Automated welding made efficient

Novarc Technologies, a full-stack robotics company specialising in the design and manufacturing of cobots and AI systems for robotic welding applications, aims to address the shortage in welders with their autonomous SWR cobots. 

Novarc Technologies is a robotics company based in North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

The company specialises in developing advanced robotic welding solutions for industrial applications.

Their flagship product is their Spool Welding Robot (SWR), which is designed to automate the welding process for pipe spool fabrication in industries such as oil and gas, power generation, shipbuilding, mining, and construction.

Currently, a surge in demand for pipe welding has been observed across emerging industries such as server farms, biopharma plants, and carbon capture plants, creating new requirements that did not exist previously.

Compared to more common industrial robots, the SWR has several advantages.

“The 6-axis industrial robots were programmed to do many repeat parts but when you try to use them for high mix / low volume applications, the economics of a traditional industrial robot start to break down given that the time to program those robots will be substantial compared to the actual run of the robot.”

These robots are categorised as co-operative robots or cobots for short, meaning that they can safely operate in  tandem with human workers.

Manufacturers’ Monthly spoke with Soroush Karimzadeh, CEO and co-founder of Novarc; he explained that cobots were designed to address the limitations of traditional robots.

“Australia is facing critical demand of welders, and the magnitude of the problem is something that needs attention; if it’s not dealt with, it’s going to slow industry development,” he said.

Addressing shortages in welders

Geoff Crittenden, Weld Australia CEO, predicts that the Australian industry will have a shortage of up to 70,000 welders.

Rising expenses and prolonged timelines have led to significant hindrances in the construction of industrial facilities essential for fulfilling the demands of both developed and developing economies worldwide.

Adding to the complexity of this formidable challenge is the fact that pipe fabrication facilities are responsible for providing key infrastructure to various global sectors.

This includes oil and gas, energy utilities, mining, water and wastewater management, shipbuilding, chemical, and nuclear plant construction, and maintenance, all which need highly proficient welders to manufacture key components.

Karimzadeh explained that Novarc was inspired to design and manufacture cobots specifically to address this impending shortage.

“The problem we are solving for our customers is that they are having to rely on a scarce supply of skilled welders to be able to meet the demands for pipe welding, and this collaborative robot as a tool, can help human welders be much more productive,” he said.

“We worked with initial customers in the oil and gas industry, based in Alberta, Canada, who were wanting to see the pipe welding process automated.”

“We worked closely with them to better understand the problem they were trying to solve, the needs, the production flow, and how it could be instrumental to their business and their success.”

Novarc’s SWR is the world’s first collaborative welding robot, offering pipe fabrication shops a collaborative welding automation alternative that addresses the scarcity of welding labour, which can change how clients approach bidding on projects.

The SWR streamlines the pipe welding procedure, operating in tandem with a human operator, to enhance productivity, weld precision, and uniformity.

This can enable clients to potentially recoup their capital investment within a span of six to 18 months.

Success stories

A notable example of Novarc’s cobot success is its partnership with Kleeberg, a company specialising in sheet metal and mechanical services.

By incorporating SWR into their operations, Kleeberg significantly improved welding efficiency and productivity, showcasing the practical impact of Novarc cobots in manufacturing settings.

“The adoption of the SWR allowed Kleeberg to complete welding tasks on 12-inch pipe joints in just 10 minutes, a substantial improvement over previous timelines.”

Novarc cobots have also contributed to cost and labour savings, operational efficiency, and technological leadership advancements.

“Kleeberg realised significant cost savings per weld, approximately $25 for smaller pipes and around $45 for larger pipes, alongside a notable decrease in labour costs by 12-15 per cent,” Karimzadeh said.

“The implementation of the SWR contributed to a 12-15 per cent timesaving in Kleeberg’s operations, highlighting the operational efficiency gained through this technology.”

“With 95 per cent of their welding now conducted using the SWR, Kleeberg has positioned itself as a frontrunner in industrial efficiency and technological adoption, setting new industry standards in welding productivity and quality,” Karimzadeh explained.

This case study demonstrates how Novarc’s cobots effectively tackle distinct manufacturing obstacles, resulting in notable enhancements in productivity, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness.

The cobots can ultimately catalyse a transformative impact on conventional industrial processes.

Implementing cobots

In explaining the distinct advantages of using cobots, Karimzadeh explained that they can seamlessly integrate into customers’ production flows and existing manufacturing processes.

The SWR is designed to be easily integrated into a wide range of pipe fabrication shops, accommodating different layouts, and meeting specific operational requirements with flexibility and ease.

“It’s basically designed to be minimally intrusive to the production flow. It’s designed to work with positioners’ existing equipment that customers technically have worked with before and understand,” Karimzadeh said.

“Novarc provides its own positioners but in terms of existing processes, we’re following the same roll welding processes as many of our customers use and in addition, we are changing it up from manual welding to mechanised weld and robotic welding.”

“We also have a very accommodating set of requirements for our fit-up process, and we provide training for fitters.”

Novarc cobots adhere to the ISO 15066 standard for collaborative robots and their applications.

ISO/TS 15066:2016 outlines safety standards for collaborative industrial robot systems and their operating environments.

It provides additional requirements and guidance to ensure safe operation of collaborative industrial robots.

These cobots are equipped with force and speed limiting sensors, ensuring that in the event of a safety incident, they can safely halt operations.

Due to the inherent design of Novarc’s cobots and the fact that the torch is controlled by the cobot itself, operators are kept at a safe distance from hazardous welding fumes.

Cobots effectively mitigate exposure to various welding hazards, including harmful fumes like manganese and hexavalent chromium.

The cobots ensure that operators do not need to be in direct contact with welding fumes, unlike conventional manual welding methods where operators are closer to the arc.

“Another benefit in terms of safety, is that going from manual to mechanized, the operator’s hand won’t get fatigued, and humans will be spared from the long-term hazards of doing this work,” Karimzadeh said.

“As a tool, Novarc’s cobot can work with the limited team of welders available today in Australia and can allow them to be 3-5X more productive on carbon steel and 10-12X more productive on stainless steel welds so our technology definitely will help with the labour shortage.”

Embracing technology

The upcoming phase of development involves the “smartisation” of Novarc’s cobots, which entails leveraging data to create intelligent systems capable of delivering autonomous adaptive welding solutions to address welding variations.

A significant portion of these solutions relies on computer vision artificial intelligence.

Novarc is also now in the process of adapting the foundational models and intelligence developed for SWR’s to other applications.

This effort aims to provide various industries with the benefits of the same perception, cognition, and reaction capabilities offered by the SWR.

“This is of course only available with the latest advancements of computer vision, AI and the data that Novarc has from thousands of hours of welding with spool welding robots as well as the compute power that is available today,” Karimzadeh said.

“We are excited to see new capabilities of SWR unlocking new ways for our customers to adopt it in their production facilities.”

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