How to get started with robotic MIG welding in 2024

March 26, 2024
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A brief introduction to robotic MIG welding

Robotic MIG welding uses robot arms to automatically weld materials together using the metal inert gas (MIG) welding process. 

A MIG welding robot is programmed to join metal parts precisely and quickly with a continuous wire feed welding gun.

Robotic MIG welding systems are made up of a few essential components: 

  • The robotic arm
  • The welding power source 
  • The wire feeder 
  • The robotic end-effector (you can ask your manufacturer)
  • The welding torch 

The robot arm manipulates the welding torch along the weld seam, the power source provides current to melt the welding wire, and finally, the wire feeder pushes wire through the welding torch, and the welding torch joins the two metal parts together.

How do MIG welding robots work?

MIG welding robots are automated welding systems that handle the welding torch and manipulate it along the weld path. 

Let’s break down the components of a robotic MIG welding system: 

  • The robotic arm, typically an articulated arm with 5-6 axes of movement, holds and positions the welding torch over the workpiece. The wire feeder pushes welding wire through the torch at a controlled speed, while shielding gas like CO2 flows through the torch to protect the weld puddle. We recommend a payload of at least 15 kg
  • The control system is the brains behind the operation; it hosts the welding program, controls the robotic arm and wire feeder, and makes sure to maintain the proper timing of the wire feed and travel speed. As the arm moves the torch along the weld path, the control system adjusts parameters like welding current, wire feed speed, and travel speed based on the program.

To weld with a robot, you first need to program the robot by teaching it the weld path or uploading a CAD model. 

The robot then performs the programmed welds with an inhumanly high degree of repeatability and precision. 

Why automate MIG welds at all?

There are enormous benefits to robotic MIG welding. To make it short, automating the welding process can help improve quality, increase productivity, and help you massively reduce costs in your fab shop.

Here’s how robotic MIG welding helps: 

  • Massive gains in weld quality. Robots are very precise and consistent, producing high-quality, uniform welds day in and day out. They don’t get tired, distracted, or harebrained, and they follow the programmed path exactly.

    This results in welds that are the same every time with minimal spatter or errors. Also, the robot can access tight spaces and difficult joints which would be unwieldy (pun intended) for a human.

  • Robotic MIG welders can go on pretty much forever with near-zero breaks, increasing throughput and reducing work in progress. They can operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. 

    In essence, a single robot can do the work of multiple human welders, which lets you scale up production significantly. Plus, bots don’t require extensive training and have a very short learning curve to reach full productivity.
  • Big-time cost cutting. Although the initial capital investment in a robotic welding system can be pretty high, the long-term cost savings are substantial. As with any business, labor costs are a major part of any welding operation, so automating the process eliminates the majority of these ongoing expenses.  

    Then, there are consumables like welding wire, gas, and grinding wheels, which are also used much more efficiently. Robots produce minimal waste, saving on materials. Plus, these robots tend to generate a comparatively quick ROI of just 1-3 years.
  • Safety is still king. The advanced control systems and safety features of modern robots make them easy to program and integrate into your existing workflow without missing a beat — all while keeping things safe for your human employees. 

For any fab shop, robotic MIG welding simply offers huge opportunities to streamline operations, reduce expenses, improve quality, and boost output.

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MIG welding robots: Recommendations & costs

MIG welding robots aren’t cheap, but the long-term gains in productivity and quality can make the investment worthwhile for many manufacturers. 

If you’re shopping around for an MIG welding system, you’ll need to keep both the upfront costs and the ongoing operating expenses in mind. 

Think long and hard about these first: 

The actual purchase cost. The robot arm itself will likely be your biggest upfront cost. Prices for a basic Six-Axis arm suitable for MIG welding typically start around $30,000 to $100,000, depending on the payload capacity and reach you need. You’ll also need a welding power source, wire feeder, torch, and any necessary mounting equipment or enclosures. All told, a small robotic MIG welding workcell with a single robot arm can cost you $75,000 to $200,000 or more.

Don’t forget the ongoing costs to run your new robotic welding system. You’ll need welding wire, gas, and electricity to power the robot and welders. Maintenance costs include routine service, replacement parts, and periodic software upgrades to improve the robot’s performance or add new features. And of course, you’ll need to train your team to safely program, operate, and maintain the equipment.

Plan on budgeting at least 10-15% of the purchase price annually for operating costs.

All in all, robotic MIG welding brings a host of benefits to your fab shop. The initial investment may look like a hill steep to climb, but it’s well worth it!

How to implement robotic MIG welding in your fab shop

Once you’ve decided that you want to take the automation plunge, then you need to put your plan into action. 

The essential steps to implementing robotic MIG welding in your shop include:

  • First, evaluate your current welding setup and processes. Carefully assess what parts or welds are best suited for automation. You’ll also want to give some thought to the available floor space, power requirements, and how the robot will interface with other equipment. It may help to consult with different vendors to evaluate your options.
  • Second, think about the installation and setup. When your robot finally arrives, the vendor will typically oversee installation and programming. They can make sure you get proper positioning, mounting, and configuration of the robot, wire feeder, power supply, and any safety mechanisms like light curtains or fencing. 

    They will also program the robot with the correct welding procedures and parameters to get up and running.
  • What kind of safety barriers do you need in place? Robotic welding pretty much necessitates stringent safety practices to avoid injury. Proper guarding, emergency stops or “E-stops,” light curtains, and operator training are must-haves.

    Restrict or heavily limit access to the cell when the robot is operational, and install adequate ventilation and fire suppression equipment. As a rule, follow all recommendations from robot manufacturers and safety organizations.
  • Finally, you still need to train your staff. Even with an automated system, skilled welding operators are 100% necessary. You must train operators on proper setup, programming, troubleshooting, and maintenance of the robot.

    Yes, vendors often provide initial training, but ongoing practice and education are necessary to achieve all-around maximum efficiency and return on investment.

Summing up

That was a quick but thorough rundown on everything you need to know to get up and running with a robotic MIG welding system. 

We covered the basics of how these robots work, the major components involved in their operation, and the cost considerations. 

While it may seem daunting and maybe above your pay grade at first, we can guarantee that taking the plunge into welding automation can pay major dividends for your fab shop's productivity and quality. 

But don’t get overeager: Start slowly, follow safety protocols, and don't be afraid to lean on your equipment distributor or integrator for any additional support.

Next steps 

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  • Cost-effective genius: Priced 50% lower than its counterparts, RO1 brings high-level automation within reach for businesses big and small.
  • Performance revolution: Sporting an impressive 18 kg payload capacity and unbeatable speed and precision, RO1 continuously breaks new ground.
  • Safety-first design: With safety at its core, RO1 has an extensive array of sensors and safety mechanisms to guarantee secure interactions between robots and human workers.
  • Constant evolution: At the forefront of AI, comparable to GPT-4, RO1 stands out for its dynamic adaptability and continuous self-improvement.

Our dedicated team is here to help you seamlessly blend RO1's avant-garde features into your operations. Discover its capabilities with our 30-day no-risk trial!

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