This year, more than ever, manufacturers are having to adapt to labor shortages, production inefficiencies and pressing market demands, prompting a greater need for flexibility on the shop floor. From entrepreneurial decision makers looking to maintain competitive edge via high-mix, low-volume production to those looking to improve order fulfillment times through quicker product changeovers, a common denominator for many business leaders in the last several months has been an increased focus on robotic automation.
While there is much at play when it comes to operational flexibility, having the proper machinery to facilitate production goals is paramount. In the current Covid-19 market, the uptick for capital equipment to fulfill orders for general-use products has been met head-on with highly capable robotic arms, including high-speed welding robots. Not only are these agile and powerful machines creating higher quality parts with more fluid production operations, but they are helping business leaders retain, repurpose and stretch their current labor workforce, giving the term “robot flexibility” an entirely new meaning.
Robot suppliers understand that providing reliable, state-of-the-art equipment capable of meeting a manufacturer’s production goals is of the utmost importance. For Yaskawa, this translates into designing robot models enhanced specifically for spot welding and arc welding applications to improve overall productivity.
For example, resistance welding robots, such as the SP-series robot family, offer fast, accurate performance through exceptionally quick axis speeds and acceleration to reduce air-cut time. High-performance welding robots, like the AR-series robots, highlight the importance of the arc welding flexibility trifecta: high payload capacity, fast speeds and acceleration capability, and high allowable moment of inertia ratings.
Optimized software and hardware features for arc welding robots go a long way to help manufacturers reach desired cycle times for throughput initiatives. Advantages include:
Support a variety of tools: Slim profile robots with reaches from 700 mm to 3,120 mm that that offer the highest payload capacity in their class give manufacturers the ability to utilize a range of sensors and torches, optimizing weld precision for better product quality.
Provide flexibility for welding multiple parts: Standard turnkey robotic workcells with highly powerful and efficient arc welding robots can be engineered to weld just about any part. Moreover, the same workcell can fabricate similar-sized parts on a rotating basis, as needed, adding to the flexibility of the workcell and contributing to a greater return on investment.
Enable the programming of multiple jobs: It is convenient and efficient to be able to program multiple jobs into same the workcell to enable production of several different types of parts. The “job” is the file and code that tells the robot what to do, and they are commonly saved by the part ID number. A single robot workcell can store hundreds or even thousands of jobs. Once a manufacturer realizes how efficiently a workcell can complete a production run, the best thing to do is to teach it to run additional parts. New jobs can be called up by part ID number in an instant once a new part is ready to weld.
Allow the copying of jobs: Jobs can be copied from workcell to workcell. For extremely high-production manufacturers, there is likely going to be multiple workcells running the same (or very similar) parts. These jobs can be created on a single workcell or programmed offline using simulation software and installed on multiple workcells. The job will likely need some “touching up” on each workcell, but the majority of the program will be complete.
Adapt to changing demands: With the proper tooling, robust arc welding robots can be repurposed as general-purpose robots, or vice versa, accommodating changing production demands and future business growth. Robots can usually be retrofitted with new equipment, such as laser sensors or upgraded welding equipment, to meet the demands of different materials or part challenges. Also, many times robot arms can be repurposed for entirely new jobs, such as reconditioning an arc welding robot as an inspection or palletizing robot.
Accommodate a variety of welding equipment: Depending on the process, most arc welding workcells can accommodate a change or an upgrade in welding equipment, increasing production flexibility. Modern welding power supplies include a host of processes designed for specific applications, such as thin-gauge steel, lightweight aluminum or heavy-deposition plates. Even new torches can feature a servo drive that more accurately controls the feeding and motion of the weld wire to reduce heat, minimize spatter and produce aesthetically beautiful welds.
Help create new jobs: Whether a manufacturer uses an arc welding, spot welding or material handling robot, the use of robotic arms on the shop floor can create unique occupations. Savvy business leaders with a solid, well-communicated implementation plan often find that the use of robots allows manual workers to be moved to other value-added tasks more in line with their specific skill sets throughout the company.
When manual workers are moved to other value-added tasks, it serves to boost employee morale for greater productivity. It also builds a long-term competitive edge. Several jobs have been created as a result of robot implementation and utilization.
Programmer: Ideal for an experienced welder, this position can be solely dedicated to programming new robot jobs. This often entails using offline robot simulation and programming software such as MotoSim. This gives a programmer the ability to create, test and adjust a robot program or job from the convenience of a desktop computer before it is implemented on the factory floor. It is important for a robot programmer to keep current with the latest manufacturing requirements that may impact programming, and be prepared to help with robot (or workcell) design, assembly and maintenance, as needed.
Workcell operator: Robots aid the workforce in a variety of ways, alleviating workers from the daily grind of performing dull, dirty and dangerous tasks. Redeploying manual workers to jobs such as loading and unloading of parts or checking part quality, can go a long way to sustaining a successful operation. These individuals are also helpful in jogging and resetting a robot in the event of a crash, saving time from having to call the robot programmer.
Robotic technician: Companies that have a lot of robots may choose to keep an in-house maintenance guru that can build, wire and test robotic systems, as needed, to keep operations running smoothly. This minimizes the need for service contracts and visits from robot integrators or manufacturers.
Workcell champion: A more complex position, this entails someone who is completely accountable for existing robotic operations on the shop floor, ensuring full utilization and success of any robots and workcells, including implementation, maintenance, programming and operator training. To ensure the best ROI, a person in this position should also be tasked with looking for new parts to automate.
Rework/custom welder: While robotic automation is highly precise, sometimes it is necessary to have someone available to check for flaws or touch up parts, as needed. Similarly, some companies cultivate customer satisfaction and keep competitive by offering custom welding, which is often done by a primary welder.
Tooling engineer: Wide adaption of automation may require someone that is focused on dedicated tooling design and fabrication. While this type of tooling tends to have higher initial costs, it may be more financially sound in the long run, given a knowledgeable engineer that can help oversee the design phase.
Controls engineer: A highly analytical person is best suited for this position and is responsible for ensuring that the best possible production in the most efficient manner. This role is ideal for environments that have introduced a great deal of automation, and where every machine needs to communicate together.
While the list of jobs created could go on and on, several other notable positions include logistics manager, operations manager, sales manager or representative, product technicians (depending on product line), purchasing manager or representative, and safety manager. Everyone rises with the tide.
Achieving low costs and better quality is not always a guarantee for success. In today’s volatile marketplace, flexibility is increasingly necessary. While the quest for making an operation more flexible will be unique for every business, the utilization of high-performance welding robots can help.
Not only can higher efficiency robots paired with the right mix of technologies and software reduce manufacturing costs per part, but robots can help adapt to customer demands. Arc welding robots and turnkey workcells optimized for greater efficiency and precision can provide the production flexibility needed, as well as the workforce flexibility desired to excel amid a competitive manufacturing landscape.