Robotics

Is Robotic Welding the Answer to the Shortage of Skilled Welders?

03 November 2017

Increasingly, manufacturers are having trouble finding qualified welders. One problem is that skilled welders are reaching retirement age and leaving the workforce. The average age of a welder in the U.S. is 55 years old according to a 2014 Bloomberg report. By 2026, there will be a workforce shortage of 372,000 welders according to the American Welding Society.

Automation can help companies address the worker shortage. Robotic welding is already well established in industry, although there is ample space for its expansion. Robotic welding with gas shielded wire currently makes up 20 percent of all welding, while humans perform the remaining 80 percent. Of all industrial robots, 43 percent are welding robots, and 31 percent of these perform resistance (spot) welding, 11 percent arc welding, and less than 1 percent laser welding.

Robotic Efficiency

Humans are less efficient welders than robots because they cannot operate all day, every day.Humans are less efficient welders than robots because they cannot operate all day, every day.With labor representing 85 percent of the cost of welding, robotic technology can reduce costs. Although the speed of a robot welding along a seam is nearly identical to the rate at which a human welds (due to the natural parameters of the physical processes involved), robotic welders are 4.5 times more efficient than manual welders. This is because robots can operate all day, every day. Compared to human welders, robots can produce three times more parts per day.

Other benefits of automating the welding process include increased quality and consistency, improved throughput, and safer workplace conditions. Automation can help companies add value to process operations, grow revenue and differentiate themselves from competitors.

The best applications for robotic welding are those with a high volume of parts, that fit easily in pre-engineered robot cells, and that involve welding across consistent gaps. Robots can perform a wide range of welding operations, including gas metal arc welding (GMAW) / gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW), metal inert gas welding (MIG) / tungsten inert gas welding (TIG), resistance welding, laser welding and oxy-acetylene welding.

Traditionally, robotic welding systems have had difficulty with challenging welding situations such as inconsistent gaps. In these circumstances, the expertise of a skilled human welder was necessary to produce a quality weld. Now, however, robotic welding systems are addressing shortcomings with essential welding functions such as real-time seam tracking and real-time adaptive process control. Touch sensing, seam tracking and adaptive fill can help robotic welding systems overcome inconsistencies such as varying gap sizes.

Offline Robot Programming

One barrier to robotic welding, especially for low-volume production runs, is the time it takes to program the robot for the welding operation. Offline robot programming software is available to make programming robots as easy as possible. This software can help operators quickly generate accurate robot trajectories in simulated environments. Many offline robot programming tools present a single platform that works with a wide range of robot brands and applications. This provides flexibility and reduces costs associated with dealing with multiple programming interfaces, such as licensing and training expenditures.

Robotmaster offline robot programming software. Source: Hypertherm, Inc.Robotmaster offline robot programming software. Source: Hypertherm, Inc.

Offline robot programming tools have a variety of features designed to cut the time spent programming robots to carry out tasks. Multi-robot support allows for the simultaneous simulation and programming of multiple robots of various brands. Automatic error detection can identify, visualize and map collisions and correct any problems by adjusting robot paths. Furthermore, workspace analysis can be performed to understand robot reach and work-piece positions and create optimized transition paths that minimize cycle times. In addition, support for automated external axes allows the software to create ideal, optimized, coordinated motion between the robot and external axes such as rails and rotaries. Finally, offline robot programming software can often export code for use directly by many different kinds of robotic control systems.

Offline robot programming tools are not limited to programming for welding operations alone. In addition to welding, the software can be used to program robots for machining, trimming, laser cutting, plasma cutting, water-jetting, painting, spraying, coating, dispensing, polishing, sanding, deburring, packaging, palletizing and pick and place operations.

There are a number of offline robotic programming software applications. A handful that were on display at the NY Automation and Robotics Conference 2017 included Octopuz, Robotmaster and Robot Studio.

The shortage of skilled welders in the U.S. is a reality facing manufacturers for the foreseeable future. Fortunately, automation can help fill the gap. Robotic welding capabilities are advancing to allow robots to handle not only simple, high-volume spot-welding jobs, but also advanced operations that previously could only be completed by the skilled hands of human welders. Moreover, robot programming tools are becoming increasingly sophisticated, allowing efficient generation of control code for any application. The future of robotic welding looks bright.

To contact the author of this article, email eric.olson@ieeeglobalspec.com


Powered by CR4, the Engineering Community

Discussion – 7 comments

By posting a comment you confirm that you have read and accept our Posting Rules and Terms of Use.
Re: Is Robotic Welding the Answer to the Shortage of Skilled Welders?
#1
lyn
2017-Nov-03 10:44 PM

Probably.

Automation is a solution that has been used many times before. Sometimes to fill a specific, legitimate need.

Other times used as a result of tax breaks to reduce the need for human workers, and pocket the cash.

