Lorch Schweißtechnik GmbH (Lorch) is a leader in the design, development, and application of advanced welding technologies. Based in Germany, they are at the cutting edge of industry 4.0, developing smarter solutions for tomorrow’s industrial challenges. They bring the next level of welding to the table with collaborative robot technologies and advanced welding – in one integrated package.
Globally, it is a well-known fact that there is a shortage of welders. In Australia, this situation is no different; top welders are in very high demand and command substantial annual salaries to retain their services with an estimated 30 per cent plus of experienced qualified welders aged over 45, and millennials are not queuing up to replace them because of existing perceptions about the trade – being “older, dirty and unsafe” – which is something in the past because advanced welding techniques and automation has made it safer and cleaner. Major welding associations in the country have pointed that out and top welding companies like Lorch understands that harsh reality and mentality needs a turnaround.
Manufacturers’ Monthly caught up with Lorch South-Pacific, managing director, David Wilton, who explained that welding is one of the highest paid trade occupations in Australia. He also expressed the need to even the playing field for the SME manufacturers who require welders in their businesses.
“There is significant demand building for qualified welding operators from both the mining industry and military defence space, paying premium rates to attract the best available talent,” said Wilton. “Small-to medium-sized manufacturing businesses can’t compete in this environment with many struggling to find and retain key welding personnel. Furthermore, there are constant cost pressures and rapidly advancing technologies.”
With the demand far exceeding the supply of skilled welders in the market, Wilton said that there is the need to look to smarter solutions where welding processes can be automated. “We can’t fill the gap (shortage of welders) fast enough, but there are many forms of welding automation, and it really depends on the application to determine what is the best solution,” said Wilton.
Luckily, Lorch predicted this potential shortage many years ago, and with the advent of cobot (collaborative robot) technology, it has had a dedicated team in place developing and optimising welding with cobots for years. The Lorch Cobot welding system delivers versatility and flexibility ideal for the small to medium businesses. And Wilton believes that with the ease of use through its simple programming functions, it will be a game-changer for welding in Australian manufacturing.
Cobots, welding and safety
Wilton explained that sometimes there is some confusion between the nature of industrial robots and cobots. Robots are playing a bigger role on the factory floor as manufacturing moves more into the Industry 4.0 space. Cobots are designed to work alongside human employees, while industrial robots are larger and replace the work of employees. In most cases, cobots create a safer, more efficient environment for tasks that may be too dangerous, strenuous, or tedious – in this case, welding – without getting rid of the human’s role involved in the actual fabrication of a product. In other words, the worker/welder will still be involved in the process. Industrial robots completely automate large scale processes and eliminate the human element in the task completely.
“An industrial robot is a big investment, expensive, and takes up a lot of space on the floor, has a lot of safety guards and barriers because they’re dangerous,” Wilton said.
“Moreover, industrial robots are also complex to program, so you need an engineer or technician who’s highly trained to program the robot. And it’s more designed for scale production of consistently the same thing and a perfect example is the car industry.
“This is, however, not the case for an SME who’s doing something different every few days because in the time taken to program an industrial robot, those jobs could have been manually completed by a welder.”
From a product standpoint, a cobot and a piece of welding equipment are two very different things, and Wilton said that it is not possible to simply take a cobot off the shelf and connect it to a welding machine, and then expect a productive system out of it. It takes a unique partnership between the best in the cobot business and the welding business to produce the ideal platform optimised for small-to medium-sized businesses. Hence, Lorch has a strategic partnership with Universal Robots (UR), the global leader in collaborative robot technology. Wilton explained what differentiates Lorch from any other manufacturer is their intelligent Cobotronic software and the premium, advanced technology welding power source made in Germany.
“Lorch takes the cobot and creates a purpose built, fully integrated, ultra-safe, automated welding solution. Every detail is meticulously optimised specifically for multiple forms of welding and the result is a fast, efficient, and flexible, leading industry 4.0 welding solution that is perfect for small-to medium-businesses producing smaller production quantities,” said Wilton. “Systems are simple to use and will deliver dependable productivity, premium quality welding performance and higher efficiency to welding operations.”
