Industry 4.0 comes to welding positioners: What does it mean for manufacturing?

2023-02-22 22:09:40 By : Mr. Deniz Wu

The Skymaster Pro from Pemamek is an example of a digitally enabled welding positioner designed to offer ease of programming via a smartphone or tablet, but still deliver the lift, tilt, and rotational capabilities of previous-generation positioner technology.

Every fabricating company is looking for welders. Even in European countries that boast apprenticeship programs and robust technical schools, metal fabricators can’t find enough people interested in taking up welding. Tank Welding Manipulator

Industry 4.0 comes to welding positioners: What does it mean for manufacturing?

That creates a problem for companies that need to make the most of their welding operations as they look to keep up with current workloads or possibly take on more work. Production efficiency is almost a necessity in today’s modern manufacturing environment. Industry 4.0 technology is supposed to be one of the ways that new levels of productivity can be achieved.

Industry 4.0 refers to what many believe is the fourth Industrial Revolution. The first one was connected to the emergence of mechanical tools made in rudimentary factories toward the end of the 18th century. The second Industrial Revolution coincided with manufacturing embracing the assembly line and fuels, such as electricity, gas, and oil, that jump-started productivity. And the third iteration occurred with the incorporation of computers and robots into the production mix, boosting manufacturing output once again. The fourth version of this revolution is focused on the digitally connected enterprise and data management. Manufacturers have access to information in real time, so decisions can be made intelligently and quickly, providing the opportunity to minimize wasteful activities like never before.

This knowledge-sharing has come along at just the right time as metal fabricators face the reality of a dearth of welders and a manufacturing economy that is full of opportunities. Now is the time for companies to grow, but if they can’t execute and deliver parts on time because welding is a bottleneck on the shop floor, they will lose current and potentially future business.

A great example of what this type of digital connectivity can mean to the welder can be seen in the latest generation of welding positioner technology. For some old-school shops, such a positioner might be looked upon as a luxury. But forward-thinking shops realize that they need their welders to be able to weld in the position in which they are most comfortable and in which they can deliver a consistent joint from one job to the next. Smart welding positioners can help them do that.

A welding positioner serves a simple purpose: putting the workpiece that is affixed to it in the most favorable position for effective welding to take place. A seasoned welder might not have an issue getting the positioner into the optimized working position because he has done the job or similar jobs repeatedly over the years. New welders, however, don’t have the luxury of familiarity with work assignments. They are left with a welding procedure and have to spend time trying to tweak the welding positioner into the right position to get the job going.

That’s time the welder isn’t welding. A customer isn’t paying for the time the welder needs to adjust the positioner; it’s paying for the welder to turn a CAD model into a fabricated subassembly.

The digitally enabled welding positioner can help get less experienced welders on the path to productivity much faster than its analog cousins. It’s a process that is similar to using a smartphone.

The welder only needs to scan a QR code or visit a website to download a positioner control program. The visual interface then appears on the mobile phone or tablet. From there, the welder can create job programs and save them for future access should the job reappear on the production schedule in the future. Such a program offers up simulation technology, allowing the welder to figure out the optimum placement of the workpiece during welding and dial in the correct height, tilt, and rotation of the table. Because of the visual interface and simulation capabilities, a welder should need less than a minute to program the positioner, instead of several minutes usually associated with more rudimentary technology. Cutting down that programming time over several shifts and spanning several weeks opens up more welding capacity for shops.

If the welder needs to tweak the program after physically engaging the workpiece, he can access the job program and make a quick adjustment. Again, the programming application on the smartphone or tablet is likely to be much more familiar to a younger welder than a typical machine tool programming interface.

The visual interface on the positioner programming app makes it easy for even new welders to set up a job quickly.

A smart welding positioner can save more than 1,700 different work cycle positions for a single workpiece. That provides new welders with a head start when it comes to setting up for a job and delivering repeatable results.

Positioning programs also can be imported into the control interface in case a shop wants to remove that responsibility from the welder. Notes, such as suggested settings for the welding power source and fastening torques, can be attached to each work cycle step as well. Welders can even access part drawings if they have been connected to the job. Smart positioners allow welders to spend most of their time doing what they do best—weld.

Working in a metal fabricating environment comes with its own set of inherent risks. New hires are even more susceptible to injuries because they simply are unaware of the potential dangers around them. There’s a reason everyone should be wearing gloves when handling sheet metal, for instance!

Positioners, both large and small, provide the mechanical means to place the workpiece in the optimal position for welding. If setup is done correctly—with the positioner rated to handle the size and shape of the workpiece—the welder doesn’t need to worry about hydraulics or electric motors failing.

It’s hard to believe that some shops still rely on cranes and chains for maneuvering workpieces, which is a recipe for disaster. With the right work cycle programs, positioners minimize the risk of injury to welders, both experienced and inexperienced. This is especially true with larger weldments, which can weigh several tons.

It should be noted these positioners help to reduce welder fatigue. Optimized positioner programs don’t force the welders to work out of position or in an uncomfortable position.

Additionally, modern welding positioner design minimizes the number of cords left exposed around the device, decreasing tripping hazards. Electric cabinets are integrated into positioner frames, for example, and the grounding connectors are easily accessible.

Monitoring of the welding process is really where the true potential of Industry 4.0 shines because welding is often where the production bottleneck is. Because the positioner programming app can be accessed on any smart device, supervisors can check to see the equipment status. Is the positioner on or off? If the positioner is not on, what is the reason?

The ability to get real-time updates is just scratching the surface of digital connectivity, but it does serve an important role in maximizing the uptime of profit-generating activities. Smart devices, even welding positioners, are helping metal fabricators make smarter business decisions.

See More by Dan Davis

Dan Davis is editor-in-chief of The FABRICATOR, the industry's most widely circulated metal fabricating and forming magazine, and its sister publications, STAMPING Journal, The Tube & Pipe Journal, and The Welder. He has been with the publications since April 2002.

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Industry 4.0 comes to welding positioners: What does it mean for manufacturing?

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