artem.