Welding automation has been around for a while, but recently its role has grown exponentially in manufacturing. For years, the welding industry has faced a skill gap, which is expected to grow wider in the coming years. To combat this, employers are adopting automated welding equipment to increase the efficiency of weld operations.
What Is the Skill Gap?
The “skill gap” describes a discrepancy between the skills held by job seekers and the skills employers need. This leads to a paradox where there’s a large pool of applicants, but companies aren’t able to hire workers with the appropriate knowledge and skill set. This has led to increasing welder salaries as manufacturing businesses compete to attract skilled workers, and even then, many positions are left unfilled.
Why Is It Happening?
Two main factors are contributing to this situation: a lack of qualified applicants entering the workforce and an increasing number of employees seeking retirement. Interestingly, these two issues may be caused by social factors rather than economic ones.
Few People Entering the Workforce
The newest generation entering the workforce is the most educated in U.S. history, which is a positive thing in most regards. However, it means that fewer young people are going into trades such as welding. There’s also a feeling among parents that welding, ironwork, construction, and other industries that require hard labor are dangerous or low-paying and therefore not worth pursuing. This has created a push toward white-collar jobs despite the high wages and many benefits offered in the manufacturing field.
With a huge percentage of employees planning to leave the workforce within a couple of years, thousands of positions will open at once and, unfortunately, be left unfilled.
Many Welders Are Reaching Retirement Age
The majority of current trade workers are from the Baby Boomer generation and are nearing retirement. With a huge percentage of employees planning to leave the workforce within a couple of years, thousands of positions will open at once and, unfortunately, be left unfilled.
What Is Welding Automation?
Welding automation is the term used to describe the use of equipment which automates all or part of the welding process. The term hard automation is sometimes used to describe the application of positioning machines designed to hold and manipulate the weldment (object being welded). Automated welding doesn’t necessarily mean robotic welding, rather it is simply the application of automation technologies such as positioners, manipulators and turning rolls to the welding process. The weldment may be positioned for manual or automated welding processes. For example a pipe may be rotated on a positioner while being welded by a hand held welding head or by a welding head fixed to a manipulator arm for a fully automated set up.
How Can Automation Be a Solution To Labor Shortages?
Primarily, welding automation solves the skill gap dilemma by filling positions with machines instead of people. However, the switch to robotics can offer companies several advantages and will likely continue to transform how welding is done.
While the purchase and installation of a machine may be expensive initially, businesses can save money in the long run. There are many financing options available for commercial enterprises to purchase equipment, making the process more affordable, and employers don’t have to worry about costs associated with hiring, such as wage, benefits, and professional development.
Machines can produce higher quality goods more consistently than human workers and work much quicker, which means more production and profits. Having fewer mistakes also means less waste and more products available for sale.
Perhaps the most advantageous quality of machines is their ability to store welding routines and settings. Human workers must dedicate time and energy to learning a new skill and are inevitably bound to make mistakes along the way, costing the company. Machines, on the other hand, perform actions exactly as they are instructed. This means you can easily alter a robot’s role by changing the programming without having to deal with a learning curve. Many modern welders come with pre-programmed routines and settings and are able to make appropriate adjustment automatically with some basic input from an operator.
What Should Manufacturers Know About Implementing Automation?
While welding automation technologies have evolved significantly, implementation still has its challenges, especially for businesses that are just starting to automate their welding operations. For example, though it isn’t actually the case, workers may consider the shift to automation as a threat to their livelihoods. You can ease this fear by communicating with the employees about the ways automation helps improve in the production process – ensuring that a company remains competitive. It also makes the work of welding safer and less strenuous and allows them to focus on higher skilled, more interesting welding tasks. In the case of welding robotics, assigning a robot to a necessary but repetitive task can free up workers for roles that require a human’s problem-solving skills. Collaborative robots (cobots) are designed to work in tandem with human workers and offer great gains in welding productivity.
You also face the challenge of finding the right equipment for your needs and incorporating it into your operation. These issues should be carefully researched before you make any commitments.
In determining a welding automation supplier, you’ll want to establish an ongoing relationship with a company that’s able to address both startup and longer term issues that accompany a transition to automated welding:
- Employee training
- Maintenance of equipment
- Replacement parts
You’ll want to work with a company that has a solid understanding of your industry and offers reliable technical and customer support.
Are you interested in adding welding automation to your manufacturing process? Red-D-Arc offers a variety of equipment. For more information or to get a quote, give us a call at 866-733-3272 or contact us online.
A Red-D-Arc customer based out of the UK was awarded three large offshore wind farm projects …all commencing simultaneously. This manufacturer was comfortable taking on so many large scale, specialized projects because they have a reliable, knowledgeable, tier 1 supplier capable of meeting all of their welding and weld automation equipment needs! Red-D-Arc was able to quickly accommodate all of the welding equipment requirements for the project, providing more than 150 welders and a variety of weld automation equipment. The equipment consisted of multi-operator welding paks, diesel welders, advanced power sources, wire feeders, submerged arc welding packages, and rotators.
Two Red-D-Arc technicians were assigned to the facility to install, service and maintain the equipment to minimize downtime. The facility allocated a permanent workshop and storage container for back-up equipment which could be used to quickly replace any equipment as necessary. With Red-D-Arc’s support, the customer was able to work on all three projects simultaneously and avoid lost time due to equipment breakdowns.
