4 Key Takeaways From FABTECH 2022

FABTECH has once again come and gone and this year’s rendition offered, for the first time since the pandemic, a chance to see everyone’s faces again. With hundreds of companies and tens of thousands of exhibitors and attendees alike roaming around in the Georgia World Congress Center, there was a diverse set of robots, machines, and approaches to manufacturing automation. But what stood out the most?

During our one-week stay in Atlanta, we had enough time to not only talk to some fascinating manufacturers but to peruse the rest of FABTECH to see who and what caught our attention. Here are our 4 biggest takeaways from FABTECH 2022:

An Abundance of Cobot Welding

FABTECH is known for the wide variety of exhibitors showing off new machinery, robots, and software but sometimes, you’ll find several companies displaying the same thing with different bells and whistles. This year, we saw a high number of cobot welders (and welding-adjacent exhibitors too) and counted a total of 37 of them across the three exhibit halls. 

Based on the number of people who came to our booth and asked us about lot-size-one welding solutions (it’ll come!), we can definitely understand the need for new welding solutions, with an average age for welders topping 55 and little helping seeming to be on the way. After all, we listed recurring problems in welding and how to solve them, but current solutions are still mostly suited for higher volume weldments not necessarily the futureproof way of enhancing this process – although they do play their part.

There are always new easy-teach tools being released with the goal of producing consistent high-quality welds, but even with these new additions, the cycle time challenges will continue to persist. Specifically, with lower volume productions, some of the challenges such as teaching and repeatable fixturing remain constant. While they make the end result better, the road to it doesn’t get much easier. Despite this, the demand at FABTECH for autonomous welding solutions shows just how much pain still exists in that world. It is abundantly clear that people are looking for small, low-cost solutions with a willingness to “figure things out” if it does not address each and every requirement in their production process. 

Subscriptions: A Path to Being Recession-Proof?

Every manufacturer, machine builder, and integrator knows how difficult it can be to keep up with a recession. With cash becoming more of a luxury during tough economic times, how do you continue to improve productivity when keeping staff becomes increasingly strenuous? How do you justify spending on robotics solutions when most of them come at a high initial cost all while needing operators?

Instead of investing hundreds of thousands (or more) all at once on integrating a high-mix solution, subscriptions to software-based solutions will lessen the burden of spending all that cash in one spot. With a subscription, it’s clear that you won’t own the software you’re using to solve your problems. What it will do, however, is spread out your bill over monthly or yearly periods. If a subscription consists of an hourly rate far below that of skilled labor burden rates, then suddenly the cost to finish a process becomes more palatable and sustainable for manufacturers looking to save costs and maximize efficiency – and you finally get systems that can address an indefinite variation of parts, which cannot be addressed with traditional robotics today. 

Naturally, there may be exceptions, but very few. Companies that function primarily on liquid cash – a rarity for most – won’t see their cash flow optimized by subscriptions. A company with a usage-based subscription can go up and down on operating expenses and they can shift their usage based on market conditions. 

Subscriptions offer “recession-proofing” because your operational expense can fluctuate with demand, instead of capitalizing highly complex integrations where the payback may not be realized if a recession happens earlier than expected. This kind of whiplash is still what the industrial sector still suffers the most from, despite every other sector having become more agile through flexible payment models. Even if you pay more in the long run, you can not only get more value and a solution that grows to meet more needs – you can also pay less when you need to, a critical feature when urgent cost cutting is required.

Subscriptions are surefire ways of making sure your processes can continue in spite of an economic downturn. By effectively managing recurring payments and enabling more stability and consistency in your skilled labor force (read: more productive labor, less lay-offs), then you can rest easy knowing that you’ll be able to hold the fort during tough times. 

Labor Shortages For All?

The two words that came up the most during FABTECH were “labor shortages.” Of course, this isn’t surprising. Since the start of the pandemic, it’s been especially difficult to replace skilled workers performing manual labor. Now that we’re further removed from the pandemic as ever, manufacturers need the same level of productivity they had prior to 2020.

In theory, people want their cycle times to be as close to zero as possible. Granted, no action will ever be instantaneous, but the more we lessen cycle times, the more efficient everyone will be. If manufacturers add robotic or automation solutions to their setups, they need these new solutions to be efficient. If an automation solution is complex and adds more work to the operators, then what kind of time are you actually saving? 

By switching to smaller, simpler, more modular, and mobile solutions – machines that can function with infrequent or limited oversight from operators – the incremental cost of using your capital will be significantly stabilized, maximizing the speed with which you can get an outstanding payback. As well, by freeing up the operator’s time, they can move on to other tasks that require human input in a different way. Essentially, they can solve more with less.

Skilled Labor, On-Demand: The Power of AutonomyOS™

Though the above points vary in nature, they all share some sort of connection. After all, manufacturers, while they all differ in their work – all face similar problems. Labor shortages, market saturation, and money management can make or break a company. To find a solution that can tackle all these problems, it might benefit your company to take a look at AutonomyOS™, a software that can essentially act as skilled labor on-demand. 

