Whether it’s a large shop that has to track hundreds or thousands of parts a week or a smaller shop that is trying to capitalize on its flexibility, data collection should be a part of every shop’s strategy for optimizing welding operations.
Today’s data collection is all about the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) or Industry 4.0. With the tools inside of the ESAB Digital Solutions portfolio, users can begin or continue to use Industry 4.0 to gain insights into their welding and cutting processes using data to understand how processes, labor and materials contribute to the cost of each part. Some of the biggest productivity gains don’t come by welding or cutting faster, but by harnessing the power of data to make informed decisions around considerations such as throughput constraints and resource allocation.
In a new development, the Digital Solutions architecture is now powered by Microsoft Azure IoT, a collection of Microsoft-managed cloud services, utilizing the ThingWorx IIoT platform from PTC. Users experience a secure, best-in-class user interface built on the Microsoft Azure IoT and PTC framework.
“Microsoft Azure is a cloud platform that allows us to have better security and to scale and access features faster,” says Ludvig Enlund, general manager, ESAB Digital Solutions. “Now, we can focus on application development for welding and cutting without needing to work on the cloud platform.”
Azure allows for a reliable and secure architecture that sends data from a digitally connected system directly to the cloud. ThingWorx also allows for on-premise and hybrid (cloud and on-premise) configurations. Eliminating the need for an on-premise server or large IT infrastructure helps job shops and smaller operations in particular gain the benefits of data management.
“While some customers are concerned about security, oftentimes having a server on your premises is just perceived security; it’s really not any more secure than hosting on the Microsoft cloud,” Enlund says. “Microsoft invests a lot in data security, and a lot of customers have their mains on the cloud anyway. So when we talk to them about the value of having the data in the cloud, they understand that the cloud has benefits over an on-premise solution.”
Digital Solutions is for both large and small shops that want to better understand their utilization, although the way they use it might differ.
“Smaller shops and larger shops alike have found value in it,” Enlund says. “While they might not run the large, repetitive jobs, smaller shops can use it to help them better plan activities and improve their quoting process for a new contract or job. They can use facts in their planning rather than just guesstimate.”
In the cloud
The WeldCloud side of Digital Solutions connects welding power supplies and manages welding data to ensure maximum productivity. Data can be used for production monitoring, process monitoring, asset management, quality assurance, documentation, training, and service and maintenance to help fabricators drive continuous improvement in productivity, traceability and documentation, and quality.
WeldCloud’s dashboards provide a steady stream of real-time data to pinpoint specific areas for process improvement, such as total arc time, average arc time per weld, number of weld sessions, total weight of wire used, wire used by each station and average machine errors per session. Statistics for any welding operator can be used to identify desirable performance characteristics and then replicate them elsewhere.
“For a lot of our customers that do manual welding, welders are a scarce resource and often cause a bottleneck in the operation,” Enlund says. “Many times, the welder is busy but not actually welding. They are doing prep or post-weld work or fittings or chasing material, which tends to surprise most customers.
“WeldCloud can help them understand where they can increase the capacity in the welding station,” he says, “whether that is replicating welder performance, changing the flow in production or hiring a lower cost resource to help the welder so they can focus on the welding.”
Without data analysis, fabricators tend to woefully overestimate their actual arc-on time and many times, it’s because they haven’t ever measured it. WeldCloud enables customers to assess their current situation and then start building baseline numbers and grow from there to identify areas of improvement.
“If you look at manual MIG welding, for example,” Enlund says, “our experience shows that in a manual station there should be at least 20 percent arc-on time. When a lot of our customers go to measure arc-on time, they are finding 8 to 14 percent so there is a big opportunity to improve.”
The biggest benefit of data collection from WeldCloud is on the productivity end where fabricators gain an understanding of the utilization of their welding equipment.
Traceability and documentation are other areas where WeldCloud can help. The platform can trace back to past welds and provide details on how and when they were created. Also, less time can be spent on paperwork with automated data collection and real-time documentation, which is required in critical applications, such as shipbuilding.
A new addition to the portfolio is the WeldQAS quality assurance feature. Ready for connection to WeldCloud, WeldQAS calculates quality marks for each weld seam and then in real time identifies weld defects, such as porosity, poor arc ignition, burnthrough, wrong seam length and seam interruption.
Other WeldCloud features include asset management to automatically monitor and record assets to optimize the way materials, equipment, consumables and resources are used. The
Mobile app, for Android devices, allows users to scan barcodes from wires, gases, part numbers and operator badges.
WeldScanner is a multi-purpose recording and measuring device that can be used as a data logger and an oscilloscope and for validation. WeldScanner Validator can easily validate all brands of welding equipment in accordance with European Standard EN 50504 (Validation of Arc Welding Equipment) and gain the full-level functionality and advantages of WeldScanner.
Finally, with alert management, WeldCloud automatically sends out alerts if a machine sends an error message or when consumable levels run low. And, it all ties nicely together with the Universal Connector, which allows for connection to any power source, including older welding machines or machines from other manufacturers.