Valuable New Technologies – Arc Vision

December 19, 2014

How can you turbocharge your weld quality in mechanized welding? By viewing the weld, greatly magnified, with far greater clarity than possible with a welding shield, remotely from any location. How does this technology work, and why is it so much better? Cameron Serles’ blog post does a good job of explaining the basics of the breakthrough Xiris camera systems: http://blog.xiris.com/blog/bid/392061/How-to-Get-the-Best-View-of-an-Open-Arc-Weld

But beyond that, what about the hands-on opinion of an objective welding engineer?  This is a first-ever hands-on review in Visionary Welding, and it’s a story worth telling.  I was able to set up and demo a Xiris dual-camera setup in recent months with the help of the talented Cornelius Sawatzky, and coordinating aid from Machine and Welding Supply Company (Raleigh, NC branch, Mark Jeffries and Brent Ellis).  I saw fantastic benefits for long multipass mechanized welds. 

Operators control view during welding

Here’s how I would cram the WOW into one paragraph:  The screen perspectives are astonishingly good – so good that it makes you want to put a Xiris camera on your head and a smartphone screen in your helmet for doing manual welding.  It’s like what you see on a dark cloudy night, vs. wearing night-vision goggles.  It’s like the difference between what you can see, and what Superman can see – courtesy of logarithmic light intensity processing that lets you see the puddle, the arc, and the surrounding material all at the same time.  You can toggle between auto-recording (when the arc is active), or manual recording modes.  The ability to capture everything during a weld means that welder operator training can move ahead by a light-year, just by reviewing and using video segments to show ideal techniques, weld defects as they occur, and methods of error recovery which may avoid weld repairs.

In reviewing the welding videos that we made during a couple of days of production, several things stood out:

  1. The balanced location of the molten weld puddle has to be constantly monitored and frequently adjusted. The location needs to be adjusted not only to edges, but also to placement on the plane of the layer in planning for the width and sequence of beads that will effectively fill each required layer (and provide for post-weld machining to finish dimensions).  Doing this relies on proximity line-of-sight, which is normally limited, restricted, and distant: generally poor. Everything seen through a welding helmet lens under these conditions is difficult to interpret and even harder to teach.
  2. Producing a perfect weld takes not only great interpretive visual skills but constant, non-distracted attention.  Both of those were “bionically” enhanced while welding with the camera system.
  3. In historic mechanized welding, both the interpretive visual skills and this issue of non-distracted attention are not simply limited by the welder’s motivation: they are chained and blindfolded by the use of inadequately archaic manual technology. For example, the welder historically needs to peer through a welding hood and see the weld area clearly from more than one angle to properly interpret what is happening in the weld and in the joint. But, he cannot see everything clearly with only one lens shade, he can only get a second viewing angle by leaving the controls, and his eye is always at least three feet from the arc. So the welder functions in a world where everything is a compromise and he is limited to guesswork which is based on poor visual access, and a distant, squinting perspective.
  4. Many things can be done with a standard single-camera Xiris system.  But through placement of two cameras, you can gain a view of both sides of the weld – giving the welder an instant and continuous advantage which they never had before.  With a tap of your finger or glove, you can switch between three arrangements of the two views to maximize the advantages for the needs of the moment.
  5. “Supersize” the magnification advantage for the operator, or broadcast it to a wider, distant shop-floor audience by plugging in a big external flatscreen.  (Could be a high value deal-closer for customer visits or Open House events?)
  6. The Xiris software provides the important ability to automatically adjust or manually “tweak” the image characteristics for maximum clarity advantages.  After all, there are great differences between welding processes, weld parameters, materials, and joint configurations.  But frankly, the results of activating the auto-adjust were hard to beat and as fast as a digital camera in Auto mode, making it obvious that Xiris has invested a lot of brainpower to make it easy to get optimal viewing results of the weld puddle and the entire welding area – at the same time.  Finally, the focal point of the camera has everything to do with how clearly you can see what you want to see.  But since these cameras have built-in focal-length motors and easy screen-tap changes of focal point, it’s fast to make on-the-fly adjustments to focal-length.

