• »
  • »
15 OCTOBER 2022

Robotic Welding. How to know if robots are right for your production

According to the American Welding Society (AWS), the US is projected to face a shortage of 400,000 welders by 2024. Already, 80% of welders are over 35 years old, and young people do not want to take on this dangerous and hard work. The problem of such a huge welder shortage needs new solutions. A possible way out is the robotization of production.

Main topics:

What is robotic welding?

Robotic welding is an automated welding process using welding robots and other robotic equipment. To describe this equipment set, the term robotic cell is usually used. Robot welding configurations can vary:

  • one/multiple robots
  • one/multiple work areas
  • with/without external axes (linear motion, gantry, positioner)
According to the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), North American robot sales are on the rise. In Q4 2021, a record was set — 39,708 units sold. The 12,305 robot units sold in Q2 2022 is 25% more than the number sold in the same period in 2021 — and 6% more than in Q1 2022, which saw 11,595 robots sold. Expectations for Q3 and Q4 2022 are also high. This means that more and more manufacturers are switching to robotization.

How is robotic welding different from manual welding?

High-quality, durable, smooth, accurate welding seams
Contemporary welding robots ensure constant first-class quality, needed quantity, and maximum accuracy. Automatic robot welding equipment makes no mistakes and provides precise positioning with an accuracy of 0.03-0.05 mm. Below are two pics to compare seams welded by a human and a welding robot under equal conditions.
A robot welder, unlike a human who has to change his position during the welding, can easily reach any point of a workpiece regardless of the complexity of the geometry. Also, a robotic welding arm can move in sync with the positioner in a robotic cell, which provides weld consistency and smoothness.
Arc time
Arc time is the time spent actually welding during welding works, expressed as a percentage. On average, a welding robot's Arc Time is 70-90%, and that of a human is 10-30%. A robot welder is 3-5 times more effective. Moreover, automated welding robots do not depend on nighttime or weekend shifts, breaks, or interruptions.

Savings on consumables
In addition, robotic welding also saves money on consumables:
  • 10% on wire (welding robots use the precise parameters needed, while a human often uses a bit more than necessary)
  • 10% on gas (welding robots are also more accurate in gas consumption)
  • 30% on grinding welds after finishing welding (after robotic welding, grinding is either not needed at all, or the need is significantly less)

Safe production process and repeatability
Safety is one of the most important factors, and welding robots ensure operational continuity.
Robotic welding guarantees result repeatability and welding production efficiency. Unlike a human, automatic welders do not depend on mood, experience, health condition, or level of skills. Robotized systems are free of fatigue and distraction risks.

How are robots used in different industries?

The main driver of robotization has always been automotive. For a long time, it was believed that robots in welding were fit only for mass production, where thousands of identical products are produced.

The problem was in the robot programming. Imagine if you had a crane beam or trailer frame and each time it was pre-assembled by people it was not perfect with small deviations, that was, for a welding robot, this was a unique product. In the traditional approach, you needed 2-3 days to program each part, while the welding process itself took only several hours. Of course, they didn't want to use robots.

But today, ABAGY has developed a unique software based on AI and machine vision that solves the problem of robotic welding programming. The system generates robot trajectories on the fly and automatically adapts to deviations of the part or its position in the robotic cell. This makes welding robots both flexible and adaptive, and therefore cost-effective for a large number of non-serial industries, for example:
More industries recognized that robotics could help reverse productivity declines and fill repetitive jobs human workers don’t want. It is no longer a choice whether to deploy robots and automation.
— Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3)
According to the A3 in 2021 non-automotive orders represented 58% of the North American total robot units sold, in particular, Metals: up 91% over 2020.

For non-serial manufacturers, automation & robot welding application, in turn, is an opportunity to become stronger than competitors in the market.

Main Types of Robotic Welding Processes, particularly Arc Welding

The method of robotic welding and welding equipment is selected based on the specific production task. There are several types of welding including Arc Welding (MIG/MAG, TIG, Sub Arc Welding), and Laser Welding.
Arc Welding
Electric Arc Welding is deemed the most versatile and affordable. It is the process of generating enough heat for melting the metal as the result of the arc that occurs between the electrode and the metal being welded. TIG and MIG/MAG welding are the most common robotized welding processes and subtypes of Arc welding technology.

