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article imageOp-Ed: Could automated welding increase factory productivity and profit?

By James Walker     Apr 21, 2014 in Business
Increasingly factories are moving to use automated welding equipment instead of manual human welders so could this actually significantly increase the productivity and so profit of the factory?
Any company that produces large products utilising metal will need to weld components together to create an exceptionally strong, durable bond between the two sheets that effectively fuses the pieces of metal together into one larger piece.
Traditionally, welding is done by hand by an experienced engineer because of the extremely hot, dangerous temperatures required and infamous flying sparks formed by the method. Even today, as almost all factories are dominated more by robots than by men, the vast majority of welding tasks are still undertaken by hand due to the complexity of the process.
However, studies on firms that have switched to automated welding show that the technique can provide large gains in productivity and profitability if it is used in the correct style of situation such as the production of batteries, sensors, transducers and components of light bulbs — small, fiddly devices hard for humans to handle — or more dangerous, hazardous items to people such as nuclear devices or transformer cores. All of the above applications are very well suited to robotic welding as they are either deemed too hazardous or too complex for humans to safely or accurately undertake.
Automated welding functions through a process of robotic arms like in other components of an automated assembly line. Typically, a machine loads the parts into the welding machine, locks the welding torch into the correct position, forms the weld and checks the accuracy and strength of the bond before unloading the completed part and repeating the process. Sometimes, in semi-automated welding, an operator is still required to load parts but they are not involved with the actual welding process.
Automated welding can offer greatly increased weld quality as the arm can hold the torch much more stably and accurately in one position than any human can and can hold the torch closer to the weld without being hurt or burnt by the flame. Output and productivity are increased as the robots can perform the operation much quicker than a human resulting in more components being produced during a work day. Work can also continue through lunch breaks or tea breaks, when a human would usually abandon work for an hour or so and thus decreasing output, and is unaffected if an operator phones in ill and is unable to come to work. Of course, labour costs are also entirely eliminated by the use of the robotic, computerized equipment.
However some questions remain regarding the durability of the equipment as it is still relatively new and untested. It is unknown, for example, how long a robotic welding arm can be expected to reasonably function before being replaced, but this is actually a very significant factor to have in mind when considering the purchase of a new automated welding assembly line as equipment could cost up to $250,000 for a new fully-automated purchase. New equipment for use by a human operator could cost as little as $5000 by contrast.
However, I believe that the increased productivity and profit seen in companies that have invested in automated welding equipment counteracts and negates the untried negatives. If robotics can increase output of a factory by just 10-20 percent then that is a considerable increase in profit for the business — increased even more as the former labour cost is no longer applicable — and also means that goods are produced quicker and so reach the end consumer quicker. The ability of robots to perform the same tedious actions endlessly is also a useful feature as many human operators will often gradually get bored of their job if they do the same thing repetitively.
Overall, however, it will be a while before we really know what the real impact of automated welding is as its current usage is limited to large-scale operations with lots of cash such as car companies where it is used to quickly weld portions of cars quickly to, again, increase output.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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