The Right Touch

Human expertise is needed for automated welding success

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Imagine welding that’s not only precise and consistent, but also frees up your top talent. Collaborative robots – or cobots for short – are revolutionizing the industry, offering a win-win for both quality and workforce efficiency. These automated systems make it possible for welding businesses to increase quality and consistency while simultaneously enhancing output. They also allow experienced welders — an especially valuable resource amid ongoing workforce shortages — to focus their efforts on more complex and timely projects.  

While cobots offer major advantages to businesses, it’s important to remember that professional, qualified welders are critical to ensuring the effectiveness of welding automation. Let’s take a deeper look at the human experience and expertise needed for the success of automated welding solutions. 

Integrating a BotX cobot welding system helped JJJ Container Services develop a more flexible and efficient workflow, reducing its manpower burden and enhancing production capacity.

Value of humans 

The growing usefulness of cobots in the welding industry makes it increasingly necessary for businesses to focus on improving human-machine interaction because human knowledge optimizes cobot performance. Here are a few ways in which human expertise adds value to automated welding solutions: 

  • Optimizes cobot performance. Experienced welders possess the knowledge and skills to fine-tune cobot settings, identify and address bottlenecks in the welding process and ensure consistent weld quality. They can also troubleshoot unexpected challenges that may arise during operation.
  • Addresses complex applications. While cobots excel at repetitive tasks, welders are crucial for executing complex welds. Their ability to think critically and adapt to unique situations is irreplaceable in these scenarios.
  • Aids in integration and training. Successfully integrating cobots into existing workflows requires human expertise. Skilled welders can help train new employees on operating and programming the cobots, ensuring a smooth transition and maximizing the technology’s potential.

Let’s look at an example of an automated welding solution. The BotX cobot welding system, jointly developed by Red-D-Arc and Airgas, simplifies and streamlines welding operations. Designed to be user-friendly, it allows businesses to integrate the technology seamlessly into their existing workflows, leading to significant productivity gains. 

The two companies also offer comprehensive training, ensuring new users can quickly master setup and welding of even complex parts. Trained technicians are also on standby for on-site assistance nationwide, ensuring swift resolution to any equipment issues. Additionally, 24/7 remote support is available via phone or the BotX app, connecting users directly with Red-D-Arc and Airgas weld process specialists for prompt troubleshooting and minimal disruption.  

The consistency offered by automated solutions significantly reduces rework for manufacturers like Estes Design and Manufacturing, lowering production costs and increasing efficiency.

That immediate connection to human customer support offered by automation partners is key in helping businesses address issues efficiently. It also enables employees and leaders to build a deeper understanding of the system over time. However, before integrating automated welding solutions, users must possess the industry knowledge to understand costs associated with current systems and to recognize specific pain points in the welding process.  

Necessity of experience 

Red-D-Arc and Airgas view cobots as force multipliers, which is why the BotX system was developed to leverage skilled welders, who can think of a cobot as a smart tool to improve operations. The skilled welder can teach the robot, while those with less experience can run programs and produce. This is key in today’s market, as businesses are increasingly challenged by programming complexity and labor scarcity.  

This was the case for JJJ Container Services, a manufacturer specializing in material handling containers for the automotive industry. Its niche lies in creating automotive part-specific shipping containers that transfer items like doors, hoods and fenders from suppliers to assembly plants or within the plants themselves.  

Before collaborating with Red-D-Arc and Airgas, JJJ faced several significant challenges, including inefficiencies using existing automation solutions for smaller production runs, welding quality and consistency, and labor shortages. While the company had an existing robot in place, it was difficult to program and required large production quantities to run cost-efficiently. Additionally, across the welding operations, manpower shortages and weld consistency were undermining productivity and quality. 

The easy-to-use BotX app provides 24/7 customer support to simplify troubleshooting and allows for a better understanding of the system.

Looking to improve operations, JJJ leased two BotX systems. The cobots not only simplified programming but also alleviated the manpower burden. They enabled cost-effective small and large production runs and offered a complete automated welding package. Post-implementation, the company saw an uptick in production numbers, recording upward of two to three times increases in production. The integration of BotX gave the flexibility, efficiency and support necessary to considerably elevate production capacity and quality. 

Ongoing challenge  

As the number of skilled workers continues to decline, automation will become increasingly important for the growth of businesses like JJJ. For manufacturers impacted by the workforce shortage, finding employees with required skills has become extremely difficult, making cobots a key consideration. Cobots address the skilled labor shortage by enabling businesses to flexibly acquire easy-to-use automated welding solutions. 

The skilled labor shortage was challenging Estes Design and Manufacturing, which specializes in metal fabrication utilizing cutting-edge technology. Finding the right workers with specific skills was becoming increasingly more difficult. The company also recognized its older machines no longer served their needs, and it was time to explore more modern solutions. 

To tackle these issues, Estes tested the BotX system. The cobot’s dual-zone setup allowed operators to keep the machine in constant operation. With proper fixturing, parts can be placed with pinpoint accuracy on both sides of the partition, allowing uninterrupted cycles. These improvements enabled Estes to achieve a significant increase in speed, an enhanced repeatability of parts and a notable decrease in rework resulting in a higher level of consistency.  

The BotX app provides employees and leaders with access to a growing library of welding recipes, creating a strong educational foundation for the next generation of workers.

In addition to optimizing workflow for manufacturers, BotX also alleviates labor shortage challenges by enabling companies to acquire easy-to-use automated welding through short or long-term rental, lease or purchase programs. This on-demand rental model allows customers to quickly scale up – or down – their production capacity to align with current business needs, with no capital investment. 

Furthermore, the BotX app includes a searchable library of welding recipes, developed by welding engineers, that cover many common welding applications. This ever-growing collection of knowledge makes it possible for welders to save recipes that will assist future workers. 

Safety appeal 

Automated solutions will very likely play a vital role in attracting a new generation of workers. A large part of the appeal comes from the assurance of safety. As early professionals look to advance their careers, operations that offer safe workplace conditions will become a major recruitment and retention draw for welding businesses. 

Solutions like the BotX system meet increasingly strict safety standards, reducing the risk of injuries that could be incurred by welders performing repetitive tasks. BotX also features inclusive safety elements, such as adaptable audible and visual alerts, making it possible for workers with hearing impairment and color blindness to safely operate the equipment.  

As technology continues to develop, businesses can expect even more innovative solutions that truly go hand in hand with human capabilities. While these advancements will empower businesses to tackle industry challenges and ultimately thrive, it’s important to remember that cobots are collaborative tools, not replacements for invaluable human expertise and oversight. As new technologies come to market and bridge the gap between human and machine capabilities, we see a more productive and efficient future for the welding industry.

Airgas

Red-D-Arc

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