It’s becoming more and more apparent that automation, in one form or another, is the future of manufacturing. The welding industry is no exception to this fact. The promise of safe, precise, repeatable welds at higher speeds and lower cost makes it an obvious choice. With an increasing number of companies implementing some kind of automation in their welding, not to mention the still-growing skilled labor shortage, it’s becoming progressively more important not to fall behind. But not all automation is created equal, so which kind should you be looking at? There are two main categories that should be considered.
If you’re considering automating your welding process, this is where you should start your search. Offering lower up-front costs, and requiring significantly less specialized knowledge, fixed automation (also known as hard automation) has the lowest “barrier of entry.” Due to the relative ease and simplicity of setup, it’s also the easiest form of automation to move or re-tool for different parts and applications.
Fixed automation comes in a variety of forms including welding tractors/bugs, pipe positioners, column and boom setups, etc… What all of these forms have in common is that they hold the torch in a fixed mount and are designed to accommodate simple, typically linear or rotational, motion in order to perform a single weld. The easy setup and simple motion makes this type of equipment ideally suited for large pipe welds, long seams or fillets, etc… Depending on your application, fixed automation can be a perfect fit for anything from job shops to high production manufacturing.
Flexible automation typically refers to the use of robotic arms to automate complex and repetitive welding applications. Unlike fixed automation, robotic arms offer the flexibility to manipulate the welding torch into a variety of positions and accommodate a wide range of movements in order to complete multiple welds. This form of automation is faster and more consistent, but comes at a higher initial price and requires specialized knowledge to setup and program it. Although flexible automation is easily capable of both low and high production, it is primarily used in the latter.
The best form of automation for you depends on your specific applications. Flexible automation comes at a higher cost but offers faster, safer, more consistent welds for complex parts in high production environments. Fixed automation offers similar benefits at a lower up-front cost, but typically isn’t well suited for complicated welds or tight spaces.
Whether you settle on fixed or flexible automation (or some combination of the two), check out our mechanized SpinArc torches for even more productivity benefits!