Automation and robotics in welding industry have the potential to revolutionise the manufacturing industry in the country.
Welding is a fabrication and sculptural process that is used in industry as well as construction and other activities to weld together or join various materials, especially metals and thermoplastics. The history of welding can be traced back to the Bronze Age. The first examples of such a welding were small round gold boxes with pressure welding lap joints. They are now a part of an exhibit at the National Museum in Dublin, Ireland.
Welding is ubiquitous and no other metal-work technique is used as extensively to link metals and compounds competently to add value to the manufactured product. Almost all things today, right from bridges and edifices, to automobiles and medical devices, could not be made without welding. Welding today is used to a wide assortment of resources and products, using cutting-edge technologies such as lasers and plasma arcs. Welding holds a lot of promise as new methods will be developed to join unlike and non-metallic things, to create products of pioneering forms and designs.
Welding and India
The welding industry contributes significantly to the GDP in numerous ways, like auxiliary products, industries concentrated on welding, employment both organised and unorganised, complementary goods, and consumables industries in India. Till a few years ago, low technology and rare technological innovation dominated the welding industry in India. However, with new technology, the demand for semi-automatic and automatic welding systems has been rising steadily.
Improved FDI equity influx in India has encouraged the increase in the number of ventures in automotive, offshore activities, the oil & gas sector, heavy machinery industries and ship building. Many overseas vehicle makers have set up their manufacturing units in India. The Transport and Automobile sector is among leading end users based on the demand for welding consumables. In 2013, it held over 25% of the market share. The power sector may become another leading segment in terms of growth in demand for welding during the period of 2014-2020.
Welding Automation in India
The government aims to make India the next manufacturing hub and a world-class one at that. To fulfil this aim, the manufacturing industry processes would need to evolve and help to increase production of the best quality of products. To do so, the welding process would need to move from manual and semi-automatic processes to complete automation and use of robots.
The welding consumables market may rise from a 5.6 per cent CAGR between 2014 and 2020 in India. The market value is likely to rise to INR 45.37 billion in 2020 from the INR 30.88 billion at the end of 2013.
However, welding automation in India is very slow, and the use of robotics for welding is limited to the automobile and yellow goods industry. Major industries like shipbuilding and railways still using old manufacturing techniques, while many organisations are still using electrode and semi-automatic processes. Around 86% of welding processes with 10 arcs or more apart from those in the automotive sector have yet to consider automated welding. Of that, nearly 43% will never consider pursuing automation. The remaining 43% may think of adopting automation at some point.
Challenges for Automation in Welding
- Most firms do not think the lack of volume of jobs can justify the RoI
- More time is spent in handling and fitting as compared to the welding arc time
- Lack of acceptance of change in welding methods by inspecting agencies
- No introduction of special alloys and increased shift to SS and aluminium alloys by manufacturers
- Improvement in the manufacturing industry without creation of jobs
- Lack of domain skilled manpower
- Many operations may not consider automation if they are making a profit from a manual process. And others may find the parts are too large to work within an automated cell
- Fears of labour issues and confusion about corporate motivations for change, and
- Irregular repeating parts and low turnout of identical parts may make large scale investment in infrastructure unviable.
Need for Automation in Welding
The need to meet India’s goal to increase the share of the manufacturing sector to 25% of GDP by 2025, to cater to the global requirements means more fabrication jobs coming here, replicating the success of the automobile industry in other areas, and becoming a global hub for pressure vessels, railway wagons, shipbuilding while meeting India’s pledge for ecologically justifiable progress. All these aims can be fulfilled through welding automation and other progressive practices.
As per India Welding Equipment Report 2017-2022 by Market Research Store, the top players in the welding industry in India are ESAB, Kemppi India, Lincoln Electric, Ador Welding Limited, Colfax, Kobe Steel, Illinois Steel Works, Fronius International and others, based on their sales volume, revenue and market share
Significance of Welding Automation and Robotics
An automated system makes consistency easy, and manufacturers looking to explore welding automation for the first time must consider the efficiencies to know if automation is the right way to go.
Shortage of Skilled Labour: The lack of trained and skilled welders is a concern today. Welding is one of those trades that still has demand for labour, but the supply doesn’t match the demand. Automated welding doesn’t replace the person, rather acts as a complement and helps in increasing productivity. Automation will help you bid for larger projects, know the exact production cost capacity.
Eliminate Variation: The main aim of automation in welding is the elimination of disparity. As soon as disparity is eliminated, manufacturers can reduce costs and create better-quality products. It helps to increase the welding output, and identify a disparity in the production line-up.
Man Vs Machine Conundrum: Will automation eliminate jobs is the question every manufacturer must contend with. However, while jobs that need to be repeated are suitable for robots, those based on judgement like the TIG are more suitable for manual operators. If your processes are more customised and change with every bid, then automation may not be for you.
Remove Excess and Rework: Manual welding creates a lot of splatters, which can be reduced and even eliminated if the process is automated. Removing splatter means manually grinding it, which is re-work. Automated welding, on the other hand, helps to reduce the need for physically working the part. Re-work is very expensive and a factor that very few people take into consideration.
Streamlining Process: Most manufacturers fear the changes automation may require. Do I need to reorganise my factory or add another building or infrastructure? In a few cases that may be true, however, manufacturers now sell pre-engineered robot welding systems that include everything you may need. All you need to do is install and start using it.
Need for Training: While considering automated systems, an operator may need training and re-training a few months later for advanced techniques. Manufacturers must consider this while looking for a manufacturer selling robotic systems.
Employee buy-in: The end user of an automated robotic system is the operator or a welder. As a manufacturer, consider letting a real welder handle the robot, as he may understand welding better and know its limitations. Putting the welder in-charge of the system, not only upgrades his job but also offers him a sense of ownership, which in turn, helps employee buy-in.
Returns on Investment: Of course, the returns on your investment will play a big role in your decision to automate or stay manual. However, the returns will vary and can’t be forecast without checking each process singly. For example, if an operator welds 100 parts in a shift, operating a robot he may be able to weld 300 parts. That is a 3:1 improvement in productivity.
Some may consider the RoI ratio of 3:1 and believe the robot is replacing people. However, the efficiency afforded through automation lets organisations grow their business, hire more people, increase their capabilities and become more competitive in the market.