The welding industry has advanced to a point where robotic systems are being called upon more and more frequently to complete welding and bonding projects, thanks to their unrivalled speed, precision and efficiency.
Charles Corner, managing director of full service sheet metalwork manufacturer, Fresh Metal, discusses how robotic welding has evolved and, in turn, revolutionised the welding and fabrication sectors.
Metal welding has been an essential part of manufacturing for centuries – as far back as 3000 BC. From these early incarnations, when metal was heated and vigorously beaten together to form a bond, to modern-day methods utilising complete robotic processes, welding is an absolute necessity for a variety of products and infrastructures.
But just how did we evolve from the first forms of welding to the hi-tech machinery-led systems used today?
During the Industrial Revolution, Eli Whitney kick-started the beginnings of modern day manufacturing with the invention of the automated assembly line in 1797 – a major milestone that revolutionised the manufacturing industry.
Despite this innovation, it wasn’t until the 1860s that electrical welding came to the fore, thanks to the patenting of the first electrical welding system by Henry Wilde.
From this point electrical welding really took off and the early to mid-twentieth century saw engineers and manufacturers developing a host of different types of welding processes, including arc welding, flux cored welding and electron beam welding.
While these processes were very effective at forming strong, durable welds, the processes used to implement them often led to engineers working in very hazardous environments, including dealing with extreme heat and toxic fumes.
After years of operating in these hazardous conditions, everything changed for engineers in 1962, when the first industrial robotic welder was unveiled.
This robot – the UNIMATE – was invented by Americans George Devol and Joseph Engelberger and was first used by automobile manufacturer, General Motors. The UNIMATE implemented spot welding on cars as they moved through the company’s assembly lines.
Utilising the UNIMATE revolutionised the way in which General Motors manufactured its vehicles. As well as completing welding tasks much more efficiently, the robotic system offered levels of precision and consistency that could not be rivalled by previous, manual methods.
After experiencing huge success with the robotic welding system, other car manufacturers including Chrysler, Ford and Fiat recognised the significant benefits of robotic welding and identified a necessity for the UNIMATE system in car manufacturing processes.
In addition to the speed the robot could carry out welding projects, it significantly reduced the number of mistakes being made during the production process, as well as freeing-up valuable man power to be focussed in other areas.
In 1966, after many years of testing, development and refinement, full-scale production of the UNIMATE robotic welder began in Connecticut.
While Devol and Engelberger set up the first robotic welding company, other inventors and engineers soon caught on to the importance of robotics in manufacturing. During the 1960s and 70s many other robot manufacturers came to market, including KUKA, FANUC and Motoman.
Robotic welding really began to take off in the 1980s, particularly in the automotive industry. Other car manufacturers witnessed the success General Motors had experienced by implementing robotic welding systems and began utilising this technology in their own factories.
Soon after, the benefits of robotic welding were beginning to be recognised by other industries, including metals manufacturing, and it’s easy to see why.
Robotic welders guarantee precision, high-quality welds every time. The systems are also able to replicate these welds with the same quality, resulting in uniformity and consistency across the finished product.
In addition to unrivalled precision, these robots have the ability to reduce costs for manufacturers thanks to improved productivity on an assembly line. The machinery is capable of completing projects quickly without compromising on quality – robotic welders work significantly faster compared to welding implemented manually, working without breaks and reducing errors.
The systems also reduce health and safety risks by removing engineers from hazardous welding environments, away from fumes and extreme heat.
At Fresh Metal we believe that these reasons alone are enough to cement robotic welding in the future of all manufacturing processes. We are dedicated to keeping up with the latest developments in automation technology, and utilising it to become leaders in our field. Our belief in robotic welding technology is so strong that we plan to invest in a state-of-the-art two station Panasonic Tawers MAG 1600WG Welding Robot System, which we forecast will increase the company’s welding capacity by up to 30%.
While engineers are taken out of the equation when it comes to robotic welders, robots still need operators to program and run the machines effectively, demonstrating that engineers will always be an important part of the welding and manufacturing process.
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