32 NEWEQUIPMENT.COM I DECEMBER 2017
now,” says Allford. “Everybody is trying to save money;
everybody is trying to select technologies that are simple
and fast. This system qualifies on all these fronts.”
While it is far too early to tell if this will play out as well
as Universal Robots’ past successes, Allford suspects
that it will make up a “significant portion” of his compa-
ny’s revenues in 2018. And, looking at the general state
of the welding industry, he could be right.
According to the American Welding Society, the average age of a welder today is around 55 years old. As
those experienced workers retire out, the industry could
face a shortage of as many as 372,000 welders by 2026.
If done right, the Snap Weld system could be a tool to
help fill that shortage with some real robotic expertise.
Robots vs Humans
It’s impossible to conclude a discussion of any automated system—particularly not one dealing with collaboratives—without addressing the jobs issue.
Perhaps because cobots perform jobs at roughly human speeds, and perhaps because those jobs have
been performed by humans for so long, these robots
have added new fuel to the robot takeover fears that
has been raging for the last 50+ years. Even with the
dire future facing the welding industry, developing what
might appear to be a robot replacement for experience
workers threatens to fan fresh flames.
But that line of thinking, Østergaard argues, is missing
the point of the technology.
“Our robots are not going for lights-out, fully-auto-
mated factories—they are a mix of man and machine,”
he explains. “They are creating a new kind of factory
that mixes machines with the process experts and
the product experts so they can get more out of their
“It’s not replacing humans,” he adds. “It’s optimizing
The system, he says, depends on humans, depends on
those experts already in place who know how to create
good welds. Without them, the robot is useless.
“People working on the shop floor know the processes,
they know the products, they know what good quality
looks like,” he explains. “Replacing humans with robots
is a bad idea—you are just throwing away the core knowl-
edge of your product.”
On the other side of this, Allford seems to take this
same human-centric perspective.
“Even with automation, I still need somebody that
understands what a weld puddle should look like,” he
says. “You give me that guy and I will teach him how to
run the machine and get him out from underneath the
welding wood. He’ll still be a welder, of course, but now
he’s a programmer, also.”
In that sense, they agree, a system like this is far
from a threat to the industry. It’s just, as Østergaard
explains, another tool.
“By giving these people a robot to use as tool to do their
work more efficiently, rather than replacing them with a
robot, you are creating more value for your operation,”
he says. “I know that sounds abstract, but it’s true.”
Even with the Snap Weld system barely on the market
for a month at this point, Allford is already dreaming up
new ways to apply Universal Robots’ collaborative tech-
nologies in the welding industry. For his next trick, he and his team are working on a new system called “CutBot.”
“We’re going to give the robot a plasma cutting torch
and, with the current plan, a magnetic base so you can
position the robot anywhere on your workpiece,” he ex-
plains. “It’s basically a robotic equivalent to a magnetic
The difference, though, is that, while drills limit you
with round holes, CutBot will achieve far more complex
“Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to do an octagon with
a quarter inch radius corners and 12 degree bevels?”
he suggests. “No human could do that. But CutBot will.”
And that, one could say, completes the automation
circle for collaboratives, taking us from far beyond the
realm of light-duty automation to add new skills and
capabilities to the market. Which is exactly the trajectory
we are on.
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