Digitalization and data collection in manufacturing aren’t new concepts. In fact, adoption of these practices becomes more widespread by the day. As more manufacturing operations implement digitalization in product assembly and overall workflow, however, a new question is coming to the forefront: How does welding fit into this changing landscape? Fortunately, the answer to that question reveals a bevvy of benefits to welding operations as well as a better overall understanding of the direction manufacturing is headed.
Integrating the many aspects of the manufacturing operation using a data-centered approach can help companies optimize production and control costs. But to fully realize those advancements, tracking and analyzing weld data must play an important role in the process. Therefore, it’s essential that companies learn more about trends in welding intelligence and how weld data fits into a digitalized manufacturing environment.
Many larger manufacturers see the value of an integrated, holistic approach, and these companies often have the resources to implement full-scale digitalized manufacturing. But digitalization can also deliver benefits to small and medium-sized manufacturers that have the personnel to implement it.
For those businesses, the benefits can be significant – from improved process planning and accurate data documentation to interactive work instructions. Real-time information on process changes, productivity and throughput is another benefit as is up-to-date inventory management.
In a digitalized manufacturing environment, things previously tracked by hand, and often on paper, can now be digitally tracked – automatically by the system, in some cases. This helps ensure the most accurate, current information can be used to reduce errors and rework, which saves time and money. Having a digital database of information also makes it easier for companies to identify problem areas or bottlenecks where improvements can be made.
Connectivity in digitalized manufacturing can extend to every piece of equipment on the shop floor, allowing work orders or changes to be processed and prioritized immediately.
But, getting back to the original question: Where does welding fit in? Many companies have digitalized the planning, assembly and finishing processes upstream and downstream of the welding operation but may hesitate to digitalize the welding itself. They may view welding as too highly specialized to incorporate into the digital integration.
Including welding in this integration is important because it provides visibility into what’s happening in each weld cell. Evaluating the welding operation is critical when a company wants to improve overall throughput and productivity. Key weld data that can be tracked includes filler metal used, shielding gas used, electricity used, voltage, arc-on time and part production.
Another benefit of digitalizing the welding environment is the ability to create digital documentation, which provides an accurate record of every weld performed on every part produced by the welding operation. This helps companies assure their customers that exact parameters and specifications are being followed, and it can help operations track issues that may be slowing down production.
Knowing what’s happening in the welding department is valuable for both the upstream and downstream processes. For example, identifying a problem in the weld cell can help pinpoint when it’s better to bring pre-assembled parts into the upstream process or when a certain task downstream should be outsourced.
Without digitalization, welders in the cell may be dealing with issues by adjusting parameters – but not reporting these problems so they can be tracked and properly addressed. When the weld cell data is digitalized, even small issues can be tracked and monitored to help improve productivity and results.
Consider these real-world examples:
- One company is using digitalized weld data to justify capital spending on new equipment for welders (other than welding power sources) in order to increase arc-on time by as much as 10 percent. This increases productivity, making the workplace safer and more efficient.
- Using digitalized weld data, another company identified a problem with staffing on the second and third shifts where a piece of equipment would malfunction temporarily and no maintenance or repair staff was available to fix the faulty equipment. The company added third-shift maintenance staff to address problems in the welding area immediately, increasing arc-on time from 18 percent to 35 percent.
- Another company identified a problem with missing or incorrectly performed welds, which was costing it $400,000 per year to visually inspect, repair and repaint. After installing a welding intelligence solution, those costs were eliminated.
The bottom line: Not including welding in digitalization efforts means not getting the entire picture of what’s happening in the manufacturing operation.
The results that companies typically see from weld data management solutions hinge on how much planning and effort they put into them. Simply installing weld data monitoring isn’t enough. To reap the most return on investment, operations must study the data and look for ways to improve. Luckily, this doesn’t have to be difficult. Most weld data management solutions can be easily integrated into an operation.
Two trends in welding intelligence are driving more companies to use these solutions:
greater documentation and an increase in accessible and intuitive solutions. In regard to greater documentation, many industries, including automotive and oil and gas, are seeing more stringent requirements for documentation of the welding in the manufacturing or fabrication process. This is often at the request of customers or OEMs, and in some cases, the welding specifications may require it.
In the past, this might have been an actual piece of paper that traveled with the part. Today, this documentation can be digitalized with a solution like Miller Electric’s Insight Welding Intelligence. A digitalized process helps ensure that accurate information is being captured. Customers can see that all welds were done within specified parameters and with all proper preheating or post-weld heat treatment methods.
The second trend, which speaks to the increase in accessible and intuitive solutions, shows that as welding intelligence solutions become more common, they are also becoming easier to use. As an example, Miller’s Insight Centerpoint arc data monitoring software has drag-and-drop capabilities in part creation as well as a customizable operator interface that shows information relevant to the user across all screen sizes.
And unsurprisingly, more systems are moving toward mobile and browser-based platforms that don’t require hardwired Ethernet cables at every workstation. When real-time feedback or digital work instructions are available in the weld cell, less experienced welders get up to speed faster.
Whether companies already have some digitalization in other areas of their operation or they are just getting started, there are some key questions to ask when choosing a weld data management system.
- Are the right people in place? Before making a purchase, it’s important to evaluate if the right people are in place to help the company get the most from the management system. Personnel are needed to implement it and maintain it, and to track and analyze the associated data.
- How portable is the data being collected? Some weld data management solutions are designed to integrate easily with other systems already in place – and they allow the data being generated to be consumed by and input into other software programs.
- Is it compatible? For many companies, it’s important to have a weld data management solution that is broadly compatible with the operation’s existing fleet of welding power sources. ArcAgent solutions from Miller are devices that enable weld data software integration with any brand of welding power source. This allows manufacturers to integrate the entire welding fleet regardless of brand or age to get a complete picture of performance.
No matter the chosen system, implementing a digital workflow throughout an entire manufacturing facility requires cross-functional buy in from management all the way down. While employees may spend some time on optimization activities outside of producing parts, the resulting benefits can help maximize throughput, eliminate bottlenecks and reduce costs.
It’s also critical to include the welding operation in this integrated digitalization. Identifying problems or issues in the weld cell can help streamline processes both upstream and downstream – for a more efficient production line.