The Spool Welding Robot Increases Shop Productivity and Capacity

Welding automation technology can help junior welders perform more-challenging welds previously only performed by senior welders while also allowing senior welders to broaden and extend their careers.

AWS Publications | February 14, 2022 | Processes
Welding Digest ►  The Spool Welding Robot Increases Shop Productivity and Capacity

Welding automation technology can help junior welders perform more-challenging welds previously only performed by senior welders while also allowing senior welders to broaden and extend their careers.

When the demand for piping in the construction of data centers, ships, hospitals, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants is compared to the supply of skilled welders needed to perform those joints, an obvious problem comes into focus. There are not enough welders to get the job done. Combine this workforce challenge with the current supply chain difficulties that have resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic, and the compounding issues become critical. Escalating costs and delays in scheduling have created massive bottlenecks in the construction of industrial plants needed for developed and developing economies worldwide.

 

Combining Welding and Technology

In 2016, Novarc Technologies Inc. launched the collaborative Spool Welding Robot (SWR) to help reduce this bottleneck in construction and enable welders to be more productive and efficient.

With the SWR, pipe fabrication shops that weld carbon steel and stainless steel pipes typically see an increase in productivity and can realize significant gains in weld quality, payback, and support. On the shop floor, introducing welding automation technology helps junior welders take on challenging welds that previously could only be performed by senior welders, while senior welders can use the technology to broaden and extend their careers in the welding trade.

 

Collaborative Welding: How It Works

The welding robot works with the operator, who does not need to learn a special programming language nor have multiple years of robotic experience. The collaborative robot (cobot) can be positioned anywhere in the shop and only requires a 4 × 4-ft footprint as the built-in safety system eliminates the need for fencing. It can integrate with two to five positioners for maximum arc-on time and is fast and easy to set up, averaging two to three minutes between joints. The SWR is capable of welding stringers and multipass joints to produce code-quality groove and fillet welds.

The cobot enables nonstop welding from the root pass to the final weld layer with no need to shut off the arc between weld passes. The welder can use built-in features — such as Tack Fusion™, Root Save™, and Repeat Pass™ — to accommodate tack welds and variable joint fitups. These features were specifically developed with welding operators in mind to address the typical everyday variability associated with pipe welding and fabrication.

Fig. 1-1The cobot enables nonstop welding from the root pass to the final weld layer with no need to shut off the arc between weld passes. The preprogrammed procedures ensure that the SWR delivers repeatable and reliable stainless steel pipe, fitting, and flange welds.

 

Increasing Productivity

Using the cobot, pipe shops can increase their stainless steel pipe welding productivity by up to 12 times and see an improvement in carbon steel pipe welding productivity of three to five times with a typical return on investment in six to 18 months. This is all while ensuring weld quality is maintained or improved.

Typically, welders produce 200–350 diameter inches per shift on carbon steel pipes and 569–998 diameter inches per shift on stainless steel pipes with the SWR. Welders find it easy to scale up quickly, working with a human-machine interface (HMI) that enables the welder to select the preprogrammed welding procedure and tune the weld and motion parameters. Using this automation technology on stainless and carbon steel pipes helps welders achieve defect rates lower than 1%.

 

Scalable and Repeatable Quality Welds

Manufacturing pipes for industries such as oil and gas, wastewater, and nuclear requires significant quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC). With Novarc’s Welding Vision System and NovData™, the SWR uses artificial intelligence software to learn the weld conditions, developing algorithms to fully automate the pipe welding process. The need for human interaction with the robot is decreased further with the company’s Welding Vision System, resulting in a decrease in human error and associated costs for repairs and rework.

Recently, the company launched SWR+HyperFill®, a fully integrated dual-torch system utilizing The Lincoln Electric Co.’s patented twin-wire gas metal arc welding (GMAW) product.

The SWR+HyperFill can be used on carbon steel pressure equipment with 12.7 to 51 mm (0.5 to 2 in.) thickness and as low as 152 mm (6 in.) in diameter. The system also has the flexibility of using GMAW for the first pass to the final weld layer or seamlessly switching to flux cored arc or metal cored arc welding for the intermediate and final weld passes.

The SWR+HyperFill is capable of reducing welding times as well as achieving higher production rates (lb/h) and high-quality welds when compared to historical pipe shop practices.

 

Conclusion

This welding automation technology has improved manufacturing processes for pipe fabrication shops serving different industries. Integrating cobot welding technology allows welders and operators to improve productivity by three to five times (and higher) while maintaining or improving weld quality. This technology is capable of addressing skilled labor shortages, ongoing global supply chain challenges, and systemic shop capacity constraints.

 

This article was written by Soroush Karimzadeh (CEO of Novarc Technologies Inc., North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) for the American Welding Society.