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DESIGN FEATURE: Robotic Welding System for Fuel Cells

Posted by Melissa Gomez on Apr 13, 2022 10:58:32 AM

IRCO Automation provides a robotic welding system for fuel cells with adaptive fill, laser seam tracking, and production monitoring.


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      Noteworthy Features: 

Here are a few noteworthy things about this system:
  • Adaptive fill welding with the combination of laser seam tracking
  • Advanced CMT and CMT-Mix process for aluminum welding from Fronius 
  • Ability to do aluminum, carbon steel, stainless, copper brazing, and more exotic materials, ferrous and non-ferrous (so there’s a tool changer and different torch heads)
  • Unique shell to end cap fit up that eliminates the need for manual manipulation of the parts to get a good fit
  • Ability for production monitoring to show the productivity of the cell


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Wondering if something like this would work for your process?

This robotic welding system was designed to assist a manufacturer of fuel cells and has the ability to handle variable parts and tanks of different sizes and shapes. So, whether you have a dedicated line of fuel tanks, water heaters, or you're building propane tanks, this system has the ability to be modified to meet your needs by simply changing out the tooling. 

Other industries we serve include:


Industries IRCO serves



Let's Start with Safety: 

Eliminating hazards and elements that put people at risk are all important considerations for automation systems today. Talking through the safest way to manufacture a part not only helps to set the foundation for the system design, but we have found it also helps lead to the most cost-effective system design as well. 

Safety is always an intrinsic part of the design and safety features are built-in alongside the other components. In a synchronized robotic system like this one, the potential for harm is greater because of the inherent nature of servo motors. So, it is important to create safeguards that help prevent anyone from being in the path of uncontrolled motion or pre-programmed motions. A lot of these newer robotic welding systems also have reduced fumes due to fewer alloying ingredients being vaporized by the welding arc, which leads to a safer shop environment but we also want to minimize the potential hazards associated with welding. 

In addition to some of the obvious standard practices of integrated estops and safety PLCs, here are some examples of how we helped eliminate the risks with this system:


  1. The fencing and guarding around the entire cell provide a protective barrier from the welding process and arc. It includes two maintenance gates that provide access to the robot zone are equipped with safety interlocking switches, preventing the system from operating if not properly secured shut.
  2. There is a programmable laser light curtain that recognizes when something or someone enters the designated workspace. If that happens it triggers an emergency stop condition that immediately stops all motion and processes.
  3. The drop-down door is an added physical feature to minimize the potential of an operator being in the hazardous zone while things are in motion.
  4. The Kuka robots also have a safety feature called SafeOperations. This allows you to create a safe no-go area in the robotic software. This will allow for the robot to work safely near the work area but if it approaches the fence or a critical component in your work cell the robot will emergency stop keeping vital fencing or equipment safe.


Part Positioning:

Let's look at the two sides to this system - the part loading/positioning side and the welding side.

On the part loading of this system, there is a pneumatic lift table that supports and holds the fuel cell. The end caps are introduced and then held in place with vacuum assist on a tooling plate specifically designed for a particular tank or vessel.

There are two synchronized headstocks here to assist during assembly and later for the robotic welding.

  • The headstocks have the ability to transverse on a beam, again to match the varying lengths of the fuel cells or vessels being welded in this system.
  • Each headstock has a thru-hole design, allowing for the passage of air to an integrated vacuum that holds the end cap and a brush ground for the weld return lead.


The operator loads the tank and end caps onto the table, presses ‘go’ on the operating station and the sequence cycle begins with the headstocks compressing so the end caps are fitted. The drop door comes down and the loaded tank is rotated to the back half of the system where the robotic welding will commence.


Welding Robots - Laser Seam Tracking

The second half of this system is where the welding takes place. There are two synchronized robots that are tasked with this operation. Each robot is equipped with seam tracking.

The Seam Tracking sensor technology is mounted parallel to each robot weld torch. The sensors are capable of precisely following the weld joint in combination with the headstock motion, Fronius weld equipment, and Kuka robots. These sensors send feedback to the weld equipment based on material and joint conditions to make process adjustments.

The primary purpose of seam tracking is to ensure that the torch is in the optimum position to deliver the welding wire to the joint, including the height and centering of wire in the gap.

Using the information it reads, the laser seam tracking technology will automatically make the subtle torch attitude adjustments required to ensure the best possible weld can be produced for that weld joint profile.


Welding Robots - Adaptive Fill

Not only does this robotic welding system have seam tracking, with is fairly common, but it also is equipped to perform adaptive fill welding.

Adaptive fill allows for the correct welding process to be deployed to address the variability seen by the seam tracking for gap and height mismatch of the materials in a particular joint to be welded. It does this in a way that is just about as close to AI as you can get. Without the aid of any human intervention, pre-determined weld procedures are called out by the robot to address the anomalies in the joint.

Things like increasing amperage and wire feed, increasing weave, or motion of the torch to span the gap, slowing down or increasing the travel speed of the robots, or even addressing the speed of the rotation speed of the headstocks are all choreography into an elaborate program to take advantage of the modern technology available in today’s power supplies.

In addition to addressing gap control, which can be a challenge on most automated systems, other benefits of using adaptive fill include fewer stop-starts and less need for rework or human intervention. The system is much more capable of making the appropriate changes to maintain a good quality weld on all parts introduced to the system.

(For more on robotic welding visit: robotic welding

Tool Changer & Reaming Station

This system also includes the automatic tool change mounts on either side of the robots and an automated torch reaming station in the center, where, based on preprogrammed instructions, the torch head moves to have its nozzle reamed and wire trimmed. Increasing the flexibility of the system and minimizing the need for human interaction, truly automating that needs to be automated.


What about Production Monitoring?  

This system is also equipped with the ability to turn on IRCOpulse, a subscription-based production monitoring package providing data insights and key performance indicator information to customers. The system can provide information about machine performance, downtime events, production statistics, throughput, efficiencies, and more. The collected data is accessed on a cloud database and automatically shows real-time connection to the system via interactive reports on things such as production output, cycle times, downtime events, maintenance, and more.

Stay tuned to our website to learn more about IRCOpulse - our answer to your Industry 4.0 questions. 




Contact Us & Related Content

For more information about IRCO Automation's automated welding solutions, visit the Welding Automation page on our website. 

Connect with our team by sending us an email at: 


Looking to learn more? See the following Resources: 

Topics: Welding Automation, Welding, Weld Positioning Equipment, IRCO Automation, Robotic Welding, Production Monitoring, Automated Welding System Features, Automated Reaming Station