Considering these issues, it becomes more clear why Xiris’ dual cameras with logarithmic light intensity processing of magnified images is a gigantic enabler for weld quality perfection. Not only can the operator see the weld and surrounding areas perhaps 5 times better than even closeup through a welding shield, and not only is it magnified much larger, but he never needs to stand/squat/peer/duck/walk-around while leaving the controls to glimpse a different view. Because he is at the controls when he sees the first hint of a problem, and because he can interpretively identify it much sooner, he is able to adjust to avoid the problem – instead of recognizing and adjusting a few seconds after the problem is full-blown. 

It is primarily the nuanced details occurring within the weld puddle motion, puddle placement, puddle shape and solidification profile that determine the quality of the weld deposit. Because of this, it seems inherent that giving the welding operator this 10-times improvement in detailed visibility (that’s an understatement) should reduce remote mechanized welding defects by at least 70 to 90%… but I suspect it can probably enable 95% defect reductions in many situations.

All considered, the system seems pretty cost-effective, with fast payback in many production environments.  What’s the cost?  Think “best new cars on a budget” without fancy options or extra-status badges and you’ll have an idea of the price range.

What about the Xiris equipment design and durability?

Well-engineered design seemed evident in almost every aspect of the Xiris equipment:Xiris control console interior

  • Engineered and tested durability in high-temperature environments, using Exair chilled compressed air in the temperature-monitored camera housings, and optional high-temperature insulating wraps. Its’ tested camera/cabling capabilities can comfortably handle a 500F preheat environment when fully outfitted.
  • Matured control console design, with cooling and filtration
  • Durable high-performance cabling with sealed end connectors
  • Intuitive software interface  design, with graphic-symbol-driven screen layouts and screen swapping 
  • Simple yet thorough system documentation
  • 3-layer password levels
  • Our optioned higher-storage capacity unit provided about 130 hours of dual-camera weld-arc recording time
  • Amazing pixel achievements in the clarity and value of the highly engineered weld imaging
  • Continued improvement efforts in the software-use details

In summary, I found the Xiris system is designed to be easy to use, easy to maintain, and quite durable with reasonable care and use.  How easy and intuitive was it to use?  I had confidently selected and labeled a hardback notebook, knowing that I would need to take a number of important notes on how to accomplish and recall various Xiris tasks and tricks.  I never do that, but I “knew” I would need it, and I wanted to “pick” Cornelius’ brain on such things.  I had the notebook with me the entire time, but I could never identify anything that I needed to write down: that’s how easy and intuitive it is to use, and how thorough the short Xiris system manual is. 

In short, this is disruptive, groundbreaking world class welding technology that’s not R&D: it’s ready for mainstream.  My congratulations to Xiris on a fantastic product line that should prove to be a game changer in profits and weld quality in many automated or mechanized welding applications.

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Weaknesses in Integrating Welding Systems with Robots

March 26, 2010

“What is expected of a welding inverter” in order to be able to interact with a robot?  Common, logical questions for a welding equipment marketing guy, right? In a recent robotic welding group forum, Mr. Chinoy, the marketing manager of a welding equipment company, also asked “what parameters are required to integrate GMAW (MIG) equipment to the robot control panel”, besides wire feed speed and voltage? I answered those. And yet, hidden under the tip of that question like the 90% of an underwater iceberg, is the real question of ship-sinking power: what welding system interfacing and content will really earn the respect and repeat business of an end-user customer? Let’s do something stunning, and talk about that far bigger question too!

The answers depend on both your target business segment, and your company’s long-term goals as a welding equipment manufacturer. Many welding equipment companies design and launch a new machine every 3 years.  They just answer the obvious visible/functional questions.  One company chose to put out a pulse-MIG inverter that has been in continuous production for over 20 yrs, and has been the “king” not only of Electric Boat but the Korean shipyards for over a decade. In fact, older system versions can typically be upgraded to latest performance or customized waveform combinations with a simple plug-in EPROM chip swapout.

