Automating a welding application involves more than just selecting a welding robot. There are several components that make up a robotic welding package. While the articulated robot is an important component another component that is often overlooked is the wire feeder.
Wire feeders are needed for robotic welding for processes that use a filler wire. Wire feeders are the machines used to constantly feed the filler metal to the weld pool. They are typically mounted on top of the robotic arm and kept separate from the power supply. Mounting the feeder to the robot streamlines the robotic welding system. Newer welding robots, such as the FANUC Arcmate 120ic, feature internal cabling which allows the wire feeder motor cable to be run inside the robotic arm, preventing cable wear and potential interference with the robot’s operation. Newer welding robots also may feature a ledge near the back on the robotic arm for wire feeder integration. For example, the Yaskawa MA1440 features this design. For older welding robots the wire feeder is mounted directly on top the robot arm, as is the case with the FANUC Arcmate 120ib.
Not every robotic welding application requires a wire feeder, only those using a filler wire. Wire feeders are mainly used for gas metal arc welding, also known as MIG. They are also used for flux cored arc welding, FCAW, and gas tungsten arc welding or TIG. Wire feeders are especially beneficial when welding thin metals and non-ferrous metals, particularly aluminum.
There are two types of wire feeders. The first type is an electrode wire feeder. This type is used for welding processes involving a consumable wire electrode. Those automating a MIG process with the FANUC Arcmate 100ic or similar six axis robot would need an electrode wire feeder. Electrode wire feeders allow the electrode to join the weld circuit, melting the filler metal from the electrode forming the weld deposit by crossing the arc.
The second type of wire feeder is a cold wire feeder. A cold wire feeder is mainly used for automated TIG welding since this process uses a non-consumable electrode. An electrode from a cold wire feeder does not become part of the weld circuit or cross the arc. Instead, the filler wire melts from the arc’s heat and becomes the welded metal instead of the weld deposit.
There are many different wire feeders out on the market for robotic welding. When selecting a wire feeder, it is important to choose one from a reliable manufacturer and one that will be compatible with your welding robot. It is also important to ensure the wire feeder you select is capable of being used for your robotic welding application. For instance, for a MIG application you would not want a cold wire feeder, instead you would need an electrode wire feeder. Aside from compatibility with your welding robot and welding process, you will also need to ensure the wire feeder you select is compatible with your power source. Many robotic equipment suppliers sell robotic welding packages with all components of an automated welding system included. Buying an entire welding package can ease the selection process for welding equipment as all components in the package will be compatible with one another.