At its most basic, welding’s job in fabricating is to join two pieces of metal. It seems simple but things get complicated pretty quickly in welding. It takes a trainee a while to find the right speed, the right feed, accuracy in the weld line, amount of fill if that’s part of the job—there are probably 20 things to manage during a weld.

The ability to weld is a highly sought-after skill, and people who can do it well are well-paid. The demographics of welders, however, shows that many of them are getting to retirement age, and not enough young welders are emerging to take their place. As with many things in metal fabricating—really, in general manufacturing—automation is invoked as the answer to short supplies of qualified people.

Trumpf’s automatic weld path

Machine tool giant Trumpf released a product that takes care of itself, mostly. It is a robotic welding system uses sensors to program its own weld path. The robot uses the company’s new smart seam-tracking technology, which was developed with Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA. The sensor automatically calculated the weld path for each part. The sensor is located in the welding torch head.

Instead of programming a new weld spot into the software for each change of direction, the user places the robot in the start position, and the technology takes care of the rest. The robot’s sensor determines the weld path automatically. Software calculates the weld spots and creates the program. It all takes a matter of seconds.

This capability will be in all new Trumpf TruArc Weld 1000 products, and can be retrofit into existing robot welders of the same model.

Laser welding advancements

Another titan of machine tools, AMADA, has offered a laser welding robot for a number of years. They offer the Fiber Laser Welder 3000 ENSIS, a complete welding system designed to use minimal heat on the weld zone to improve productivity and weld quality.

It boasts a rotating lense, which means the laser beam is not aligned with a particular point along the target path. The beam circles in a small area as the system does its work. The rotating lens improves filler feeding and aluminum welding. Larger and uneven gap sizes can be bridged in a clean, even weld. The amount of heat input into the material while welding optimizes and improves edge definition.

The unit also comes with a Variable Beam Control unit. It automatically adjusts the beam’s properties to process a wide range of thicknesses. The unit’s power is 3 kW, all generated by a single laser module. This reduces power consumption and negates the need for a combiner for several modules. Any deviations from the actual weld path can be adjusted accurately by utilizing the Teaching Assist System (TAS) on the system’s control. Using a CCD camera, new target points are selected to instantly teach the welding robot the correct target path.

Here come the robots, to a welding shop near you.