At our booth, we saw several people ask us about processes we expect to support in the future. Our sanding solution with DIY Robotics was well understood from the jump, with manufacturers grasping how the process works quite easily. There is an abundantly clear need for autonomy as a solution to shortages of all kinds.

With AutonomyOS™, you can say goodbye to having skilled workers working around the clock to finish a list of items to be powder coated, sanded and – in the future – deburred, welded or more. Thanks to a OpEx-friendly subscription, and a wide array of ready-to-go processes, all manufacturers will need to do is press a button to have their skilled robots do the tough work (just like the sanding solution at our booth!). It is quite literally skilled labor, on-demand: use what you need and pay accordingly. With the ability to have robots and cobots alike perform tasks without the need for intricate setups by operators, you can unlock productivity at faster rates than ever before.

The advantage of our hourly model – where you only pay for your software subscription in operation – means that you can stick to minimum commitments and add usage through a token system. This overflow can help you manage the ups and downs of production utilization, but also help maximize the utilization and Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) of all the other equipment you’ve capitalized in your facility. 

At the same time, we don’t make you rent equipment – you can still buy that yourself, finance or rent through a third party – but the autonomy which makes it so powerful for high-mix manufacturers is available on-demand and works flexibly to help you meet your growing needs.

The best part? The more you use it, the faster your payback on your entire robotic system.

Industrial Space Continues to Grow and Adapt

The combination of reshoring, labor shortages, and financial uncertainty are forcing everybody to get lean and efficient – fast. This doesn’t mean big massive system integrations – small becomes beautiful. This also means simplicity, minimal training and high-speed payback are essential.

Transformative technology is the only way to do this – old models simply will not do. While many were not at FABTECH and busy minding the store at home, so many more at the show were truly ready for new ideas, new modes of production, and new ways of doing business, because they feel the pain the most. We know many may have stumbled a few times or more in their journey through automation, but fortunately, autonomy is here for you today.

With an AutonomyOS™-enabled robotic machine, you can say goodbye to labor shortages and maximize your efficiency. With the ability to set up behaviors to execute tasks such as paint spraying, sanding, welding, and more, you’ll find all the flexibility you want for your manufacturing needs. Contact us to learn more

5 Common Welding Problems and How To Solve Them

To the untrained eye, welding can come across as a more pleasurable form of labor. The action of welding just seems that much more interesting than other processes. But just because it looks fascinating doesn’t mean it’s all glitz and glamor. It’s a physically and mentally demanding job that, if done without the proper care, could lead to many problems and hiccups along the way.

Some of the recurring issues in welding can be attributed to faulty equipment but most come from improper actions, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it errors, and sometimes just some bad luck. Fixing problems in welding can be difficult as it’s not always possible to walk back on the process and just patch over a mistake, given the transformation through which the metals go. Instead of fixing, it’s often easier to prevent these problems. In order to prevent them, we need to understand why certain problems happen and what practices will help mitigate them.

 

Spatter

Weld spatter is about as annoying as it sounds. Spatter usually forms from droplets of molten material produced during the welding process, namely near the welding arc. These droplets often look like molten balls of metal that attach themselves to the surrounding surfaces such as the metal piece the welder might be working on, or, well the welder themselves. While they aren’t physically devastating to the piece being worked on, it does look wonky and might give the impression that the welding process was done with little to no care. While it might be annoying to remove the spatter afterward, preventing them altogether will save precious time.

The causes of spatter can vary. Sometimes the metal composition is at fault; not every type of metal is meant for welding. Some components don’t have the strength to withstand the heat that welding brings. Other times, the metal coating could be erroneous, the metal could simply be dirty, or improper welding techniques and settings could be at play. These problems aren’t necessarily rare, however, a little further research and attention to the setup could be the difference between spatter flying around ruining the metal and finishing the task with no hiccups or hurdles.

Quick ways to prevent spatter could be to reduce the current and the arc length, increase the torch-to-plate angle, and clean the gas nozzle. By taking a few precautions, you may be clear in avoiding spatter on various welding processes.

 
Spatter marks are easily visible and are a sign of poor quality assurance from the welders themsevles.

Porosity

Porosity is another common welding defect that’s easier to prevent than it is to solve after the fact. This defect happens when there’s the absorption of nitrogen, oxygen, and/or hydrogen in the weld pool. This generally occurs inside the weld during the cooling process. There are several types of porosity such as surface, subsurface, wormholing, and cratering each with its own causes and deformities.

The most common one is surface porosity which shows deformities to even the most untrained eye. The other forms can be slightly more difficult to see as you take a gander, but their subtle imperfections can affect the welded metals negatively. 

