1 February 2022

How do you choose the best robotic welding solution? What approaches are there, and how do they differ?

Why is programming crucial when it comes to robots?
What do people forget to consider when choosing?
how do you choose the best robotic welding solution

When companies think about automating their production, they first start researching and comparing manufacturers of robots and welding equipment. They also look at the websites of integrators – companies that provide equipment installation services. Which is correct.

However, companies also tend to not consider how they will operate the installed equipment, even though this question determines how efficient the purchased equipment will be. And this is precisely what we will discuss in this article.

Among the leading manufacturers of robots are: Fanuc, Kuka, ABB, Yaskawa, Kawasaki, etc.

Among the leading manufacturers of welding equipment for robotic welding are: Fronius, Esab, Lincoln, Miller, Lorch.
What you should pay attention to when choosing an integrator:

  • specialization (companies often focus on operations, such as welding, painting, handling, etc.)
  • track record of successfully executed projects
  • use of new technologies, innovative solutions
There are 3 possible options:

  • Online programming (tech pendant)
  • Offline programming
  • Autonomous robots
Purchase of equipment
Installation of equipment
Management of equipment
How do the programming options differ, and what are their impacts on efficiency?

ONLINE PROGRAMMING (TEACH PENDANT)

The first programming method was developed by robot manufacturers. This is the so-called online programming. Using a teach pendant, the operator moves the robot to the desired positions and records the movements. You need to program each point of the robot's trajectories.
never use a tech pendant again
Online programming: each robot manufacturer has its program code and approach to programming.
It should be noted that each robot manufacturer has their own program code and their own approach to programming. If a programmer knows how to work with Fanuc robots, this knowledge will not be applicable to Kuka or ABB robots.

Another disadvantage of this method is downtime. Programming takes place inside of a cell, meaning the cell will not function during this time.

OFFLINE PROGRAMMING

To solve the issue of downtime, offline programming was invented. The idea here is to remove the need to program inside of the cell, moving the process to a virtual environment instead. The programmer still writes the code, but all of this happens inside a virtual twin of the cell.

It is worth noting that this method is more convenient for programmers (they sit at a computer, with no need to move a real robot), which speeds up the process a little, compared to online programming.

Offline programming also partially solved the issue of compatibility with robots of different brands. Offline systems can work with different equipment.
never use a robot programming again
An example of an OLP (offline programming) interface. On the right is a digital twin of the cell, and on the left is the program code
However, this way of programming created a new challenge that online programming did not present. Virtual and real cells are always slightly different:
  • Robots are not perfect, and deviations are possible;
  • The real working zone may differ from its virtual copy;
  • The part itself may differ from its perfect 3D model seen in the software, due to deviations arising in pre-production.
Thus, after creating a program in a virtual environment, the programmer still needs to test it on a real robot, using a teach pendant.
virtual and real robotic cells are always slightly different
Both options (online and offline programming) have been successfully used for many years, but they are only efficient in serial production. A simple example is the automotive industry. Before launching a robotic production line, a long time is required to program the work of every robot. After this, however, the line works flawlessly, producing millions of copies of identical products. At this scale, the cost of initial programming is irrelevant.

In high-mix production, however, this approach is no longer viable. An enterprise that produces hundreds of different types of parts constantly switches from one to another. In this scenario, both programming options require so much time and money that robots only lose you profit. In fact, this is the reason why robots are scarcely used. Even in the most advanced countries – South Korea, for example – there are only 932 units per 10,000 employees. Germany is at 371 units, and the USA is at 255 units per 10,000 jobs.

AUTONOMOUS ROBOTS

With new technologies, you can forget about programming at all. With AI and machine-vision-based software ABAGY, welding robots can be cost-effective even for custom projects and one-of-a-kind parts.
the new robot programming method
ABAGY software generates the robot path automatically in minutes
Firstly, programming is no longer needed. ABAGY generates the robot path automatically in minutes. Users upload a 3D model of their product, then they set the welding parameters. You no longer need a programmer; you only need a welding expert that you likely already have.
on-the-fly programming: adaptive robots
Thanks to machine vision, the software scans the working area and automatically adjusts the robot path to the real workpiece
Robots with ABAGY have machine vision. Before welding, they scan the working area and the part. If deviations are found, the system automatically adjusts the robot's path. This happens on the fly: robots and software exchange information in real time.

Another advantage is this: there is no need to place a part precisely at "zero points" with no deviations allowed, as is the case with both online and offline programming. Since robots scan the part and specify its location, it can be positioned freely. Fixtures can also be placed freely in the area. The system will see them and take their location into account when creating robot trajectories.

ABAGY opens the possibility for the use of robots in those industries where they previously were not used at all or used very little:
Bridge Structures
Truck-Trailer & Chassis
Shipbuilding
Commercial Construction
Heavy Construction Equipment
Utility Structures
Offshore Structures
Industrial conveyors
Step-by-step process for robotic welding with ABAGY
Short summary

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