If the first thing you associate Pemamek with is large, automated welding positioning equipment that handles massive workpieces, you’d be on the right track about the company’s niche in the market. After all, the Finland-based company has built a reputation for its automated welding positioners that help wind energy companies construct huge wind towers and shipbuilders piece together sea-faring vessels longer than a football field. Countless other fabricators of heavy equipment have also benefited from the company’s products.
Now, Pemamek is poised to introduce a significantly smaller automated solution that fills a void in the welding industry. If a 15-ton workpiece is “small” to you, you’ll be interested in adopting this new product set for release in September.
It’s a plug-and-play automated robotic welding system designed to be forklifted off a truck, placed on the shoproom floor, wired up and quickly producing these “smaller” parts. With a 3-axis positioner and a 6-axis robotic welding arm on a track, the new product, tentatively named the Skyhook Pro Intelligent Positioner, defies the definition of the welding industry as inflexible and not ideal for low-volume, high-mix solutions.
“We’ve always put robots out there and positioned them in front of positioners,” says Michael Bell, director of sales for Pemamek. “We’ve done it in many different fashions, but to have a product that is a plug-and-play unit with 10 axes of immediate availability, without any teaching pendant, is new to the marketplace.”
What type of manufacturer is a good candidate for such a “small” automated welding system? Bell says defense contractors making laser housing, weapon systems and launch vehicles can definitely benefit from adopting this automated welding solution. On the civilian side, the system could be a perfect match for manufacturing items such as transmission housing, gear boxes, drive units, hydraulic units and more.
“Everything is self-contained,” Bell says of the automated welding system, including light curtains that protect anyone near the system. “Everything needed for production is attached to it, from the power source to the way you handle the consumables. No special foundation or infrastructure is needed – just electricity.”
The automated welding system is customizable, as well. For example, some shops are already set up with a system for removing weld fumes from the environment. But for those that aren’t, Pemamek can provide the fume extraction system, too.
“We’re trying to fill that void in which no one exists,” Bell says of developing an automated welding system capable of meeting the challenges associated with high-mix, low-volume solutions.
Bell notes that there is no shortage of companies designing and manufacturing production and serial production equipment for one-off projects, such as solutions for the automotive-style of manufacturing, but “as soon as you exit that style and volume of manufacture, there aren’t many people positioned in the market to help combine small-batch, single-part, single-piece manufacturing. Really, no one has done it successfully in an easy-to-program way.”
Bell is referring to the pendant teaching robot, which can be a challenge to adopt. In fact, for people who have never worked with pendants, it’s akin to “looking at Sanskrit – it’s quite challenging to understand what it does and how it does it,” he says. “The verbiage, even on the controls, is not intuitive.”
What Pemamek has done with the new automated welding system is to take the programming confusion and “leave it parked on the positioner for use only by maintenance.” The brain behind the programming is WeldControl 300, Pemamek’s offline programming software. The basic idea of using offline software is that programming time is not taken away from production capacity of the robot, thereby increasing production.
Pemamek touts a 70 percent increase in production compared to systems that don’t use this type of programming. In fact, a new robot program can be developed, simulated and tested without the real workstation, which, in theory means the robot can be working on one workpiece while the program is preparing the next one, saving a significant amount of time for the manufacturer.
WeldControl 300 offers several benefits, including workpiece calibration and a virtual multi-pass welding pattern creation tool. Users also benefit from WeldControl 300 Scan software, which enables accurate welding of large grooves with multi-layer welding.
Filling the gap
Bell says part of the impetus for developing the automated welding system was for its plug-and-play capabilities, but another part of it was offering a system that fits the current workforce situation, which includes a substantial skills gap. The pre-programming along with WeldControl 300 software definitely help, but what about the learning curve for a novice operator?
“A two-day training program with a Pemamek trainer will make you fluent in the operation of the software and get you welding,” Bell says. “Five days of operator training will not only make your fluent, but it will make you proficient. There is no need to do any training beyond that. If you’re already a welder and are intimately familiar with how to weld and have been on the floor for several years, in two days, you’ll be zipping through it.”
The beta version of the automated welding system has been in operation with a client in Finland and Bell says the feedback has been positive. Given the customizable features, such as the various light curtains or walls (safety regulations vary from state to state, country to country on what is required) and fume extraction, plus the slotted table plate that can accept just about any fixture, Bell is confident the new system will be warmly received when released in September.
“Pemamek is genuinely looking to create a user-friendly environment for the current workforce,” he says, “so we can help U.S. manufacturers continue their production. My emphasis is on creating, building back better and onshoring manufacturing back to Americans. I want to make it so we’re less dependent on outsourced product – to make us competitive.”