There’s a revolution happening in the welding industry, and it’s being led by the welding robot. Internationally, welding businesses are reaping the benefits of these highly productive machines, which deliver a blend of speed, precision, and consistency that’s hard to match in manual welding operations.
This article will delve into the world of robotic welding, exploring its evolution, benefits, limitations, applications, types, and much more.
An Introduction to Robotic Welding
Robotic welding refers to the use of mechanized programmable tools (robots), which completely automate a welding process by performing both the weld and handling part. This automation achieves a level of speed and precision that increases productivity and reduces operational costs.
Manual Welding vs. Robotic Welding
In manual welding, a skilled worker controls the welding process. While this method has its merits, such as the ability to adapt to unique job requirements, it has limitations when it comes to speed, consistency, and productivity.
On the other hand, a welding robot can move the welding torch along the joint to weld pieces together without the need for a break, thus increasing productivity and reducing the welding cost per piece.
Robotic welding has two primary categories: automatic and semi-automatic. In the automatic system, parts are fed via a conveyor or magazine, clamped in position, and then welded by the robot. Semi-automatic systems involve an operator entering the robot cell, removing the completed weld, and positioning the next pieces for the robot to weld.
A Brief History of Welding Robots
Welding robot have been in existence for over 60 years. The first programmable robot was invented by George Devol in 1954. This invention paved the way for the establishment of Unimation, the world’s first robot company, where Devol and his team created the world’s first industrial robot, Unimate. This robot was used in the General Motors (GM) Automobile factory for spot welding and die casting extraction.
The 1980s saw a significant growth in the industrial robot industry, with new robotic welding machines being developed almost every month. These designs have continually improved, with robotic arms gaining more mobility and control, operator interfaces being enhanced for easier maintenance and repair, and the advent of smaller collaborative robots (Cobots) designed to work alongside humans.
The Benefits of Welding Robots
Robotic welders offer several advantages, including:
Robotic welders are efficient, making fewer mistakes, and can achieve up to 85% efficiency compared to 20% of their skilled human counterparts. Robots do not tire, need a break, or go on vacation, and can produce the same quality welds consistently, thereby increasing productivity.
Robots maintain a constant weld speed, current, and other variables, delivering high-quality welds every time. This makes them ideal for projects that need stringent quality requirements.
Reduced Waste and Consumables
Robotic welders eliminate many welding mistakes that come from human welding. They can use consumables like fillers more effectively, reducing waste. Consumables are purchased less frequently, saving costs.
Limitations of Welding Robots
Despite their benefits, welding robots have a few limitations. They require complex programming skills, meaning you may need to hire a new set of programmers to deal with programming the robot. Additionally, you also need specialized training and safety courses for your workers.
Moreover, welding robots need a sizable amount of investment in machinery, jigs, and training. However, with proper use, robots can pay for themselves within one to three years.
Applications of Welding Robots
Welding robot account for 20 percent of the total amount of welding in the USA, a figure that’s rising fast. They are generally used in industries where high production rates are required. Spot welding, predominantly used in the automotive industry, is one of the most popular applications for welding robots. However, arc welding is also becoming an increasingly popular choice for the use of welding robots.
Types of Welding Robots
There are various types of welding robots in the market, differentiated based on the welding processes they use. These include:
Resistance Spot Welding Robots
Commonly used in the automotive manufacturing industry, resistance spot welding involves using larger electrical currents to join two or more sheets at a single location. Spot welding robots are articulating robots with rotary joints.
Collaborative Robot Welding
Also known as cobot welding, collaborative robot welding involves a 6-axis robotic arm with a welding torch as its end effector. Unlike industrial robots, cobots can work alongside humans, removing the need for a welding robot cell.
Shielded Metal Arc Welding Robots (SMAW)
Also referred to as stick welding, SMAW involves creating an arc between a consumable flux electrode and the material being welded.
Robotic Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW/MIG)
Robots are often used for GMAW or MIG welding when high deposition rates are needed to achieve a high production rate.
Robotic Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW/TIG)
GTAW robots are used when welding thin parts or when aesthetic and precise welds are needed.
Robot Laser Welding
Laser welding robots use a focused laser beam as the energy source, making them ideal for welding materials of different thicknesses from various angles and directions.
Plasma Welding Robot
Plasma welding robots use a plasma arc as the heat source to melt the junction of two metals that need welding.
The Future of Robotic Welding
With the advent of robot welding and cobot welding, both small and medium welding businesses can harness the advantage of robot automation. As technology continues to evolve, the future of welding technology promises exciting developments.
For now, the welding industry is embracing the efficiency and productivity benefits brought by welding robots, making it an exciting time for businesses in the sector.
In conclusion, the welding robot is a game-changer for the welding industry. With its high productivity, constant quality, and reduced waste, it is revolutionizing the way welding operations are performed. Although it has its limitations, the benefits and potential it holds for the future make it a worthwhile investment for businesses in the welding industry.
As technology continues to evolve, we can only anticipate what other advancements the future holds for robotic welding. But one thing is certain: the welding robot is here to stay, and it’s shaping the future of the welding industry.