Robotic Welding automation: A blueprint for implementing Spot Welders

July 13, 2023
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Installing a Spot Welding robot in your fabrication shop

Choosing and installing a robot is the most critical part of your spot welding automation process. Here’s our recommended plan of action:

First, choose a robot model that can handle the materials, welding positions, and production volumes you need. Many manufacturers offer Six-Axis robots specifically designed for welding, with the durability to withstand high heat for extended periods and the precision to produce clean welds over and over again. Look for one with a reach of at least 1 meter so it has an ample range of motion.

Next, choose an “end-effector” - the tool of the robot arm - which works best for your welding task. Your robot’s manufacturer will be able to make several recommendations. Make sure that you choose a robotic arm with a high enough payload to lift the end-effector. While spot welding torches are generally light, your robot will have to hold the weight of the cables attached to the welder. The robot arm and spot welding end-effector will be powered separately.

Finally, install the robot on a sturdy platform or frame near your welding stations and connect the power source. With all the gear in place, you'll need to program the robot's control software with the specific welding parameters for your parts. This includes details like weld sequence, travel speed and amperage. Through a programming interface, you’ll teach the robot the correct motion path, weld timing, and weld positions for each joint.

Training your human welders to work alongside Spot Welding robots

To successfully integrate Spot Welding robots into your factory, you’ll need to make sure your experienced human welders are best prepared to work safely and efficiently with their new automated colleagues. 

  • Organize informative sessions to educate welders about the integration of robots, addressing any concerns related to job security or safety. While industry professionals are generally aware of the labor shortages affecting fabrication shops, offering transparent explanations about the specific tasks robots will handle can alleviate welders' apprehensions.
  • Conduct hands-on training sessions to familiarize welders with operating and programming the robots. Even though the robots will predominantly handle welding autonomously, it is essential for welders to understand how to initiate, stop, and adjust the robots when necessary. Allocate sufficient time for welders to gain comfort and confidence while working alongside active robots.
  • Establish clear procedures for collaboration between humans and robots. Define guidelines for tasks such as loading and unloading parts from the robot work area, transferring ongoing welds between welders and robots, and ensuring safe coexistence within the welding cell. Regularly practice and refine these procedures to maximize efficiency and safety.
  • Initiate a pilot program with a limited number of robots involving your most experienced or adaptable welders. As they become proficient in working alongside robots, gradually increase the number of robots and involve more welders. Continuously seek feedback from the participants to enhance the program's effectiveness.
  • Provide ongoing support and additional training as required. As welding technology and robot capabilities evolve continuously, prioritize continuous education for your welding staff. With the appropriate training and experience, your human welders and Spot Welding robots can collaborate effectively as an automated and productive team.

Implementing safety features for robotic TIG Welding

When implementing robotic Spot Welding, safety should be your top priority. Robotic arms move at high speeds and conduct resistance welding with extreme heat, so proper precautions must be taken. With training covered, turn your attention to the many physical safeguards you can put in place to protect your workforce.

Note: You can mitigate many common safety issues with robots by purchasing a "Collaborative robot”, or Cobot, such as RO1. These robots come with built-in collision avoidance and emergency stop functionality. Despite this, it’s worth taking stock of the possible hazards in working with welding robots. 

Your robot’s manufacturer or your installation partner should be the ultimate source for information on a full safety solution, but here are our go-to tips for most fab shops:

  • Install emergency stop buttons that immediately cut power to the robot and the end-effector. Place them in easily accessible locations around the work area, but away from the hottest areas of the cell.
  • Use area scanners and proximity sensors to detect when a human enters the robot’s working area. These will signal the robot to stop moving until the area is clear again.
  • Ensure the robot is properly grounded to prevent electric shock. The grounding wire should be securely connected to both the robot arm and the welding power source.
  • Safety fences should surround the entire robotic work cell to guard against metal debris. Polycarbonate shielding is a go-to choice and can withstand high impacts and temperatures.
  • Ensure your operators wear proper welding safety gear like fire-resistant clothing, gloves, helmets, and respirators when operating or working near the robotic welder, even though they are not directly welding.
  • Post clear signage to indicate areas that only authorized personnel should access. This helps prevent untrained individuals from entering hazardous zones.
  • Install additional safeguards as appropriate based on an assessment of risks in your specific work environment. It’s better to be over-cautious when automated welding equipment and high voltage/heat are involved.
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FAQs: Common questions about robotic Spot Welding

Will automated spot welding replace human welders?

Automating spot welding will not replace human welders entirely. Robotic welders excel at high-volume, repetitive welding tasks which describe most spot welding tasks, but human welders are often still the best choice for complex welds, one-off projects, and situations where adaptability is required. Many factories are choosing to use robotic welders for simple, repetitive welds while keeping human welders on staff for more complex jobs, TIG/MIG welds or to oversee their robotic colleagues. This hybrid approach allows companies to improve efficiency and quality while still valuing the human workforce.

How much does a robotic spot welding system cost?

The cost of automating spot welding can vary significantly depending on the scale and complexity of your operations. Basic robotic welders start from $5/hour with RO1, while large-scale automated welding lines can cost $500,000 or more after factoring in the robot, welding equipment, software, programming, and integration. While the upfront costs of automation may seem high, many manufacturers find that the increased productivity, improved quality, and reduced long-term costs ultimately make the investment worthwhile.

Will I need to retrain my welding staff?

Some retraining of your human welders may be required once your Spot Welding bots are in place. Your welders will need to learn how to properly set up, program and oversee the robotic welding equipment. They may also take on more supervisory and quality control roles as robots take over some of the physical welding work. Many welding technicians find that developing robotics skills enhances their career opportunities and job security in an increasingly automated industry.

What types of spot welding jobs are best suited for automation?

The types of spot welding jobs best suited for automation include:

  • High-volume production jobs
  • Repetitive seams
  • Simple weld positions (flat or horizontal)
  • Intricate welds, such as automotive body panels
  • Limited access welds (in confined spaces or overhead)

In general, most spot welding tasks are repetitive and therefore do not require complex programming or frequent adjustments. Provided these are high-volume and justify the initial investment costs, almost any spot welding application is suitable for automation. Automating these welds frees up your skilled human welders to focus on more complex, custom work.

Conclusion

So there you have it, a step-by-step plan for bringing automated spot welding technology into your factory and alleviating the effects of the nationwide welding labor drought. While the process may seem daunting, by following this blueprint you'll be up and running in no time. Once implemented, you'll immediately start to reap the benefits of increased productivity, improved weld quality, and cost savings. Not to mention, your welders will appreciate being freed up to focus on the more complex, intricate welds that still require a human touch!

Next steps

Interested in bringing robotic spot welding to your own business? RO1 by Standard Bots is the best choice for fab shops large and small:

  1. Affordable: RO1 is the most affordable robotic arm in its class, starting at almost half the price of incumbent competitors. 
  2. Powerful: RO1 is faster and more precise than competitors, despite having the highest payload capacity in its class at 18 kg.
  3. Collaborative: RO1 comes equipped with safety sensors and built-in collision detection, for safe operation anywhere on your shop floor.

Speak to our solutions team today to organize a free, 30-day onsite trial and get expert advice on everything you need to deploy your first robot.

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