Welding shops are suffering from labor shortages and increasing demand for high-variability, small-batch orders. Automation providers are responding to this challenge with several systems that will be on display at FABTECH next month. The new welding automation products include collaborative robot arms from Universal Robots A/S.
According to the American Welding Society, the average welder today in the U.S. is 55 years old, and less than 20% of welders are under the age of 35. These demographics lead to a projected shortfall of 400,000 welders by 2024. Weld shops already can’t find enough skilled people, and they can’t automate the increasing amount of high-mix/low-volume production runs with traditional welding robots.
“Addressing the severe labor shortage in weld shops with cobots is now a solution that we see rapidly emerging, as industry leaders and innovators start offering automated welding tools utilizing the Universal Robots’ platform,” said Stu Shepherd, regional sales director of Universal Robots’ Americas division. “FABTECH attendees will witness how the ease of use and versatility of the UR cobots can translate into unique new welding automation tools in ways few believed were possible just a couple of years ago.”
BotX provides on-demand welding
The new BotX Welder, developed by Hirebotics, Red-D-Arc, and Airgas, uses a UR10e cobot to address two major hurdles of robotic arc welding: ease of programming and the ease in which a customer can obtain the system without assuming the cost of ownership. There are no installation costs with BotX. With cloud monitoring, manufacturers pay only for the hours the system actually welds, thereby enabling the manufacturer to hire and fire BotX as business needs dictate.
“We chose Universal Robots to power BotX for several reasons,” said Rob Goldiez, co-founder and CEO of Hirebotics. “With Universal Robots’ open architecture, we were able to control not only wire feed speed and voltage, but torch angle as well, which ensures a quality weld every time.”
Customers can teach BotX the required welds with app on any smartphone or tablet, said Hirebotics. It accesses a library of welding recipes contained in the BotX software developed specifically for the BotX and optimized to work with Airgas’ ARCAL shielding gas.
The complete BotX product offering comes with the UR10e cobot arm, cloud connector, welder, wire feeder, MIG welding gun, weld table, and configurable user-input touch buttons. The BotX is now available to early access customers. It will be on display at FABTECH in Chicago, doing live welding in Airgas’ Booth B19043 and in OnShape’s Booth A1345 on Nov. 11-14, 2019.
Vectis Automation’s Cobot Welding Tool offers ease of use
Debuting in Universal Robots’ FABTECH Booth B35083 featuring a UR10e cobot is Vectis Automation’s new Cobot Welding Tool. The company said it is “a portable, safe, versatile, and extremely easy-to-use solution that is even available as a low-risk, no-capital rent-to-own option.”
Vectis’ “Let’s Weld Together” programming interface is accessible directly through the UR cobot’s own teach pendant. Programs can be created, saved, and later recalled to handle the numerous part numbers typical for high-mix/low-volume shops.
“We saw Universal Robots prevail as the undisputed leader in the cobot market, lowering automation barriers through ease of use and fast deployment,” said Josh Pawley, director of business development and co-founder of Vectis Automation. “We wanted to build our cobot welder on this platform, providing the same user experience to welders that manufacturers in many other industry verticals now enjoy.”
He added that the Vectis Cobot Welder is commonly 25% to 40% less expensive than the “all-in” cost of a small traditional robot welder. The Vectis system comes with all hardware provided fully integrated onto a 3 ft. x 6ft. mobile modular fixturing cart. This is intended to enable metal fabricators to bring the cobot to the work, or the work to the cobot, with no anchoring nor dedicated footprint required.
SnapCut is a welding cobot that cuts through steel
A traffic-stopper at last year’s FABTECH was SnapWeld, the first integrated MIG welding system for collaborative robots available through Universal Robots’ UR+ platform, which certifies products to work seamlessly with UR cobots.
SnapWeld was launched by ARC Specialties. It has further developed the UR product portfolio with the release of SnapCut, which allows traditional metal fabricators to cut shapes in three-dimensional steel components with no prior robotic or computer programming knowledge. SnapCut will be showcased in Universal Robots’ FABTECH Booth B35083 using a UR10e cobot to manipulate a Hypertherm cutting torch to desired positions around the cutting path.
“With SnapCut, we have developed a tool that allows metal fabricators to deploy UR cobots to cut nonstandard positions on location with near plasma table quality,” said John Martin, vice president at ARC Specialties. “We’re providing an easy automation alternative to a process that today is primarily done manually.”
Users can easily switch between plasma cutting and welding, turning SnapCut into SnapWeld, said ARC Specialties. The company added that it recently updated the SnapWeld interface. It is preloaded with welding schedules so that even users without prior robotics experience can input the material information and then teach the welding path by pointing the robot at the weld.
UR16e to debut at FABTECH
FABTECH is also metal fabricators’ first chance to see Universal Robots’ new heavy-duty UR16e, which boasts an impressive 16kg (35 lb.) of payload capability. The new cobot combines high payload with a reach of 900mm and pose repeatability of +/- 0.05mm, making it ideal for automating tasks such as heavy-duty materials handling, deburring, and machine tending. Universal Robots said the UR15e has the highest payload and best pose repeatability in this reach class.
The new cobot is put to work in the UR booth by Fusion Cobotics, a UR partner that has developed the FC Series, a pre-configured machine tending solution with the UR16e. Manufacturers can utilize the equipment for efficient, reliable, uninterrupted machine tending throughout the day and into the off-shifts (lights-out) enhancing the ROI capital equipment without tying up money and valuable floorspace usually required by conventional robotic machine tending solutions.