Automation is inevitable.

George Jetson - Wikipedia

In one of the episodes, George complained of his heavy work load- having to push a button for one hour, two days a week.

Re: Is Robotic Welding the Answer to the Shortage of Skilled Welders?
#2
2017-Nov-04 10:58 PM

Is it possible that the direction towards automation will follow the same curve as cave man once did towards civilization ?

Where cave man knew nothing and did everything, modern man will know everything and do nothing.

Re: Is Robotic Welding the Answer to the Shortage of Skilled Welders?
#3
2017-Nov-06 9:30 AM

Not all welding jobs/demands are the same. Robotics are good for very repetitive mass-production applications. But, it will require a big learning/training/implementation plan. In the mean time, how about training the existing workers you already have, to fill in the non-full-time demands. Skilled human welders will always be needed for custom/prototype work. I took a welding class in the summer, when I was in high-school, but later became an electrician. There's no reason why someone in an unrelated field (bookkeeping?) can't learn welding. It's more of a matter of what you want to invest in. If temporary workers cannot be found, you might just have to train the ones you got.

Re: Is Robotic Welding the Answer to the Shortage of Skilled Welders?
#4
2017-Nov-14 9:24 PM

At the downside of a 40 plus year career in metal trades I will be the contrarian. Until myriad tech issues are resolved and fairly autonomous, reasonably bipedal humanoid form robots are common enough to be day labor, construction and specialty welding and fabrication will remain the domain of people.

Until that time, watch for a continuing significant inflation of the price to do that work due to supply and demand. The advent of robotics is a contributor to the dearth of welders. Training programs, once common in heavy industry have evaporated in industrialized countries as the shipyards, paper mills, petroleum industries etc have migrated away.

The cost efficiency of offshoring has created a vacuum of skilled tradespeople who once supported those smokestack industries but no longer need to. Unfortunately some of those skilled people also fed the construction and specialty businesses that had benefited from that deep bench and the consumer benefited from the market competition for those jobs.

The continued implementation of robotics further exacerbates that problem, making the cost of robotics go up. The absence of wholesale training and development of these skills puts those that originally benefited from globalization then at a global economic disadvantage now. It's that old unintended consequences thing.

It's OK with me. I install automation. It's a growth industry.

(You have to check off a captcha tickbox that says "I am not a robot" to post. Perfect.)

Re: Is Robotic Welding the Answer to the Shortage of Skilled Welders?
#5
2017-Nov-15 4:29 AM

Not all welding tasks can be handled by robots yet and if you need a Robot to weld in all conditions then there would be a significant increase in the work piece tolerances, fit ups which would lead to additional investments. Countries like India have started Skill Development programmes to train Welders, Fitters and other trades so that the youth can be gainfully employed. It may work out well for companies in the US to get welders from India ( a lot of Indian welders work in countries like Singapore, Middle East, Australia etc) like how the Software Industry is doing in US.

If anyone has any questions or requirements they may reach out to me directly at feroz.jinnah@gmail.com

Feroz

Re: Is Robotic Welding the Answer to the Shortage of Skilled Welders?
#6
2017-Nov-16 12:42 PM

More of a "threat" to welders is additive manufacturing. Once they get laser-sintering up to speed, we'll be making everything from ships to microcomponents using 3D printing. It will likely put a huge dent in the robotic welding market. My concern, from the social standpoint, it what is going to happen to the many fine people I know (of every generation) that just are not tech-oriented. Guys who just need to show up and do something physical for 8 or 10 hours, and take a paycheck home. I've begun to wonder if the government shouldn't step in and just put everybody on an even playing field by saying that a maximum % of any production facility can be automated. What will be the use of robotics and 3D printing, if a large proportion of the population is unemployed and alienated?

Re: Is Robotic Welding the Answer to the Shortage of Skilled Welders?
#7
In reply to #6
2017-Nov-16 1:19 PM

I get your concern, really I do. But consider this: Some people work to live, even if some live to work. If people had the choice of what to spend their "blood, sweat, and tears" on, then the GDP itself would have more meaning, apart from the monetary value. If one cannot find their own "reason to work", a monetary substitute would suffice until the time that they change their mind. And I might add, that if you're working just for the money, then it's the employer's goal that's being fulfilled, not your's. You'll still have the problem of what you want to spend your money on. What good is money, if there's nothing you want to spend it on? "Values" are not always monetary, and money is not always valuable. Sometimes, it's just too easy for a rich guy/entity to spend someone else's "blood, sweat, and tears", and not honor the money that the worker made.

Engineering Newsletter Signup
Get the Engineering360
Stay up to date on:
Our flagship newsletter covers all the technologies engineers need for new product development across disciplines and industries.
Advertisement
Advertisement

Upcoming Events

Advertisement