Robotic Welding Processes
Robotic welding automates the welding process to increase accuracy, enhance safety and reduce the time needed to complete each project. These benefits make the robotic welding process a popular alternative to manual metal joining. Several industries take advantage of this automated process to get the results they need as quickly as possible.
Types of Robotic Welding Processes
Welding requires a high level of education and skill. However, the number of professional welders does not meet the needs of the industry. According to the American Welding Society, by 2023, the industry will require over 375,000 welders to satisfy the needs of consumers and companies. To help with the demands of the industry, manufacturers can use robotic welding equipment to supplement in-person applications.
Robots automate the process, which ensures higher accuracy, less waste and faster operations. With the range of machinery available, robots can adapt to various welding processes, including arc welding, resistance welding, spot welding, TIG welding and more.
1. Arc Welding
One of the most common types of robotic welding is the arc process. In this method, an electric arc generates extreme heat, up to 6,500 degrees Fahrenheit, which melts the metal. Molten metal joins parts together, solidifying into a stable connection after cooling. When a project requires a large volume of accurately conjoined metals, arc welding serves as an ideal application.
2. Resistance Welding
When projects need heat-treating or a way to lower costs, robots may use resistance welding. During this process, a current of electricity creates a pool of molten metal as it passes between the two metal bases. This molten metal joins the pieces of metal together.
3. Spot Welding
Some materials resist electrical currents, precluding them from other forms of welding. This situation frequently occurs in the automotive industry for piecing together parts of an automobile body. To overcome the issue, robotic welders use a variation of resistance welding to connect a pair of thin metal sheets in a single spot.
4. TIG Welding
Robot welding applications requiring high levels of precision may require TIG welding. This method also goes by the term gas tungsten arc welding or GTAW. An electric arc passes between a tungsten electrode and the metal base.
5. MIG Welding
Gas metal arc welding, also known as GMAW or MIG, is a fast and straightforward method that uses a high deposition level. The heated welder tip melts wire as it moves continuously to the tip. Molten metal can then drip onto a base, connecting the base to a different piece.
6. Laser Welding
When welding projects require accuracy for a high volume of parts, laser welding is the preferred method of metal joining. Small parts, such as jewelry or medical components often use laser welding.
7. Plasma Welding
Plasma welding offers the most significant degree of flexibility because the operator can easily change both the speed of gas passing through the nozzle and the temperature.
How Robotic Welding Works
The method requires amending to accommodate automation when using robots for any process. The same applies to welding, which operates several tools not found in its manual equivalent. People don’t need programming the way robotic welders do.
Articulating robot arms can move in multiple planes, while rectilinear ones move in three dimensions. The robot receives wire as needed through a wire feeder, while a high-heat torch melts metal to begin the welding process. These devices can withstand the high temperatures — around thousands of degrees — and thus keep human workers safer.
Certified human operators still need to remain close to the robots. These workers should hold certification from the American Welding Society, AWS, which certifies not only manual welders but also robotic welding arm operators. The operators program the controller using a teach pendant. This device sets new programs, moves the arm and changes parameters for the process. To start the welding, the operator uses the buttons on the operation box.
The tool in the robotic arm heats to melt metal to conjoin the desired pieces. As needed, a wire feeder delivers more metal wire to the arm and torch. When awaiting the following parts to weld, the arm moves the torch to the cleaner to clean any metal splatters from the component, which could solidify without this process.
Because one of the primary reasons to have robotic welders is to protect human workers, these automated systems come with multiple safety features. Arc shields prevent the high-heat arc from mixing with oxygen. Enclosed areas protect operators from the temperatures and bright light.
Robotic vs. Manual Welding
Manual welding still has a place in modern manufacturing. For projects in which you need an expert to quickly change the styles of welding used, manual welding will be your best choice. A professional welder can promptly change what he’s doing, but robots do not adapt as quickly to uncertain situations.
Because manual welding remains a process that many companies still need, professional welders will not disappear any time soon. In fact, with the shortage of expert welders mentioned above, those who hold certification will easily find work, even with multiple businesses investing in robots.
