Robotic welding technology constitutes an important and growing component of the increase in industrial robotics applications. New technology and new applications of existing industrial robots help drive this trend.

New products

Pemamek’s new PEMA Nozzle Welding Solution automates welding on heavy duty, thick-walled jobs such as pressure vessels. The technology incorporates laser scanners that automatically create welding programs using topographical information obtained from workpiece scans. Pemamek’s WeldControl software mediates communication between operator and machine. The PEMA Nozzle Welding Station can accommodate workpieces measuring 500 mm to 2,000 mm in diameter, up to 6,000 mm in length, 100 mm to 1,000 mm in nozzle diameter (30 mm without scan function and depending on vessel radius), a 300 mm distance between nozzles and a weight of 15 tons.

Figure 1: Arc welding as part of a Motoman ArcWorld 6200 system. Source: Wikimedia/CC BY 3.0Figure 1: Arc welding as part of a Motoman ArcWorld 6200 system. Source: Wikimedia/CC BY 3.0In March 2020, Universal Robots released a suite of 20 cobot application-oriented kits, including two for welders. The company presents these kits as a convenient path to plug-and-play deployment. The UR+ kits collect solution components, including end effectors, accessories and software, that simplify the tooling process preparing a robot arm for a specific application. The company worked with its partners to optimize kit components. One welding application combines a robot arm with an induction heating system to create the Dragon 15 brazing system. The second application, the Vectis Cobot Welding Tool, integrates Universal’s UR10e cobot with a modular fixturing cart, simplifying installation and start-up tasks.

Austrian structural steel component supplier Zeman announced in January the deployment of its first fully automated steel beam assembly system. The system, which produces corrugated web beams, reduces welding costs by relying solely on robots, which also speeds the construction process. Zeman introduced the system at SteelFab 2020, held in January 2020 in the United Arab Emirates.

Cloos Robot’s new QIROX QRC-30/45/60-PL robot arm offers versatility and flexibility for welding, handling and grinding applications. The six-axis, low-weight articulated arm can be used upright or mounted overhead. The robot’s wrist assembly accommodates tools weighing between 30 and 45 kg. An advantage is the large working space — 4,500, 4,200 or 3,900 mm — that occupies a modest amount of floor space. Cloos states that the new equipment has a long service life with low maintenance requirements, and the modular design accommodates retrofits and extensions.

New application for existing equipment

Manual soldering of small electronic components frequently causes process fatigue for humans. MIG-O-MAT, a supplier of precision soldering solutions, sought to obviate this fatigue by completely automating electronics soldering technology. The company partnered with Elmotech and TV Robotics to apply Toshiba’s TVL six-axis robot technology to the challenge. MIG-O-MAT announced the collaboration’s successful micro-precision soldering solution in late January.

Waiting in the wings

U.K.-based Forth Engineering is developing a leak-repairing welding robot that can travel safely through an oil pipeline. The robot — dubbed FSWBot (which stands for friction stir welding robot) — can carry a metal patch, affix the patch to the pipeline and weld the patch in place, all while oil is flowing normally. The remotely operated modular robot inspects pipeline walls with its onboard camera. Other robot segments control navigation, motion and repair actions. Despite the counterintuitive nature of this technology, Forth’s proof-of-concept testing demonstrates the feasibility of welding surrounded by oil. Forth’s partners in the development enterprise include The Welding Institute, Joining 4.0 Innovation Center, Innvotek and London South Bank University. The partners expect to deliver a working prototype in early 2021.