Welding automation is broken down into two basic categories: Semi-automatic and Fully Automatic. In semi-automatic welding, an operator manually loads the part(s) into the welding fixture. A weld controller then controls the torch/part motions and welding parameters to ensure a quality, repeatable weld. After the weld is completed, the operator then removes the completed part and the process begins again.
Fully automatic welding uses a custom machine or series of machines to load the workpiece, index the part or torch into position, effect the weld, monitor quality control, and then unload the finished product. Additional “part in place” and final product quality checks may also be designed into the machine if necessary. Depending on the details of the specific operation, a machine operator may or may not be necessary.
Benefits Of Automated Welding
The benefits of well-engineered welding systems range from improved weld quality to decreased variable labor costs. The most prominent advantages are:
- Improved Weld Quality: Mechanized welding improves weld integrity and repeatability.
- Increased Output/Volume: Production weld speeds are set by the machine at a reasonable percentage of maximum. With minimized part set up time, and higher weld speeds increase output.
- Decreased Scrap/Rework: Automating the torch/part motions and part placement decreases the error potential.
- Decreased Variable Labor Costs: Reliance on human welders dramatically increases a manufacturer’s labor costs. A Semi-Automatic system will normally have at least twice the output of a skilled welder. A fully automatic system with sufficient stations can run at four times the pace of semi-automatic system or at eight times the pace of a skilled welder.
Planning For Welding Automation
The benefits of system automation are accompanied by some challenges. Although these factors can be controlled, they should be recognized from the onset of a project for automated welding
- Higher Initial Investment: Semi-automatic welding systems can be very affordable. Higher levels of automation can have significant equipment costs especially for custom designed systems.
- Machine Flexibility: Semi-automatic welding systems are very flexible. More automated systems may have more curtailments on the variety of parts handled.
- Commitment to Maintenance: In shifting from labor intensive to capital intensive (automated) processes, companies must also adopt and rigorously follow preventative maintenance programs.
- Longer Product Startup Times: Semi-automatic machines can take 4-8 weeks to deliver. Specialized systems, however, commonly have lead times of 20 or more weeks.
- Investment In Product Life Cycle: It is crucial to consider your product’s position in its life cycle before investing large sums into automation. Automate parts that will still be around next year.