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Understanding the Impact of Time Sinks in Robotic Welding

Understanding the Impact of Time Sinks in Robotic Welding

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

No robotic welding cell operates at 100% capacity. Parts handling, fixturing, periodic rework and even employee breaks all affect a robot’s ability to be completely efficient. However, there are common time sinks that can further hinder productivity — and they can easily lead to increased costs and lower quality. 

Time sinks are activities that consume a lot of time for little benefit. So why do these happen? It could be a lack of training or lack of skilled labor. Or it could be simply out of habit; some activities may fall into the “we’ve always done it this way” category. 

Closeup of through-arm robotic MIG gun welding with sparks
Time sinks are activities that consume a lot of time for little benefit in a robotic welding operation. They may occur due to lack of training or skilled labor, and even out of habit.

The key is to take steps to rectify these issues quickly, as they can easily escalate. That is especially true on large production lines. If one robot has an issue, it may result in having to stop an entire line of robots to solve the problem, compounding downtime. 

Streamlining the process

Downtime for certain activities in a robotic weld cell is unavoidable, but they become time sinks when they aren’t streamlined. Welding contact tip changeover is a prime example.

While regular changeover is imperative to producing quality parts, it is not uncommon for operators to replace a contact tip before it is necessary. It can become a habit to change the tip every few hours, during breaks and before and after shifts without truly knowing whether there is still life left in the consumable. This frequency interrupts production, resulting in fewer parts being made and increased costs for the tip itself. 

Conducting a time study to determine the true life of a contact tip — from installation to the point of failure — can help companies avoid excessive changeover and costs. The study may be time-consuming initially, but it can be conducted in one robotic welding cell to establish a baseline and then applied to similar cells.

Operator replacing power cable on a through-arm robot
It’s important to remember that changes and improvements aren’t one-time occurrences. They must be monitored regularly and adjusted as needed

It’s also recommended to try different types of contact tips to ensure that the best option is in place. For example, pulsed MIG welding applications are especially harsh on tips, so it’s essential to have an option for that waveform, like the AccuLock™ HDP contact tips, to extend product life. There is a higher upfront cost for these tips, but also a significant increase in productivity and throughput due to significantly less-frequent changeover.

Reaming too often can also become a time sink in a robotic welding cell. A nozzle cleaning station (or welding reamer) is necessary to clear spatter from the front-end welding consumables and ensure smooth gas flow, but it’s important to determine the optimal frequency for the application. For example, if a robot completes a 2-inch weld and then spends 10 seconds to ream, spray anti-spatter, nozzle-check and wire-cut, that is likely too often. Instead, it may be possible to weld 10 to 20 parts between reaming cycles. Again, a time study can help determine the appropriate frequency. 

Common time sinks and tips for avoiding them

True time sinks may not be immediately obvious and the activities themselves may appear benign, but they can have consequences that result in extra time, labor and costs for welding troubleshooting. Fortunately, there are options to rectify these issues. 

Product image of AccuLock R consumables including nozzles, contact tips, gas diffusers
Welding supervisors and operators should schedule time to perform preventive maintenance, such as checking connections and visually inspecting consumables for spatter, during routine pauses in welding.

1. Poor wire conduit management

Due to the high volume of parts that pass through a robotic welding cell, most companies employ large welding wire drums to minimize changeover of these packages. Poor management of the conduit leading from the drum to the robot can lead to time sinks. If this conduit is too long, has been placed around the corner or snakes and bends along the floor, the wire won’t feed properly. Poor wire feeding can lead to burnbacks that require downtime for welding contact tip changeover. It can also cause the arc to become erratic, which causes quality issues and potential rework. The best way to resolve this issue is to keep the conduit as straight as possible and use the shortest run feasible. 

2. Incorrect robot positioning and neck selection

Many large companies, such as tier-one automotive suppliers, measure their efficiency based on available square footage, so placing many robots in an area is common. This helps meet high production goals. However, if a company positions the robot incorrectly in relation to the tooling, it can increase robot articulation and lead to premature cable failure. The same holds true when using the wrong robotic MIG gun neck. While companies often like to standardize on one neck angle throughout the operation, it may not allow the robot to articulate properly to reach the weld joint. 

As a best practice, the robot riser should be sized to minimize the amount of joint articulation when accessing the tooling. This reduces stress on the robotic MIG gun and the power cable. Select the appropriate neck angle to achieve the best joint access. 

Robotic welding supervisor programming conventional robot
When there are jobs to be done, it’s easy for companies to focus on moving production along and sending parts out the door. In the process, time sinks can occur that may be overlooked for long periods of time, compounding their severity.

3. Troubleshooting on the line

When something goes wrong in a robotic welding operation, often the first instinct is to try to troubleshoot the issue on the spot. Doing so yields little benefit since it stops production: not just because the robot isn’t working, but also because multiple personnel may be stepping away from their jobs to address the problem. That adds up to unnecessary time and money spent. 