Lorch Cobot System – how it works
The Lorch Collaborative Robot is a game changer in many ways, says Wilton. To start with, it is simple to set up, program, and easy to use (by the welder or shop floor operator). The system is also relatively portable, very flexible, and versatile. It can be cost effectively programmed for welding small production, 20 or 30 pieces today and tomorrow something different.
“There is not much training needed, so a shop floor operator or welder could program the system and use it effectively – and it’s fast to set up,” said Wilton. “The Cobotronic software that comes with the package is really smart, so you don’t even have to know the welding parameters.”
Cobotronic is the software platform that is part of Lorch’s IP which combines the cobot elements and the Lorch welding power source together to create a cutting-edge Industry 4.0-optimised welding solution that is simple to program, delivering excellent welding results which is perfect for small-to medium-sized enterprises.
“The Lorch Cobot System gives the flexibility to the business to be able to do different welding jobs quickly and efficiently for example, today it might have 20 ladders to build, but the following day, they might decide to do something different – all that can be done and perfectly – with excellent welding quality,” said Wilton. “It is a digital machine that will reproduce 100 per cent perfect welding performance every time from the power source’s standpoint.”
Cobot welding is also not a replacement for industrial robotic welding. In reality, it is a new segment of welding automation (refer to picture 1). Lorch Cobot welding technology is different from industrial robots in many areas:
- Size, weight & portability: Cobots are small, light and relatively portable. They are designed to be used in the general work environment, in close proximity with people.
- Safety: Cobots operate at human speed, have unique integrated safety features enabling close interaction with people with minimal or in some cases no dedicated safety guards or external protection.
- Intelligent Lorch Cobotronic software creates a simple to operate welding system that is typically programed by the welder or shop floor operator.
- Lorch advanced Speed Processes deliver perfect welding in all positions removing the need for complex and expensive jigs and fixtures.
- Fast setup and simple programming enable much smaller production quantities to be cost effectively welded.
- Capital investment: Cobot systems are typically more cost effective with a quick return of investment.
“The Lorch Cobotronic software has an assistant mode that works out welding parameters that a welder needs to perform an optimal welding application,” said Wilton. “While it does take some level of welding knowledge to select the correct process and understand the right gas and wire to use, the programming and parameter selection is quite simple.”
How the welder still operates the system
Wilton says that Lorch in the German head office has a whole team developing cobot technologies for welding. He said that the next level of things includes integrated rotational equipment where the user can now integrate a rotating turntable system with the cobot that will synchronise with the cobot for welding.
“You can now have a whole fixture up to a 100kg and rotate on a turntable to do all the welding, integrated, synchronised with the cobot. We’ll be rolling out later next year” said Wilton.
At the end of the day, what Wilton stresses is that cobot welding is not about replacing someone’s job with automation. Cobots are another tool, helping to address the shortage of welders, closing the skills gap, and making the team stronger, driving productivity, efficiencies and reducing cost.
“Coming back to the problem of the shortage of welders in Australia, because the most skilled ones have mostly joined the defence and the mining industries, the solution is to have those who require welding as part of their business to consider automating the process (welding) and duplicating those people,” said Wilton.
With a high-quality automated system like the Lorch Cobot System, Wilton says that one good welder can still be a welder in the shop but can also be responsible for multiple cobots geared up for welding jobs.
“Setting up, optimising, and getting a first-year apprentice to load up the parts into the machine and do the welding is a good solution – it’s just different thinking.”
Cobot welding is growing at an exponential rate across Europe, and Lorch is now bringing Lorch Cobot Welding to Australia and New Zealand. Sales demonstration/application and training centres have been setup across the region with accredited Lorch Cobot Partners.
Partners can be found at www.lorch.com.au – find a partner near you. Additionally, there are well-trained Lorch certified service infrastructure already established across the region for backup and support. Typically, when a customer purchases a Lorch Cobot System, it comes with installation and a two-day training program from the Lorch Cobot Partner.
Want to know more? Please contact David Wilton: LSP@lorch.eu or visit www.lorch.com.au to find your nearest partner.