Replacing manual welders with robots will not put the AWS out of its certification business. Most robot welder operators need to hold certification in the robotics side of this field, for which the AWS also offers certifications. Having robotics experts who know about welding ensures the projects get properly programmed to finish as quickly and cost-effectively as possible.
Should You Use Robotic Welding?
Whether or not you use robotic welding depends largely on the type of project you’re working on. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of robotic welding to help you determine whether this method is right for your project.
Pros of Robotic Welding
Robotic welding has many positive attributes that convince businesses to select this process for their projects. These benefits can boost productivity and the bottom line for both the welding company and the companies it delivers to.
1. Increased Efficiency
Unlike human workers who require breaks and time off, a robot can operate on a 24-hour shift. Longer working hours and quicker speeds allow robotic welding machines to complete their projects much faster than people could. Thanks to the faster completion times, the output from robotic welders far surpasses anything possible from a human.
2. Enhanced Safety
Robotic welders come equipped with a range of safety features to protect people from the welding arc, its temperature and its brightness. These safety features help keep the work area safe. When workers have a safer workplace, there will be more productive and have improved job satisfaction. Injuries and damaged equipment are also expensive for companies, so these safety features can also save them money.
3. Better Accuracy
The ideal project for a robot involves repetitive motions applied to a large volume of parts. When engaged in this type of work, even the most experienced worker will eventually make errors. Robots will finish the project with a higher degree of accuracy because the machine will keep working with the same level of attentiveness until the project is complete.
4. Less Waste
Due to their increased precision, robots generate less waste due to mistakes. Manual welders may have to discard parts mistakenly welded together or those with weak junctions. Since robots operate with a higher degree of accuracy, they make fewer mistakes. Without as much material discarded from errors, a facility that uses robotic welders operates more efficiently and produces less waste.
5. Lower Delivery Cost
Once installed, robots can weld large numbers of parts together. Though upfront costs to the company using the robotic welder may be high, the high productivity of the machine will eventually recoup the loss. Since automatic welders have high levels of production, projects done with them may cost less than those employing a team of human workers.
Robotic welders can also cut delivery costs. The company doing the welding can use one operator instead of a team of human welders to accomplish the same amount of work. By trimming overhead, the company you hire for welding work can offer lower prices or additional services.
Cons of Robotic Welding
Robotic welding, while helpful, has some drawbacks that could outweigh the advantages in some situations.
1. Higher Upfront Cost
Yes, your delivery costs will likely be lower when you use a company with robotic welders. However, if you were to invest in the machinery and trained operators yourself, you would probably find the investment a loss. Individual companies that don’t professionally offer welding services may not use robotic welders enough to justify the high purchase price of the machinery.
If you want your business to take advantage of the benefits of robotic welding, outsourcing the job will be the most fiscally responsible option for your company. You’ll get the fast turnaround for a high volume without having to dedicate a significant portion of your budget to machinery.
2. Less Flexibility
The benefit of robots performing more accurately than people also comes with a downside. People can react to unexpected situations in a way that robots can’t. When a robotic welder needs to make a change, the operator must stop its process and reprogram it. For complex projects, this increases the amount of time required.
3. Not Feasible for Small Projects
For smaller projects, the time needed to program the robotic arm may be longer than the welding process. For smaller projects, a human welder could finish the task faster, but this timing depends on the project size and the operator’s programming speed.
The Future of Robotic Welding
Today, robotic welding accounts for only a small portion of the welding projects in the industry, but this will likely change with emerging technologies. Future innovations will lead to welding robots that are easier to use, work with other machines and increase in popularity.
1. Mind-Controlled Welding Robots
Currently, operators must program welding robots to start them on a process. However, future operators may only have to think about what they want the robot to do instead of a computer terminal or teaching pendant.
At the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, researchers have created a cap that transfers brain waves into operations for a robotic welding arm. If applied to the industry, such a process could reduce the training required by manual welders to become robotic operators. Professionals could put on a cap and look over plans to tell the robot how to properly weld the pieces together instead of plugging in a computer program.
Since these arms would not require separate computer programs, robotic arms could execute even small projects for which the programming time needed is currently too long for using robots to make sense.
