Top 10 Strategies for Expensive Welding Automation

April 11, 2010

It seems some companies love expensive low-profit welding automation.  Two frequent ops approaches are substituting myths for facts, and not allowing a welding expert to make welding decisions. Here are my Top 10 Production Management Strategies for Expensive Welding Automation in the manufacturing plant:

  1. “Just run it – that’s why we have weld repair”
  2. “Anyone in maintenance is qualified to adjust welds”
  3. “We can’t get time for PM’s” (we’ll take downtime instead)
  4. “We had to postpone weld training to save money”
  5. “If the weld fixture won’t run the parts, just shim it.”
  6. “We need to find the welding guy [engineer] something to do: he spends too much time standing around doing nothing” (except watching the processes to engineer and plan improvements)
  7. “We ordered cheaper weld wire to save money”
  8. “Quit complaining – just weld the parts” (out of spec)
  9. “Welding is simple – we don’t need experts: we have suppliers who need to earn their keep”
  10. “Don’t worry – the customer hasn’t complained”

(OK, yes, those are actual quotes from production management staff.)

I’m sure you’ve heard some “whoppers” – please share them in the comments so we can all moan and laugh! (And we can send a link here when we hear a “brilliant” welding management strategy suggested.)


Turnkey Illusions – How to Avoid Pitfalls When Outsourcing Welding Automation

April 6, 2010

“You can easily purchase high-performance welding automation “turnkey” without needing in-house welding expertise, because the integrator is “the expert”.” Really? That’s a familiar idea. But is it true, or… is it just a manufacturing management myth?
It’s a MYTH.

Chances of success? Probably less than 10%. That’s how you purchase poor to mediocre welding automation performance, like most of your competition has, which usually produces small profit margins. Is that the solution that will REALLY help you survive and get stronger? If it’s seemed like every launch is a new Vegas gambling junket, you may not be far from the truth: 10% odds on bringing home a profit doesn’t sound very appealing. Still want to try it again?

Instead, why not try the rare “high-profit expertise” approach?  Let’s compare. In this valuable article I’ll cover:

  • Three Foundational Welding Automation Principles.
  • The Two Successful Paths to achieving high-performance welding automation.
  • Three classic reasons that welding integration suppliers can rarely deliver world-class “turnkey” welding automation results.
  • Five suggestions on how to pick an excellent welding automation designer/integrator and achieve great results.

You buy or create automation for two basic reasons:  to improve profit & quality, or because a customer demands it of you for those very reasons.  So why not be hugely successful at it?  Why not say goodbye to painful, lame launch results? Why not aspire to be so successful in manufacturing automation, that you trounce your competitors? Why shouldn’t one of your biggest challenges be developing strategies to hide how profitable your welding operations are from your nosy customers and envious competitors?Robot in welding integration

To be most successful in welding automation, the first two questions to ask are “what is our path to the best long-term profits, and what will it take to get us there?”  Because I have repeatedly achieved that in complex welding automation, and created cultures of effective Continuous Improvement, I have some solid answers for those questions. But to explain, I need to build the foundational principles – because they are invisible on the radar screen of most company management.

First, let’s realize a simple point: whatever the Pepsi machine says in the display window is how much it costs to get a bottle or can out of the machine.  If the goal is high-profitability, high-quality welding automation that gives you a competitive advantage, then there are some coins required to get there.  Don’t dare think you can save money by cutting critical “options” from the purchase order: that’s like watching a manager beating on the $1 Pepsi machine and demanding a drink for their customer when they only put in 75 cents. Don’t create such embarrassment… decide upfront to pay the price for success.

Instead of looking for ways to cheat the cost of success, which creates a high risk of project failure or tiny profits, look for low-cost opportunities to innovate and make the automation even more profitable than the proposal said it would be.

Read the rest of this entry »


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 »


Poll – Biggest Obstacle to American Welding Excellence

March 14, 2010

Welding (or Materials Joining) Engineers, please vote on our latest poll, or view the results so far:

What do you think are the Top 2 biggest obstacles to welding excellence in American manufacturing, in the facilities you are personally familiar with?

(For Qualified Voters: Please, only vote if you are functionally experienced and/or titled and/or degreed as a welding or materials joining engineer, and have at least a Bachelor of Science degree in an Engineering discipline.  Everyone else, feel free to view the results.)

Remember to pick the Top Two obstacles!  [4/6/10 added two new choices to the bottom, by W.E. suggestion.]

See all of our Welding and Manufacturing Polls here.


Most Disruptive New Paradigm Technologies

February 27, 2010

What are the most powerful, the most disruptive new paradigm-shifting technologies for manufacturing?

TIP-TIG 2009 North American welding package introduction

That’s a harder question to answer than what people realize, and many people would answer it differently. I’m going to answer it myself in this article, slanted toward welding. But the biggest power of the question lies in the searching and the analysis, because ultimately that’s not the question that needs answered. The question that any leading company executive or engineering manager really needs to answer is this one:

“Which new paradigm-shifting technologies can I take full “disruptive” advantage of in my marketplace segment or new segments?”