What is an arc welding robot? It is a compound system consisting of the welding equipment supplying the energy generated by the welding source and the robot synchronizing the heat source positioning and the workpiece.
TIG welding
TIG (tungsten inert gas) welding is an arc welding process that produces the weld with an unmelted tungsten electrode. Among the advantages of TIG welding are the detailed precision and various applications. The disadvantages of TIG welding are the time-consuming and complex process, and safety issues. Usually, TIG is used for CrNI or aluminum and titan applications which requires a special quality (complete fusion, concaved weld face and smooth weld toe, no welding discontinuities, special structural, mechanical, or chemical properties) of welds, such as pressured vessels, tanks, pipes, parts of aircraft/space/deepwater machines or components.
MIG/MAG welding
MIG (metal inert gas) welding uses a feed wire that constantly moves through the gun to create the spark, then melts to form the weld. MIG/MAG welding processes can be used with components of various thicknesses and geometries made from different materials, including steel, aluminum, and titanium. It is with this type of welding that the manufacturer most often begins robotization. MIG/MAG is a universal applicated welding process with a comparable high deposition rate but due to the open arc and specialties of material transfer, it is not so precise. It is typically used for carbon steel; less in aluminum and CrNi applications. Most structural building constructions, machine parts, and automotive and agricultural parts with medium thicknesses are welded with MIG/MAG welding.
Submerged arc welding (SAW)
This welding method applies filler wire of large diameters. But instead of gas filling the entire weld area, only powder flux is used and poured over the weld. At high temperatures, the flux begins to release gas which protects the parts being welded from oxidation. Also, it uses special chemical compositions for welds. Flux is transferred continuously during the seam welding process. There are not many robotic solutions for this kind of welding due to the difficulties of transferring wire and flux and the limitations of welding positions. Usually, submerged arc welding is used for high thicknesses and deposition rates, typically for butt welds with root backing and fillet welds in a flat position.
Laser welding
Laser welding is a metal welding method used for the particularly precise joining of parts where the laser functions as a welding source. This welding type is applied in various industries for complex parts. Automated robots allow esthetic, even, and smooth seams without deformations or curvatures. Laser welding robots guarantee high precision and good performance. Typically used for low-thickness constructions and precise parts.
Pipe welding
Most pipes and piping products are circular and therefore require curved welds. Strictly speaking, this is not a type of welding, but rather a frequently encountered market request. The variety of pipe diameters makes welding robot arm programming a bit more complex than when it comes to non-circular parts. But with ABAGY, programming is not required here either.

Types of Welding Robots. Industrial Robots and Cobots

There are two types of robots industrial robots and collaborative robots (cobots). Six-axis industrial robots have been used in production for a long time. Collaborative robots appeared relatively recently, their key difference is the ability to work together with a person. They are equipped with special sensors, which do not allow them to harm humans coworkers. Usually, collaborative robots are small in size (compared to a human). In 2021, out of 517,000 robots sold in the world, 39,000 of them were collaborative ones. That is, so far a small market share.
The main cobot applications are Handling, Palletizing, Loading/Unloading, and Inspection. Cobots are light, compact, and safe. There are also welding collaborative robots. However, if your priorities are speed and accuracy, opt for industrial robots. They are also a better fit when it comes to welding.
Industrial robots
Cobots
Safety
Require a safety system
Safe, can work with a person, equipped with sensors that will not allow collisions or harm to a person
Accuracy and repeatability
Typical repeatability ± 0.03mm at multiple moving to the same point as well as high accuracy of linear and circular trajectories
Typical repeatability ± 0.03mm at multiple moving to the same point but with low accuracy of linear and circular trajectories
Speed
2.5x faster
Slower (so as not to harm the person)
Reachability
10-15ft
up to 6.5ft
Load capacity
10-2000kg
up to 20kg
Weight and size
Heavy. With high load capacity, they can additionally install heavy equipment (welding packages, any technical vision).
Lightweight, compact, and mobile. But additional heavy equipment cannot be hung on them.
Design
They may have a hollow robot arm, which is important for efficient welding
They don’t have a hollow robot arm.

