Our global team has developed and manufactured welding automation products and material handling systems in over 46 countries around the world.
Even though our customer portfolio includes large enterprises and government institutions e.g GE Energy, NASA, SpaceX, ABB, we are certain that we can provide incremental benefits for small businesses who want to implement welding automation systems.
Implementing welding automation can benefit small businesses tremendously. It can provide everything from improving quality to faster production time, which could improve profitability.
Welding Automation is a process that uses systems consisting of motion devices, welding equipment and sensors to increase the production and performance of welds. It helps many businesses, big or small, specifically with speed and quality and even helps by improving weld consistency and quality by eliminating operator-to-operator variation and factors like fatigue or ergonomics.
In this article, we will further discuss how welding automation can help small businesses and other important steps in switching to welding automation.
Benefits of Taking Advantage of Welding Automation
According to Robotics and Animation News, welding automation can help small business by:
- Productivity with better bottom line profitability
- Improving the quality of your product which helps to reduced weld post-processing, welding repairs, and cut-outs
- Bringing raw material costs down by reducing material wastage
- Working with leaner supervisions
- Allowing trades professionals to spend time on more challenging or less repetitive tasks
Automation is an upfront capital expenditure that brings lower operating costs and in turn, long-term benefits
Six Considerations Before Implementing Automation
Before transitioning to welding automation, there are six important topics to discuss and consider:
Identifying Your Goals
Making a business decision such as this one requires deep planning and a long thought process.
There are numerous goals businesses could hope to accomplish when investing in automation equipment, so it is very important to identify these beforehand. This will ensure success and money well spent. Robotics and Automation News suggests that a few possible goals could be:
- Increasing throughput
- Improving the quality of your product
- Faster Travel Speeds, or
- Reduced weldment post-processing (blasting, brushing, grinding, etc.) due to lower spatter levels
Although the need for welding operators would still be necessary, automation can reduce the need for strenuous welding work for workers. This alone could result in fewer sick days, and potentially the ability to run longer shifts.
Justifying Expenses to Ownership
Justifying the expenses is another important step when considering welding automation. When looking at the ROI (Return on Investments), fabrication shops need to consider the labor rate of each shop and how much a welding automation implementation might save.
For example, workers require training, breaks, paychecks and even time. With automation you can reduce all mentioned factors. Further, the ratio of machine uptime to downtime for part and fixture changeover is another factor that should be considered.
The software gets entered into the machine and it creates work with much more precision and speed than a human worker can, which is one way these costs can be justified.
For less money and production time, businesses see bigger changes in their operating costs and even their sales. There may be items consumers will order a few weeks before an important deadline and it is very important as a manufacturer to assist in producing that item in a timely manner. This provides a level of service clients will appreciate and would even come back for.
Good quality and good production time is always more likely to bring in old and new customers rather than bad quality and a slow production.
Part design plays a key role in successfully using automation. “Automated welding systems rely on accuracy and repeatability to provide the quality and productivity improvements for which they have been designed,” writes The Fabricator.
Usually automation parts are fit for no-gap or near-no-gap. If there is too much of a variety between parts, the machines will take longer to produce a product and will require more readjustment and even more supervision to ensure it still gets the correct job done. That leads to a counterproductive result. The Fabricator underlines this by pointing out that, “to achieve these results, the parts you are welding also need to be consistent and repeatable.”
While it seems that investing in automation is best done for high-volume low-variety parts, there is another way to deal with higher varieties without worrying about production or quality.
Assembly quotes Efi Lebel, the CEO of SmartTCP Inc. when speaking out on this issue. “To deal with high mix, you need a machine with a large, flexible working envelope and many axes to handle a variety of part shapes and sizes.” Having a machine such as the one Lebel spoke of requires a large operation window in order to do a wide variety of parts. Further Lebel argues that adaptive welding can be used to overcome part to part variation.
Investment in Welding Safety
Although using these automation solutions eliminates a wide variety of worker related injuries, there are still programs and practices that should be used throughout the workplace. Investing in these programs ensures the safety of those workers who must supervise and sometimes aid these machines. Some of the injuries workers could face are:
- Electric Shock,
- Fires and,
- Respiratory issues.
The potential risk of respiratory issues stems from the extremely fine dust particles that fill the air when engaging in e.g. MIG & FCAW welding. Providing an environment that will prevent workers from developing occupation-related lung diseases is critical. In addition to making sure you are providing a properly ventilated work environment that uses effective fume extraction equipment, Kemppi insists that, “the use of respiratory protection equipment is critical.”
Putting investments towards the adequate fume extraction systems can create a much safer and even cleaner workspace. Having the proper tools for workers to access will not only ensure the safety of workers but also increase productivity and decrease the number of lawsuits a company could face.
Managing part workflow is essential to productivity, and even safety, within the workplace. When the part workflow is properly managed, these automations are able to work at full productivity and allow for almost perfect products.
This is similar to balancing production and training. To reach full potential, accuracy, and productivity, that balance is always important to find.
Supervision and Training
Similar to the importance of having the proper technology, having the correct workers and supervision is just as important.
If an unqualified worker is hired or a worker receives incorrect training, it could result in disastrous events when it comes to both safety and productivity. According to The Fabricator, it is very important to find a worker who:
- Understands welding mechanics,
- Is open to learning how to use new technology,
- Is a proficient computer user.
- Is adaptive to new processes and ways of working,
- Is eager and excited to take ownership of a piece of equipment,
- Is a strong leader who can manage change,
- Is supportive of other workers throughout the transition, and
- Is bold enough to seek out the hardest tasks and rise to the challenges associated with new technology.
While there are many advantages to using automation, the need for humans is still required to ensure a successful workplace.
Before committing to the transition from manual welding to welding automation, it is very important to remember the steps to take:
- Identify your Goals - Make sure to discuss what you wish to accomplish in using welding automation
- Justify Expenses - Is making the change worth it? Be clear as to how will it change current company expenses
- Part Design - Keep in mind that investing in automation is best done for high-volume low-variety parts. However, dealing with higher variations can be possible with a large operation window in order to do a wide variety of parts
- Invest in Welding Safety - Protect all workers with the proper tools and equipment they may need to help maintain a clean and safe working environment
- Part Workflow - Find the perfect balance to reach the full potential of all equipment and machinery
- Supervision & Training - Hire qualified workers in order to assist these machines with the process
Technology can always pose great pros and cons in life. As you consider implementing welding automation, remember the specific information discussed in this article when deciding whether or not it is the correct path when it comes to your business.
Are you interested on how LJ Welding is helping industry leading enterprises implementing welding automation solutions? Read our lates blog post on how LJ addressed GE Healthcare's key challenges of weld quality and rework issues with a fully automated custom solution.
How could LJ help you to implement an automated welding solution?
Contact us today!
Topics: robotic welding