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Welding

The robotic invasion

By Abbe Miller

May 2009 - These days, a robot doing the work of humans is hardly a novel idea. In the home, Roombas have been spiffing up the floor for years now, and in the manufacturing facility, automated systems have been doing much of the heavy lifting--and more. It is, after all, the 21st century.

So although a robot's presence in a facility is meant to simplify tasks, justifying its place on the production floor isn't as simple as just welcoming it to the family. A company has to assess what its needs are and whether it has the necessities to support a robotic implementation.

Clear the way
Rob Ryan, product manager, and Thomas Jaeger, engineering manager, both of Tregaskiss' Automation Group, Windsor, Ontario, a provider of robotic and semiautomatic MIG welding guns, consumables and accessories, say making the decision to incorporate robotics or automation is along the lines of any other continuous improvement initiative.

"You need to have a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish and how you're going to measure where you are and where you're going to end up," says Jaeger. "You have to have something that you can quantify that improvement with."

And he says integrators can be just the source to consult to make those assessments and predictions. Integrators can talk about increases in efficiencies and productivity and just about anything else that a customer could or couldn't foresee when bringing a robot or automation system onboard. Their advice and expertise are based on experiences, which almost always go back to some form of quantification in dollars--the No. 1 determination for whether the return on investment fits a company's needs.

The right fit
Integrators, however, might not always recommend automation. Although there's been an influx of robotics on the manufacturing scene, they're not always right for everyone.

"These days, automation can be flexible," says Ryan. "On the other hand, however, you might not want to introduce automation in a facility where you have a lot of customization in the product lines. That doesn't lend itself as easily to automation. It's more for something that's at a higher volume, something that has a repetitive production nature to it. You're not going to see as quick of a return on your investment if you constantly have to tweak the process. You need to have a part that's repeatable that you can weld over and over again."

Once it's determined that the in-house processes are at a level that justify replacing manual labor with the automated kind, more questions must be posed. What dictates a company using a robot instead of a fixed automation system, or vice versa, is paramount in finding success.

Ryan explains that the design of the part and the complexity of the weld will dictate the best method to adopt.

"With a robot, there's the ability to move around a weldment and approach it from different directions," he says. "Fixed automation, on the other hand, is where the welding gun is in a fixed position. Your tables or fixtures, whatever is holding the part, are what move. They would have to be simple welds in that case, such as welding cylinders or making straight welds. In a robotic situation, you can have much more complexity in the weldments. You can have a variety of different lengths and types of welds on one particular weldment, and you can approach it from different angles so that your fixture isn't moving; the robot is."

People vs. the machines
No matter which option best suits a company, it needs to have the staff to support the equipment.

"You have to have skilled people that can maintain and operate that automation," says Jaeger. "And I'm not necessarily talking about the operator that's pushing the green button. If there's a challenge or a problem, someone has to be able to go in there and fix it and get the automation back up and running. If you lack processes or controls in your tooling, the cell could accidentally be shut down, or you could be producing bad parts, or your quality or processes won't be consistent. That can cost you a lot of money."

Robots and automated systems haven't made it to the point of self-preservation--yet. Therefore, Tregaskiss, as well as other providers of robotic or automated welding systems, take training seriously.

"Tregaskiss trains everyone from the bottom up," says Jaeger. "And when I say from the bottom up, I mean from the operator to the guy who can strip and assemble a cell. We do that, and we do that for the very reason that we don't want our customers to have trouble with their cell."

And since no one wants an unruly robot, it's best to consult experts before bringing them in, and once they're there, it's best to have staff that knows how to handle them. FFJ

Sources

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Company Profiles

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IRONWORKERS

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Camfil APC - Equipment Trilogy Machinery Inc. Metamation Inc. Admiral Steel
Camfil APC - Replacement Filters

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Alliance Steel
Donaldson Company Inc. AMADA AMERICA, INC. Messer Cutting Systems Inc.

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Mazak Optonics Corp.

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RAS Systems LLC Murata Machinery, USA, Inc.

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TRUMPF Inc. Davi Inc. SigmaTEK Systems LLC
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Trilogy Machinery Inc. Striker Systems

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MTS Sensors

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Bradbury Group

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Mate Precision Tooling AIDA-America Corp.
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Butech Bliss UFP Industrial

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Red Bud Industries

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AMADA AMERICA, INC.

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Tishken Advanced Gauging Technologies Automec Inc. BLM Group

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MC Machinery Systems Inc. Prudential Stainless & Alloys
Mayfran International Cincinnati Inc. SafanDarley

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LVD Strippit

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Barton International
ATI Industrial Automation Scotchman Industries Inc. Hougen Manufacturing Flow International Corporation
Lissmac Corp. Trilogy Machinery Inc.

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Jet Edge Waterjet Systems
Osborn

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Behringer Saws Inc. Omax Corp.
SuperMax Tools FAGOR Arrasate USA Inc. Cosen Saws

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Timesavers MetalForming Inc. DoALL Sawing American Weldquip

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MICROFINISHING TOOLS

HE&M Saw Strong Hand Tools
Beckwood Press Co. Titan Tool Supply Inc. Savage Saws T. J. Snow Company
Triform

 

 

 


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