Welding is one of the most common applications for industrial robots. It is estimated that nearly half of all active industrial robots are used for welding automation. As robotic technology has improved manufacturers have been phasing out manual welding and converting to welding robots. Welding robots provide the skillset of an experienced welder while also improving weld quality, increasing productivity, speeding up cycle times, and reducing waste for a more optimized welding process. The trend of welding automation with industrial robots is only expected to grow as many experts are predicting a significant shortage of welders by next year, with some estimating a shortage well over 400,000. This means we are likely to see more FANUC Arcmate 100ic and Yaskawa Motoman MA1400 welding workpieces along production lines. There are many different welding processes that can be automated with industrial robots, however, there are some that are more common than others. The top welding processes for robotic automation include:
- • MIG - Metal inert gas welding is one of two subtypes of GMAW. This process is one of the easiest to automate with industrial robots which is why it is so popular. Robotic MIG welding involves melting a continuously fed consumable wire electrode with an electric arc which creates molten metal on the base metal to join it to another metal piece. Inert gas is used to shield the weld pool from contaminants. The FANUC Arcmate 120ic is ideal for MIG automation.
- • MAG - Metal active gas welding is the second subtype of GMAW. It follows the same methodology as MIG except it uses an active shielding gas instead of inert. Simply changing the type of shielding gas allows a robot to switch between MIG and MAG applications. The ABB 1600 is an articulated robot commonly used to automate MAG welding applications.
- • TIG - Tungsten inert gas welding is another popular arc welding method for robotic automation. Also known as robotic GTAW, this process is best for when precision welds are needed. Manual TIG welding is a complex and slow process, which is why many prefer to automate it with the FANUC M-710ic/20L or the Motoman MA1900. TIG welding robots provide the skill and control needed for a successful TIG welding application.
- • Laser Welding - While traditional arc welding processes have been the most common for robotic automation, the non-conventional method of laser welding is becoming quite popular. Robotic laser welding allows for high accuracy with fast speeds for high volume part welding. The use of a laser beam to melt workpieces instead of an arc allows the ABB 2400L to weld without making contact with the metals. This creates greater workpiece access and a smaller heat affected zone.
- • Plasma Welding - Plasma welding involves converting an electric arc into plasma in order to melt metals together. Automating plasma welding with industrial robots allows for cleaner, more precise welds.
- • Spot Welding - Spot welding robots have become quite common in the automotive industry, where sheet metal welding is frequent. Spot welding is ideal for welding thin metals since it involves concentrated high amounts of heat to specific spots, preventing excessive heating or distortion of the metal workpieces. Spot welding requires great precision which is provided by the high repeatability of robots like the FANUC R-2000ib.