The trade of welding conjures up images of dirty, dark workshops full to the brim with traditional tools and machinery prone to throwing off sparks and fumes.
Author: Geoff Crittenden, CEO, Weld Australia
But, with the advent of automation, robots, cobots and a range of other advanced welding technologies and techniques, this perception is becoming more and more outdated. Welding is a far less dangerous and arduous job than ever before.
Increasingly, Australia’s world-class welding workshops are light and bright, and fitted out with some of the most advanced technology available. Weld Australia—the peak body representing the welding industry in Australia—can help welders and fabricators realise the benefits of these advanced welding technologies.
The power of Industry 4.0, robots and cobots
Automation, Industry 4.0, robotics and collaborative robots are changing the way the welding and manufacturing industries work.
Cobots are specifically designed to share the workspace with human beings, making automation easier for businesses of all sizes, particularly SMEs. Cobots are generally versatile, smaller, lightweight, require relatively little space, and are much easier to program than their industrial counterparts.
They can also capture large volumes of data that can be deployed in areas such as predictive maintenance. Weld Australia can help fabricators connect with cobot suppliers, and provide training related to the integration and use of cobots.
All these technologies offer a raft of benefits, from improved productivity, quality and repeatability, through to safer working conditions and greater job satisfaction. Increasingly, advanced technology is becoming a critical factor in the success of globally competitive welders, fabricators and manufacturers. And yet, Australia’s adoption rates lag well behind other advanced economies.
Improved productivity and profitability
To ensure their global competitiveness, businesses are investigating ways to save money and reduce their overheads.
The best way to do so is by undertaking operational efficiency improvements that help reduce or eliminate redundancies, errors, bottlenecks and waste.
Industry 4.0 methodologies, robots and cobots play an essential role in creating lean manufacturing processes. The right type of technology can help eliminate workflow delays and duplications and accelerate entire processes through the automation of individual tasks.
Superior quality and repeatability
The integration of automation into production processes is proven to deliver superior quality outcomes and higher repeatability. Any process that improves weld quality and repeatability is worthwhile. Welding is not just a commodity, or a simple, straightforward process. When welds fail, the results can be disastrous.
A poor-quality weld can be hugely expensive, and can cause massive damage, injuries, and even fatalities.
Growth in domestic and export markets
With increased productivity, quality and repeatability, manufacturers are able to leverage new domestic and export markets. Increases in productivity enable manufactures to deliver on changing customer needs and mass customisation, while maintaining a sustainable competitive advantage.
Safer working conditions
The use of robots and cobots has the power to improve safety for welders and manufacturing workers. According to Safe Work Australia, there were 6.9 million work-related injuries and illnesses that occurred between 2008 to 2018, an average of 623,663 cases each year.
This caused a 2.2 million full time equivalent (FTE) productivity loss between 2008 to 2018, and on top of this $37.6 billion in costs were incurred by the health system and $49.5 billion in employer overheads.
Fewer work-related injuries or illnesses would accelerate our transition to a knowledge-based economy, and create more higher-skilled, safer roles.
As automation reduces routine, dangerous manual work, workplace injuries are expected to drop by as much as 11 per cent. For instance, the use of robots and co-bots (particularly in confined spaces) helps to remove welders from immediate exposure to welding fumes, ultraviolent radiation, heat and sparks.
Greater job satisfaction
A move towards the use of Industry 4.0, robots and cobots will unburden the average Australian of two hours of the most tedious and manual work each week over the next ten years. Approximately 62 per cent of low-skilled workers will experience improved job satisfaction, and wages for non-automatable work will increase by around 20 per cent.
Introduction of cobots into production lines allow businesses to make better use of human skill and innovation, with machines taking over mundane tasks so that employees can focus on critical thinking, quality and creativity. This opens up new opportunities for businesses to improve and optimise their operations.
It can also result in other, more indirect, payoffs. For instance, using a plasma welding machine or a Microsoft HoloLens, or programming a cobot, can be more interesting than traditional MIG or TIG welding. Several Weld Australia members that have invested in advanced technology have reported marked improvements in recruiting, training and retaining staff long-term as a direct result.
Metal 3D printing or additive manufacturing
Metal 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a rapidly evolving technology that is revolutionising the manufacturing industry. This technology allows for the production of complex geometries using processes familiar to any welder, such as submerged arc welding, TIG welding, and electrobeam welding.
However, 3D printing goes beyond traditional welding by using a computer- controlled system to precisely deposit metal layer by layer, allowing for precise control over the final product.
Metal 3D printing enables the generation of on-the-go components for industries like defence and aerospace, or spare parts for assets like cranes and armoured vehicles. Businesses are able to create a digital inventory of parts rather than holding a physical inventory, eradicating overheads like storage and transport.
Metal 3D printing allows for rapid prototyping and the ability to produce custom, one-of-a-kind parts quickly and easily. It has led to the development of new materials and applications that are driving innovation in the industry. For example, metal 3D printing is being used to create lightweight parts for the aerospace industry, reducing fuel consumption and emissions.
Traditional manufacturing methods often result in a significant amount of waste material, while metal 3D printing allows for precise control over the amount of material used, reducing waste and material costs.
Weld Australia is in the process of establishing an Advanced Manufacturing Industry Group. This Group will facilitate technology transfer across the additive manufacturing industry, and share technical knowledge to enhance safety, manage risk, reduce cost, and optimise operating efficiency. Our Industry groups also provide access to a unified peak industry body that can advocate to government on behalf of members.
How Weld Australia can help
Weld Australia can provide businesses with access to this highly specialised and cutting-edge technology. We have a thorough understanding of the concepts, design and process integration of automation and robotic solutions.
Our team members are at the forefront of welding technology and techniques and are involved in ISO Standards Committees that oversee the standardisation of various technologies.
For instance, Cornelis Van Niekerk, our Business Manager for Defence Welding, serves on two ISO Standards Committees: one for metal 3D printing and the other for friction stir welding. These Committees are focused on issues such as safety measures, implementation, and quality control.
If your fabrication business is keen to improve its productivity, profitability and working conditions for its employees, Weld Australia can help with feasibility studies, conceptualisation, integration of advanced technology and techniques, system verification and demonstration, project management, development of welding procedures and welder qualification.