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How to Weld Non-Standard Parts Using Automation

Custom, non-standard parts once caused challenges for welding systems. But there are best practices for the robotic welding of non-traditional parts. Setting up a system to handle parts with variations and low runs was featured on a webinar through the Robotic Industries Association (RIA) titled Welding and Robotic Automation.

Understanding what makes the part non-standard, off-line programming, and using 3-D measuring devices are among the successful approaches used in this type of flexible automation.

Knowing Non-Standard Parts

In the webinar, there is a photo of an augur joint with a circular shape and uneven join lines that makes automated welding a challenge. The welding tip has to be lined up and kept on point. Another image shows a FANUC robot welding a wind turbine.

Part consistency was once essential for robotic welding success, but the development of sophisticated software and vision systems make flexible welding a realistic solution.

Non-standard parts have varying shapes, sizes, and can come in different types of materials and many times are produced in small quantities which can mean frequent programming changes. There are steps to take that keep the process manageable and affordable.

Handling Non-Standard Welds

A three-person panel on the webinar addressed approaches to handling unusual welding requirements. Dan Hasley of Cenit, says a first step is to check the robot’s “reachability and accessibility” to the part. Cenit, a RIA member, produces FASTSTUITE, a product family to support digital manufacturing. The use of 3-D programming software checks the tool path prior to production.

Doing test welds is an important first step according to Steve Spanjers, Triton Innovation, a systems integrator that focuses on advanced data collection built into the equipment. He says testing will “validate the simulation” while checking on heat distortion and how the material will move.

Jerry Wright of Genesis Systems says his team does a 3-D simulation of the part and tests equipment in an automated solution center. He will also do 3-D printing of the parts to help determine the best tooling options. Genesis Systems is an integrator certified through RIA’s Certified Integrator program.

Setting Up a Non-Standard Cell

Changing from one type of welding to a robotic solution and setting up a welding cell is covered in the article Flexibility in Automation on the website Welding and Design Fabrication.

A customer replaced atomic hydrogen welding with powder feed plasma overlay welding using robots from ABB and it’s shown in a detailed diagram.

Infrared welding is another option used to weld plastic parts in the automotive industry. The article FLIR Cameras Ensure Quality of Plastic Automotive Parts on the website of AIA Vision Online, describes how thermal imaging cameras are used to monitor the “IR quality without interrupting the welding process.”

The cameras, combined with an analysis done by software, recognizes when a temperature is within the upper and lower control limits. When the weld is within acceptable limits then an approval signal is sent via the programmable logic controller and the weld continues.

If the software “fails” the part then the welding stops.

Both RIA and AIA Vision Online along with the Motion Control and Motor Association (MCMA) are member organizations with the Association for Advancing Automation (A3). Webinars are put on throughout the year and RIA’s next one on welding, Robotic Welding Tools, Tricks, Accessories, and End of Arm Tools, will be held June 22, 2017.

Learn about imaging through AIA’s webinar page and issues related to safety, data and motion control via MCMA’s webinar page.

Automation is a field of cross-disciplines that’s bringing industry together with academic researchers and vocational skills centers. Stay up to date on the trends that impact your company with the many free resources available through A3automate.org.