Utilizing Cobots for Welding: Gaining Productivity with Collaborative Automation
The American Welding Society estimates a deficit of 375,000 welders by 2026. This looming shift away from skilled labor has put significant pressure on manufacturers to look for new ways to keep productivity up. Collaborative robotics offer a user-friendly and effective way to fill the gap. This article discusses the basics of cobot welding, how they work, comparisons to other options, and a guide to integrating your first cobot welder.
The Basics of Cobot Welding
While collaborative robots are a relatively new technology in industrial manufacturing, welding is already a standardized task for these machines. Many integrators even offer prepackaged solutions specific to welding.
A significant benefit of collaborative robots can be found in their name. Their collaborative nature refers to their ability to work in a hybrid environment that includes proximity to people. They have extra sensors and features that reduce the risk of forceful contact-related injury. Cobots also boast features that make them much more approachable to those with little to no programming experience. This is a huge benefit when manufacturers struggle to keep enough skilled labor on staff.
How Welding Cobots Work
Cobots function very similarly to six-axis robots. They resemble multijointed arms capable of unmatched dexterity. Cobots are typically smaller than their industrial six-axis counterparts. This limits them to smaller applications compared to the range of industrial six-axis robots. The primary benefit of working with these machines is their teachability. This is important for welding tasks because using a complex machine would require you to hire experienced engineers to manage operations.
Cobots can be taught with simple interfaces and, in some cases, hand-guided commands. This makes them quick to deploy and easily approachable by operators of all skill levels. It’s common for those completely new to cobots to get acquainted with commanding motion paths and creating simple programs in under an hour.
Cobot welders are designed to be simply set up and deployed for most applications. Most manufacturers have pre-built welding libraries that make it easy to apply cobots to the specific needs of welding. Functions like tool-tip alignment and wire feed rates are immensely helpful for welding tasks. Cobot welding software often includes specific options that change motion characteristics based on the type of welding. This way, whether it’s a MIG, TIG, plasma, or laser application, you have confidence that the robot will perform at a high level.
So, who commonly makes use of this technology?
Any industry that commonly employs welders can take advantage of cobot welders. This includes metals industries and adjacent sectors. Examples include:
- General metals
- Machine shops
Cobots vs. Manual and Industrial Robotic Welding
There are several welding options available to you as a manufacturer. You can employ manual welders, industrial robots, or cobots for your welding tasks. Many manufacturers deploy more than one of these options at a time for maximum flexibility. There are benefits and drawbacks to all of these options. It’s important to understand these options before making a big decision.
Cobot welders fill an interesting void in the welding market. Cobots aren’t as big and fast as non-collaborative industrial robots. They aren’t as flexible as human welders in a dynamic work environment. So why would someone consider a cobot? The critical factor is their ease of use.
Cobots don’t require experienced robot technicians to manage them. They’re specifically designed for non-technical staff to program their movements. This is often done with a teaching pendant or by “hand-teaching.” Robots that support hand-teaching can be guided from point to point and “taught” the task it needs to perform. It can be taught again and redeployed when a new part is assigned. Cobots have a much faster deployment time than industrial robots since they don’t require the same complex code.
Cobots occupy a happy medium between manual welders and industrial robotics. They can be an excellent addition to an understaffed welding team to take on more of the repetitive tasks. Non-welders can even manage them to keep welders on task longer. This is especially important due to the specialized role welders hold in your manufacturing process. For manufacturers without any welders, the cobot’s role can be scaled to be the primary welding source for a facility.
Manual welding is the traditional option for welding tasks. Manual welders have long been the backbone of industrial manufacturing. However, due to various market pressures and shifts in the focus of the labor market, manual welders are becoming harder to find. Skilled welders can work productively and efficiently. There is no comparison to a welder’s ability to handle custom work. Robots need to be reprogrammed or retaught to deal with new welding tasks. However, even skilled welders can make mistakes. These mistakes lead to waste and lost revenue. These factors introduce risk and increase production pressures for manufacturers.
Industrial Robotic Welding
Industrial robot welders are a common sight in many industries. Automotive manufacturing is an excellent example of an industry that fully leverages the benefits of robotic welding. Robotic welders are big, strong, and fast. These attributes allow them to move heavy welding torches quickly and precisely across large motion paths. This is an essential factor when welding large vehicle frames and panels. Other options couldn’t keep up. However, these robots are highly sophisticated machines. They require experienced robot programmers to manage, program, and troubleshoot.
How to Integrate a Cobot Welder
While cobots are the easiest robots to integrate within the automation landscape, the process from starting your automation journey to achieving welding automation can still be a daunting task. This guide provides a broad overview of the steps required and factors considered to integrate a cobot welder.
Find a Supplier
Suppliers are your source for robots and their associated equipment. Cobots are becoming so mainstream that many suppliers even specialize in cobot applications. You’ll research brands, suppliers, and begin to gather quotes. There are a few different kinds of suppliers you might speak to:
- Cobot Manufacturers
- Prepackaged Solution Providers
Cobot manufacturers are those companies that design and build robots. These are the brand names you might recognize on the robot's side. You can often buy directly from these manufacturers. They will have the best knowledge of the equipment and how to deploy your machine.
Integrators often partner with the manufacturers to provide bespoke solutions to consumers. Integrators have access to a broad range of brands and technologies. They usually offer more flexibility for specialized solutions.
Prepackaged solution providers are similar to integrators. They often partner with a single manufacturer and offer a few specialized solutions for that brand. These packages are typically for standardized applications like welding and palletizing. These systems are quick to integrate due to their off-the-shelf nature. However, these providers can have less flexibility for specialized solutions.
Are you having trouble finding suitable suppliers? This stage of the automation journey can be overwhelming. HowToRobot’s network of over 16,000 suppliers is a great tool to use in your search. Check it out today!
Describe your Application
It’s critical to describe your application in detail to your supplier. The more information they have, the better they can provide a solution that matches your needs. Crucial information for suppliers includes:
- Type of welding
- Size of the largest product to be welded
- Infeed and outfeed process
- How the part will be controlled
After this, you’ll make your informed decision and purchase your cobot welding system. Now it’s time to integrate! You’ll need a plan to physically install the equipment and set up your first welding program. Most suppliers offer training to get your staff comfortable with the new equipment. Be sure to ask about training offers during the quoting process.
Cobot welding offers a perfect middle ground between manual and heavy-duty welding operations. Your specific requirements and labor pool will indicate if welding cobots are right for you. Those leveraging automated technologies find themselves at the forefront of the welding industry and have the best chance of being market leaders going into the future.
Still unsure if you’re ready? We’re here to help. HowToRobot guides customers at all stages of the automation journey. Start by telling us about your processes and get recommendations and quotes. Let us join you today!