Spot Welding Robots: How One Machine Revolutionized an Entire Industry
With spot welding being such a common task in industrial automation, it’s no wonder that there are so many standardized automation solutions available. A quick look around any modern car factory will reveal that manufacturers have already unlocked the full potential of robotic welding. However, spot welding robots offer an exciting opportunity for many other modern manufacturers looking to significantly upgrade their manufacturing processes. Read on to learn about spot welding robots, when they might make sense for you, limitations to be aware of, and how to start your first spot welding robot project.
Automated Spot Welding Basics
Spot welding is used to weld two pieces of metal together at a single point. It involves sending high-current electricity through the workpiece. The metal then becomes extremely hot in this localized area, which allows the two pieces to fuse together. Due to its simplicity and wide array of applications, spot welding is the most common form of welding in the industry today. Over the past few decades, robots have taken over more of these spot welding tasks from manual laborers. We will discuss why, but first, let’s talk about who is using these robots and what kinds of robots are typically found in spot welding applications.
The automotive industry was the first to leverage the power of industrial robots. The first applications of robots were tasked in part with welding. If you look at virtually any of today’s auto plants, you will find industrial robots everywhere on the production floor. Many of them are in spot welding applications. Autobody frames are traditionally spot welded at the joints. It’s almost certain that the vehicle you’re driving today was spot welded by a robot.
Automotive industries are not the only ones leveraging this technology. For example, aerospace manufacturers commonly deploy these robots in their spot-welding applications, not to mention general metals and other heavy industries such as marine manufacturing.
Types of robots
Most robotic spot welders are six-axis or articulated arm robots. These arms also include the collaborative type. Manufacturers quickly realized the limitations of the polar robot’s dexterity, and demand arose for a new robot type.
The six-axis, or articulated arm, boasts a multi-jointed construction. These robots have the unique ability to contort themselves in and around the workpiece. This ability gives them an incredible advantage over other robotic technologies when working with large, complex workpieces. For tasks involving simple flat workpieces, cartesian robots are an ideal solution for spot welding.
When does it Make Sense to Automate Your Spot Welding Operation?
Spot welding robots are powerful tools, but they are not suitable for every case. Understanding why manufacturers most commonly automate this process can help you determine if automation is right for you. If you currently represent a manufacturer that employs spot welders in your facility, consider some everyday use cases here.
You Require Higher Throughput
One of the apparent advantages of spot welding robots is their superior speed compared to manual laborers. Robots are simply more robust and faster than manual welders. They can keep up this pace day after day. Production bottlenecks are a nightmare for manufacturers, especially when demand is high and the labor pool is thin. If you need increased throughput, it is worth exploring an automated solution.
You Need More Consistent Welds
Because robots follow a programmed list of instructions, they perform the same task the same way every time. Modern six-axis robots have precision metrics in the sub-millimeter range, far beyond the capabilities of human welders. This programmatic operation also ensures that consumables are used predictably and reliably resulting in less consumable waste and fewer rejected products over time. Manufacturers struggling with waste and rejected parts should consider the superior consistency offered by industrial robotics.
Labor Reliability and Cost Reductions
Labor shortage is the #3 issue manufacturers face today. This issue is felt across industries and countries as the developed world experiences an increased demand for service work over manual labor and the trades. Manufacturers’ best tool to combat this problem is automation. Robotic welders are consistent and very durable, often able to be in service for 10+ years with regular preventative maintenance. Robots can also be repurposed, giving manufacturers additional flexibility with labor allocation.
Outside of the cost of ongoing maintenance and eventual reprogramming, the price of a robot is primarily tied up in the initial cost of acquisition. This means that a robot’s productivity can pay off for its initial investment over time. This is a massive benefit for manufacturers looking to increase profit margins. The relatively low ongoing cost of ownership of a robot reduces overhead for your facility.
Many manufacturers are unsure if they stand to benefit from automation. To learn more, utilize our free tool to start your automation journey today. You’ll find free and easy answers for your specific use case. Begin by telling us a bit about your process and business, and we’ll help you navigate the complex world of automation investment. This tool will help you calculate how much you might stand to gain from automation and pave the way toward connecting you with suppliers in your area.
Limitations of Automated Spot Welding
It’s essential to be aware of the limitations of welding robots, as no one robot is ideal for every task. Understanding these limitations will help you avoid losing money on a costly investment.
Automated systems, in general, are best for high-volume processes. This pace allows manufacturers to take advantage of their increased speed and performance. Conversely, low-volume product runs negate robots' benefits over their human counterparts. Higher volume runs also imply less variety of parts, which reduces the need to task switch or reprogram the equipment to accommodate new products.
Automated welding systems can start at USD 100,000+. This sticker shock can sometimes dissuade manufacturers from taking on an automation project. Understanding overall costs at the beginning of your automation journey is essential. This way, you can prepare for the capital expenditure required and have an excellent baseline to measure ROI against.
Reprogramming the robot is a burden that all users will face at some point. When new products are introduced, the robot must be taught to weld this new piece appropriately. Therefore, it’s essential to have a robotic engineer on staff or one you can contract as-needed. This way, you will have minimal production interruptions when reprogramming is required.
Robot manufacturers are making this process easier for their customers. New technologies such as teach pendants, hand teaching, and 3D simulation software makes this process faster and more accessible than ever before. Be sure to ask which programming options are available for any robot you consider.
How to Begin Your First Spot Welding Project
Maybe you’ve identified a need and are ready to begin your first automated spot welding project. Where do you start? To understand the purchasing process, you must understand the players. Typically, suppliers can be 3rd party integrators, ready-made solution providers, and robot manufacturers. There are advantages and drawbacks to working with each type of supplier.
For example, manufacturers have the deepest knowledge of their products. This likely instills a certain level of trust as a consumer. However, manufacturers can sometimes be the most expensive option as they have the highest overhead costs to maintain their margins.
3rd party integrators are great options for lower-cost, custom solutions. They have access to a wide array of brands. However, they might not be specialists for your exact project. It’s crucial to vet integrators thoroughly to ensure they have the capabilities required for your project.
Companies that offer ready-made solutions are common in industrial automation. Many manufacturers face similar applications and issues. Because of this, there is a space for companies that offer off-the-shelf packages for standardized applications such as spot welding. The drawback here is that these suppliers might be limited in providing custom solutions not covered in their catalog.
Explore your options thoroughly and make the best decision for your company. Automation provides numerous benefits for those willing to take the risk. HowToRobot is here to help you navigate the available options in the market today. Our network of 16,000+ global suppliers helps manufacturers connect with the right people and request quotes for their projects. Begin your automation journey with us today.