Basic or entry-level welding information management systems gauge both productivity and quality, and provide real-time weld data for management to enact positive changes within the welding operation.
Like nearly every other metalworking process today, welding is getting a performance boost from shop-floor data. You can collect it automatically; analyze it easily with charts and graphs; and put that information to work to improve your quality, your productivity, and your training. Tools are readily available now for turning raw welding data into knowledge.
With greater competition and a sometimes less-experienced workforce, companies may use data acquired for each operator to make decisions about a possible need for additional training, as well as to seek increased productivity and lower costs. Initiatives that reduce quality risks also are of key importance.
A welding information management system is one way to achieve these goals, for both robotic and semi-automatic welding systems. The real-time productivity and quality weld data provided by basic or entry-level software systems, in particular, can help management implement positive changes within their welding operation.
Here are some of the benefits such a system can provide:
- The ability to gather real data, rather than just opinions about the welding operation.
- Real-time data collection by way of a wired or wireless Ethernet connection, eliminating the need for time-consuming manual data collection.
- Easy access via Web browsers to data and online data storage.
- Measurement of productivity metrics such as arc-on time and total deposition.
- The identification of potential problems (such as out-of-threshold welds) and potential operator-training needs.
- A benchmark for measuring the impact of continuous improvement efforts.
What are the advantages?
The ability to identify problem areas in the welding operation isn’t the only benefit of basic welding information management systems. Companies also can also gather the data necessary to establish a baseline for improvements based on productivity and quality metrics.
Welding information management systems can be installed via an external module that monitors welding parameters from outside the power source (as opposed to being integrated within a new machine), allowing companies to leverage welding equipment they already have. There are various methods available for connecting the modules to a welding system: external sensing devices; upgrade modules for specific brands of equipment; and in-line devices between the power source and feeder.
For companies that want to buy and install new machines, welding systems are available in factory-built models. All of these systems allow for data transmission via wired Ethernet connection. However, newer versions include built-in Wi-Fi capability, providing quick, easy setup and flexibility on the shop floor.
Management can track and assess how individual machines are performing compared to specific departments or the company as a whole, since companies can organize their welding information-capable systems in an online asset tree by weld cell, department or building (this is explained in more detail in the next section). Using a secure user ID and password on any Web-enabled device, companies can access weld data online for a given period of time, providing an ongoing view of welding operation activities. The system generates reports comparing any combination of machines and cells; there is no software or applications to install or maintain.The information can also be downloaded into a standard spreadsheet for analysis at a later date, giving companies the ability to assess progress over a longer period of time.
This automatic, real-time data collection is much quicker and more accurate — with less opportunity for incorrect interpretation — than manual collection. The faster that production problems can be fixed, the better companies can prevent errors from becoming a part of ongoing production.
How do the dashboards work?
Multiple levels of customizable dashboards are available with some of the better basic welding information management systems. This feature provides an “at a glance” view of performance from the machines in operation, including information such as amperage and volts, arc-on time and arc starts, and weld deposition amounts.
A main dashboard shows a composite overview of the welding operation, with details such as an asset tree organized to the company’s preference; machine status indicators; arc-on comparisons; performance relative to goals; quality limits and more.
A productivity dashboard is also provided with some systems. This dashboard can be customized to graphically display arc-on times and deposition, for a better picture of how much welding has occurred by the hour, day, week, or month. Using this information, companies can identify high and low productivity periods and what is causing them, and identify the potential need for additional intervention.
Additionally, a quality dashboard shows if welds are capable of meeting quality standards and if they are within acceptable limits for things such as voltage or amperage thresholds. Companies also can use the quality dashboard to determine if quality risks (e.g. weld defects such as porosity or lack of fusion, or the presence of out-of-spec parameters) have increased or decreased over time, and be immediately alerted to potential problems. The tool can even help identify welding operators who may need additional training.
Another dashboard option, available with the most capable welding information management systems, allows managers to establish goals for metrics such as arc-on time, deposition and arc starts. Setting these goals makes it easier to identify areas that need attention. This dashboard can help identify and track production and quality goals as part of continuous improvement efforts by:
- Assessing the result of initiatives aimed at improving weld quality, including the use of appropriate shielding gas flow to correct porosity, tightening of weld parameters, reducing over-welding or correcting travel speeds. Initiatives can also include fixing problems that originate before welding, such as gaps in parts.
- Monitoring the impact of changes to increase arc-on time, by reducing non-value-added activities such as grinding or tacking by the welding operator (i.e. assign these tasks to non-production fabrication staff) and also monitoring welding deposition.
- Evaluating the effectiveness of welding operator training.
The numerous dashboards help monitor progress toward specific continuous improvement goals. The weld data can also help determine true welding costs, provide options for reducing costs and offer ways to track the outcome of those efforts.
What are the reporting options?
The powerful reporting tools of a basic welding information management system can provide customized views of each of the dashboards. These views help management analyze a company’s productivity and quality metrics in the way that makes the most sense and is most in line with its continuous improvement efforts.
Pre-configured reporting capabilities available in the more sophisticated welding information management systems make it even easier to evaluate different aspects of the welding operation. Management can review reports regarding:
- Arc-on time percentage
- Trends for arc-on time and arc starts
- Comparisons of weld duration (tack welds versus longer welds)
- Histograms for arc duration
- Current and voltage
- Comprehensive detailed weld history
The presentation of productivity and quality data is nearly limitless. The asset tree has the flexibility to show custom machine groupings and to vary the time scope of the reports. The information provided by the reports can help welding engineers identify out-of-threshold welds; assess and improve weld process setup; and monitor machine configurations and performance. The systems also can provide information to empower welding operators to take an active role in advancing their skills.
Is a basic welding information system the right choice?
Implementing such a system can help companies make improvement decisions based on facts. The real-time data allows companies to make real change in a more practical and accurate manner than via manual collection and interpretation. With the cooperation of management, owners, welding engineers and welding operators, such a system can also offer a significant return on investment through quality and productivity improvements.
Just as any investment in the welding operation, however, the decision to implement such a system should be made with care and consideration. Consulting a trusted power source manufacturer or welding distributor is a good first step in determining the most appropriate technology to meet specific needs.