Robotic TIG welding: How it works, benefits, & costs (2024)

April 3, 2024
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The main benefits of robotic TIG welding

There are quite a few reasons why you should automate with robotic TIG welding.

Let’s take a look: 

  • Precision and consistency take center stage. Robots tirelessly deliver precise, repeatable welds. They aren't subject to fatigue or distractions, ensuring each weld meets the highest quality standards. This consistency is especially important with the intricate welds often required by TIG processes.
  • Production gets a boost. Robotic TIG welders operate around the clock with minimal breaks (for maintenance), significantly increasing your production capabilities. With robots handling repetitive welds, your human workforce can focus on more complex and value-added tasks.
  • Costs take a nosedive. While robotic TIG systems require an initial investment, the long-term cost savings outweigh the upfront costs. Reduced labor expenses, efficient material usage, and fewer rework needs all contribute to significant savings and a swift ROI of 1-3 years.
  • Safety remains a top priority. Modern robotic TIG systems prioritize safety features and are designed for easy integration into your existing workflow. This provides a safer work environment for your employees while streamlining the implementation process overall.

Robotic TIG welding: What about the costs? 

While TIG welding robots offer outstanding benefits, they do represent a pretty sizable investment. You must carefully weigh upfront and ongoing expenses to make an informed decision.

Here's what to keep in mind:

  • The initial investment. The robotic arm itself is a major cost factor. Expect prices for a suitable six-axis arm to typically range from around $30,000 to $100,000 or more. This depends on capabilities like payload and reach. 
  • Additional essential components include the specialized TIG power source, torch, shielding gas supply, and any required enclosures. All told, a basic TIG robotic welding cell can cost between $75,000 to $200,000+.
  • Don't overlook the ongoing expenses. Your TIG robot will consume tungsten electrodes, shielding gas, and electricity. Also, factor in routine maintenance, replacement parts, and potential software updates for optimal performance. It's wise to budget approximately 10-15% of the purchase price annually for these operational costs.
  • Training! Your team will need training to safely and effectively program, operate, and maintain the new robotic TIG system. Include these training costs in your overall budgetary calculations.

Bottom line: Robotic TIG welding offers a powerful way to elevate your fab shop's quality, productivity, and overall efficiency. 

Installing a TIG welding robot in your fabrication shop

Choosing and installing a robot is the most important part of any TIG welding automation endeavor. 

To get set up, here are the steps:

  • 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. Look for one with a reach of at least 1 meter so it has an ample range of motion.
  • Your robotic arm will need to be equipped with an “end-effector.” This is the “hand” or tool of the robot arm — so make sure you choose a robotic arm with a high enough payload to lift the end-effector. This is particularly important with welding since your robot must also handle heavy cables. We recommend at least 10-15kg in payload capacity for a TIG welding robot.
  • Next, select a welding tool end-effector for your robot. In most cases, your robot arm’s manufacturer can recommend the best match. Remember, you’ll still need a separate welding power source and wire feeder to match your end-effector — the robot arm will be powered separately.

    For TIG welding, you'll want a power source that provides a consistent, stable arc, as well as a water cooler to prevent overheating. Have compatible cables, hoses, and torches on hand to connect the components.

Then install the robot, power source, and wire feeder on a sturdy platform or frame near your welding stations. 

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, amperage, and gas flow. 

You'll teach the robot the correct motion path, weld timing, and weld positions for each joint.

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Training your human welders to work alongside TIG welding robots

Now, you’ll need to ensure your experienced human welders are best prepared to work safely and efficiently with their new automated colleagues. 

Let’s take a look: 

  • Hold information sessions to educate welders about the robots, addressing any concerns about job security or safety. While most industry professionals are well aware of the labor shortages pressuring fab shops, clear details on what robots will and will not be used for can help put your welder’s minds at ease.

    Explain how the robots will handle repetitive tasks, freeing up humans for more complex, precision welding. 
  • Provide hands-on training for operating and programming the robots. Even though the robots will do most of the welding autonomously, welders should understand how to start, stop, and adjust the robots if needed. Allow plenty of time for welders to get comfortable working around the active robots.
  • Establish clear procedures for human-robot collaboration. For example, determine how welders will load and unload parts from the robot work area, how to properly hand off an in-progress weld to a robot, how welders and robots will share a welding cell, etc. Practice and revise these procedures to ensure maximum efficiency and safety.
  • Start with a pilot program using a limited number of robots and your most experienced or adaptable welders. As they become proficient in working together, you can scale up to more robots and welders. Continually solicit feedback to improve the program.
  • Provide ongoing support and additional training as needed. welding technology and robot capabilities are constantly evolving, so make continued education a priority for your welding staff. With the right training and experience, your human welders and TIG welding robots can work together as an automated, productive team.

Implementing safety features for robotic TIG welding

Robotic arms move at high speeds and conduct an arc welding process 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.

By the way: 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.
  • Use light curtains, laser scanners or pressure-sensitive mats 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.
  • Protective shields and barriers should surround the entire robotic work cell to guard against flying sparks and 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.

Summing up 

So there you have it, a step-by-step plan for bringing automated welding technology into your factory and alleviating the pressures of a nationwide welding labor shortage. 

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 TIG welding to your own business? RO1 by Standard Bots is the best choice for fab shops large and small:

  • Affordable: RO1 is the most affordable robotic arm in its class, starting at almost half the price of incumbent competitors. 
  • Powerful: RO1 is faster and more precise than competitors, despite having the highest payload capacity in its class at 18 kg.
  • 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 arrange a free 30-day on-site trial and get expert advice on everything you need to deploy your first robot.

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