Over the years, several traditional manufacturing methods have been automated in response to influencing factors such as supply versus demand, product integrity considerations, access to a skilled labour pool and maintaining competitive advantage. Welding falls into this category, and as a manufacturing process in today’s current climate, automated robotic welding is gaining in both popularity and progression as robot specialist, KUKA explains.
The automotive and aerospace sectors have traditionally been the advocates of automated welding. Since welding is one of the most effective methods of joining metal, both industries have a plentiful need for it – specifically, MIG and ARC welding. Though now, as the benefits of automated robotic welding are becoming apparent, the adoption of the process is being seen across other sectors, with factors such as speed of execution and cost-effectiveness championing its integration into high-output production facilities.
Mass production of multiple product iterations and mass customisation deliver significant challenges to manufacturers who adopt hard automation principles, i.e. processes that are fixed – aligned with high volume product production. However, as consumers’ behaviours diversify, demand evolves and market trends fluctuate, the need to respond quickly and efficiently through the implementation of flexible production systems is critical.
The beauty of flexible automation systems is the ease with which a designated programme or application can be changed to meet evolving manufacturing requirements. Add to the footprint of many standard welding cells, which are relatively small, means that substantial reconfiguration of an existing operational footprint is not necessary. Whilst some consideration surrounding what is to be achieved and where is imperative, the limitations that might apply to hard automation do not exist. In fact, standard welding cells afford several returns – simple automation capability, optimal process reliability, system availability and system flexibility.
If we consider the process of welding itself, the manual application of a weld requires both skill and dexterity to complete. It has been widely acknowledged that robot process automation delivers a level of repeatability and accuracy that can’t be sustained by manual means, i.e. by a human. As such, product integrity and quality output are key considerations when deciding to adopt automation. A material bond must be consistently executed to alleviate costly recalls, wastage, and deviations in product shape and size. Add to that the health and safety considerations that align with the welding process. According to the HSE, occupational lung disease, including lung cancer, is the most common health risk, but welding can also affect the eyes and skin. There is also a significant risk of asphyxiation when welding in confined spaces. It doesn’t make for pleasant reading, and aside from the risk to employees’ health, there also exist the financial risks associated with compensation pay-outs and fines.
Automation is the logical solution. Employ a robot to undertake the welding activity and redeploy operators into other areas of your business, where they can add value and apply skills to high-value applications/tasks. The automated system can operate 24/7, if needed, and presents the opportunity for a business to expand upon an existing portfolio of weld capabilities by introducing new applications or even breaking into new markets.
Unlike a hard manufacturing asset confined to a defined product iteration that can’t easily be adapted, standard cells are setting standards for the future of manufacturing. Welding is conceivably one of the more complex manufacturing processes and arguably the least understood, but the benefits are immense. Automated arc welding technology offers everything needed for automation in the age of i4.0; for beginners and advanced automation experts alike.