Manufacturers’ Monthly caught up with BOC’s Peter Kuebler to explore the intersection of robots, cobots, welding technologies, and providing the gases essential to their proper functioning.
At BOC – a company renowned for its expertise in gas and welding equipment – the focus is always on innovation and technological advancement. Peter Kuebler, Manufacturing Gases Applications Manager at BOC, has had a journey with the company spanning two decades, and today he works at the intersection of gases and modern welding technologies – including robots and cobots.
“You might wonder what cobots and robotics have to do with gases,” Kuebler told Manufacturers’ Monthly.
“Well, we only get involved with those that use gases. BOC doesn’t sell robots or cobots. We provide the welding and plasma cutting systems that are attached to them as well as shielding gases and filler metals.”
The welding space is in a state of flux, with BOC at the forefront of this change. It’s not just robots and cobots that are being utilised to great effect by BOC’s customers, its partners, distributors, and integrators. The company – and Kuebler – are very involved in other dynamic subsectors of the manufacturing and welding markets, including additive manufacturing or 3D printing of metals.
But aside from this forward-facing approach to cutting-edge tech development and deployment, what sets BOC apart in a highly competitive market?
Its client-centric approach, for one, as manifested in their Application Technology Centres, where BOC conducts trials and demonstrations for its clients.
“Testing and tailoring are vital to ensuring successful solutions,” he said. “We must be adaptable, agile, and responsive to increasingly diverse range of client requirements.”
Although Australia is somewhat lagging in its appetite for modern welding solutions, there is increasing interest in cobots – collaborative robots – as a relatively affordable and easy transition for those welders interested in entering the robotic age, especially with the current skills shortage.
“Increasingly, it’s about robots and cobots,” Kuebler noted. “The appeal of these advanced machines – particularly in a post-COVID environment – has risen, even though we still trail other countries like China in terms of their adoption.”
Kuebler has observed a surge in customers wanting to trial cobots and robots, viewing them as gateways to refine and enhance their operational processes. “Most customers prefer a hands-on trial before purchasing, which is understandable when you’re stepping into unknown territory,” he said.
He shared an anecdote of a Queensland customer who – eager to capitalise on an instant asset write-off – approached BOC with a sense of urgency, keen to make an immediate purchase.
“For this customer the incentive structure and the decisiveness were there, as they grasped the importance of embracing this new robotic era in welding – but for others it’s a longer process of education.”
And it’s a process BOC is eager to engage in. To ease such apprehensions, BOC offers robust support through its Technology Centres, the first of which opened in Brisbane, followed by centres in Sydney and Melbourne.
“Visitors can come in during our open days or we provide one-on-one sessions and demonstrations,” he said. “We try to underscore the potential of cobots for welding applications, particularly in terms of their user-friendliness. You can simply press buttons, position them – and you’re all set to go.”
Cobots, with their ability to be directed with just a tap of the finger, serve as a safe bridge to the future for those wary of diving head-first into automation.
Beyond the productivity and efficiency benefits afforded by cobots’ obvious functionalities, Kuebler pointed to other features that give cobots an edge over their traditional industrial robot counterparts. While the latter typically require enclosures, demanding a separate space and often a new unique programming language, cobots offer an intuitive interface that is as easy to use as an iPad.
The right gas for the job
In the same way that welding systems for cobots and robots must be tailored to individual client needs, the provision of gases for such welding technologies is intrinsically application dependent. Shielding gases are vital in protecting the molten weld pool from air but also play an important role in governing welding speed, weld quality, appearance, spatter and fume.
BOC offer an extensive range of shielding gases optimised for specific welding processes, materials, joint geometry, aesthetic and environmental outcomes. Professional advice is provided for shielding gas selection for optimum welding quality, productivity and safety.
“Generally, we use packs of cylinders,” he said, going on to discuss the different supply methods involved in different applications; always emphasising the importance of specific contexts.
“For high-volume customers, we’ve been mixing gas on site, combining argon with carbon dioxide, oxygen or helium, which is more economical than using cylinders or packs.”
For automated cutting machines, BOC tailors the supply method to the machine’s requirements and production volumes: “Large-scale laser cutting operations typically use bulk tanks of nitrogen or oxygen. We also supply resonator gases – delivered in single cylinders and critical for optimal laser function.”
Safe and sustainable
With sustainability considerations an ever present – and ever-increasing – concern, Kuebler highlighted BOC’s proactive approach. He pointed out that since 2018 welding emissions have been formally recognised as carcinogens. BOC, the Linde group and its partners, have conducted robust research on how to minimise these harmful emissions. “It’s not only about energy consumption but also about the welding process, the shielding gas, and protecting workers from ultraviolet light and fumes,” he said. “We’re committed to helping the industry minimise these risks.”
Returning to an earlier subject, Kuebler underscored that BOC’s eastern seaboard Application Technology centres are a major part of what separates the company from its competitors. And it’s not just about the benefits these centres afford to external clients, equally significant is their importance for BOC’s internal operations.
“We don’t just serve customers there; we also train our staff and evaluate new products.”
Although BOC relies on its parent company, the Linde Group, for R&D facilities located mainly in Europe, the US, and China, it’s the testing centres in Australia that ensure these innovations are suited to the local market.
“Many of the products developed abroad cater to specialised industries in markets like Europe, the US, and China,” he said. “However, Australia’s market is smaller and spread over a vast territory, making super-specialised product development less feasible here.”
That’s why BOC invests in testing of new products at its tech centres and then field testing by customers in the real world. This proactive approach to testing is emblematic of BOC’s overall commitment to staying ahead of the technological game while guaranteeing consistency and reliability to end-users.
It’s an approach that has reaped dividends for BOC and its clients thus far, and will doubtless continue to do so.