Unlocking the power of collaborative welding
Yet, even with widely available technology in place, the use of collaborative automation for welding has been relatively slow to take off. When smaller collaborative robots were first introduced to industry in the early 2000s, welding was thought to be an impossibly difficult task for lighter robots. As a result, collaborative robot (cobot) welding has only started to become more widespread in the last five years, following impressive innovation across a number of different welding companies.
Josh Pawley at Vectis Automation argues this shift is a direct result of the labor market. “With manufacturing increasingly competing for talent, and ageing workforces having an impact too, more companies are turning to automation out of business continuity and necessity – which is a very interesting shift from than the traditional financial ROIs that so often justified automation (and still do).”
Delayed adoption is partly a matter of awareness and partly due the perceptions of welders – who are skilled tradespeople. It’s arguably harder to see the role of automation in a craft like welding, than in some other manufacturing activities, such as lifting, packing and dispensing. But in reality, a cobot is just a tool, similar to a painter and his brush, or a baker and his mixer. Its main purpose is to complete repetitive tasks, rather than taking over the artistic element of the role.
This is a sentiment echoed by Will Healy III, Global Welding Segment Manager, Universal Robots, who states that, “We must not forget welders see themselves as artists - and rightly so – but a shrinking workforce and growing demand for welding skills means the craft needs to evolve.”
“Working closely with welders, I’m seeing the ways in which automation could add serious value to welders’ experiences at work. Seeing cobots as a fantastic additional tool for their toolkit means they can put their expertise to best use and essentially create more art in future.”
With the demand for high mix and low volume metalwork rising, and a growing shortage of skilled workers, manufacturers should put collaborative welding at the forefront of evolving their sector. With accessible technology in place, the trade will be well placed to meet future challenges head on