The future of welding will inevitably have broad and wide-ranging impacts on manufacturing and general industry as a whole. New technologies will drive improvements in efficiency, quality, safety, sustainability and innovation while simultaneously driving business growth.
But what does the future of welding look like? What technologies does it hold? Automation, digitalization and other advancements that address the skilled workforce challenges will play a big part in the future of welding, but to get the full picture, Welding Productivity asked the experts for their input.
“The next few years will see an increased pace of innovations for technologies that simplify welding for new operators to achieve higher quality welds,” says Eleanor Lukens, president of the Americas, ESAB Corp. “Making a fabricator’s job easier will help the welding industry overall by encouraging young people to enter this career. Technologies such as synergic MIG welding and ‘quick jobs’ buttons for simple and fast recall of favorite settings are two examples. With them, operators can focus on technique instead of struggling to fine-tune parameters.”
Josh Zuckerman-Erd, welding product engineer, Forney Industries, agrees. “Advancements in technology make welding open to more and more people every day due to things such as synergic MIG allowing for a lower bar of entry. In industry, this means that individuals who have little to no experience can be brought in and learn to weld quickly.”
Forney’s Jason Mahugh, director of engineering and technical service, also sees continued advancements in efficiency and simplicity as a major focus moving forward. “Efficiency will drive automation and new welding techniques and technologies. Simplicity will drive the ease of use to reduce the training required to make quality welds whether that is in factories or DIYers.”
Undeniably, the future of welding will be intrinsically related to labor challenges. The welder labor shortage, in particular, has been an issue for several years and continues to plague the industry.
“The welder shortage will be a long-term fixture in the welding industry,” says Jake Zwayer, engineering director, Hobart Filler Metals. “While programs throughout North America have done an excellent job emphasizing the important, high-paying and rewarding nature of welding careers, the shortage of skilled welding labor continues to be a challenge for many organizations.”
Mostafa Hanafy, market segment manager, Tregaskiss, notes that there has, however, been some progress.
“There have been some improvements over the last few years in attracting young talent to the profession, partly owing to social media,” he says. “Continuing to raise awareness is key to consistently bringing more people into the industry, educating them about the overall job, its growth potential and how it can positively impact their lives. Ongoing funding to publicly owned schools and incentivizing privately owned schools to expand their capacities will enable more people to take the next step and gain the schooling they need to learn the trade. Lastly, manufacturers should get involved in attracting new professionals, whether through their own media channels, offering sponsorships or making their equipment more affordable for the education sector.”
Mahugh has also been encouraged by improvements to the labor issue. “Unfortunately, we have a generation that was convinced that manual labor and skilled trade jobs like welding were not a great career option,” he says. “But, career counselors and the younger generation are now considering the skilled trades as a great career option, especially given the huge cost of a four-year college degree. I am pleasantly surprised to hear high school graduates thinking that skilled trades offer a better ROI than traditional degrees. It is an interesting shift in thinking. I encourage career counselors to consider a broader approach to developing a career and recognize that there are multiple opportunities and paths a student can take.”
According to Bruce Albrecht, vice president of innovation, Miller Electric Mfg. LLC, there seems to be a pendulum swing happening, which has resulted in large institutional investments in training and apprenticeship programs to meet demand levels and ensure a robust upstream talent pipeline. Technological opportunities to support the labor shortage include:
- Expanding training systems through applications like augmented reality to allow more people to experience welding without the need for all the equipment.
- Continuing to simplify and invest in intuitive user interfaces to make sure future machines are even more approachable and easier to use, lowering the barrier for entry so it is quicker for people to learn the craft.
- Using more remote control welding technologies to keep people welding and increasing arc-on time for greater productivity.
- Widening the tolerance windows for welding processes to make it easier for people to be more successful.
- Focusing on modern PPE that keeps people cool and comfortable, especially in climates and environments that run hotter.
- Companies that can control part tolerance will also benefit from automation. Industrial automation will include user-friendly automation like cobots.
Speaking of automation, robots and cobots might perhaps represent the biggest transformational aspects of welding today. Beyond solving some labor issues, automation injects safety, efficiency and flexibility into any welding operation. And every day, these automation systems are advancing in significant ways, empowering companies to achieve higher productivity, quality and cost-effectiveness.
“Automation doesn’t replace jobs, but it does create a change in how we view them,” Forney’s Zuckerman-Erd says. “Workers go from manually welding all day to loading parts or doing repairs to a technician’s job where they keep the robots up and running. Some of these jobs take less skill so that with the assistance of automation, someone with less training can do the same job as someone who has been doing it for longer.
“High-skilled trades will always be needed as there are things no robot will be able to do to the same degree as someone who has been doing the job for 20-plus years,” he adds. “It’s the ability to think that a human will always bring to the table, giving them the ability to adapt and grow.”
