How do you program a welding robot like a pro?
The answer: hire an experienced welder to help!
However, with skilled welders capable of handling multiple weld processes becoming a rare commodity, this is often easier said than done. In fact, by 2023, the American Welding Society projects a shortage of over 375,000 skilled welding professionals
to help fabricate the fifty percent of all hand-made products that require some form of welding. But, this shortage doesn’t only effect goods that are created manually, it also effects those products that are welded via robotic automation – because the most talented welders make the best robot programmers, offering multiple benefits:
Benefit #1 – Easier Learning Curve
It’s common in the robotic welding industry to hear someone say, “it’s a lot easier to teach a person how to program a robot than to teach someone how to weld and fabricate.” It takes less time to learn robot controller basics than to learn a welding process. Thus, its often more efficient to take welders and teach them robot programming, rather than to take robot technicians and teach them welding processes.
Benefit #2 – Weld Process Expertise
Whether a person is manually or robotically welding a part, the welder must be able to see the process as a whole and be able to control all of the subtle nuances (i.e., controlling datums, part positioning, weld torch angles, etc.) of the process. In order to produce successfully welded assemblies, knowledge of part variability, weld torch positioning, heat input, weld speed and more need to be provided to the robot control. As the welder’s previous experiences gave him this knowledge, he is the ideal candidate to program the robot. So much so, that many see robotic weld programming as “cloning” the knowledge from the best welders in the industry.
Something else to consider is that by leveraging a manual welder’s weld process expertise, it makes short order of creating new weld programs. Knowledge on how to approach weld sequencing and other variables is critical, saving valuable time.
Benefit #3 – Valuable Application Knowledge
As mentioned, there are critical variables that should be well understood to accurately and efficiently program a robot and its subsequent weld equipment. As an example, the gas metal arc welding (GMAW) process includes process variables such as wire size, shielding gas composition, current, voltage, wire oscillation, travel speed and torch angles, among others. Without proper application knowledge of these variables, a programmer will lack the expertise of when to make adjustments to things like wire stick-out (for controlling heat input), welding wire position, and torch angles for producing higher-quality welds.
Fostering Skilled Welder Talent
To help fill the void for skilled labor, forward-thinking companies have embraced sophisticated technology, turning toward robotic automation as a way to optimize production and to stay competitive. While advanced robotic welding
solutions make it easier for manufacturers to tackle difficult, dangerous and dirty jobs, the most successful implementation and programming of robots occurs when experienced welders are involved.
Therefore, manufacturers, educators and community leaders must work collaboratively toward building a relevant Manufacturing 5.0 workforce. Manufacturers should help provide educational tools and hands-on opportunities capable of training skilled welders and other workforce personnel, while educational organizations should offer curriculums and certifications that combine technical and automation skills with human soft skills.
Jack Moore is a Senior Process Engineer - Technology Advancement Team