The toughest welds to make are full-penetration, single-sided, V-butt pipe welds. Historically, ARC Specialties, a Houston-based developer of welding solutions, declined these jobs because joint fit-up was never repeatable.

“Only human welders with a ‘golden arm’ able to compensate for variation in root openings, weld center lines and groove volumes could handle this challenge,” said Dan Allford, president of ARC Specialties. “With the industry facing labor shortages, we decided to develop an intelligent machine with complete knowledge of pipe welding, with full motion and welding control.”

What they developed was the Artificial Intelligence Pipe Welding System, or AIPW, which incorporates the six-axis UR5 collaborative robot arm from Universal Robots (UR). Like other UR products, the UR5 is a cobot — a collaborative robot designed to work safely in proximity to humans. Allford, who refers to the cobot as that “golden arm” so rare in human welders, notes that the UR5 is “small enough to be portable, yet still allow full freedom of motion for both the laser scanner and welding torch.”

Here’s how it works: The AIPW is built to join the gap between two pipes by using artificial intelligence to determine paths, gap width and irregularities during the process. Pre-scanning of the root opening (or gap) between the pieces to be joined is performed with a 2D laser, and the data collected is used to generate the robot path and welding parameters. The robot is then able to compensate for gap variations by adjusting elements such as oscillation, torch position and travel speed. Using a tack weld as a reference point, multiple weld layers are added with regulated metal deposition (RMD). Pulsed spray is then used for the fill and cap passes, which employ user-selectable weave or stringer bead methods. This combination of gas metal arc welding techniques maximizes welding productivity while producing X-ray quality, full-penetration pipe welds.

“This implementation underscores our collaborative robots’ ability to handle heavy-duty processing tasks that demand both high precision and real-time adaptability,” said Stuart Shepherd, regional sales director of Universal Robots’ Americas division. “We’re excited to share this solution with the oil and gas industry.”

The AIPW system officially launches at the Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) in Houston, running May 6 to 9.