Transitioning from a manual welding process to robotic welding and positioning represents a sea change in any manufacturer’s process. In the oil and gas industry, manual welding is quite common, and while automated welding technology has been around for more than two decades, many manufacturers working in the oil and gas industry are just now realizing the benefits.
Among those benefits are the ability to finish a job faster with more consistency, reduce material waste and secondary work, cut labor costs and improve safety. The automation route, however, can be a rather massive culture shift for any company. But, given the lack of skilled welders in the workforce today and the list of advantages realized through automated welding processes, the culture shift may be a welcomed change.
Positioned for productivity
Pemamek, a Finnish-based company that produces automated positioning and welding solutions for large and heavy materials, is making automation converts of manufacturers in the oil and gas industry. Feedback from customers points to a 70 percent productivity improvement after implementing Pemamek solutions, according to Jyri Luhtio, applications manager for process and offshore equipment, Pemamek
A quality weld, whether it’s made manually or by a robotic welder, requires correct workpiece positioning. This is a specialty of Pemamek’s, with its variety of positioners that can be modified for specific industries. For example, the massive wind energy towers used to keep wind turbines aloft hundreds of feet in the air are precisely positioned by Pemamek’s heavy equipment technology before being mechanically welded and assembled. Similar Pemamek-built technology is used in shipbuilding and heavy trailer manufacturing.
For the oil and gas industry, in which welders work with a variety of pipe sizes and materials, Pemamek offers its Skymaster series of positioners, which can handle cylindrical workpieces from roughly 550 lbs. to 75 tons. Skymaster positioners are built to lift, rotate and tilt heavy and complex workpieces. Users can adjust height, angle and rotating speed so they have the best positioning for precise and efficient welds.
When the job calls for handling some of the largest materials available for oil and gas equipment, Pemamek offers the Megamaster series, which can manage capacities of 25 tons to 250 tons. Designed for automated welding processes, the Megamaster positioners feature motorized inverters or servo controlled rotational controls as well as strengthened rotational torque and hydraulic or motorized tilting.
Pipes used in the oil and gas industry are subject to a lot of pressure or heat, which means strict tolerances are crucial.
“This type of welding needs to be done according to high-quality requirements,” Luhtio says. “Automation can help in that way.”
A strictly run automated process can guarantee quality results time after time. Tracking quality control is also a must for companies that face a high degree of scrutiny for meeting quality standards. They require a reliable database to record how each piece of equipment was manufactured, so if something fails years down the road, investigators can see what parameters/processes were used to make the product. The brains behind these automated welding solutions is the software.
Luhtio says Pememek has been heavily involved in building solutions for the oil and gas industry for around 15 years. And while their positioners, columns and booms, roller beds and other welding equipment have evolved in that time, the software the company develops is among the most significantly changed.
“Everything is becoming more and more automated, and that’s happening on the software side, too,” Luhtio says. “We’re trying to help the operator develop the easiest programs to make programs and jobs for robots and machines to run with as little interference as possible. All of these technologies, such as scanning the welding grooves to make the welding adaptive, are major developments. Software has come a long way.”
Specifically, the oil and gas industry utilizes Pemamek’s WeldControl 100 and WeldControl 500 software. The software is able to integrate the controls and management of welding parameters and different positioners in one place. Also, various accessories can be integrated into the software, such as weld seam tracking. Utilizing a camera, which Luhtio says up to 90 percent of WeldControl 100 and 500 users opt for, provides the ability to monitor the weld as it occurs and make adjustments, as needed.
WeldControl 100 offers users a modern interface for ease of use and a touchscreen welding parameter control system. The software connects to the local area network and generates production data monitoring, diagnostics and tracking.
The more robust WeldControl 500 offers automated multi-pass welding and adaptive filling functions and has optional advanced accessories, such as a laser seam tracking, which enables adaptive welding.
“With Pema WeldControl 500,” Luhtio says, “we can optimize the welding process for multi-layer welds.”
Given the ongoing challenges posed by the skills gap, Luhtio says companies need to focus more on welding automation. Many of Pemamek’s solutions are designed so one operator can control the entire process, but that doesn’t mean the machines are going to completely replace skilled welders. The operator needs to have welding in their background.
“It’s difficult to find experienced or very skilled welders,” he says. “That’s a challenge in every industry, not just oil and gas. But operators using our technology still need to know how to weld; experienced welders need to teach or tell the machines what needs to be done and how it needs to be done. The machine only repeats the good welding knowledge that belongs to the operator.”