A Better Reality

Manufacturers offer welding equipment better-suited to today’s workforce


It’s no secret that skilled workers are in short supply for most every trade industry, especially welding. With more than half the workforce approaching retirement age, this has been an ongoing topic. The need for workers isn’t slowing down, so how are companies and the industry as a whole working to alleviate the situation?

Believe it or not, the answer isn’t all automation and robotics, though those options can be part of the solution. Technology is a large draw, of course, especially with the younger generations. While it’s hard to change the perception that skilled trades are somehow a lesser career choice to white collar work, new technologies are helping.

The Fronius WeldCube Navigator provides step-by-step instructions through digital weld sequencing.

The fact of the matter is welding gets people into the workforce faster, gets them out of debt faster and gives them a skill that has been in demand since industrialization. A recent ROI calculator from the American Welding Society shows that in a period of 10 years, an average welding student who invested one year and $27,000 into their schooling would have an ROI of $452,700 and student debt of $12,000. This is compared to an average four-year college student who invested $138,000 and would have an ROI of $231,600 with a debt of $33,500 after the same 10 years.

Welding equipment manufacturers are aware of the worker shortage. They hear about it from customers and they experience it in their own staffing needs. The way these manufacturers approach the shortage is different. They can only do so much to attract new talent to the trade or change the perception of the industry, but they can make equipment better-suited to the workforce we have now and for the workforce we’d like to have in the future. They can change the technology in ways that ease the work for every welder from entry level to mastery.

Guiding the job

Anything new is easier with step-by-step instructions, and that’s what the Fronius WeldCube Navigator provides through digital weld sequencing. Whether the application is MIG or TIG, companies can easily set up jobs in the software that guides welders through each step of the weld application. It is simple to digitally input information about each part as well as the welding parameters needed with set tolerances. A helpful option allows the system to lock down in the case of a weld error, reducing the amount of rework or scrapped parts.

The welder follows the graphical on-screen instructions to see exactly what weld is needed and where to place it. The visual guide shows each step in the process, as it’s needed, and sets the defined welding parameters to use for that weld. After each weld, a visual is displayed indicating a green light for welds that pass or a red light for welds that fail the set criteria. This helps new welders learn quicker and allows more experienced welders to move between applications easily. The software excels in production welding, but can also assist in applications where jobs may be repeated but not every day.

TIG welding

TIG is a welding process that can produce high-quality welds with every type of metal, putting this process in high demand, especially in the food and medical equipment industries. It’s a tough skill to master, requiring both hands and often a foot pedal to properly guide the torch and adjust parameters. MIG welding, on the other hand, leaves one hand free to support the torch, making guiding and adjusting angles a bit easier.

Fronius’ DynamicWire is smart wire technology that makes TIG welding easier for novice welders and can take some of the strain off more experienced welders.

In a world where any skilled welders are in short supply, finding good TIG welders is most difficult. Fronius looked to make the process easier by developing a cold wire feed system that adapts to the application on the fly. Instead of feeding the filler wire by hand like standard TIG welding, the DynamicWire process adds in a wire feeder that automatically adjusts the wire feed speed to the set welding current. This smart wire technology makes TIG welding easier for novice welders and can take some of the strain off more experienced welders.

DynamicWire actively adjusts wire speed to the welder and can compensate for component tolerances of up to 30 percent. There are two ways the welder can use this new technology.

The first method uses a lightweight aluminum adapter that attaches to the outside of the TIG torch. The wire feeds through this into the weld pool, much like a MIG application. The newest option uses the DynamicPen, which allows the welder to guide the filler wire in a more typical TIG welding fashion, but still provides the smart wire feeding technology. Either option enables higher productivity for TIG welding from both novices and experienced welders alike.

Cobots usage

Meeting strict tolerances and reproducibility in manual welding requires a mastery of the trade that is rare in today’s market. Add in the human quotient, and it becomes harder to meet these requirements every day, no matter the skill level. Automation can achieve these standards more consistently, but true automation isn’t always an option, especially for small and medium-sized companies. Enter the collaborative robot, or cobot, a welding unit that combines robotic consistency with teachability that doesn’t require a robot programmer.

Cobot operators can learn and practice on the job, freeing up skilled welders for the more challenging welds. The skilled welder sets up the job, ensuring the weld comes out correctly and saves the parameters. After training, the operator clamps the component part into place and starts the saved job producing the same quality welds.

With the CWC-S cobot welding cell, robot programming is intuitive by guiding the welding torch to the appropriate positions.

Teaching the cobot requires manually guiding the torch head to each point and saving the path with the touch of a button. The software can then calculate the necessary welding sequences and contours based on part information. In simulation mode, the cobot can run through the weld path with the part in place without igniting the arc to ensure there isn’t interference with part geometry.

Once the teaching is complete, it will consistently weld each component with the same quality as the first weld. Cobots are designed to work for small batch welding and single component batches, ideal for companies that manufacture a wide variety of parts.

Welding equipment manufacturers have the opportunity to encourage people to join the trade through new technology and other ways that lower barriers to entry. By retraining, offering internships and apprenticeships, adopting new technology and showing welding to be the high-tech career it can be, everyone in the industry can help shift perceptions closer to reality.

Fronius USA LLC

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