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Cobot welding cell targets manufacturers with short runs

20 May, 2021

A Dutch machine-builder has developed a welding cell based on a cobot (collaborative robot) that makes it easier for manufacturers to automate the welding of small batches, to introduce new products, and to allow people and machines to work together safely.

AWL-Techniek has collaborated with Omron to develop the Qube cell, which has two important differences from conventional welding cells: the integration of a manual turntable; and the use of a cobot to carry out the welding.

Until now, there have been two main methods of welding in manufacturing: robot welding cells; and manual welding. Robot cells are ideal for producing large batches, but lack flexibility and require strict safety conditions. This makes them inefficient and costly. Manual welding is ideal for small, changing batches but requires qualified welders.

The new Qube cell is aimed at manufacturers with requirements between these two extremes – typically, those that produce series of 100 to 1,000 pieces and need to be able to change easily between different products.

The cell resembles a conventional robot welding cell. It contains a robot with a welding torch, a rotary turntable with two working sides, and a fume extractor, all enclosed by four walls. It can weld different types of metal, such as steel and aluminium, using MIG/ MAG technologies. The manual turntable allows parts of different sizes to be welded together.

Due to the fast and easy programming of the cobot – up to 45% faster than a traditional robot – there is no need for a specialist robot programmer. Instead, a qualified welder teaches and programs the cobot. The same cell can be used to weld a variety of products, allowing production personnel to continue working safely while the welding expert applies their knowledge to the next product.

“With the increasing scarcity of qualified welding personnel, the cobot welding cell is ideal, especially for smaller production companies,” says AWL business developer, Thomas Modderkolk.

The welding expert can assess new welds safely while in the cell with the cobot. After programming, any other employee can continue the welding operation and only needs to control the supply of items to be welded. The cell has CE approval for every product that is taught.

The cobot welder can be taught and programmed safely by welder inside the cell

The manual turntable allows the welder to work at the same time as the cobot, potentially halving cycle times. The cobot welds with a repeatable accuracy of 0.1mm, ensuring consistent product quality – more consistent than welding by hand. The number of rejected parts is therefore smaller.

Another attraction of the Qube is that it is compact, lightweight and self-contained, allowing it to be moved using a forklift or overhead crane from one part of a factory to another. The only connection needed is a power cable.

As an independent system integrator, AWL uses different makes of robot with its machines. It found the Omron cobot attractive for the Qube application because its graphical programming method makes it easy for almost anyone to use.

Omron and AWL have entered into a global partnership to develop and distribute the cobot welding cell. “Combining the knowledge and skills of both our companies has resulted in a product that can meet the needs of the customer in all areas,” says Stephan Pruiksma, innovation manager at Omron Benelux. “While AWL has expertise in the field of process improvement, Omron’s strength is at the component level. Together we can offer a powerful and unique cobot welding cell that boosts customer productivity, increases safety and makes employees more efficient.”

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The self-contained cobot welding cell can be moved easily around a factory if required

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