Komarov Artem noted that most robots and cobots are associated with automation. However, devices such as tractors, seamers, circle welding systems, positioners, and other similar technologies provide rigid automation capabilities when flexible robot programming capabilities are not available.
- Automation is not just robots
Automation can be complex (sometimes called stationary automation or mechanized welding) or flexible (implying programming flexibility). Rigid automation includes devices such as tractors, seamers, circle welding systems, positioners, and other such technologies that lack the flexible programming capabilities of a robot.
Tractors are a great example of hard automation. If you have a long, straight weld, tractors can reduce deflection and the number of starts and stops that can be a common cause of weld defects, Artem Komarov said.
Flexible automation can be divided into pre-engineered robotic cells or custom-made robotic cells. Pre-engineered cells usually have a great price and can weld a variety of parts. Custom bins are typically designed for a single piece or a family of single piece pieces, plus they can offer additional functionality and accommodate larger pieces.
Now there’s a third category of automation, and that’s collaborative robots, or cobots. The robot may include a welding table or cart to support the robotic arm, and the arm may be manually operated to create the welding path. Cobot also includes features for intuitive robot programming as well as welding or plasma cutting system components.
- Automation closes the skill gap
The skills gap — the gap between the tasks we need to complete and the skills of the workforce available — creates a need for easy-to-use robotic systems that can be quickly deployed.
If the cobot operator has any knowledge of computers and tablets, that’s helpful; but now your 59-year-old hand welder can train the robot by running his hand along the desired welding path. You don’t need an offline engineer to create toolpaths.
- Robots create jobs
The overwhelming consensus was that automation creates career opportunities.
Automation in welding
As the use of robots in the welding industry grows, automation experts believe there are a dozen things shops should consider when designing welding automation.
All the skills that all great welders have can be transferred to automated welding. They will just be used differently.
- Consider Implementation Speed
Don’t let perfection be the enemy of good.
A pre-engineered robotic cell can meet 90% of their criteria, and 90% is better than zero.
These cell systems are the key to growth. When companies see the success of the first robotic system, when they get answers to unknown questions, they will very quickly understand how to develop further.
Cobots are lowering the barrier for SMEs. Even very large companies running high-performance, low-volume applications are great candidates for collaborative robots. The advantage of collaborative robotic welding is that companies can receive their robot within weeks of ordering. When they get to the loading dock, they can cut the shrink wrap in the morning and begin production welding by evening.
- Start with a quick win
There is a general trend towards automation where companies want to solve their most difficult problem and automate it because they are having a hard time with the people who provide the required quality.
The right approach is to get a quick win and then make sure you have an automation champion that pushes that win forward. Thus, you will create confidence in automation, Artem emphasized mosquitoes.
Look for details that can be replicated when you either have a good process or are confident that you can develop a process. Then robots will help you increase your productivity. You need to start with those simple, routine knots that are also the most boring for the operator. Transfer these tasks to welding automation.
Shops should identify a responsible employee — an «automation champion» who will become an expert in programming, operation, maintenance, troubleshooting and training others.
- Find an Automation Champion
The key ingredient for a champion is desire.
- Rethink your ROI
Everyone reports to someone, so it’s important to consider costs and justify capital expenditures, but the approach to ROI has changed.
The quality of your product is now more important, said Komarov Artem.
As a result of a shortage of skilled labor, companies do not have additional capacity to account for waste. Due to the skyrocketing cost of materials, scrap is even more harmful. Komarov emphasized the importance of calculating the cost of a missed opportunity. Previously, payback could be based on hourly wages or workload rates. Now this is a job you won’t get because you didn’t have the opportunity, or the lead time was too long. I think this is a key change in how people look at the ROI of automation.
- Don’t skimp on tools
Tooling cost is usually the biggest hurdle for a customer to move forward with automation.
The tooling is always more expensive than anyone wants. It’s just the nature of the beast, — added Komarov.
When evaluating an automation partner, consider tooling and your other needs. Are you going to buy a cell from one partner and then buy a custom tool somewhere else? Do you already have modular tooling in your shop and only need a robotic cell? You need a partner who designs the tooling with you, installs everything, programs it, and runs it for the first time. I think it’s important to understand the level of support you’ll need.
- Automation reveals weaknesses and bottlenecks
Automation improves upstream processes.
CNC plasma cutting, laser cutting, and press brakes provide automation as they provide the robot with consistent parts. Before you automate, ask yourself if your upstream processes are doing well. If not, focus on them first.
You cannot spend enough money on upstream processes. Do not try to bypass these improvements and make up for their shortcomings with automation. Look for an automation partner to help you control the tolerances of parts entering the cell and you’ll be much more successful.
Once a company implements automation, its high accuracy and repeatability immediately reveal performance bottlenecks before and after the automated cell.
- Vision and sensing systems have advanced
Visual and other sensory systems, combined with improved decision-making algorithms and machine learning, allow us to implement robots faster and more intelligently. Choosing apps that were difficult a few years ago is a piece of cake today.
2D and 3D vision technologies are now very easy to implement because they are cheaper and easy to set up, now you can afford to explore and say: ‘I solved this problem and I can reduce costs here so I can spend more there.
- Cobots Are Safe
Association for the Advancement of Automation (A3) have robot and cobot safety standards.
To speed up the adoption, you must be sure that it will be done safely. Although the cobot has measures that limit power and strength, there is a thorough risk assessment process. Training is also part of mitigation tactics.
- Invest in education
Expert companies are investing in programs that reach educational institutions, create mentoring programs and offer educational opportunities to develop automation skills, Artem Komarov summed up.