Robotic welder automates arc welding with no capital investment
Nowhere in US manufacturing is the shortage of labour felt as urgently as in the welding sector, which is now facing an acute shortage of welders. The industry’s hiring challenge, combined with the struggle metal fabrication companies experience in producing quality parts quickly and in small runs, prompted Hirebotics to develop the BotX Welder.
“Many people didn’t believe that collaborative robots could perform such heavy-duty tasks as welding,” said Rob Goldiez, co-founder of Hirebotics. “We realised the need for a solution for small and medium-sized metal fabricators trying to find welders.”
Hirebotics’ hire-a-robot business model, built on cobots from Universal Robots, set the foundation for the BotX. It is a welding solution powered by the UR10e cobot that is easy to teach, producing automation quality with small-batch part runs.
In developing BotX, Hirebotics addressed two major hurdles of robotic welding: the ease of programming and the ease in which a user can obtain the system without assuming the risk of ownership. There are no installation costs with BotX and, with cloud monitoring, manufacturers pay only for the hours the system actually welds. “You can hire and fire BotX as your business needs dictate,” explained Goldiez.
The complete welding system comes with the UR10e cobot arm, cloud connector, welder, wire feeder, MIG welding gun, weld table and configurable user-input touch buttons. The customer simply provides wire, gas and parts. Customers can teach BotX the required welds simply via an intuitive app on any smartphone or tablet utilising welding libraries created in welding labs. A cloud connection enables 24/7 support by Hirebotics.
“We chose Universal Robots’ e-Series line for several reasons,” said Goldiez. “With Universal Robots’ open architecture, we were able to control not only wire feed speed and voltage, but torch angle as well, which ensures a quality weld every time.
“UR’s open platform also enabled us to develop a cloud-based software solution that allows us to ensure a customer is always running with the latest features at no charge. We can respond to a customer’s request for additional features within weeks and push those features out to the customer with no on-site visits.
“The fact that they’re collaborative and don’t require safety fencing like traditional industrial robots means a smaller footprint for the equivalent working space or, put another way, less floor space to produce the same-sized part — in many cases less than half the floor space of traditional automation,” he continued. “The collaborative nature of the solution enables an operator to move between multiple cells without interrupting production, greatly increasing the productivity of an employee.”
PMI in Wisconsin was one of the first customers of the BotX. “A large order would mean we needed to hire 10–15 welders to fulfil it — and they’re just not out there,” said Erik Larson, VP of Operations at PMI. “As a result, we would use no-bid contracts on a regular basis. With the BotX solution, we now quote that work and have been awarded contracts, so it has really helped grow our business. The BotX Welder doesn’t require expensive, dedicated fixturing and robot experts on the scene.”
Now PMI’s existing operators can handle the day-to-day control of the BotX, which welds a variety of smaller product runs. The Wisconsin job shop has now stored weld programs for more than 50 different parts in their BotX app. “We are now able to deliver quality equivalent to what we could accomplish manufacturing with very expensive tooling typically used with higher-volume part runs,” said Larson. “Being able to simply hire the BotX Welder, and quickly switch between welds by using our smartphone — and only pay for the hours it works — is huge for us. It took our area lead, who had no prior robotics experience, half an hour to teach it how to weld the first part.”
Another significant benefit was PMI’s ability to get the BotX welds certified for customers who require this. “This now means we do not need to use certified welders to oversee the operation. As long as the cobot welder’s program is certified, any operator can tend the cobot welder. This really unlocks a lot of resources for us,” explained Larson. “Hirebotics and Universal Robots really hit the mark with this, we’re looking forward to a long partnership with them.”
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