Answering that question effectively requires research and analysis, as well as a keen visionary eye.  Because in evaluating a new technology for feasibility and disruptive profit potential, you must accurately envision what can realistically be, not what already is. Essentially, you must think innovatively.

Take for example, this recent article in Fabricating & Metalworking on Hybrid Laser Arc Welding (HLAW) as “the future of welding”, which leads off with this statement:
“This innovative technology is the most disruptive in a generation, leading some to believe hybrid laser arc welding will be a core welding process in the next five to ten years.” Read the rest of this entry »


The Weld Shop Role of CWI’s and NDT Inspection Techs

September 24, 2009

As an AWS CWI/CW Level II, Dustin Sharp contacted me with this question:

“I have read your blog and would appreciate your perspective on the need for skilled non-WE technicians/inspectors in the industry.”

This started a valuable discussion that I think others could assist with:

Dustin –  Thank you for your comments and question. If you were implying that this area is thinly covered on my blog, you are exactly right. As with many uncovered but valuable areas, I just haven’t gotten to them yet.

There is no question in my mind that there’s a great need – as you say – for “skilled non-WE technicians/inspectors in the industry”. The level of that need depends on what the exact industry is, more specific than the “welding industry” which includes everything that gets welded. The more welding codes involved, the more exotic the materials, the thicker the materials, the more demanding the customer application, and the lower the annual volumes, the more likely it is that many or all of the customers will require a CWI environment in order to assure quality and reduce risks. (On the other hand, the more basic the materials, the thinner, and the higher the annual volumes, the more likely it is to be a welding automation environment with fixed pre-agreed quality procedures in which CWI’s are not considered to be value-added.)

In manual welding environments these skilled technicians provide valuable, accurate on-the-floor analysis of welding quality, and to varying degrees a source of techniques and hands-on training. In many cases (especially true if there is no WE), it takes a CWI to establish facts of welding quality in the floor culture, and dissolve mythical opinions and expertise which are “tribally” assigned, like union seniority, to “Survivor” game-players who have “been around welding a long time” – rather than to people who are qualified and know what they are talking about. In the absence of these technicians, a Welding Engineer will spend a great deal of time in welding, yet be stripped of a lot of time to engineer.

(Brian)

Brian – Well stated, and thank you for the response. As someone who continually aspires to stay on the forefront of industry knowledge, I value your opinion.

I agree that in cases in involving; high tolerances, exotic materials, short run productions that a non-WE weld specialist should, or can be quite valuable. The industries that I would think to be most benefited through this function would be, as you stated, ones that deal with strict/exacting codes and standards. Aerospace, Nuclear, Oil&Gas, Pressure Piping/Vessels, and to some extent Large Scale Construction (Building,DOT) all present these code challenges and demand a highly skilled weld group (welders, supervisors, inspectors, engineers.)
Now, that is what I have thought to be true concerning the need for these non-WE specialists.

The absence of not only skilled WE, but knowledgeable specialists can be detrimental or at the very least counterproductive in many industries. Being a welder/fabricator for the duration of my career I have seen first hand the effect of “tribally assigned experts” bringing at times nothing more to the table than inflexibility, rhetoric, and limited knowledge of why a process/procedure is or is not working well.

Now trying to market yourself as more than just an overqualified welder — that’s a challenge.

(Dustin)

That’s been our discussion so far.  Since I’ve spent the last 15 years in welding automation, I’ve had no need to get a CWI certificate or build a CWI environment.  But that’s all going to change over the next several months as I move into a highly mixed production environment with thousands of welded assembly designs.  Meanwhile, please feel free to contribute in comments!


Where Pulse Waveforms Meet Excellence

July 7, 2009

I thought that others might benefit from this Q&A on pulse GMAW welding.

Brian:

I have a cell that I am working on that has a pulse capable power supply.  It currently runs .035″ solid lincoln wire.

If I was to experiment with pulse, somewhere in the back of my mind I thought you always taught us to go up to .045″.  Is that correct or am I getting confused with some other application?

Thanks, N.

N –

Thanks for the question. You are correct.  This is the reason why various welding “experts” say that going to pulse causes a reduction in penetration that is often a problem. Going up one wire size is the “trick” that puts you back in the same ballpark on penetration, while gaining the benefits that pulse can bring – such as a longer arc length for lower spatter, spatter that is cooler and much less tenacious in adhering, and a different bead profile that often brings advantages.

Basic Variables of the Pulse Waveform

Basic Variables of the Pulse Waveform

Now, once you’re in pulse, then the window of opportunity opens in terms of waveform selection/alteration to optimize your weld characteristics for most advantage. Some say that “a factory waveform is already optimized and pulse is pulse”. That’s the voice of ignorance.  The Pulse-GMAW process is the waveform, which produces specific results. Repeatability of the results hinges on the consistency of that waveform’s reproduction and stability.  Each and every waveform produces a unique balance in target criteria such as travel speed, deposition rate, resistance to burn-through, spatter production, out of position capability, fit-up gap variations, sidewall penetration, bead width/depth, etc.  Sure, the “factory waveform” was optimized, but probably not for your factory or specific application. Odds are that the “canned” waveform does not have the target balance you need to get highly optimized results like fast cycle times, zero rework, and no quality concerns.    Read the rest of this entry »