To date, cobots have been integral in helping to automate welding tasks that previously were not easily automated. And they will continue to be a big part of the solution moving forward.
“As a leader in arc welding, our view is that technology and automation are a large part of the solution to these types of manufacturing problems,” says Wesley Doneth, regional strategic product manager, Fronius USA, Perfect Welding. “We focus on developing products that enhance the skills of the workforce. The rapid growth of cobot systems is directly related to this issue. We view it as a transition type of solution. Often, it’s a hybrid solution where systems can be used for manual or robotic welding with the simple flip of a switch. We expect an increase in cobot applications that bridge the gap between automation and manual welding in the industry.”
Automation and robotics for welding are evolving with the shift toward digitalization and connectivity. This integration of digitalization creates more streamlined and efficient workflows, ultimately leading to higher quality welds and improved throughput. The impact of these advancements is significant.
“The welding industry has seen more digitalization efforts over the last few years,” Tregaskiss’ Hanafy says. “Welding equipment now has digital user interfaces to help welders navigate through the different options and set the best parameters to use. This also helps in storing pre-prepared welding programs for welders to choose from and even recording and storing actual parameters used. Additionally, it allows for the communication of the data via USBs and ports to local storages or even cloud-based ones. As the interest and adoption of digitalization grows within the industry, it will drive more investment by manufacturers in R&D to make it even better.
“Machine learning and artificial intelligence will help to further improve digitalization and data management in welding equipment in the future,” he adds. “This can even be accelerated further when combined with automation and advanced arc vision cameras to help make the welding job much easier, produce higher quality welds and be more productive.”
Miller’s Albrecht agrees. “Within the last several years, there has been a rising demand for leveraging data and creating ‘smarter’ welding equipment capable of communicating information that can be turned into actionable data to enhance and optimize things such as safety, quality and productivity. As technology in this space continues to grow and becomes more widely understood and accepted, there will be a point at which it is no longer futuristic but rather an expectation. Shorter term, the market can expect to see a proliferation of ‘connected’ welding equipment and accessories not only in shop environments but in the field, as well. As this becomes the new normal, it will ultimately open the door for more advanced AI and machine learning, which will lead to major advancements in how welding is performed and managed.”
Shaping the future
In addition to going digital, staying up with the latest trends in welding equipment benefits a company’s success. In recent years, several innovative technologies have emerged that shape the future of welding, including more advanced welders, laser welding and hybrid welding techniques.
“The future of welding is full of exciting challenges,” Hobart’s Zwayer says. “While skilled welders and labor continue to be a struggle for many organizations, the industry will persist in making equipment, processes and filler metal that serve to close that gap in productivity and ease of use. Additionally, welding-intensive industries have continued to push the envelope in the performance of their products through lightweighting, additive manufacturing, new materials and design, among other things. These advancements will require creativity and innovation in welding technology to improve things like mechanical properties, heat input, weldability and process control. In the next few years, I think we will continue to see welding technology which does just that.”
Mahugh notes that he sees some advancements in traditional processes like MIG or TIG, but much greater advancements in higher technology processes like plasma welding and laser welding. These are likely to take some marketshare from traditional processes as the equipment costs and complexity continue to decrease. He also sees newer, stronger, lighter metals being created that require new welding processes and techniques because some of the traditional welding processes may not be suitable for the newer metals.
As an arc welding equipment manufacturer, Fronius’ focus is on developing arc welding systems that adapt and respond to the application, whether it is manual, automated or robotic.
“Controlling the process is essential,” Doneth says. “By increasing and improving the process sensors, we’re able to provide real-time feedback to the machine and control the arc in ways that benefit every application. For example, one of the most important process variables for GMAW and GTAW is the shielding gas flow. We control that digitally, so it truly becomes part of the process in each weld seam. For any application, the cost and complexity are integral parts of the manufacturing process.
“Segments such as additive manufacturing will continue to expand and traditional technologies like arc welding and laser welding will continue to refine the applications they are best-suited for in terms of deposition rate and material properties,” he continues. “Additionally, there will be continued focus on improving the working conditions for arc welding with improved safety tools like fume extraction, welding helmets and continued growth of software-driven equipment solutions.”
Like Fronius, ESAB is taking a broad look at the future. Across the ESAB portfolio, the company is consistently looking for ways to improve the welding process for fabricators. “We are doing this through improvements in our systems that tackle the latest challenges faced by fabricators in the field or in a shop, advancements in software and technology that allow for improved understanding and visibility, and robotic applications that open doors for new people to discover a career in welding,” Lukens says.
The future of welding technology holds great potential. Welding technology characterized by emerging advancements such as automation and robotics and digitalization is increasing precision, productivity and efficiency. The future belongs to those willing to explore the full potential of these welding technologies.