A NEW BREED
This is an excerpt from an article originally published in FF Journal, the author is Lynn Stanley
Suite of robotic welders take programming, jargon, refixturing and integration out of the equation
A World Robotics 2023 Report for industrial and service robots recorded a growth rate of 5 percent year over year in 2022 and a 7 percent increase in 2023. Demand for robotic welding is also expected to grow by 7.7 percent over the next five years.
Rising adoption of automation is juxtaposed with new research by Visual Components that revealed 52 percent of U.S. manufacturers said that the manual programming required for robots to complete tasks like welding is too time-consuming. More than 73 percent of manufacturers revealed that programming can take anywhere from a week to a month, with robots sitting idle in the meantime. Faced with a projected shortage of 400,000 welders by 2024, many job shops and manufacturers feel caught in the crosshairs.
The multi-pronged problem plaguing fabricators prompted Productive Robotics to design and build a suite of teach-by-touch 7-axis robotic welding systems. According to President Zac Bogart, what’s different about these systems is that they require no programming. The new breed of machines combines the capability of an industrial welding robot with the safety and simplicity of a cobot.
Seventy percent of the products manufactured in America contain welded components," says Bogart. "[Products] on the market today are typically comprised of an imported, common cobot on a small table that is inadequate to serve the diverse needs of manufacturers.
We went to the drawing board and developed the broadest line of plug-and-weld robotic welding systems available. That meant eliminating the need for programming, complex axes, reference frames, refixturing and integration."
In 2022, Productive Robotics introduced its first automated welding systems - Blaze Duo and Blaze LF. Blaze Duo’s automated doors separate two identical weld stations, minimizing downtime by allowing operators to safely set up one job while the robot welds another part. Direct video monitoring, an unlimited library of welding recipes, and a no-programming drag-and-drop tablet controller allow the robot to learn any job in minutes, from simple to complex paths. Blaze LF provides fabricators with the ability to automate processing of weldments of numerous sizes. The model’s 8-ft. -long table gives manufacturers unrestricted access on all sides as well as easy loading and unloading of components.
Since 2010, Santa Barbara, California-based Productive Robotics has designed and built industrial collaborative robots and accessories for a wide range of industries. The company’s OB7, OB7 stretch model, MAX 8, and MAX 12 are the only U.S.-made 7-axis cobots on the market. A proprietary, no-programming user interface allows fabricators and job shops to teach the cobot by simply showing it each step of a task or job from pick and place to CNC milling, grinding, and deburring. “As developers of the OB7 series cobots and software, we [are] uniquely positioned to create the robot and software for welding applications,” says Bogart.
“In addition, we have highly experienced, degreed welding professionals on staff. These machines are not retrofits. They are engineered from the ground up by welders for welders.”
Blaze welding systems come pre-programmed with a wide range of parameters for specific materials and thicknesses. “With some jobs, it is as simple as selecting a recipe,” Bogart says. “For other applications, an operator may want to adjust settings to obtain a desired result. Like a cook using a recipe in the kitchen, a lot of welders like to adjust recipes to their own preferences. But the system is also user-friendly for personnel new to welding robots.”
Productive Robotics launched its standalone Blaze welding robot in 2023. It can be used with a customer’s existing table, fixtures, and welder at half the cost of other systems on the market. Unlike 6-axis robots, the 7-axis Blaze Welding robot can maneuver around all sides of large or complex parts and fixtures, allowing it to perform more weldments in a single setup for high- or low-mix volumes and short or long part runs.
At Fabtech 2023, Productive Robotics introduced the newest additions to its turnkey automated welding systems. The Blaze Mobile package is equipped with a rolling stand and can be used with or without a Miller 350 welder.
With a reach of 85 in., the Blaze MAX welding robot can accommodate a job shop’s stand or large table and its welder. The Blaze MAX Mobile system includes a stand and is available with or without a Miller 350 welder.
The Blaze MAX LF package is equipped with a Miller 350 welder and alternate table sizes. Blaze welding systems are available with an optional 8th axis positioner and can be upgraded. These turnkey packages are run by the OEM’s teach-by-touch OB7 Stretch cobot. Able to handle a mix of part types and high or low part volumes, Blaze models can be used with the OEM’s rotary positioning table.
Like a traditional MIG welder, the robotic welding systems can fuse or join a variety of materials including steel, aluminum, and stainless steel.
For job shops and fabricators looking to automate their welding process, part size can dictate model choice.
“The first thing to consider is the reach of the robot,” says Bogart. “Blaze can reach 61 in. in either direction. Blaze MAX can reach 85 in. in either direction.
To determine which model might work best, a manufacturer needs to ask the question, ‘Do I need to bring the part to the welder or the welder to the part?’ If the part is too big to take to the welder table,” he says, “then a mobile unit is the way to go. You can roll our mobile system to the part. It could be a large tank, or a repair job on a big machine.”
The suite of Blaze robotic welding systems can also be upgraded, making the flexible machines economical for companies with growing production volumes. With the highest arc-on time available, Blaze welding systems can boost productivity by as much as 500 percent.
A “no programming” drag and drop tablet controller allows the welding robot to learn any job in minutes, from simple to complex paths.
As developers and integrators seek to simplify use of automation, Productive Robotics has leapfrogged ahead. “The Blaze welding robot learns when you show it where to weld, ” says Bogart. “You show Blaze the places to weld by positioning the robot to point to each position. After that, it’s just a matter of pushing the button. ”