Artem Komarov clarified that most people associate robots and cobots with automation. However, devices such as tractors, seaming machines, circular 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 fixed automation or mechanized welding) or flexible (implying flexible programming). Hard automation includes devices such as tractors, seamers, circle welding systems, positioners and other similar technologies that lack flexible robot programming capabilities.
Flexible automation can be divided into pre-engineered robot cells or custom-built robot cells. Pre-engineered cells usually have a great price and can weld a variety of parts. Custom cells are typically designed for a single part or a family of one-part parts, plus they can offer additional functionality and accommodate larger parts.
Now there is a third category of automation, and that is collaborative robots, or cobots. The robotic arm may include a welding table or cart to support the robotic arm, which can be manually guided to create a weld path. Cobot also includes features for intuitive robot programming, as well as welding or plasma cutting system components.
- Automation closes the skills gap
The skills gap—the gap between the tasks we need to perform and the skills of the available workforce—is creating a need for easy-to-use robotic systems that can be deployed quickly.
Automation in welding
As the use of robots grows in the welding industry, automation experts say there are a dozen things shops should consider when developing welding automation.
Automation to improve productivity allows for more opportunities, which creates more jobs.
All the skills that great welders have can be transferred to automated welding. They will just be used differently.
- Consider the speed of implementation
Don’t let perfection be the enemy of goodness.
A pre-designed robotic cell can meet 90% of their criteria, and 90% is better than zero. These cell systems are the key to growth.
Cobots are lowering barriers for small and medium-sized businesses. The advantage of collaborative robotic welding is that companies can receive their robot within a few weeks of ordering.
- Rethink ROI
Everyone reports to someone, so it’s important to consider costs and justify capital expenditures, but the approach to ROI has changed.
Due to a lack of skilled labor, companies do not have additional capacity to account for waste. Skyrocketing material prices are causing waste to become even more damaging.
Typically, automatic welding saves 3 to 1 compared to semi-automatic welding, but often the quality savings are more difficult to recognize.
- Don’t skimp on tools.
Tooling cost is typically the highest barrier to a customer moving forward with automation.
When evaluating an automation partner, consider tooling and your other needs.
- Automation reveals shortcomings and bottlenecks
Automation helps improve upstream processes.
Once a company implements automation, its high accuracy and repeatability immediately reveals performance bottlenecks at the input and output of the automation cell.
- Vision and sensing systems have advanced
Visual and other sensor systems, combined with improved decision-making algorithms and machine learning, enable robots to be deployed faster and smarter. Selecting applications that were complex a few years ago is now a piece of cake.
- Invest in education
Expert companies are investing in programs that reach educational institutions, creating mentorship programs and offering educational opportunities to develop automation skills. We have a long way to go, but we are on the right path, said Artem Komarov.