VIDEO: Standardizing Automation for Major Welding Operations

Is there any value when it comes to brand agnosticism versus turnkey provider solutions?

Is it better for OEMs to maximize efficiency by standardizing their systems for simplicity or by looking for the best-looking products for specific jobs across a number of providers? spoke with Doug Rhoda, president of Wolf Robotics, LLC, to find out his take on the standardization issue. The video above documents interview highlights while the Q&A below records the interview in its entirety.

Jim Anderton (JA): We’re standing in front of a massive installation here. We’ve got a welding positioner, which is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

Doug Rhoda (DR): This is a two-axis, 3,000 kg (6,000 lbs.) positioner, used to manipulate the workpiece. Coordinated with a six-axis robot, we also have a servo-robot laser seam tracker on it. This is similar to a lot of products we do for fabrication and in this case for forklift attachments. This is a very versatile universal cell used for a lot of sub-assembly components.

JA: What sort of industries would be interested in this? Heavy fabrication, ship building, oil and gas?

DR: All of those, including construction, agriculture, industrial equipment like forklifts, rail car transportation equipment, defense, shipyards – those are also prospects for a system like this.

JA: I hear there are two separate ways to go down the cell route.

There are some who want to go to an integrator and say what they need, ask the price and then walk away and turn it over. Others want to get involved deeply – they want to buy robotics from one firm, software from another and they integrate it themselves. What’s your opinion on the best way to go about this?

DR: First-time users should come to one source and have someone else integrate it.

I’d say the trend is more that way for the turnkey complete solution. Customers will come to us with a part and ask us to automate it and we’ll configure it based on different building block modules that we have and we’ll provide the fixturing. We’ll also provide the programming, the implementation and the training services to make sure it succeeds.

JA: There’s a trend among younger engineers to say ‘Just get the best unit for this specific application and integrate it properly.’ What’s your feeling about that sort of brand agnosticism in automation?

DR: I think there’s a lot of value to standardization because there are different programming methods, among other varieties. There are different brands with different strengths and that’s something to always assess.

We’ve chosen to focus on heavy fabrication and parts that need things like offline programming and sensing technologies because pre-tacked parts aren’t always in the same location and we need to track or seam-sense those locations.

We have built a toolbox that is focused on those heavy fabrication applications. These are different than an automotive application when you’re producing 4,000 of the same parts. [Customers should] choose wisely on whose expertise [they’ll follow] and then standardize if you can because there are costs to changing programming knowledge and maintenance techniques and so forth.

JA: When configuring a new line or product development, my experience has shown that knowing how to manufacture things tends to fall behind the rest of the development loop.

How early in this process should an engineering team approach you at Wolf Robotics and say, ‘We want to build this part?’

DR: We like to be involved as early as possible to provide some guidance on how to make the part design-wise. There’s some things we’ve learned over time, like best welding joints and so forth, so we’d like to be involved at that point.

JA: What’s the single best piece of advice you can give a firm who wants to step up to major cell welding like this?

DR: Do your homework. It’s good to start simple and get your feet wet with something and have a champion on the customer side. Choose to work with someone like us, who are going to take complete responsibility and make sure your system gets launched into production well. This is especially so for first-time users – it is really important to get that first attempt at automation to succeed.

For more information on Wolf Robotics, visit their website here.

Written by

James Anderton

Jim Anderton is the Director of Content for Mr. Anderton was formerly editor of Canadian Metalworking Magazine and has contributed to a wide range of print and on-line publications, including Design Engineering, Canadian Plastics, Service Station and Garage Management, Autovision, and the National Post. He also brings prior industry experience in quality and part design for a Tier One automotive supplier.