Collaborative automation to end welding woes


Image credit: SMC.

Universal Robots have cited an uptick in demand for collaborative robots (cobots), robots that can work safely alongside humans, in welding applications. 

“A cobot adds flexibility, efficiency, and freedom to welding processes,” Universal Robots Oceania country manager Masayuki (Masa) Mase said. 

“Cobots empower change in the way work is done. In addition, when the task is completed, a cobot can be easily redeployed to other areas where it can add value.” 

Speaking to the prevalent labour shortage on local shores, Mase said that the industry is on the hunt for qualified welders and that cobots are filling this gap. 

“Traditionally, more skilled welders were available, but over the past two years – due to COVID-19 travel restrictions – the industry has noticed a sharp decline in skilled welders,” Mase said. “Finding a skilled welder who isn’t employed remains a challenge. Finding the right skills is critical to remaining competitive.” 

In fact, a recent study by Weld Australia highlighted the need for additional qualified welders. 

“This skills shortage is compounded by a rapidly aging welding workforce, with approximately 30 per cent of Australia’s existing welding workforce aged over 45 years,” Mase said. 

Speaking to the welding tasks in question, Mase said that cobots can handle Arc, TIG, laser, MIG, and spot welding, as well as soldering. 

“Cobots can be easily integrated into new and existing systems. While the processes of integration may be little more than just ‘plug and play’, welders will soon learn that they can extend their welding expertise to automated solution using cobots – even with no prior backgrounds in robotics. This once again comes down to Universal Robots’ mission statement that encourages people to work with robots, not like robots,” Mase said.  

Entrusting cobots with these important tasks comes down to one factor – trust.  

“Our company’s proven track record with welding applications around the world instils customer confidence and proves that UR is committed to helping customers remain successful in this area,” Mase said. 

He adds that the patented technology used in Universal Robots’ cobots limits the force of contact when it meets a person.   

“Cobots can also be programmed to operate in reduced mode when a human enters the robot’s work area and resume full speed when the person leaves,” Mase said. 

For SMEs, cost may be a factor, but Mase urges customers to keep the big picture in mind and consider the salary of a welder and the scarcity of labour before jumping to conclusions.  

“Cobot deployment is a solution that delivers lowered integration costs, quicker installations, and increased efficiencies. Letting a cobot handle simple welding tasks frees up experienced welders’ time to focus on more complex tasks that can benefit the company’s bottom line,” he said. 

Mase highlights two international success stories. 

“Universal Robots helped automate small batch welding at Montana Solar in the US,” he said. 

MT Solar in the US designs and manufactures mounting structures for solar modules of all sizes. A DIY vectis cobot welding tool powered by a UR10e cobot now handles a wide range of welds, enabling quick changeovers and optimised production. 

“MT Solar overcame labour shortages and freed staff from repetitive welding tasks while successfully handling a 300 per cent surge in demand” Mase said. 

Another recent success also showcased collaborative automation in welding applications. Universal Robots collaborated with world-renowned ASSA ABLOY – a leader in door opening solutions. Their branch in Romania required variability and several different configurations of product, resulting in a higher demand for automation.  

“They were also experiencing a shortage of labour and required automation to work across an array of applications including welding, stamping, riveting, screw driving, grinding and machine tending,” Mase said. 

The company now operates four UR3 and six UR5 robots with Robotiq 2-finger adaptive robot gripper UR+ solution and custom-made end-effectors.  

To conclude, Mase advises any local company’s wishing to automate their welding processes to “jump straight in”: “Regardless of the company’s size, automation can provide immense benefits. It’s time to empower change in the way which work is done.”