A better option is to remove and replace the component causing the trouble, whether it be the robotic MIG gun or a welding reamer. That allows the robot to go back to work producing parts, while maintenance troubleshoots and repairs the equipment issue offline. 

4. Overlooking preventive maintenance (PM)

Like troubleshooting on the line, reactive maintenance can be a significant time sink. Addressing unexpected problems keeps the robot from its job of producing parts. Also if something goes wrong within the weld cell because PM wasn’t performed, it can lead to poor quality parts, rework or costly repairs. 

Instead, welding supervisors and operators should schedule time to perform preventive maintenance, such as checking connections and visually inspecting consumables for spatter during routine pauses in welding. More time-consuming PM activities, like replacing a gun liner, a robotic MIG gun or cable, or cleaning the robot, can happen between shifts or during other planned downtime. 

Making a difference

When there are jobs to be done, it’s easy for companies to focus on moving production along and sending parts out the door. In the process, time sinks can occur that may be overlooked for long periods of time, compounding their severity. 

However, pausing to look at the robotic welding operation and setting plans in place can help create efficiencies in the long run. In addition to time studies, conducting a process failure mode analysis (PFMA) can help by considering anything that could go wrong in the robotic welding cell. These situations are then ranked by potential frequency and severity and a plan put in place for addressing them. 

It’s also important to remember that changes and improvements aren’t one-time occurrences. They must be monitored regularly and adjusted as needed. Coordinating a continuous improvement team to spearhead the process can help, as can working with a trusted welding equipment or robot manufacturer.


8 Manufacturing Cost-Reduction Strategies for Welding Operations

8 Manufacturing Cost Reduction Strategies for Welding Operations

Cost overruns in a manufacturing welding operation can come from many places. Whether it’s a semi-automatic or robotic weld cell, some common culprits of unnecessary costs are unplanned downtime and lost labor, consumable waste, repairs and rework, and lack of operator training. 

Image of welder from behind adjusting settings on a Miller power source

Many of these factors are tied together and influence each other. A lack of operator training, for example, can result in more weld defects that require rework and repair. Not only do repairs cost money in additional materials and consumables used, but they also require more labor to do the work and any additional weld testing.  

Repairs can be especially costly in an automated welding environment, where constant progression of the part is crucial to overall throughput. If a part isn’t welded correctly, it may still continue through all steps of the process. If the defect isn’t caught until the end of the process, all the work must be redone. 

Companies can use these eight tips to help optimize consumable, gun and equipment performance — and reduce costs in both semi-automatic and robotic welding operations. 

This article was published as an exclusive on thefabricator.com. Read the full article here.


Cobots and Cobot MIG Guns: What To Know for Manufacturing Welding Operations

Cobots and Cobot MIG Guns: What To Know for Manufacturing Welding Operations  

Traditional robotic welding systems can deliver many benefits, but they aren’t always the right solution for every manufacturer. In applications where implementing a robotic weld cell isn’t the answer, some companies are turning to collaborative robots, or cobots.

While not new to the industry, cobots are currently a fast-growing and still-developing technology. They can help operations save time, improve part quality and deliver consistency — all at a lower investment cost than a robotic welding system. 

Knowing the basics of cobots goes beyond just the equipment itself. It’s also important to understand how the welding gun and consumables selection play key roles in optimizing this technology. (Photo courtesy of Hirebotics)

Knowing the basics goes beyond just the equipment itself. It’s also important to understand how cobot welding gun and consumables selection play key roles in optimizing this technology. 

Why cobots?

Cobots are still industrial robots, but they are designed to operate safely alongside workers and enable human collaboration with the robot. As an example, a cobot may be welding a workpiece while the nearby operator inspects and cleans a weld that was just completed by the cobot — essentially turning one worker into two. 

Manufacturers with high-mix, low-volume production (those that make smaller numbers of a wide variety of parts) are a good fit for cobots, making general manufacturing and job shops common adopters. 

Product shot of a Tregaskiss BA1 cobot MIG gun ready to weld a flat part
A gun like the Tregaskiss BA1 cobot MIG gun features metal-to-metal connections that hold it in place in the mounting arm and keep the aluminum-armored neck firmly connected in the gun body to ensure accurate, quality welds.

There are several benefits that can help operations save time and money while improving part quality. These include: 

1) Lower total cost

Cobots are typically less expensive for operations to adopt compared to a fully automated welding cell. This includes the initial cost of the equipment and the training required to get operators up to speed for programming and using it. In addition, many companies that provide robot integration offer leasing options for cobots, making it easy for manufacturers to try out the solution before making a purchasing decision.

