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Robotic ROI

A new tool helps manufacturers determine if they can afford to invest in a robotic workcell

Historically, the prevailing thought has been that robotic welding systems can’t handle the diversity of tasks required for difficult welds. But, technology has changed. From improved welding process capabilities to enhanced laser sensing technologies, advanced robotic welding solutions are making it easier for manufacturers to tackle the most difficult, dangerous and dirty tasks.

Advanced robotic welding solutions are making it easier for manufacturers to tackle the most difficult, dangerous and dirty tasks.

When manufacturers are faced with a welding process that could potentially benefit from automation, where’s the best place to begin? The instinct is to dive right into specifying the cell design and required components.

However, current trends in manufacturing are driving more attention to calculating return on investment (ROI; a percentage) and gauging payback (time; how much time it will take before there is a positive cash flow again). While increasing throughput, improving product quality, dealing with labor shortages and right-sizing a robotic cell are valid factors to consider when pricing out a system, it’s also important to understand the potential financial gains of the robotic welding solution over the course of a targeted payback period.

Payback period

Typically, to calculate the ROI for equipment, every aspect of the process is considered. From there, the ROI calculation is run and the payback period is established.

Yaskawa’s Robotic Welding System Payback Calculator is different. The actual ROI calculations are based on a targeted payback period. The bottom line calculation is what the savings would be over that targeted period.

The calculator provides a budgetary target for a robotic system that meets payback and productivity requirements. Not only can the derived calculations serve as a financial guideline, but also, the figures can establish goals and expectations.

While significant cost savings can occur over the 10- to 15-year lifespan of a robot (30,000 to 40,000 hours with proper maintenance and possible refurbishment), most companies plan to reach ROI within a two-year payback period.

The workcell value calculation assumes that one robot in a system can do the work of three and a half welders. It is a known fact across the metal fabrication industry that a welder’s production time is about 20 percent, meaning arc-on time only consumes about 20 percent of his work time. That is the efficiency of a manual welding operation.

That same weldment in a robotic application will have the same arc-on time, but the efficiency can increase up to 85 percent. Therefore, one robot can take the place of approximately three and a half welders.

Yaskawa’s ArcWorld 2000 welding workcell is specifically designed for robotic welding of large workpieces and is configured with one or two 6-axis welding robots.

The calculation is affected by the following key inputs:

• Desired system payback period

• Straight labor replacement

• Additional productivity gains from system

• Other savings through reduced materials costs, quality improvement, etc.

In addition to the costs saved by reducing labor, it frees up those welders for other operations that are more challenging or can’t be automated. A new robot can also allow the manufacturer to add another shift.

Cell makeup

With Yaskawa’s calculator, the user can try different scenarios and see what can type of robotic welding cell he can afford. This is a good first step that leads to more productive conversations when talking about cell design and equipment. It provides everyone with a reference point.

Why is it crucial to proactively bring these calculations into the decision making? Consider this hypothetical purchasing situation where the best designed system can still miss the mark.

A manufacturing company, struggling to meet daily quotas, sought to purchase a robotic welding system. The existing process involved five operators at five different stations, spanning two shifts. However, an occasional labor shortage due to vacation or sick time – with no skilled laborers available to fill the void – made product quotas hard to achieve.

Company management, therefore, determined that an investment in robotic automation would be advantageous to their current operations and spent months evaluating each workstation, spec’ing out a system perfect for their process and capable of meeting daily quotas. Certain that a robotic workcell – based on process needs alone – would be an ideal solution, the company bought a welding system.

While significant cost savings can occur over the 10- to 15-year lifespan of a robot, most companies plan to reach ROI within a two-year payback period.

Once the system was installed and running at full capacity, company leadership realized something: even though daily quotas were being reached (despite occasional labor shortages), the numbers were showing that the payback period for their investment was now too long to justify the purchase.

By failing to clearly define their business expectations and apply that knowledge to their equipment investment, the company missed the mark. If ROI targets had been determined upfront, the chosen system could have been built with key requirements in mind.

Perfect fit

Estimating a realistic budget to meet defined business goals makes system design a more focused and productive undertaking. Upon commissioning a new system, ramp-up time can be critical to meet target payback periods.

Yaskawa’s ArcWorld C-series workcell is for low- to medium-volume fabrication, such as job shop and automotive component applications. Good for smaller, straightforward welding tasks.

In most cases, a standard ArcWorld workcell can be a perfect fit. Not only are these pre-engineered solutions easy to integrate and operate, but also, they offer exceptional design and optimal configuration options for parts of all sizes. For unique applications, there are customized systems available that can be equipped with world-class components to meet specific needs.

Robotic welding systems have come a long way in the past decade and are able to provide game-changing advantages for customers spanning diverse industries. Understanding the cost savings associated with a long-term approach to automation is essential. Only then, can manufacturers make the most profitable decision when it comes to choosing a robotic welding solution.

Yaskawa Motoman

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