In almost any procedure that is repeatable and can be clearly defined, automation can make the entire process much more efficient by capturing each step in the process and programming a machine to perform it, repeatedly and consistently. In a heavy fabrication manufacturing process that produces parts requiring multi-pass welding, which are welds requiring several passes, one over the other. Hard automation takes the tedious and makes it faster while producing error-free results.
Hard automation can include both fixed and programmable automation components. In welding, hard automation involves the use of mechanized machinery to repeatedly and efficiently produce a large volume of consistent results.
Robotic welding, or the use of robotics to perform welding previously done by people, allows manufacturers to program machines, or the robotic welders, to weld parts. Previously, robotics lacked the precision and capacity to meet the demands of larger structures that required multi-pass welds. Through advancements in software and sophistication of parts, robots are now slowly making their way into heavy fabrication in areas like:
• Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW)
• Flux Cored Arc Welding (FCAW)
• Tandem Gas Metal Arc Welding (T-GMAW)
• Submerged Arc Welding (SAW)
• Flame Cutting
Because the welding process is automated, welding goes faster and results become more consistent. Removing the manual welding factor introduces repetitiveness that is predictable and concise. Production rates also increase, because robots can repeatedly perform the welding function for increased number of hours than a human would be able to.
Automated welding does come with challenges, which, if addressed correctly, will produce optimal results. One challenge with automating heavy fabrications is the high mix, low volume nature inherent to this process. In order to maximize a robot’s production rate, an offline programming tool (OLP) is essential.
OLP has now matured to a level where operators are not necessary to touch up program points during production. Once designed and defined, most OLP programs work well on their own, without intermittent adjustments.
Successful OLP should be used collaboratively with robotic options that define welding start locations and track the joint as it is welded. Advanced systems are able to detect variations in volume along a weld joint, and adaptively fills the joints as needed to ensure complete closure.
Many robotic systems, such as an orbital welding system, are carefully designed to produce quality results in demanding environments where space or visibility may be restricted. Systems such as these create solid, repeatable results and provide safety for operations overseeing the welding process.
Using hard automation requires various considerations to ensure successful results. Using high quality products and surfaces that are consistent and well defined help make the most of automation. In addition to this, the personnel responsible for robotic welding should also be highly knowledgeable in welding itself, to ensure automation is defined and performed to exacting standards.
Automation is easy when you have the tools and software at your disposal; the key is using the right tools, designing the correct automation process, and accurately administering the overall automation to meet the goals of the manufacturing process.