There is no looming shortage of skilled welders. It’s here. Now. Manufacturers across the globe are struggling to find and retain skilled welders to meet their currentproduction demands, much less consider how to staff up togrow their business.
Thankfully, a new breed of welding robot that combinescollaborative robot (or ‘cobot’) technology, welding hardware, and easy-to-use programming software is helping smalland medium-sized businesses overcome these long-standinglabor challenges.
Cobot-based welding automation delivers all the benefitsof traditional automation, including improved quality and increased throughput and production. The similarities with traditional automation end there, however, because cobot-basedwelding springs from a fresh approach to robotics and to therelation between human labor and automation.
The result is enhanced welding cell performance withimproved throughput, productivity, ergonomics, and weldquality—all at a fraction of the cost of traditional robotwelding systems.
Why Welding Robots?
Back in 1999, the American Welding Society published a
survey of members about the shortage of skilled welders. The
survey indicated that 72% considered the situation problemat-
ic “now and for the long term, 14% did not see a shortage, and
the remaining 14% either see no shortage now, but expect one
in the future or see a shortage for 1999, but not for the future.”
Fast forward to today and manufacturing executives sur-
veyed as part of Deloitte’s 2021 Manufacturing Talent study
report that finding the right manufacturing talent is now 36%
harder than it was in 2018 and 77% expect to have ongoing
difficulties in attracting and retaining workers in 2021 and
beyond. Misconceptions about the ability of manufacturing
jobs to provide quality career experiences and work-life bal-
ance were a significant disincentive—particularly for younger
workers—the study found, and some 500,000 manufacturing
jobs remain unfilled in the United States alone.
Experts have been proposing the same solution to thisproblem since 1999—investment in vocational educationalprograms and robotic welding systems—without changingthe trend.
And unfortunately, traditional approaches to welding automation have left small to medium-sized businesses—andwelders—out in the cold.
Traditional Welding Robots
Originally developed for the automotive and heavy equipmentindustries, robot welding is used to automate high volume,highly repetitive, and dangerous welding processes.
Even today, traditional welding robots are held in largesafety cages, require experts to program, and are best suitedto low mix/high volume production. Both the robots themselves and the tooling they require are extremely expensive,which has made welding automation unaffordable for mostsmall-to-medium size companies.
As the robotic welding industry matured, success wasmeasured in cycle times and deposition rates, leading tothe development of technologies such as Through Arc SeamTracking. A small, highly specialized group of robot weldingexperts possessed the knowledge and skills to make deployments work. And, with every ‘advance’ in specialized softwarecounterintuitively making welding robots even more complex to operate, people with the required robot programmingskillsets have remained difficult to find and costly to hire.
Crucially, traditional welding robot systems were developed to replace human welders entirely, not to enhance thewelding experience.
So, traditional automation paradigms address the needsof large industries with low mix/high volume production,plenty of floor space, and deep pockets. Job shops and smallermanufacturers, especially those handling high mix/low volumeproduction, were simply not part of the conversation—andwelders were effectively written out of the equation.
The Cobot Paradigm
These traditional paradigms have been completely transformedby the emergence of cobot-based welding automation. First,cobot-based welding robots are available at a fraction of the costof traditional welding robots, which ensures a faster Return onInvestment (ROI) and lower Total Cost of Ownership (TOC).The affordable price point of cobot-based welding robots hasenabled numerous small to medium-sized companies to enjoythe benefits of welding automation for the first time.
by Rob Goldiez
JUST BE THE
Collaborative welding robots help solve businesschallenges, enhance welding experiences, andrewrite traditional automation paradigms.
All images courtesy of Hirebotics