Easy Does It

A cobot platform eliminates the need for an integrator, programming or any advanced skill sets

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In the face of ongoing economic uncertainty, manufacturers continue to confront labor shortfalls and supply chain issues. Adoption of automation is one way the industry is attempting to untangle this Gordian knot. Collaborative robots or cobots, in particular, are stepping up to take on a wide range of repetitive tasks. Designed to work alongside humans, cobots are also proving attractive to a younger generation of potential employment prospects.

The cobots and robotic welding systems from Productive Robotics were developed to be easy to use and without any need for programming.

Improvements in power supplies and communication have made these robots more accessible, but cost, software and ease of programming still remain problematic for fabricators, job shops and first-time users. To help fabricators bridge both the skills gap and labor shortage issue, companies like Productive Robotics LLC are developing easy-to-use, teach-by-touch cobots and robotic welding systems that don’t require any programming.

Teach by touch

“Programming is only easy for programmers, so our approach was to eliminate programming language entirely,” says Zac Bogart, president and founder of Productive Robotics. “For example, our OB7 cobots handle a variety of machine tending and shop tasks. To do any of these tasks, an operator simply has to show the OB7 how to do perform the task by walking it through the steps of the process. The cobot’s teach-by-touch design allows it to learn a job in a matter of minutes.

“The OB7 cobot can work with new or legacy equipment from a CNC machine to a press brake and can take on a variety of tasks like material handling and welding,” he adds. “For welding, our line of Blaze welding robots are able to learn the same way as the OB7 and our other robots and cobots do, which is simply by showing it where to weld.”

Productive Robotics’ line of OB7 cobots can handle a variety of machine tending and shop tasks by simply walking the cobot through the steps of the process.

And, manipulating a Productive Robotics’ cobot is quite simple. All the company’s cobots are built with seven joints for superior maneuvering, just like a human arm. This allows OB7 cobots to work within more confined spaces and eliminates having to redesign workspaces in a production environment. Each joint is engineered to rotate 360 degrees in both directions, which allows infinite positioning to reach around doors and access areas that conventional robots can’t reach. This is a big work saving advantage – the human arm has seven joints for good reason.

In addition to its ease of use, one of the primary advantages of cobots is safety. OB7 cobots can sense collisions at every joint, a function that triggers a safe stop. They can also be stopped with an operator’s hand and restarted with a tap on the OB7’s tablet. When running at collaborative speeds, guarding is often not required. For high-speed operations, a laser safety scanner is available.

The breadth and depth of Productive Robotics’ automation products and its rapid growth are due to the company’s commonsense approach toward equipping manufacturers with the technology they need.

“We were able to remove barriers like complex integration and high costs and put budget-friendly robotic automation into the hands of small job shops and large manufacturers,” Bogart says. “The OB7 cobot began shipping in 2018 and after six years, all models of the OB7 have proven to be bulletproof, reliable ‘employees’ in shops around the world.”

Building a welder

While OB7 models shoulder repetitive tasks from material handling to deburring, machine tending and laser marking, the industry’s shrinking pool of welders offered another application suited to the company’s unique technology. 

“We felt that the simplicity of our teach-by-touch method would lend itself to welding applications in a way that hasn’t been done before,” Bogart says.

Instead of adapting a cobot that was not designed for welding, Productive Robotics tasked its primary welding engineer – who has more than 30 years of experience – to develop an integrated design from the ground up. The design/build took a year and a half and was based on input from welders at job shops and contract manufacturers. The result is the Blaze line of welding robots.

The Blaze welding cobots from Productive Robotics handle every detail in a welding recipe, including the material to be welded, the voltage and wire speed required, as well as the gas pre-flow and post-flow.

“The advances in welding power supplies over the last 10 years allowed us to create ‘recipes’ for highly refined welding parameters,” Bogart says. “Blaze welding recipes control every detail from material and voltage to wire speed as well as gas pre-flow and post-flow to create and maintain an optimal environment. We combined our teach-by-touch, no-programming software with recipes from state-of-the-art welding power supplies to equip employees with the capability to achieve perfect welds. We also eliminated robot jargon, tool points and vector angles.”

With the deficit of welders expected to reach 400,000 in 2024, Productive Robotics combined the capability of an industrial welding robot with the safety and simplicity of the OB7 cobot to introduce its suite of teach-by-touch welding robots. In addition to clean, precise welds, the Blaze robotic welding systems can boost productivity up to 500 percent. These plug-and-play machines are user-friendly for personnel new to welding robots.

In 2022, Productive Robotics introduced the first Blaze systems: the Blaze Duo and Blaze LF. Blaze Duo’s automated doors separate two identical weld stations, minimizing downtime by allowing the operator to safely set up one job while the robot is welding another part. Direct video monitoring, an unlimited library of welding recipes and a “no programming” drag-and-drop tablet controller allow the robot to learn any job in minutes, from simple to complex paths.

The Blaze LF model provides fabricators with a large-format 4-ft.-by-8-ft. welding table. This capability supports automated processing of large and small weldments. The model’s 8-ft.-long table gives manufacturers unrestricted access on all sides as well as easy loading and unloading of components.

Productive Robotics launched its standalone Blaze welding robot in 2023, which works with a customer’s existing table, fixtures and welder and is around half the cost of fully packaged systems on the market. 

Unlike conventional 6-axis robots, the seven-joint/7-axis Blaze welding robots can maneuver around all sides of large or complex parts and fixtures, allowing them to perform more weldments in a single setup. This increased maneuverability allows simpler fixturing and can eliminate multiple fixtures and setups.

Major mobility

At Fabtech 2023, Productive Robotics introduced Blaze Max Mobile, a package that is equipped with a rolling stand that can be easily moved to different stations within the shop.  Equipped with a maximum reach of 85 in., the Blaze Max welding robot can tackle large work without the need to stage it on a welding table.

The Blaze Max Mobile system is available with or without a Miller 350 welder. All Blaze welding systems are available with an optional 8th-axis rotary positioner. The Blaze rotary positioner is completely synchronized with the Blaze robots for on-the-fly synchronous welding. Able to handle a mix of part types and high or low part volumes, all Blaze models can be used with the OEM’s rotary positioning table.

When Productive Robotics developed its teach-by-touch cobots, the company had the industry’s labor shortage in mind as well as the preferences of the next generation of manufacturers.

New for 2024 are the company’s Blaze robotic laser welding systems. Laser welding offers significant advantages for many types of welding.

“We needed the Blaze robotic laser welder to be as simple and fast to use as our MIG systems,” Bogart says. “All our MIG systems can be taught to weld faster than an operator can perform a weld manually. The Blaze laser systems are similarly fast and simple to teach. The automated laser welding system had to meet that performance standard.”

Seventy percent of all products manufactured in America contain welded components. Most of the available offerings on the market today are comprised of an imported, common cobot with a torch stuck on the end placed on a small table that is inadequate to serve the diverse needs of American manufacturers.

Watch the video to learn about Productive Robotics’ Blaze LF, a large-format cobot welder that’s easy to use and highly productive.

“We recognized a need and developed the broadest line of ‘plug-and-weld’ robotic welding systems available,” Bogart says. “Because we have highly experienced, degreed welding professionals on staff, and because we are the developers of the robots and the software, we are uniquely positioned to create the robot and the welding software from the ground up. As a result, our robotic welders are the simplest to use and the fastest to deploy. And they are all designed and built in the U.S.A.”

Productive Robotics LLC

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