How Welding Automation Can Bridge the Skill Gap in the Manufacturing Industry
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.
Fewer 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 that 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 (an 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 handheld welding head or by a welding head fixed to a manipulator arm for a fully automated setup.
What are Welding Cobots?
Over the years, robotic welding has been utilized in various industries to increase productivity by automating production and ensuring consistent quality. Traditionally, robotic welders required large investments in equipment and in personnel training.
Collaborative robots (cobots) are proving to be a more cost effective way to address the shortage of skilled welders. One such example is Red-D-Arc’s BotX collaborative welding system. BotX is a purpose-built, cutting edge welding cobot designed by Airgas, Air Liquide and Red-D-Arc.
Instead of continuing to search for additional skilled welders that are increasingly difficult to find, customers leverage the BotX to be taught routine parts by their existing workforce. This frees up your existing welders time to focus on higher-value tasks such as more complex welds or supervising several BotX. The included library of welding recipes assists in getting each application to a good starting point. Once a skilled welder has fine-tuned the welding parameters to achieve the engineered specifications, any operator can tend to the BotX and perform highly accurate, consistent welds.
Compared to manual welding most BotX customers see a 2-3X increase in productivity due to BotX working at a consistent pace, faster travel speeds when welding and reduced time spent grinding or reworking parts due to the consistent weld quality. In addition, one of the biggest productivity improvements is that skilled welders can do what they do best, and a non-welder operator can tend to the BotX.
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.