Getting connected

Putting a focus on robotic welding cell connectivity leads to improvement opportunities


When companies invest in robotic welding, they do so with the aim to introduce repeatability to their operations. That repeatability improves weld quality and productivity while also making the most out of the labor involved with the process. Welding operators can spend less time reworking parts and more time overseeing the operation. Implementing a welding robot correctly can also provide a solid return on investment and cost savings over the life of the equipment.

To remain competitive and drive continuous improvement, some companies turn to connectivity when investing in new robotic welding cells. Adding Ethernet capability allows for remote monitoring of equipment and the addition of weld data monitoring technology to further enhance the efficiency of the process.

The automotive and heavy equipment manufacturing industries are especially well-known for implementing this technology. For automotive manufacturing, uptime is critical, so being able to monitor all aspects of the robotic welding cell is key. In heavy equipment manufacturing, there are significant repercussions to having a defect on a thicker, heavier part because it is expensive to repair a long, multi-pass weld. Being able to identify problems early and put a solution in place is important.

When companies invest in robotic welding, they do so with the aim to introduce repeatability to their operations.

Regardless of the industry that adds connectivity to its robotic welding cell, there is the opportunity to gain valuable insights and improvements. In addition to improved quality, productivity and labor savings, connecting the cell to a network can reduce troubleshooting downtime and eliminate bottlenecks. Collaborating with a robot integrator or welding power source manufacturer can help determine whether the correct infrastructure is in place to help deliver the best outcome.

Ethernet reamers

The addition of an Ethernet reamer or nozzle cleaning station to a robotic welding cell provides several efficiencies. This equipment removes spatter from the welding nozzle at a set interval in between weld cycles. It features a single Ethernet cable that serves as a multi-purpose I/O and connects to the programmable logic controller (PLC).

Ethernet reamers enable robotic welding system operators to create a program that handles multiple operations so they can easily duplicate that program to another welding cell. This type of reamer provides real-time feedback to the PLC or robot so supervisors can see what steps are being completed during the reaming cycle or if there is a problem. For example, by reviewing the feedback for a specific reamer’s IP address, operators can identify the current status of any reamer. It serves as a more planned and methodical approach to maintenance and troubleshooting. Maintenance personnel can enter the robotic cell with a solid understanding of what is wrong, making it easier and faster to fix.

With an Ethernet reamer, users can adjust the amount of startup dwell time on the motor, the amount of time it stays up cleaning the nozzle and diffuser, and the amount of anti-spatter spray used and the spray time.

An Ethernet reamer also allows companies to customize the aspects of that ream cycle on a single interface. Supervisors can adjust the amount of startup dwell time on the motor or how long it stays up cleaning the nozzle and diffuser along with the amount of anti-spatter spray used and the spray time. With an Ethernet reamer, operators can also program a double stroke. If one cleaning cycle wasn’t quite enough to remove spatter from the nozzle, the spindle unit and cutter retract to clean again. All of this can be done remotely.

Note, the reamer should always be programmed with the gun docking to the reamer and the height set properly, following the instructions outlined in the owner’s manual. Dock the nozzle concentric to the cutter and always supply the reamer with clean, dry air.

Another benefit of an Ethernet reamer is that it features an Ethernet switch within the robotic welding cell to reduce the amount of cord sets required. If a company has a line with several Ethernet-capable devices inside of it, the reamer has two ports to connect them instead of running one cord set to each individual piece of equipment in the cell.

Peripheral devices, like the wire cutter and nozzle detect sensor, can plug directly into the reamer, and all the signals, inputs and outputs are sent via the Ethernet network. This feature allows operators to monitor the cycle times carefully and more easily troubleshoot any issues that arise.

Weld data monitoring

Like an Ethernet reamer, weld data monitoring solutions provide real-time feedback so companies can use that data to identify issues and make improvements. They help increase productivity and improve weld quality while also managing costs.

In addition to allowing companies to monitor the robotic welding cell remotely through a laptop or other device, weld data monitoring solutions can identify issues, determine if they are trending and provide an alert to make adjustments to ensure good weld quality.

Many OEM automotive companies rely on this technology in terms of measuring overall equipment efficiency. This takes into account production capacity, equipment availability and quality. Weld data monitoring can show if a robot is idle, which allows personnel to figure out why. It may be there is a bottleneck upstream that needs to be addressed to increase part flow into the cell.

There are various means of measuring production capacity to determine if there is room for improvement. Welding information that can be collected is wide ranging and includes the number of parts being made per shift. This provides companies with a baseline to determine higher production goals. After putting the weld data to work, it may be possible to increase the robot’s arc-on time. They can also look at deposition rates and overall weld parameters to determine if adjustments can yield higher production and to ensure that they are obtaining the proper weld quality.

The addition of an Ethernet reamer or nozzle cleaning station to a robotic welding cell provides several efficiencies.

Like an Ethernet reamer, weld data monitoring solutions are a good means to expedite troubleshooting. By monitoring weld parameters and comparing them to upper and lower control limits, they can determine if voltage, wire feed speed and current are correct. If not, the robotic welding supervisor can make adjustments so poor welds don’t make their way downstream in the operation. That’s important because the further a defective part travels, the more expensive it is to complete rework.

Staying connected

Having a robotic welding supervisor with IT or industrial controls experience is helpful for implementing and programming an Ethernet reamer and weld data monitoring solution. This expertise can help ensure the success of the investment. Otherwise, utilize an automation integrator to ensure proper implementation of any new automation equipment.

Either way, it’s important to remember that adding connectivity to a robotic welding cell isn’t a solution in and of itself; it’s a means to a solution. Companies need to put the data into action, making changes where this information indicates an opportunity for improvement, and continuously monitor the operation.


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