Should you use collaborative robots for welding (cobots)?
For some, it may become a necessity in the near future to help keep up with product demand.
Keep reading to learn about robots in welding and how they could help increase your productivity.
The History of Robots in Welding
For many years, the option to integrate a robot into a manufacturing environment was binary.
Companies could choose to continue to utilize a human to perform a task or they could choose to replace that human with a robot. This spawned an entire subcategory of science fiction where robots were portrayed as a blue-collar competitor at best, and at other times an evil automaton determined to overtake humanity in the name of efficiency or logic.
A 1964 episode of The Twilight Zone, entitled “The Brain Center at Whipple’s” sees the greedy owner of a manufacturing corporation (Mr. Whipple) replace all 283,000 of his employees with robots in the name of progress despite the pleadings of his Plant Manager, Mr. Hanley. At the end of the episode, after replacing every single employee with a robot, the board of directors replaces Mr. Whipple with a robot as well. Only then does he realize what a grievous mistake he has made and expresses sympathy for humanity.
Collaboration in Welding Between Humans and Robots
Unlike Mr. Whipple, businesses are no longer forced to choose between a human or a robot. Today, a third option exists called collaborative robots, or cobots.
Unlike previous robots, cobots are designed to work with and alongside their human counterparts and supplement their capabilities where human labor may not be readily available.
Sensors allow cobots to be integrated much more quickly by existing employees and to work right next to them without the need for a dedicated enclosed space.
If a cobot senses potential contact with their human coworker or an unexpected object, it will rapidly decelerate to prevent injury or damage. Cobots can be mounted on tables or carts which can be moved around a production floor as needed. Programming can be accomplished kinematically, or manually guiding the robot into the proper position, instead of using a program to write complex G code.
Some systems even allow programming using a smart device app. A variety of arm attachments increase the number of tasks a cobot is able to perform.
The possibilities are vast and still rapidly expanding as cobot manufacturers expand the reach, weight capacity, and available attachments.
The Role of Cobots in Welding
Since cobots can be adapted to a wide range of applications and there is a severe shortage of skilled welding labor, it should come as no surprise that welding is a natural fit for cobots.
Due to the flexibility and deposition rate, GMAW is the most popular weld process used with cobots. Once the proper mount has been fitted to a cobot, a torch can be attached which is optimized for the application, taking into account factors such as amperage, cable length requirement, duty cycle, mounting method, length and bend of the gooseneck, and type and size of consumables to be used.
Choosing the proper torch will allow the cobot to reach its full potential and maximize productivity.
To further increase output, attachments which ream spatter from the nozzle, trim wire, and apply anti-spatter solution can be added to the work station.
With cobots performing bulk production work, human welding labor resources can be reallocated to work requiring more skill, finesse, or experiences such as one-off jobs, repairs, or welds requiring other processes such as GTAW or SMAW while the operation of the cobots can be done by other employees.
Fixturing is simplified as well, with standard jigs and clamps being utilized on standard welding tables versus custom-built fixtures which can take days or weeks to produce.
Since one operator can effectively manage multiple cobots simultaneously, it has become commonplace to set up tandem workstations where a cobot can work on one side while an employee loads, unloads, or retools the opposite work station. This process can double output without adding additional labor or requiring additional cobots.
Companies who Provide Cobots
With so many possibilities to integrate a robot into a production welding environment and a shallow pool of available labor, companies such as Hirebotics have jumped in to bridge the gap between demand and access for these cobot welding systems.
Instead of making a large upfront capital investment in cobot welding systems, Hirebotics has partnered with Red-D-Arc to allow manufacturers to “hire” a cobot welder the same way they would hire a human and pay per week of use. This also allows companies to “lay off” the cobot if a job has been completed or if the needs of the business change. This model stands in stark contrast to traditional robotic weld cells which can cost over $100,000 and must be purchased outright.
Cobots are the Future of Welding
Business owners can take the 21st Century approach to manufacture with technologies such as Cobots. Cobots are used to help companies become more responsive to product demand, bid on more jobs, and boost profit margins through efficiency improvements.
If you’re interested in learning more about Cobots, providers like Hirebotics could be a great resource for you!
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