by Bruce Albrecht, Vice President of Innovation and Technology, Miller Electric Mfg. LLC
Mr. Albrecht is a Member of the NEMA Arc Welding Section.
From supply chain disruption to production delays, 2020 brought a new host of challenges for manufacturers. While many manufacturers have continued operations through the interruption caused by COVID-19, it has been far from business as usual.
What does a post-pandemic world look like for manufacturers? Many operations will look for ways to streamline or improve agility in people, equipment, and the supply chain.
In today’s tough economic environment, it’s important to be productive, even with varying demand. It is crucial to have the ability to adjust workforce and machinery capital within a factory based on product mix and customer demand. It is
also key to utilize labor and equipment solutions that maximize value- added activities and minimize non-value-added events (such as setup time) and quality problems that include scrap, rework, and grinding for metal fabrication and welding.
Metal fabrication and welding are vital parts of many manufacturing operations—and an area where companies can find efficiencies that contribute to improved productivity and flexibility overall.
Consider the following three factors that can help optimize welding operations in the current environment.
More power sources used in industrial and heavy manufacturing applications are being designed with ease of use and simplified interfaces in mind. Photos courtesy of Miller Electric Mfg. LLC.
Factor 1: Labor Agility
The ability to easily bring in new employees and move people within the operation as needed improves agility. In a welding operation, agility is increasingly important because of the shortage of skilled welders. The American Welding Society (AWS) estimates
there will be a shortage of nearly 400,000 welders by 2024, making production capacity harder to maintain.1
Manufacturers can do their part by providing technologies that help operators maximize their performance with greater visibility and a wider operating window of the technique used when welding. Some examples include new welding helmet technologies; intuitive,
easy-to-use welding power sources; and welding intelligence solutions that electronically gather data that manufacturers can use to drive positive change. Upgraded welding helmets can give welders a clearer view of the weld pool and surrounding workpiece.
Welding intelligence technologies can provide work instructions during welding—for immediate feedback to help correct mistakes or inconsistencies— and also help operations track quality levels using real-time data.
These technologies can help deliver better weld quality and less rework. When operators spend less time grinding, adjusting parameters, and completing rework, they can spend more time welding. As a result, the manufacturing operation can increase
capacity for value-added activities, take on more projects, and boost revenue.
Factor 2: Equipment Agility
In many cases, automation can be an affordable and flexible way to augment a manufacturer’s workforce. In the right applications, automation can deliver greater weld consistency.
Large, customized automation cells provide benefits for many manufacturers. Still, in the current disruptive environment where redeployment, lower costs, and agility are critical, these larger robotic welding systems don’t offer mobility.
They frequently require dedicated support staff with in-depth training on the system to support production, making return on investment difficult within demand shifts.
Smaller, more nimble automation cells may be the answer for many manufacturers that want to implement robotic welding.
Robotic welding cells are available that are easy to install and get running quickly; systems are available preassembled and prewired. These cells are also designed for easy programming and are agile when the product mix or market shifts within challenging
These cells don’t require as much overhead or labor to keep running. A smaller capital outlay, plus ease of installation and use, results in a better return on investment—and agility during times of economic disruption.
Factor 3: Relying on Data
Running a manufacturing plant on data helps maximize equipment and labor agility for both automated and manual operations.
Evaluating the welding operation is critical when a company wants to improve overall throughput and productivity. Integrating the many aspects of the manufacturing operation using a data-centered approach can help companies optimize production and control
costs. Tracking and analyzing weld data plays an essential role in this process—and can help companies improve quality and productivity overall.
Integrating the many aspects of the manufacturing operation using a data- centered approach can help companies optimize production and control costs. Tracking and analyzing weld data plays an important role in this process.
Agility in Manufacturing
As the welding industry continues to evolve, there are more and more solutions to help manufacturers improve agility in their operations. These are especially important as manufacturers adjust to current
Consider options that help improve labor and equipment agility as well as provide data that can help streamline the weld cell—and both upstream and downstream processes. ei
1 “How to train and retain welding operators,” Engineering 360, September 21, 2019