This technology likely won’t appear any time soon. Despite the success of the research team’s prototype, developing the cap for commercial use will require at least a couple of years, according to the researcher’s estimates.
2. Collaborative Robots
Imagine having your partner at work be a robot instead of a human. Some businesses already use collaborative robots. These machines have a people-friendly design that allows for easy interfacing with humans. Sensors make these robots capable of gathering information and reacting to changing situations.
Industrial robots have traditionally required prior programming to execute large-scale tasks. These durable but expensive and unwieldy devices take up too much space and money to be viable options for smaller businesses.
To solve this problem, engineers have created increasingly more durable collaborative robots that could work with people in industrial applications. Implementing these solutions can reduce conversion costs up to 15% and save up to 40% on applications when using robotics with other technologies.
Collaborative robots could integrate into manual welding areas to supplement the work of human welders. With such changes, expect even more growth than the market already exhibits.
3. A Growing Market
The transportation and automotive markets continue embracing technological innovations that improve productivity. Welding robots are critical parts of these industries’ operations. Based on the continued growth in these sectors, the welding industry is estimated to be valued at over $11 million by 2028, with a compound annual growth rate of 14.5% from 2021 to 2028.
Increasing demand for cars worldwide puts pressure on the transportation and automotive sectors to raise production. More production will require investing in machinery, such as robotic welding arms, that increases the speed and accuracy of the vehicle-building process.
4. Better Safety Practices
When welding employees are directly involved in various tasks, many companies are required to invest in safety practices to ensure the health of their workers and prevent injuries. For example, operators may risk exposure to hazardous fumes or hot materials. Due to the complex measurements of different welding projects, some welds may be difficult or almost impossible with human workers. Robotic welding technologies can help reduce injuries or damage to equipment while enhancing overall safety during the process.
5. Increased Productivity
Robotic welding technologies may also help the process to operate continuously while providing reliable and durable welds. Due to the increased flexibility of robotics, many machines can reach tight corners or fulfill complex measurements that human employees may be unable to. Such performance capabilities allow metal manufacturers to perform projects quickly and reduce facility waste.
Robotic Welding Applications
Robotic welding technologies may be used in various industries, from metal fabrication to railway applications. Whatever your company may need, robotic welding can be an excellent solution for complex metal projects.
1. Rail Industry
The rail industry is often required to produce many different car units for companies throughout the year. Because the rail industry often experiences repeat orders of similar rail cars for months, companies may place hundreds of orders simultaneously. For example, some rail companies require metal bolsters connecting container cars’ ends. Robotic welding technology can assist these businesses by producing various bolsters faster.
2. Automotive Industry
The automotive industry requires fast-paced production capabilities and complex state and federal safety requirements to adhere to laws and regulations. Many car parts are made with a brake press or a cast that ensures the frame is correctly manufactured. However, welding must meld the parts to each other to ensure the car comes together in a cohesive whole.
Welding may also help with other automotive applications:
- Motors: Welding is critical in ensuring motors are durable and correctly fitted to the car.
- Pumps: Car water pumps may require welding to combine complex metals and parts.
- Metal fasteners: Metal fasteners are often used in car manufacturing, and welding can assist in permanently fastening materials.
3. Fabrication Industry
The metal fabrication industry will also benefit from robotic welding technologies. Many fabrication companies often take on various projects at a time, and robotic welding may assist in completing more tasks than ever before. From marine equipment to scissor lifts, welding offers a great solution to completing one-off or ongoing projects, no matter the industry.
Explore Our Robotic Welding Services
You don’t need to invest in your robotic welders to access the benefits of using them. Doing so will require much more time and money than most businesses can spend. Instead, trust your welding projects with Summit Steel & Manufacturing professionals. We have a 120,000-square-foot facility in Reading, Pennsylvania, where our robotic welding machinery operates. Our experts all hold AWS certification to ensure the accuracy of the welding projects we complete using robots. These automated services need supervision and correct programming to do the job well and having certified technicians behind that programming ensures the robots correctly execute their tasks.
At Summit Steel, we want to offer your business a one-stop solution for any metal fabrication or metalworking project. For more information about our robotic welding or any of our one-stop-shop services, contact us today.
Last updated October 19, 2022