Cobots Address Skilled Welder Shortage

Hirebotics creates a collaborative robot system capable of arc welding using Universal Robots UR10e arm.

Two factors are having a big impact on metal fabricators today: a nationwide shortage of skilled welders and the difficulty of producing quality parts quickly in small runs. To address these issues, Hirebotics has developed the BotX Welder.

This robot uses Universal Robots’ UR10e collaborative robot (cobot) arm and includes a cloud connector for 24/7 support by Hirebotics. It also incorporates a welder, wire feeder, MIG welding gun, weld table, and configurable user-input touch buttons.The user provides the wire, gas, and parts needed for the specific job. According to Hirebotics, customers can teach BotX the required welds for a job via an app on any smartphone or tablet. Hirebotics says the app uses welding libraries created in world-class welding labs.

Automation World featured Hirebotics and how it provides robots on a pay-per-use basis in the article “Turning Out the Lights on the Factory Floor.”

“Many people didn’t believe that collaborative robots could perform such heavy-duty tasks as welding,” says Rob Goldiez, co-founder of Hirebotics. He notes that not only can cobots perform such work, but with Hirebotics approach there are no installation costs and, with cloud monitoring, manufacturers pay only for the hours the system actually welds.

Goldiez said Hirebotics chose Universal Robots' (UR) e-Series line of collaborative robots for the BotX for several reasons. “With Universal Robots’ open architecture, we were able to control not only wire feed speed and voltage, but torch angle as well, which ensures a quality weld every time,” he said. “UR’s open platform also enabled us to develop a cloud-based software solution that allows us to ensure a customer is always running with the latest features at no charge. We can respond to a customer’s request for additional features within weeks and push those features out to the customer with no onsite visits. Also, the fact that the robots are collaborative and don’t require safety fencing means an operator can move between multiple cells without interrupting production, greatly increasing the productivity of an employee.”

Erik Larson, vice president of operations at Processed Metals Innovators (PMI) in Bloomer, Wis., and one of the first users of BotX, said, “A large order would mean we would need to hire 10-15 welders to fulfill it—and they’re just not out there. With BotX we can now quote projects that were once no-bid situations for us, so it has really helped grow our business. Also, the BotX Welder doesn’t require expensive, dedicated fixturing, or robot experts on the scene.”

PMI’s job shop has stored weld programs for more than 50 different parts in its BotX app. “We are now able to deliver quality equivalent to what we could accomplish with the kind of expensive tooling typically used with higher-volume part runs,” said Larson. “Being able to hire the BotX Welder and quickly switch between welds using the app—and only pay for the hours the robot works—is huge for us.”

Highlighting BotX’s ease of use, Larson noted that Shaun Bruce, robotic and automation area lead at PMI—who had no prior robotics experience—was able to teach BotX how to weld the first part in half an hour.

PMI can also get BotX welds certified for customers who require it. “This means we do not need to use certified welders to oversee the operation. As long as the cobot welder’s program is certified, any operator can tend the cobot welder. This really unlocks a lot of resources for us,” said Larson.

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