Welding for the Future with Humans and Robots
Robotic welding is highly regarded for its many advantages over manual welding. Automating the welding process increases accuracy, sustains quality, allows for higher productivity, and lower operating costs. However, traditional welding robots can also have a shortfall; their inability to change their set-up and programming quickly and easily on the fly. It is for this reason that most welding robots are found in large-scale operations with repetitive tasks that keep to the same specification every day. But what about businesses with welding needs for smaller batches or custom specifications that change all the time?
Sean Low, National Project Manager at Yaskawa Southern Africa unpacks Weld4Me, a collaborative solution between humans and robots. "Collaborative robotics is humans working together with robots in close proximity without the need for extra safety guarding that would normally separate the two," he explains. "Weld4Me is a welding-specific solution where a human can safely stand next to a robot while the robot performs the actual welds for them without them having to pre-program the robot."
Weld4Me is aimed to serve the general welding industry with day-to-day welding needs like fabricators of steel furniture, gates, or burglar bars. As a supplement to MIG/MAG welding with air-cooled equipment, these collaborative robots work by feeding a wire through a contact tip to deposit the welding material directly onto the parts. And depending on a customer's specific needs, various brands of welding equipment can be fitted to these robots to spec.
"The biggest difference is that it is made for quick, easy programming by hand," says Low. "You don't need to have big, complex jigs to hold all the parts, so it's perfect for small batches where someone just needs to make a handful of parts, or even a single part." On how to use the collaborative robot, Low explains that, "The operator moves the end of the robot to where they need it and records the points. With the help of 'Weld Wizard', a simple (included) software tool, the operator can make a program, press go and watch on as the robot completes the weld."
But perhaps the biggest benefit for manufacturers beyond efficiency, is the ability to address the steep demand for skilled welders in a time where finding proficient artisans is at an all-time low. The Southern African Institute of Welding estimates that as much as 80% of South Africa's manufactured products and maintenance require welding. To make the most of a Weld4Me robot, operators do not need to be highly skilled welders themselves, but simply show a degree of understanding of the welding process.
While large-scale manufacturers have benefitted from the automation and precision of welding robots for years, there is finally a versatile solution for smaller and more specified welding needs. The future of the manufacturing industry lies in employees and equipment seamlessly working together. Simply put; The ideas of a human, implemented by a robot.