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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, etc.

Among the leading manufacturers of welding equipment for robotic welding are: Fronius, Esab, Lincoln, 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
Robots need programming. There are 3 possible options:

  • Online programming
  • Offline programming
  • On-the-fly programming (adaptive robots)
Purchase of equipment
Installation of equipment
Management of equipment
How do these programming options differ, and what are their impacts on efficiency?
ways to program robots

ONLINE PROGRAMMING

The first programming method was developed by robot manufacturers. This is the so-called online programming. This method involves programming directly in a robotic cell. To execute the programming, a teach pendant is used. Using the device, the operator moves the robot to the desired positions and records the movements, thus forming all the necessary trajectories of the robot's movement.
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 creates trajectories for robots and writes the code, but all of this happens inside of 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. It led to the creation of offline systems that are compatible with different robots.
never use a robot programming again
An example of an OLP (offline programming) interface. On the right is - a the digital twin of the cell, on the left - 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 – that is, pick up the teach pendant and "train" the robots further.
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-variance 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.

ON-THE-FLY PROGRAMMING (ADAPTIVE ROBOTS)

The new programming method allows us to solve two key issues that the other two options cannot solve. The method was developed by ABAGY Robotic Systems.
the new robot programming method
On-the-fly Programming: the software generates all the robot trajectories automatically in a matter of minutes.
Firstly, programming is no longer needed. Our software generates all the robot trajectories automatically in a matter of minutes. A user uploads a 3D model of their product, the system then finds all the welds by itself, and all you have to do is set their parameters and welding sequence. 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 the machine vision, the software scans the working area and automatically adjusts the program to the real workpiece.
Secondly, there is no need for additional training of robots. 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 trajectories of the robots. 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.

This makes robots viable for all productions, from serial to high-variance to one-offs even. The method 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
Here are two videos that explain how Abagy works.
See the simplicity for yourself
20 welds programmed in 2,5 minutes
Step-by-step process for robotic welding with ABAGY
To learn more about the features of ABAGY, visit our “Product” page
Here is a short summary comparing the three methods discussed above
In our next article, we will discuss how to calculate the economic efficiency of robots at an enterprise.

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