They are often made of aluminum and have a lot of plastic parts. Need a protective case.

Welding Robots Manufacturers

What are the top welding robot manufacturers in the world?
It should be noted that ABAGY is compatible with all major robot manufacturers. But we will talk about five well-known robot brands.
Fanuc was founded in 1958. It is a Japanese group of companies that include Fanuc Corporation of Japan, Fanuc America Corporation of Rochester Hills, Michigan, USA, and Fanuc Europe Corporation S.A. of Luxembourg. It produces around 8,000 industrial robots every month at its factories in Japan.

Fanuc Welding Robots: ARC Mate 100iD, ARC Mate 120iD

Welding Machines Manufacturers

Among the key manufacturers of welding equipment for robotic welding are Lincoln, Miller, Fronius, Esab, and Lorch. It is important that modern welding machines can operate with special algorithms of WFS/Voltage/Current for operations that provide better welding properties, especially for root welds, high-speed welds, etc.
Lincoln Electric was founded in 1895 and currently manufactures welding products, arc welding equipment, welding consumables, plasma, gas apparatus, oxyfuel cutting equipment, and robotic welding systems, with a revenue of $2.8+ billion. The company is headquartered in Euclid, Ohio, with manufacturing facilities in Europe and America. 

Products: Lincoln Electric Power Wave

Welding Parameters and Weld Quality

In the ABAGY system, you can set all the necessary welding parameters, including, Weld Speed, Work Angle, Travel Angle, Offsets, Weavings, etc. ABAGY automatically integrates with welding power sources, and in addition, allows you to provide more specific settings for example, a specific type of weaving for vertical seams not usually provided by any robot systems.

The Welding Procedure Specifications (WPS) that you used for manual welding will need to be adapted for robots. But robots will be able to ensure that the necessary standards and requirements are met regularly and accurately, unlike humans. And also the welding knowledge that makes your production unique will be digitized it will no longer be stored in the minds of the most experienced welders, after whose retirement it may disappear, it will be stored in the robotic system of your enterprise and can be reused in any of your production sites.

As we noted above, robotic welding provides higher quality than manual welding. Quality is also measured through visual inspection and tests. For example, below are the metal cuts that were made in the ABAGY laboratory.

Robotic Welding Programming Software

As we mentioned earlier, robot programming is one of the crucial factors in the use of robots. This was the main limitation of the distribution of robots in non-serial production.

There are three methods: online programming with teach pendant, offline programming, and autonomous welding without programming.
Online programming
The first programming method was developed by robot manufacturers. Using a teach pendant, the operator moves the robot to the desired positions and records the movements, thus forming all the necessary trajectories of the robot's movement. It should be noted that each robot manufacturer has its own program code and its 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 is robot downtime. Programming takes place inside of a cell, meaning the cell will not function for the duration of the programming.
Offline programming
Offline programming solved the issue of robot downtime, moving the process to a virtual environment. The programmer still creates trajectories for robots and writes the code, but all of this happens inside a virtual twin of the robotic cell. Offline programming also partially solved the issue of compatibility with different robot brands.
ABAGY software, based on AI and machine vision
Unlike existing programming methods, with ABAGY you don't have to program at all. The software generates robot trajectories automatically. Further, using machine vision, the robot adapts to all changes, including determining the position of the part, deviations during pre-assembly, and the availability of fixtures or clamps. To set a task, you only need to load a 3D model of the product, select the welds, and set parameters for them. The robots and software will do the rest.

In the case of ABAGY, the technologist who has knowledge of welding sets the robot task, then the operator starts their performance in the robotic cell. Almost any employee, including a welder, can become an operator. The company does not need a specialist in programming or robotics.
Thus, thanks to new technologies, robotic welding is becoming available to a huge number of manufacturers. And this is one way to solve the sharp shortage of welders that many countries, including the US, are facing.
CONTACT US
If you have any questions about robotic welding, feel free to send us a request. Our engineers will consult you.
By clicking the button you agree to our Privacy Policy

NEXT POSTs FOR YOU

Subscribe to ABAGY Robotic Welding Vlog

New video every Tuesday

Don't miss the latest news. Subscribe to our newsletter!