How to Switch to Welding Automation without Hiring Programmers
by Rob Goldiez, on Jun 2, 2022 8:00:00 AM
Over the past few years, welding automation has proven to be a boon for many major manufacturers looking to gain an edge in today’s hyper-competitive markets. In addition, North American companies are increasingly transitioning to robot welding as they face severe labor shortages compounded by the pressure from reshoring due to supply chain issues.
However, conventional automated welding processes generate their own sets of challenges, including investing in welding automation systems as well as recruiting and retaining experienced robot programmers. While some businesses opt to upskill existing welders, this inevitably reduces production capacity.
Let’s look at the current welding automation landscape and how new technologies address the problems associated with traditional robotic welding automation systems.
The Top Benefits of Welding Automation
Based on recent estimates by the American Welding Society, the demand for welding professionals is huge due to current unfilled positions, industry growth, and anticipated attrition. The organization even projects that the welding shortage will attain a deficit of over 300,000 welders by 2024. The average age of a welder is 55—with less than 20% under the age of 35. What’s more: with more welders are either transferring to different occupations or retiring altogether. And with fewer young people entering the welding trade, the welding shortage shows no signs of abating.
Thanks to the emergence of Industry 4.0 technologies, robots began to show manufacturers the many benefits of welding automation—benefits that far surpassed “just” tackling a shortage in qualified welders.
Here are the top benefits of automated welding:
Improved weld integrity and repeatability
Robots provide consistency throughout each cycle, substantially reducing part-to-part variations and ensuring top-quality welds. Welding robots help manufacturers eliminate product defects, such as cracks, holes, lack of uniformity, and weak weld joints.
Better overall product quality and adherence to standards
It stands to reason that high-quality products require high-quality welds. Welding automation systems also produce products that meet design, functionality, and strength requirements.
Ability to weld new materials
Robotic welding allows businesses to weld emerging materials that, in turn, increase product performance. These include high-strength and advanced high-strength steels, aluminum and stainless steels, and non-ferrous materials.
Increased production capacity and flexibility
Automated robotic welding can operate 24/7, representing a much faster throughput than manual welders. Therefore, manufacturers can take advantage of predictable output rates to maximize production capacity, especially for low-mix/high-volume orders.
Reduced human error and operational costs
While welders are exceptionally skilled at what they do, they are human, after all, and prone to error. Over-welding, for example, can ramp up costs associated with scraps, wasted materials, increased consumable usage, and lengthy cleanup times.
Safer work conditions
Workers typically spend their days in strenuous and potentially dangerous conditions with manual welding. Welders are constantly exposed to welding hazards, including fumes and gases, electrical shocks, fires, injuries due to low-quality PPE, etc. When properly safeguarded, welding robots can eliminate operator dangers.
Decreased labor costs
According to a recent report by the Boston Consulting Group, increased automation can slash labor costs by 22% if robots take on only 25% of the tasks they can perform. Despite the initial capital investment of an automated welding system in manufacturing, manufacturers can achieve a two-year payback and reduce the need for as many welders as required for manual operations.
Is It Hard to Make the Switch to Automated Welding?
As early as 2015, Frost & Sullivan predicted that the transition from manual to automated welding was “inevitable across all industries globally.” However, manufacturers have concerns about making the switch to welding robots, as is the case with other industries being skittish about adopting robots to automate their processes.
It’s a general assumption of people to think that switching to welding automation must be a rough, messy, and expensive journey. That can be true when considering conventional robotic automation.
The reason? Integrating traditional welding automation systems within existing manufacturing workflows can be complex. It requires that companies must hire multiple skilled robot programmers and technicians, and train staff thoroughly on highly sophisticated equipment. Furthermore, some welders are resistant to the shift to new technologies.
An MIT Task Force on the Work of the Future released a 2020 study that indicated manufacturers, especially SMEs, are concerned with adopting “lights-out” automated operations due to a lack of trained robot technicians.
As a result, North American manufacturers are lagging behind in terms of the density of robot workers. In 2020, Statista estimates show that neither the US nor Canada was part of the top 10 list of the countries with the highest density of robot workers. This is severely impacting companies’ end goals to re-shore welding work and jobs. And without enough welders or automated welding robots, businesses have to decline work.
Luckily, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Innovations in robotic automation technology are enabling manufacturers to enjoy the amazing benefits of welding automation without the hassles associated with integrating welding robots—and without hiring a single robot programmer.
Don’t readjust your font size. You can make the switch to automated welding - No robot programmers required. How? With collaborative robots (cobots).
How to Switch to Welding Automation Without Hiring Programmers
What are welding cobots? Welding cobots, or collaborative welding robots, are robots that can carry out continuous welding seams in close proximity to humans (aka welders). Welding cobots can be easy to use, giving welders the flexibility to start and switch jobs on the fly. Welding cobots resolve the ergonomic and workplace safety issues associated with manual welding and legacy welding robots. Because they don’t require massive safeguarding installations, such as fencing, they don’t take up as much space, freeing up shop floors for other uses.
Not all welding cobots are created equal. Some manufacturers, including Hirebotics, have really reduced the thickness of that entry barrier to welding automation. These types of cobot welding solutions combine the sophistication and performance of industrial-grade automated welding robots with consumer-level ease of use.
Contrary to convention welding automation systems that require serious programming and thousands of lines of code, some welding cobots enable workers to weld with ZERO knowledge of coding and programming.
For example, Cobot Welder actually features the industry’s only app-based cobot, explicitly designed for welders. All a welding team has to do is download an app to a phone or tablet through an ultra-intuitive interface. The app guides welders through each step of “configuring” the robot to weld parts. Think torch angles and weld settings. Zero programming is necessary. Welders continue to leverage their expertise and experience—without struggling with trying to learn code.
The Amazing Benefits of Welding Cobots
The new generation of welding cobots, like Cobot Welder, offers manufacturers multiple benefits:
- Fast and easy to learn
Cobot Welder is a game-changer in the welding sector because its smart teaching puck makes automated welding fast to set up, fast to teach, and fast to leverage. It offers true ease of use. Without any experience in robotic programming, welders across North America are realizing just how much Cobot Welder facilitates their work.
- Improved safety
With the right precautions, welding cobots offer staff much safer work environments than manual welding. Moreover, with a safeguarded robotic cell and the proper PPE, welders can work close to the collaborative robot with minimal risks.
Read More about welding safety with welding robots here.
- Easy to relocate
As opposed to cumbersome industrial welding robots, cobots are much lighter. They can easily be moved around the shop floor with a forklift or on a wheeled base and assist manual welders no matter where they are located.
- Versatile welding capabilities
Gone are the days when welding teams could not accept high-mix/low-volume productions. Since programming cobots has become a breeze, fast-paced welding of various parts in low volumes is now achievable. Welders can therefore focus on more complex, value-added welding processes.
- Lower part costs
Optimizing welding workflows and striking the right balance between which jobs are assigned to cobots or manual welding can greatly impact the costs per part. The productivity gains and reduced raw material costs of welding cobots are just the iceberg tips for their ROI.
Don’t Miss Out on the Advantages of Welding Cobots
In the past, manufacturers were justified in their concerns about automated welding systems. However, cobots for welding and their associated “programming” apps are helping more and more companies, including SMEs, harness the tremendous potential of automated welding.
Interested in learning how your business can accept more welding jobs without hiring more welders? Schedule a Demo Here.