An oilfield equipment and vessel manufacturer in the United Arab Emirates approached Red-D-Arc for assistance with a large project. It was awarded to them at the last minute and was not their primary area of expertise. The requirement was to manufacture 25 large tanks with a timeframe of only one year. Each of the tanks was to be 5 meters in diameter by 25 meters long, manufactured using 16 millimeter thick material at a weight of approximately 45 tonnes.
The experienced Red-D-Arc Weld Automation team was able to immediately address all of the customer’s challenges. While other suppliers where insistent that the customer purchase the equipment, Red-D-Arc determined that long term rental would be their best option. This would avoid the time consuming process of acquiring CAPEX approval to purchase such a large amount of equipment and would further increase the profitability of the project. The manufacturer also had questions on how to avoid ovality and transverse movement of the sub-assemblies. Red-D-Arc experts were on-hand to provide the right advice and the right equipment to address these challenges.
The rental equipment included:
• 6x 10 tonne turning roll sets
• 10x 60 tonne drive rolls
• 47x 30 tonne and 60 tonne idler rolls
• 7x submerged arc packages with LT7 tractors and DC600 power sources
Red-D-Arc worked very closely with the company to ensure their success, providing comprehensive training and on-site assistance. After the successful completion of this project the company has become recognized in their market and are receiving new orders from similar customers in the industry. Furthermore, they anticipate being awarded “phase 2” of this project which is scheduled to begin in 2018.
Tank Fabrication Equipment
Red-D-Arc carries a variety of equipment useful for the construction and maintenance of storage tanks including:
A metal fabrication company located in Charlotte, North Carolina received an order for 300 small I.D. vessels for titanium molds. At the time they were using FCAW and back gouging the inside and outside of the vessels to achieve 100% penetration. On average they were producing 2 vessels per hour with 2 welders.
They reached out to Red-D-Arc to find a faster and more efficient way to produce these vessels. After discussions with Red-D-Arc the fabricator decided to purchase a turnkey submerged arc system. The custom designed system came complete with a small I.D. sub arc welding head mounted on a 9’x9′ manipulator, flux recovery system, NA5R automatic wire feeder, DC600 multi-process welder and 5 ton turning rolls. The system also included a laser and camera for precise control and monitoring of the submerged arc welding process.
The submerged arc system increased productivity by 250%. They were able to produce 5 cans per hour with half the labor cost. The safety of the work place was also significantly increased for a number of reasons:
• Back gouging was eliminated which in turn reduced the risk of fire
• Turning rolls replaced manual rotation of the vessels on tables
• Welders no longer had to weld inside the confined space of the vessels
The customer and the Red-D-Arc team were beyond pleased with the results. The customer plans to purchase two more of these systems for future projects.
Submerged arc welding can increase the efficiency and quality of many industrial welding projects regardless of the size or complexity. Red-D-Arc has all the equipment, expertise and experience to provide you with a submerged arc system to fit your needs – available for sale, lease and rent
Read more on welding efficiency
Red-D-Arc recently supplied a variety of equipment to a UAE based company that is fabricating pile piping and jackets for the largest offshore wind farm project in the world. The company had to meet a strict time line of only 6 months, and would require a massive amount of welding and weld automation equipment immediately. Through consultation with Red-D-Arc, the customer determined that renting the majority of the equipment would be the most economical option. Red-D-Arc was able to fulfil the customers equipment needs immediately thanks to our vast and diverse fleet of equipment.
This massive order involved equipment and support from Red-D-Arc North America, Red-D-Arc UK and Red-D-Arc Middle East. The order consisted of a variety of welding and weld automation equipment including:
• 23 column and booms with single and tandem submerged arc welders
• 20 submerged arc tractors
• 200 rotators
• 167 jack-up rotators
• 400 CC/CV inverter welders
• 200 FCAW wirefeeders
• 10 Induction Heating Systems
By renting the majority of the equipment the fabrication company avoided the need to invest heavily in specialized equipment and ensured they would meet their deadline. Red-D-Arc works with customers to address their unique challenges and develops specialized solutions. Learn more about customized turnkey packages here.
A Red-D-Arc customer shared some interesting photos which document the process of extending the legs of a large seabound work platform and also feature several Red-D-Arc turning rolls. The platform is used for cleanup activities on the seabed and in order to work at greater depths; the legs of the work platform needed to be extended. The massive cylindrical legs were placed on Red-D-Arc turning rolls and rotated while the cutting and welding processes were carried out. Once the extensions were completed the legs were then returned to the platform.
Red-D-Arc designs and builds complete turnkey weld automation packages for your complete project requirements. Our team of engineers and designers develop specialized solutions alongside our customers. We’ll provide you with weld process recommendations and set up all your equipment for optimized reliability, functionality and productivity.
The Red-D-Arc Weld Automation team has extensive industry experience which includes hundreds of special and turnkey installations provided to diverse sectors of industry such as Oil Exploration and Refining, Nuclear Industries, Aerospace, Defense, Steel Mills, Mining and Wind Tower Manufacture. From small positioners for integration with welding robots to 500 tonne capacity positioners with unique HMI controls complete with onsite training, services and support.
Learn more about custom weld automation packages here.