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Robotic Welding: When Does It Make Sense?

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Robotic welding is now one of the most common applications of automation technology in manufacturing and fabrication operations. Manual welding is a labor-intensive, highly-skilled and potentially dangerous trade. Escalating labor costs, trained operator shortages and increased competition have spurred advances in robotic welding technology. For organizations faced with these challenges, welding automation presents a real cost-saving solution.

Advantages of Automation

Robotic welding offers a number of production and cost-saving advantages, including:

  • Increased output
  • Reduced and consistent cycle times
  • Improved welding integrity
  • Improved welding repeatability
  • Reduced consumables
  • Fewer errors
  • Reduced direct labor costs

When to Use Robotic Welding

Despite these many advantages, welding automation is a significant investment, so the ROI must be carefully calculated. Robotic welding applications are more useful and cost-effective in some scenarios than others. In general, robotic welding lends itself to high-volume, repetitive production. Organizations should consider adopting automation when faced with the following:

  • High output needs
  • Critical accuracy and repeatability needs
  • Difficult or expensive welding repairs
  • Welding cost reduction needs
  • Consumable reduction needs
  • High labor costs
  • Skilled labor shortages
  • High rework rates
  • Limited floorspace

For manufacturing operations that typically have long production runs and consistent repetition, automation is incredibly useful. On the other hand, substantial investments in robotic technologies do not make sense for shops handling only low volume and/or unique projects. Robotic welding requires fixtures that hold the component pieces in precise locations. These fixtures are proportionally expensive to the complexity of the finished part.

Robotic welding technology is currently pursuing advancements in flexibility, simplicity of programming and operation, standard routines and ease of path modification in order to better address smaller batch needs. However, the fact remains that manual welding is often more appropriate and effective when it comes to shorter runs and unique work.

Careful Integration

When integrating automation technologies into operations, it is important to evaluate expectations and effectively prepare. Before adopting robotic welding, an organization must undergo production planning, programming preparation and operational training. Automation is not a catch-all solution for poor processes. In fact, as robotic welding increases production, processes need to adjust to that expansion. Before integrating robotic technologies, organizations should perform the following:

  • Evaluate processes upstream and downstream
    • Eliminate bottlenecks and inefficiencies
  • Analyze operator performance in relation to production
  • Correct process assumptions and timing issues
  • Improve floor layout to optimize space

Automation is a valuable tool and robotic welding is, specifically, one of the most advantageous technologies in manufacturing and fabrication. However, adopting robotic welding should be a thoughtful, well-planned process to ensure that this investment makes sense for your operation.