Like many technologies in manufacturing and fabrication today, welding operations have evolved to be more automated, flexible, adaptive, and “smarter” for improved throughput, safety and deposition accuracy. Our company specializes in large, heavy-duty applications, such as in energy, heavy equipment and shipbuilding, and we see our forward-focused customers embracing these new welding advancements in the field.
One of the most compelling reasons is the reduced number of manual welders available to be hired today.
Some are still hesitant to start performing robotic welding for a variety of understandable reasons. In those cases, we embark on a sensible plan involving taking smaller steps on the path to, ultimately, a robotic welding automation cell. There are benefits to be had on each step of the way.
A good example surrounds the robotic welding of nozzles.
These gantry-type welding stations are optimal for heavy-duty workpieces that contain thick plates and large prepared grooves, such as those on pressure vessels. The nozzles are centric (on the central axis of the vessel) and enable a PA/PB (flat and horizontal) welding position for most of the welds. The software provides offline programming, scanning, simulation, and cell control functions.
In operation, the robot in scanning mode uses a tactile or laser seam to search and define the geometry of the groove around each nozzle. The scan data is imported into the program, which generates a 3D image of each groove. Then, a welding pattern is generated that is ideal for each groove, and the operator can apply the selected pattern to the weld groove or create a new pattern that meets the particular mechanical properties.
The software analyzes the precise bevel angle, allowing the operator to adapt the welding parameters to achieve an even filling of the groove. In essence, the software links the welding requirements and the automatic application of accurate, multilayer weld depositions.
Once everything looks perfect in the simulation routine, then the robot performs the welding. Reports of precise welds deposited at least 10 times faster with the robot over manual welding are common to hear about in the field.
While welding automation in these heavy-duty industries is more common in Europe, the U.S. is starting to catch on and with good reason: The number of people learning how to weld is discouraging for the future.
Again, there is a natural temptation to delay. Some concerns relate to production and applications—too heavy or too awkward or workpieces changeover too frequently—but many concerns can be overcome.
Even production of one part can be profitable with automatic weld path creation and simulation tools.
Some worry about the learning curve of complex software programming, but most would be surprised at how truly easy it can be to learn. The complexity lies in the coding algorithm activity going on in the background, just like the software we interact with in our daily business and personal lives.
And, of course, companies don’t make capital purchases for the cool factor. There has to be a return, and the sooner the better. Everyone should ask their equipment provider to do the math based on the realities of the business.
It’s a big deal to make the leap to automatic welding in the “big” parts arena. Call in reliable suppliers with decades of experience, knowledge and a long list of successful installations and satisfied customers.
Take that first step.