MIG Welding Robots: Amplifying Your Factory’s Output
MIG welding is one of the most common automated tasks in industrial environments. Determining if robotic automation is suitable for your MIG welding process is a critical business decision. This article explains the basics of MIG welding robots, when they might be right for you, and clarifies the MIG welding robot landscape to give you the best chance to make the right decision for your business and experience a successful integration process.
Why MIG Welding?
Manufacturers consider MIG welding a versatile, quick, and easy-to-learn welding method. Those new to the field can pick up MIG welding and make quality welds within a few hours. In addition, the option to apply MIG welding to various alloys speaks to its versatility. Because this method doesn’t require changing out rods, constantly dealing with slag, or frequent stops to brush the weld, MIG welding is highly productive and efficient in a manufacturing environment.
These same benefits make MIG welding an excellent option for robotic automation. The ease-of-use translates to MIG welding robot programs often being the simplest to write compared to other welding types. In addition, higher efficiency and productivity benefits are amplified when a robot is handling the torch.
Modern manufacturers are constantly seeking an edge for their business. Therefore, they focus on the processes that make up their manufacturing system. Robotic MIG welding consistently provides the returns which modern manufacturers desire. Moreover, because MIG welding automation is one of the most tried and true examples of successful robotic automation worldwide, it’s often many manufacturers' first journey into industrial robotics.
Components of a Robotic MIG Welding System
Robotic MIG welding requires more than just the robot. A complete system requires mechanical, electrical, safety, and control components to work together. Knowing these systems helps ensure you know what to ask for in your robotic MIG welding package.
The control system is responsible for hosting the program, managing all the I/Os, and ensuring all components work together. In most systems, the control system will be the robot controller. This controller typically comes as part of the robot purchase. Some robot manufacturers even have controller options. These controller models might differ by communication protocol and how many I/Os they can handle. Your auxiliary components' quantity and communication demands will drive your decision on controllers.
Larger, more complex systems use a standalone controller to isolate system control from robot control. These kinds of systems often include other machines in addition to the robot. Examples include turntables, headstock/tailstock units, grinders, etc. In these systems, the main controller monitors and commands the overall system, while the robot controller handles the robotic process.
The robot is the most prominent component of the automated welding system. The robot is responsible for manipulating the torch and laying down the weld. Most robot brands offer some form of welding robot. In addition, brands optimize these models’ shape and performance characteristics specifically for welding.
Six-axis robots own the MIG welding robot market almost exclusively. Exceptions tend to come in the case of exceptionally large applications. In this case, gantry or cartesian table welding systems are excellent options to handle large welding applications. In some cases, combining a six-axis robot and a robot transfer unit (RTU) is an optimal middle ground.
Knowing your application’s speed, reach, and payload requirements is essential. These will be the primary characteristics that differentiate welding robot models from one another. So be sure to choose a model that meets the needs of your application.
The exact welding equipment required can vary depending on the specifics of your application. However, a few components are always needed.
The welder provides power to the welding system. This unit generates the power and heat needed to melt metal, allowing the two distinct pieces to fuse. The welding unit is sometimes a separate purchase from the robot. However, some suppliers have prepackaged solutions with specific welder brand units.
MIG welding requires a wire electrode to facilitate the welding process. This wire is a consumable and must be continuously fed by a spool during welding. An automated wire feeder enables the robot to continue welding as the electrode is consumed.
Why Consider a Robotic MIG Welder?
Robot welders provide significant benefits to the facilities in which they operate. Many manufacturers are losing out on significant profits by deciding not to automate. However, automation isn’t suitable for everyone. The reasons why manufacturers automate are consistent across industries. If you have similar needs as listed below, it might be time to look closer into automating your welding process.
Increased Throughput on the Welding Line
Put simply, robots are just faster. Welding robots achieve higher throughput in two ways. First, they can move at a high rate of speed. They keep up this same speed throughout the day and don’t slow down due to fatigue.
Second, welding robots have reduced cycle times. Robots can keep welding repeatedly with the only downtime required to cycle parts in and out of the cell or change consumables. These factors allow robots to outpace manual welders significantly.
Robotic welders allow manufacturers to reduce overhead costs. These machines operate more efficiently than manual operators by conserving consumables. Robot welders use the same amount of consumables each time they weld a part. Additionally, robots don’t make mistakes the way we do. They perform the same actions every cycle. This repeatability leads to less scrap and wasted material.
Finally, while they have a high upfront cost, robots require relatively minor investments over time to remain functional. These expenses typically take the form of routine maintenance activities. Regular maintenance tasks include cleaning, greasing, range of motion tests, program, and configuration file backup.
Higher Quality Welds
Welding robots have the ability to move to the same point in space within a sub-millimeter level of precision. Manufacturers leverage this precision to create perfectly aligned weld seams. You can tune your robot programs for the highest quality welds by adjusting settings and testing parameters. Once you find the optimal setup for your robot, you can expect high-quality, repeatable welds every cycle.
Types of Suppliers Offering MIG Welding Robots
As you explore automation options, you’ll come across potential suppliers for your project. It’s helpful to understand the landscape of suppliers. This knowledge will help guide your decision-making toward a supplier that’s best for you.
Robot manufacturers have the greatest knowledge of the robot. They often have packaged solutions for standard welding applications. Some manufacturers even have full robot welding cells as a complete welding solution. Manufacturers also have the highest quality training programs for their customers. However, robot manufacturers vary in their ability to offer custom solutions. If you have an application with special considerations, it’s important to review these with potential robot manufacturing suppliers.
Integrators are 3rd party suppliers that offer custom solutions for manufacturers. Integrators have distribution relationships with robotics, welding, and electronics brands. They build custom solutions for each project and are highly flexible in their solutions. As a result, integrators rarely have ready-made solutions.
Solution providers are 3rd party OEMs that create standard solutions for automation applications. These OEMs often have prepackaged solutions that solve a specific problem. Welding robot solution providers offer systems such as weld cells and mobile cobot welders, for example. In addition, they often have unique solutions to common issues. Examples might include features like custom programming software geared for ease of use.
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