Welding 4.0: The Future of Industry
Geoff Crittenden | CEO, Weld Australia
The trade of welding conjures up images of dirty, dark workshops full to the brim with traditional tools and machinery prone to throwing off sparks and fumes.
But, with the advent of automation, robots, co-bots and a range of other advanced welding technologies, this perception is becoming more and more outdated.
Welding is a far less dangerous, arduous job than ever before. Increasingly, Australia’s world-class welding workshops are light and bright, and fitted-out with some of the most advanced technology available.
This change is being driven, in part, by the adoption of Industry 4.0 production processes— the intelligent and productivity-boosting networking of man and machine for an automatic flow of data within the production chain. Welding 4.0 is rapidly gaining traction in Australia, for good reason.
The Benefits of Industry 4.0 for Welding and Fabrication
Industry 4.0, as well as concepts such as the smart factory and digital transformation, present myriad opportunities for welders and fabricators.
Industry 4.0 encompasses the rapid technological change that is disrupting businesses across all industries. Advances in communication technologies, devices connected to the internet and data analytics are occurring at a much faster pace than at any other time in history. With the proliferation of smart sensors and the resultant data, welders and fabricators are now able to access insights that have helped to optimise operations and improve efficiencies.
Improvements in Efficiency and Productivity
Industry 4.0 and advanced welding technology is already helping welders and fabricators improve their efficiency and productivity. More and more, to ensure their global competitiveness, businesses are investigating ways to save money and reduce their overheads. The best way to do so is by undertaking operational efficiency improvements that help reduce or eliminate redundancies, errors, bottlenecks and waste.
Welding 4.0 and advanced welding technology play an essential role in creating lean manufacturing processes. The right type of technology can help eliminate workflow delays and duplications and accelerate entire processes through the automation of individual tasks.
Superior Quality and Repeatability
Industry 4.0 production processes are proven to deliver superior quality outcomes and higher repeatability. Any process that improves weld quality and repeatability is worthwhile. Welding is not just a commodity, or a simple, straightforward process. When welds fail, the results can be disastrous. A poor quality weld can be hugely expensive, and can cause massive damage, injuries, and even fatalities.
Industry 4.0 has the potential to enhance the economic competitiveness of Australia’s welding fabrication sector. The adoption of Industry 4.0 methods in welding helps to offset costs associated with labour, inspection and rework, placing fabricators in a better position to bid, and deliver on, projects. With access to detailed data on factors such as production, planning, quality management, welders can deliver more accurate costing information and have greater confidence in their ability to comply with strict International and Australian Standards.
Better Conditions for Welders
Technological innovations allow businesses to make better use of human skill and innovation, with machines taking over mundane tasks so that employees can focus on critical thinking, quality and creativity. This opens up new opportunities for businesses to improve and optimise their operations.
It can also result in other, more indirect, payoffs. For instance, using a plasma welding machine or a Microsoft HoloLens, or programming a robot, can be more interesting than traditional MIG or TIG welding. Several Weld Australia members that have invested in advanced technology have reported marked improvements in recruiting, training and retaining staff long-term as a direct result.
In addition, advanced technology is helping to make welding a far safer profession. For instance, the use of robots and co-bots (particularly in confined spaces) helps to remove welders from immediate exposure to welding fumes, ultraviolent radiation, heat and sparks.
With advancements in robotics technology, and the likelihood of increased industry uptake, the issue of welder employment rates is inevitably raised. Media frequently reports that the more robots we use, the less jobs there are available. This is rubbish. Robots automate processes, making these processes more efficient, thereby generating even more work.
Welding 4.0 Training
Advanced technology is even having an impact on welder training. Increasingly, old-school training techniques are being complemented by innovative teaching methods that rely on augmented and virtual reality systems. Augmented and virtual reality training systems are student-focused, allowing individual students to progress at their own pace.
Welding apprentices learn and understand welding procedures and techniques through a more interactive training method, gaining hands-on experience in a controlled, safe environment. With zero risks involved, apprentices can respond to realistic scenarios without pressure or fear of injury. Augmented and virtual reality training is enabling future welders to acquire the skills and the self-confidence they need before moving into real-world workshops.
This type of technology is a key feature of Weld Australia’s national network of Advanced Welder Training Centres, which rely on Seabery’s Soldamatic augmented reality welding simulators. The Soldamatic simulators are able to certify 34% more welders in 56% less time, saving up to 68% on the overall cost of welder training. In addition, Soldamatic increases the time on arc by three to five times, and enables training institutes to educate four times more students while maintaining their existing lab infrastructure.
The Future of Welding
Increasingly, Industry 4.0 methodologies, automation, robotics, co-bots and a raft of other advanced welding technology is becoming a critical factor in the success of globally competitive welders and fabricators.
A failure to invest in advanced welding technology could quickly become a failure to invest in the future of your business. After all, as the saying goes, ‘You can’t do today’s job with yesterday’s methods and expect to be in business tomorrow’.