Read this article for the ultimate overview of welding automation.
We explore, on high-level, some of the questions and concepts to essential to understanding what Welding Automation is and the benefits of adding it into your manufacturing process.
What is Welding Automation?
Welding automation is a term that describes a diverse range of equipment, software, and devices that help automate the process of welding. The best and most efficient automated welding systems are designed specific to your process and aren’t cookie-cutter solutions. Depending on the process (or particular stage of it) you are trying to automate there are varying degrees of automation possible.
For example, you could have a robot or piece of equipment that repeats the same simple task over and over. Alternatively, you could combine several steps of a process into a cohesive system.
When considering the type of welding automation that would be best for you, break your process into different parts. It’s important to consider the material handling/positioning aspects and the actual action of welding in your process as separate entities to properly assess the level of automation you will require.
Welding:Before introducing any form of welding automation it is essential to know your weld procedure inside and out. Some critical pieces of information you need to know about your weld procedure before a system can be designed are the deposition rate, voltage, current, and welding travel speeds, etc. Knowing your KPIs and the parameters around your welding process, combined with a thorough understanding of your desired cycle times, will help determine the scope of automation best suited to your needs.
Positioning:Material handling is the other half of welding automation, and considering how to correctly position the workpiece is an important step in designing the movements of an automated system. You want to ensure that the weldment is being brought to the correct position in order to deploy the right welding process.
Also, take into consideration the upstream and downstream actions - how will automating part of your process affect other steps in your manufacturing workflow? Think about the most significant challenges or inefficiencies you’re currently struggling with across your entire production line. Having a clear view of exactly where shortcomings lie will help identify which elements you'd benefit most from automating and maximize your automation ROI.
What are the benefits of Welding Automation?
There are many different benefits to adding automated welding into your process, but the specific benefits will greatly depend on what you’re looking to achieve or improve. What is your reason for automating? What are the greatest challenges that you want to solve? Having clear answers to these types of questions, and a predetermined ROI will help you take full advantage of what welding automation has to offer. Some of the challenges an automated welding system may help address are:
- Increasing productivity
- Providing greater repeatability
- Reducing safety hazards
- Improving weld quality
- Reducing cycle times
- Shortage of qualified welders
There are several process improvements and benefits that welding automation can help provide. IRCO Automation’s automated welding systems are designed to meet each customer’s specific needs, with the ROI at the center. As each customer is unique, the solutions IRCO designs and the benefits they offer range from system to system.
What are the different types of Welding Automation?
Welding automation can be split into different types or categories. People use different category names, but generally, there are two main groups:
|Semi-automatic with strong human interface||Unmanned, autonomous systems|
|Typically 4 or less axes||Typically 5 or more axes|
PLC based programming or
minimal controller involvement
|Offline programming using
|Programming is “fixed” (Designed for
specific predetermined tasks
|Flexible and adaptable programming (easier to update for task and movement variations and implement automatic corrective actions)|
|Weld torch attitude doesn't usually need to move during welding (Fixed or limited weld procedure with minimal adjustability and no “on the fly” corrective actions)||Weld head is mounted on a robot arm
or addition axes to provide various
position options during welding
A single setup is usually limited to
|Sequential processing of different parts within a batch is easily achievable without requiring manual adjustment or retooling|
Another way to differentiate and determine the types of welding automation that’s right for you is by considering the level of human interaction and involvement with the system. Here at IRCO, we break it down into three levels and describe it as Crawl, Walk and Run:
- Crawl – These systems would typically include a welder who tells the machine what to do. These systems involve some mechanical motion, but a human welder deploys the actual process of welding manually.
- Walk – These systems have some repeatable motion built-in but still require a human interacting with the interface, using a touchscreen, to decide on a specific series of actions. After the operator determines which pre-determined position they want the machine to move to, the operator can engage the welding process, which will proceed with a minimal operator intervention, or a human welder can manually weld using the system if required.
- Run – These systems are designed with the idea of “touch a button and walk away”. They are fully automated and only require an operator to choose a command to initiate the process and then they can go work on something else. Systems like these can autonomously position and weld for hours on their own.
Are Automated Systems the same as Production Monitoring?
Welding Automation and Production monitoring are two separate things. Production monitoring is the process of gathering, recording, and compiling data about a manufacturing process (or system) to provide information about production.
Production monitoring can be as simple as a person recording information onto a chart. However, the 4th industrial revolution (Industry 4.0), and the rise of digital technology in manufacturing has increased the demand for production monitoring and revolutionized what data gathering in the manufacturing plants looks like. Companies want to know the productivity, performance, and efficiency levels of their teams and equipment.
Our IRCOpulse™ production monitoring system is an answer for manufacturers looking to remain competitive in the new landscape and demands of Industry 4.0. IRCOpulse™, allows your automated welding system(s) and equipment to automatically and autonomously communicate and report back its productivity reports.
So, regardless of whether an automated system is fully autonomous, it does not guarantee that it has a production monitoring software. (But don’t worry – there are ways to fix this! To learn more about IRCOpulse™, click here.)
Ready to automate your welding process?
Welding has undoubtedly changed over time – technology and growing demands in the workplace have reshaped the way companies fabricate, weld, and manufacture. With over 60 years in the industry, IRCO Automation is in a simultaneous trajectory of evolution and growth, and designing and building automated welding systems for heavy industry is our passion. Our rich legacy and vast industry experience have allowed us to work on a wide range of projects and the opportunity to provide welding automation solutions including structural steel and beam welding, rail car manufacturing, mobile equipment attachments (agriculture, excavator, minding), defense contracting, shipbuilding, oil, gas, and energy.
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