A way towards the future for welding: robotics

Weld Australia’s mission is to facilitate the growth of a world-class welding industry in Australia. For this reason, we strongly support the Advanced Robotics Manufacturing (ARM) Hub, which is due to open in Brisbane in the coming months.

A not-for-profit company, the ARM Hub has the potential to be a catalyst for Australia’s uptake of advanced manufacturing technologies and processes. It will bring world-leading expertise in advanced robotics and design-led manufacturing to the aid of Australian businesses and their global supply chains.

When it comes to the adoption of robotics, Australian SMEs are lagging behind other developed countries by a long way – by a factor of 10 in some cases. The Hub will help encourage and facilitate SMEs to go beyond “business as usual” and transform their strategies and operations, through the uptake of digital technologies, robotics and automation.

The Story of the ARM Hub

The ARM Hub was born out of a collaborative project involving Queensland University of Technology (QUT), the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (IMCRC), and UAP (Urban Art Projects) – a design and manufacturing company that specialises in delivering public art and large creative projects.

After securing funding from the IMCRC, UAP and QUT collaborated on a project called Design Robotics. The aim of the project was to “teach robots to see” (enabling a robot to look at an object before fettling or polishing) in order to improve the mass customisation capabilities of robotic manufacture. The project was all about turning a “dumb” robot into a smart robot – one able to make decisions about its assigned tasks.

The response to the Design Robotics project from local industry was incredible, particularly its “open innovation network” component which was designed to showcase the project to other companies. So, the Design Robotics project model was scaled up, resulting in the ARM Hub concept.

In July 2019, the Queensland Government announced funding of $7.71 million over four years to support the establishment of the ARM Hub. With additional investment from the QUT, UAP and other partners, an $18m company is set to emerge – a company with a mandate to support and grow advanced manufacturing jobs right across Australia.

The Hub will provide services to small-to-medium and microenterprise manufacturers, helping them become successful advanced manufacturing businesses. The Hub will also collaborate with large companies to help drive digital transformation and support local supply chain development.

How the Hub Will Work

The ARM Hub will provide practical production and manufacturing advice in a real-life factory environment, enabling Australian manufacturers to learn about cutting-edge robotic technologies and design techniques, and develop industry skill and expertise to apply to their own businesses. It will provide three key services.

Industry Engagement

Through industry engagement services, the ARM Hub will share its knowledge with manufacturers. After companies attend a business assessment workshop, the ARM Hub will typically undertake site visits of factories, perform an assessment of a company’s existing manufacturing processes, and then deliver a workshop to align their business processes and needs with a new manufacturing model.

Commercial Solutions

The Hub’s commercial solutions services will involve working with a company to adopt advanced technology. This might involve an adoption sprint, or a demonstration project where the Hub will model a solution to confirm that it will work successfully within the company’s facilities. Where relevant, the Hub will help companies access grant funding to offset the costs of these projects.

Brokering research and development

This service will help facilitate new manufacturing solutions for mid to long-term outcomes, and will tap into Australia’s research investments to help companies financially de-risk their digital transformation needs. Typically, research and development projects will involve multiple companies and research institutions collaborating to solve challenges and create new intellectual property.

IMCRC’s futuremap

The Hub will also have access to IMCRC’s futuremap – a business diagnostic tool designed to help Australian manufacturing SMEs assess their current state of business and identify areas of focus and potential investment to transform and future-proof their business.

futuremap enables manufacturers to map their maturity levels and capabilities in the areas of market positioning; leadership, strategy and change management; innovation and use of technology; and digital manufacturing (Industry 4.0). It then produces a point-in-time self-assessment and report that identifies both immediate and medium-term opportunities for growth and potential investment.

Contributing to the transformation of welding

As a critical enabler of Australian-based manufacturing, the welding industry is poised to benefit from the adoption of advanced manufacturing technologies and processes. Innovation based on robotic vision, collaborative robotics (or cobots), augmented reality and virtual reality, is transforming everything from how we train and certify welders to how welding is performed in a variety of industrial settings. The ARM Hub will contribute to the wider transformation of welding, across all the industry sectors we enable.

Weld Australia is keen to collaborate with the ARM Hub to explore new innovations and practices that will equip our welders with globally competitive skills and create a critical base for the re-shoring of manufacturing to Australia.

We strongly support the vision for the ARM Hub to be a commercially operating “learning factory” where SME manufacturers use the technology and services and can see “demonstration” commercial projects in action. This is a critical resource in ensuring the broader adoption of Industry 4.0 across industry and positioning Queensland as a global leader.

For more information, visit www.armhub.com.au

Article by Geoff Crittenden, CEO, Weld Australia

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