Cobot welding – how companies can meet demand despite welder shortage

Have you noticed it is getting more and more difficult to find welders?

According to the American Welding Society, the U.S. will have a deficit of around 400,000 skilled welders by 2024, due to

  • the retirement of baby boomers
  • younger generations dismissing trades careers in favor of attending college
  • an increased demand for skilled tradespeople as supply chains reset after the pandemic

The industry continues to grow and there is a desperate need, there is simply nobody to fill the positions.

While this is great news if you are a welder, it is tough for companies who need welding expertise to meet their own production demands.

However, there is a solution.  Cobot welding.

Welding with a cobot

 

What is Cobot welding?

In cobot welding, cobots (collaborative robots) are used to automate certain welding processes.

They basically consist of a welding table, cart, or magnetic mount rigged with a robotic arm, welding tools, power source, cooling system, and a way to program the robot.

They work alongside your existing trained welders and have already been employed in a wide range of industries, including automotive, aerospace, and electronics.

Cobot welding parts explained

 

Benefits of cobot welding

Cobot welding has many advantages compared to traditional manual welding, including:

  • Quality: As human workers tire and start to lose concentration, the quality of their welding decreases. Welding cobots consistently deliver the same quality work no matter how long they are run. The quality is determined by their programmed parameters.
  • Productivity: Human workers naturally slow down the longer they work. Welding cobots continue to produce the same quantity of output given a specific programmed task, regardless of how long it takes.
  • Efficiency: Rather than having your skilled workers perform repetitive welds, free up their time for more specialized welding requirements by allocating the repetitive tasks to the welding cobot.
  • Safety: Toxic fumes, eye injuries and burns are just some of the safety issues confronting human welders. Eliminate all of these concerns by placing a welding cobot on the front line with its operator working from a safe distance.

For additional information on the safety benefits, check out our previous post on safety and consistency.

In addition, welding cobots:

  • are easy to use. Existing workers can be trained to program, maintain, troubleshoot, and repair them
  • are much cheaper than industrial robots. They also require less space and do not need to be housed in enclosures
  • upskilling your existing staff; train to operate the cobot welder for repetitive tasks and reallocate time to other more valuable or specialized tasks. The same skilled workers that are doing the work will be trained to work alongside the cobots and should be able to maintain, troubleshoot, and repair their automated equipment.
  • can be used to attract new staff: Better working conditions and the opportunity to learn and work with new technologies is a competitive recruitment advantage.

In terms of cost compared to traditional industrial robots, cobots are:

  • much cheaper,
  • no need for enclosures
  • have less requirements for manufacturing space

With so many benefits, they are ideal for companies that are looking to improve their welding operations.

 

How do my welders work with a cobot?

A cobot does not replace your welding staff.

Experienced welders are still required to “train” (program) the cobot and then ensure the quality of the final welds.

However, instead of spending hours manually repeating the same simple weld over and over, they spend a much shorter period of time setting up the cobot and then just need to check in from time to time while they concentrate on more complicated welding tasks.

It generally takes less than a day for qualified welders to learn how to program the cobot – especially if you invest in one like the SmoothTool Cobot Welding package which also includes a programming flange that allows operators to manually move the robotic arm during programming to set points and teach it what to do (no programming required).

3d viewer UR teach pendant

 

Why should I invest in a welding cobot?

The welder shortage is real and will not resolve in the near future.

Add in the universal truth that increased productivity and efficiency always result in greater earnings, and now could be the right time to invest in a welding cobot.

If you can’t get more welders, use cobots, name it Steve, and they will be your welder that is 50% faster, 50% cheaper, and never has a day off sick.

Cobot Welder Human Welder
Price $70,000 $140,000
Time 1 Year 2 Years
Quantity (orders) 33 33

 

Now, the above table is a simplified comparison of the following example below but it sums up the capabilities of a cobot welder working alongside a welder on a single type of weld over a year. If you want more details then keep reading!

Obviously, the initial expense of purchasing the equipment and training staff cannot be avoided. However, let’s compare manual MIG welding and cobot MIG welding for cost and time requirements for the following job:

 

Materials S355 + 1.2mm (solid welding wire)
Weld 25 cm circular diameter, 4mm wall thickness
Batch size of order 800 pieces
Cost/hr qualified welder $35
Cost/hr cobot welder operator $22
Welding speed 30 cm/min
Manual vs cobot welding comparison

The comparison is with a qualified welder and a cobot welder operator but this example can be used for a single qualified welder.

Keep in mind that a welding speed of 30 cm/min is quite slow for an experienced welder as well as a high-end machine, so the time and cost savings would likely be much higher.

So how long will it take to recoup your costs?

That depends on your volume of work and how much you utilize the cobot on a daily basis. Generally, however, most companies find it takes between 1 and 3 years to pay for itself.

ROI on cobot welding

 

Why choose the SmoothTool Cobot welding package?

The SmoothTool Cobot welding package currently supports Metal Inert Gas (MIG), Metal Active Gas (MAG), and Tungsten Inert Gas (TIG) welding.

It is extremely easy for operators to quickly learn how to program it and consists of two elements that work together:

1) The programming flange. The device the operator uses to “teach” the cobot how the weld should be performed. The positions and movements of the welding arm are captured and linked to the control box and programming software.

2) The intuitive programming software that runs on the teach pendant. This walks the operator through the process of setting the parameters for the weld and teaching the robot how to perform it step by step. It also allows the operator to review the tool path in the 3D Viewer without having the robot arm perform the movement in a dry run.

For a complete demonstration of how these work together and an example of what your trained welders will be required to do, check out our complete demonstration video

Is cobot welding right for my business?

Since the current welder shortage is not going away anytime soon, now is a great time to look into modernizing and semi-automating your welding practices.

Schedule a call with us to learn more about how welding cobots can:

  • help you keep up with the welding demands of your business
  • increase your welding quality, productivity, or efficiency
  • provide high-quality working conditions and opportunities for current and future staff