Welding automation is the process of using controlled machines to turn a manual welding application into an automatic one. The goal of welding automation is to significantly limit or eliminate entirely the need for human involvement with the welding process. The amount of human interaction with a welding process depends upon which method users decide to pursue as welding automation typically consists of two categories: semiautomatic and fully automatic.
Semiautomatic WeldingSemiautomatic welding involves some human interaction with the welding process; however, it is significantly reduced from manual welding. With semiautomatic welding a welding machine is used to perform the actual task, while tasks such as automatically loading and unloading parts, monitoring the process, and quality checks are completed by an operator. Semiautomatic processes can use industrial robots and weld cells for automation. For instance, the FANUC Arcmate 120ic may be used to automate an arc welding application, but the process would be considered semiautomatic if an operator is used to load and unload parts to and from the weld cell.
The advantage of semiautomatic welding is that it is typically more affordable to automate than a fully automatic system. Those with tight budgets would still be able to automate using the semiautomatic welding method. Less upfront costs and less equipment to integrate can reduce installation time and allow users to implement their welding automation system quickly. It also allows for higher productivity rates than manual welding.
Finding an operator with the skillset needed to run a semiautomatic welding machine can be a disadvantage of this method. Operators need a skillset similar to those who are welders, which is becoming increasingly rare with the growing welder shortage. In addition, semiautomatic welding may be prone to inconsistencies in regard to productivity and cycle times since the start and finish of the process relies on manual labor.
Fully Automatic WeldingWith fully automatic welding an industrial robot is always used for automation and there is no involvement of an operator. Another robot, such as a material handling robot, or another machine is used to load and unload parts to and from the weld cell. The entire process from start to finish is completed by an industrial robot or robots. For instance, the FANUC M-20ia may load workpieces into the welding fixture, while the FANUC Arcmate 100ic completes the weld and inspects its work. The M-20ia then unloads the finished workpiece from the weld cell.
Choosing the fully automatic approach to welding automation will completely optimize a welding application. Productivity will dramatically increase, cycle times will be reduced, and the overall efficiency of the process will be improved. Weld quality will also increase by eliminating any human involvement which prevents human errors that can hinder quality. Labor costs are reduced since there is no human involvement with a fully automatic welding process.
The one drawback to a fully automatic welding system is it can be expensive to implement as more equipment is needed. However, a fully automatic welding system can capture its ROI quickly with faster cycle times, increased productivity, and reduced costs. Purchasing a second-hand robotic welding system is a more affordable approach to implementing a fully automatic process and will provide the same benefits as a new system.