Porosity can be caused by the contamination of the metal at hand, including by paint, oil, moisture, mill scale, etc. As the heat from the welding increases, these contaminants will transform into gasses that then become trapped within the weld pool, essentially weakening the weld itself.

As is the case with spatter, removing porosity after the fact is time-consuming and arduous. Your time is better spent taking the necessary precautions to avoid porosity. Some of them include keeping the workspace clean, using fresh welding consumables, having dry and clean plate edges, and regularly checking the equipment. The last thing you need is a leaky welding torch because you didn’t check it before using it!

Cracks

Of all the recurring problems in welding, cracks may just be the most annoying of them all. Cracks happen when the internal stresses of a weld exceed the strength of the filler metal and/or base metal. Unlike the other problems, which could be solved after the fact, cracks are much more of a nuisance. To fix them, the weld would need to be ground out, and then a new weld would need to be performed. Essentially, you would need to eliminate the problem and restart from scratch. If that sounds like lost time, that’s because it very much is.

While the cracks often happen because of external and internal stresses, they aren’t all the same. The physical loads may be too heavy for the welding process; residual welding stresses, the more frequent cause, can weaken the joints, leading to cracks in the metal. Cracks also occur in two extremes: very hot and very cold temperatures.

Hot cracks occur at higher temperatures when the liquid metal can’t sufficiently fill the spaces between the weld metal that’s in the midst of solidification. As the metal shrinkage begins, so does the cracking as there’s an excessive amount of stress that occurs simultaneously. Hot cracks can be attributed to a strain on the weld pool, a blockage of weld liquid, impurities in the metals, and above-average temperatures. To avoid these cracks, it’s best to keep the causes in mind and keep the strain and temperature to the lowest possible without sacrificing the quality of the weld.

Cold cracks, while on the opposite side of the temperature spectrum, are still just as annoying. Cold cracks cause sharp-edged crevices to form throughout the weld. Like its warmer brother, it can absolutely ruin the weld. It can occur after the weld has solidified and can be caused by a combination of welding stress, a brittle hard structure, the presence of hydrogen, and temperatures below 150°C. To prevent cold cracks, ensure you have a proper width to depth ratio on weld beads, select your base material properly, and validate your technique to mitigate any improper moves or processes you may not be sure of.

 
Cracks in sanding can be minimized using cover sheets. Statistics via Research Gate by Zhanxiang Ling.

Undercut

Undercutting in welding is when grooves begin to appear on the base metal near the root of the weld. While this is sometimes the result of a weak welding process if undercuts do appear they can drastically reduce the strength of the weld and workpieces. Some of the causes for undercuts include maintaining too long an arc length and maintaining excessive current which causes edges of the joint to melt and drain into the weld. The latter will leave a drain-like impression across the weld. As well, selecting the wrong gas shield, poorly depositing the filler metal along the edges of the weld, using incorrect filler metal, and using an improper electrode angle can all cause undercuts in the weld. 

Simply put, undercutting in welding isn’t uncommon. Correcting the undercuts is doable, but, like clockwork, prevention is key. To ensure proper welds and to avoid undercuts, double-check the heat input, work at a decent speed (one you can properly supervise), correct the electrode angle and size, and perfect your weaving technique as much as possible before starting your weld. 

Distortion

One of the more visible defects, distortion of the metal occurs when the heating and cooling is uneven. Usually caused by compressive stress that occurs on the area around the edges, the metal can begin to deform and turn into an unwanted shape. Different forms of distortion include longitudinal shrinkage, transverse shrinkage, angular distortion, bowing and dishing, buckling, and twisting. While these all may sound a bit odd, it’s important to take the proper steps to avoid distorting the shape of the metal you are working on.

Preventing distortion in metal isn’t always a one-size-fits-all solution, but it can mitigate any unwanted disasters. Avoid welding from both sides of the joint. Weld from the center all the way, also going in opposite directions. Use large electrodes and clamp firmly. As well, alternate sequences of welds and locations if you begin to notice the beginning of the distortion.

Different forms of distortion could properly imbalance the way the metal is welded. Prevention is the key to avoiding these annoying problems. Figure via TWI Global.

Much Ado About Welding

 

Welding is a nifty but complicated process. Errors are easy to come by but they are also easy to prevent. Considering that a good portion of welding is done by real welders, problems may sometimes arise as a lapse of judgment, which could be caused by fatigue, stress, and other human factors. Humans are imperfect and sometimes that leads to imperfect welds. Other times, it can just be bad luck. In any case, these problems are common and easy to identify, giving you the most information possible to complete your welds in the most efficient manner possible.

When human welders are no longer an option, autonomous robots can answer the call. Using 3D Perception with AI-based Task Planning and Motion Planning, manufacturing engineers and integrators can configure autonomous robotic systems to analyze and weld various pieces of metal regardless of their shape, complexities, and sizes. Contact us to learn more.