Why such content & success with the Digipulse (Automatic) system?  Simple – they answered the big hidden questions, and applied the hard yet hidden expertise required in order to faithfully serve the arc physics as well as the customer’s real needs and desires. How could they design that content back when welding robots were nearly non-existent? Because “hard-tooled” PLC-interfaced welding automation has essentially the same basic performance and interfacing needs as a robot. That can be shown by taking the unusual step of putting a robotic MIG process “fishbone” diagram together.

I’ve put a GMAW fishbone below (a W.E./SSBB project collaboration). It’s still hard to read when you click on it, and it doesn’t touch on the welding system design or integration content. But, it does show the overall process complexity and provides a starting point to consider welding system design and integration needs in order to consistently deliver perfect weld quality.

GMAW Process Fishbone

GMAW Process Automated Welding Fishbone

Take arc-starting and arc-established signals, for example. A manual welder is going to automatically compensate for an occasional poor arc-start. It doesn’t matter. But consider the dramatic difference in welding automation: when the torch travel in automation must rely on a signal to begin, aren’t the quality and cost implications much more dramatic and far-reaching than what most welding equipment manufacturers have been prepared to admit? This is only one piece of the automation puzzle, but it’s both critical and badly neglected.

The common minimalist approach is to provide a feedback signal during active welding, a “system ready” signal, an error output signal to indicate the system is in a fault state and unable to weld, and maybe a system-reset input. Many welding systems just provide those minimums, as “add-on” content to enable manual welding systems to go on a robot.

The problem from there is that many end users expect (at least eventually) to get high-performance welding automation results.  Of course that doesn’t happen, then everyone points a finger of blame at someone else, and if the customer succeeds in identifying the true welding-system design and/or integration weakness using many examples and actual real-time recorded data, the company responsible (such as Panasonic did, twice) might simply shrug and say “it welds good most of the time”.  Of course it does. But it’s also incapable of delivering world-class performance, simply because it’s not designed to.   Read the rest of this entry »


Manufacturing Welding Companies can Grasp Rare Opportunities in Economic Upheaval

February 27, 2009

These are days in American and world history of unprecedented business pressures and explosive economic upheaval.  There are so many unknowns and variables that even the best “crystal balls” look cloudy.  Yet there remains some general agreement from those who analyze international manufacturing trends and competition, that in the end, companies who are best able to harness flexible high-performance automation will come out the winners and leaders in 21st century manufacturing.


Many companies manufacture welded assemblies, but precious few realize that even in product design, quoting and launch, their entire business is wrapped up in selling their expertise at manufacturing welded assemblies:  having never realized this, they have never sought and developed true expertise in high-profit welding – yet it’s their most complex core process.  Instead, over 90% of companies (and too many welding engineers) are content to merely enable the welding processes, oblivious to the potential to achieve 40-95% improvements in them.  The few competitors who grasp this potential can leverage an advantage that’s as great or greater than union vs union-free manufacturing.


For a moment, consider one picture of an ideal profitable company of the future:  working as a team who is sharply focused on applying formidable expertise in the mechanisms, controls, and processes of flexible welding automation, supporting a structure that enables Continuous Improvement and “closes the loop” of design, launch and manufacturing.

To do this well will require assembling a team of technical expertise that is fully capable of effective CI, DFM, and DFSS thinking in every core discipline.  The critical essentials that are perhaps most often overlooked are a smart controls engineer and a smart welding engineer (SWE).  And “closing the loop” requires leadership with the experience to shape a team and craft mechanisms that can move past the traditional hurdles that are so commonplace in industry.  Accomplishing this, bridging this chasm between design and production, has been my passion.  So I believe that it could be worth millions to your company to consider some of my perspectives. Read the rest of this entry »