2) Ease of use and training

Cobots have intuitive touch-screen user interfaces and are significantly easier to use than traditional robotic welding cells. Operating a cobot requires some training, but little welding or programming experience is necessary to successfully operate it. Compare that to a traditional robotic welding cell, which typically requires more extensive welding or programming experience. The reduced level of training with cobots can be a plus for operations that struggle to find and retain skilled labor. 

3) Reduced safety risks

Because cobots are designed to be operated with human interaction, they have many built-in safety measures. They are limited in how fast they can move, are very sensitive to collisions, and they do not have pinch points. They will stop movement in the event of a collision. And because of these design parameters, the cobots will not be moving very fast if they do collide with something. Cobots can be programmed to move faster when they are not working alongside a human. 

4) Portability

Many cobots are portable — essentially a table with a robot on it. They can be moved elsewhere in the facility to be used where they are needed. This allows operations to easily change which production line is using it.

Implementing cobots 

Close up of a Tregaskiss BA1 cobot MIG gun on a UR cobot model
The Tregaskiss BA1 cobot MIG gun (shown here on a UR model) has minimal fasteners and a precision-machined keyway mounting system, making installation of the gun and mounting arm quick, easy and accurate. 

Cobots are designed to offer a low barrier to entry — with fast setup and high ease of use. The programming required and specifics of the user interface will vary based on the integrator, but often the cobot is controlled by a tablet or cell phone app — making training and programming very easy. Some cobots are assembled before they are shipped, so setup only takes 30 minutes to an hour. 

Once set up, operators can move the cobot to exactly the spot they want to start the weld and push a button to save that point. Then they can move the cobot to the end point of the weld and save that point. This can be easily repeated for each weld.

Some cobots allow the addition of different features to the programming, such as seam welds or stitch welds. 

Choosing a welding gun and consumables 

While it’s easy for the selection of a welding gun and consumables to be an afterthought in the process, these play an important role in the performance and efficiency of any welding system, including a cobot. 

Choose a high-quality gun and consumables to optimize results, provide longer product life and reduce the time and money spent on troubleshooting. Reducing consumable changeover and potential issues is especially important for companies with less-experienced operators. 

Product shot of AccuLock R gas diffuser, contact tips, nozzle with liner
Look for consumables, like AccuLock™ R, that are designed to maximize production uptime through long service life and quick replacement. 

MIG guns for cobots are tested and rated using the same standards applied to traditional MIG guns. Be aware of what the rating means when selecting a MIG gun for cobot welding, as it helps prevent overheating when guns are used as they are rated. 

A gun like the Tregaskiss BA1 cobot MIG gun features metal-to-metal connections that hold it in place in the mounting arm and keep the aluminum-armored neck firmly connected in the gun body to ensure accurate, quality welds. It also has minimal fasteners and a precision-machined keyway mounting system, making installation of the gun and mounting arm quick, easy and accurate. 

To simplify maintenance, consider a front-load liner, since these can reduce downtime for changeover. The liners are replaced from the front of the gun without disturbing the gun, wire or feeder connection. Liner issues and challenges with liner replacement are a common cause of troubleshooting with both cobot MIG guns and traditional robotic ones. Having an easier liner replacement process helps reduce or avoid problems. 

Look for consumables, like AccuLock™ R contact tips, nozzles and gas diffusers, that are designed to maximize production uptime through long service life and quick replacement. Since contact tip cross-threading issues can be a source of downtime in welding operations — especially with less experienced welding operators — these consumables feature coarse tip threads that help to eliminate the problem. They also feature increased mass and are buried within the diffuser, away from the weld, to increase tip life. 

Cobots in welding 

In the right manufacturing operation, cobots can help improve productivity and efficiency and lessen the strain on operations having difficulty finding skilled welders. 

However, users expect a quick-to-implement and easy-to-use solution that keeps their operations agile and profitable. Choosing durable, high-quality cobot MIG guns and consumables for a cobot system can keep operators focused on manufacturing quality parts instead of troubleshooting or maintenance. This helps operations achieve their productivity and quality goals — and get the results they want. 


5 Tips for Robotic Welding Process and Project Planning

5 Tips for Robotic Welding Process and Project Planning

Robotic welding projects can arise in a number of ways — from a smaller shop expanding its capabilities to a large original equipment manufacturer (OEM) awarding new business or even a new company establishing itself within the competitive landscape. 

Closeup of robotic MIG welding gun with sparks
It’s critical to implement a well-thought-out and thoroughly researched plan to ensure a successful robotic welding operation.

Regardless of the circumstances, it’s critical to implement a well-thought-out and thoroughly researched plan to ensure a successful robotic welding operation. The plan should cover both the details related to the welding process and the specific project at hand. This helps companies meet quality and productivity goals while maintaining their cost margins and achieving profitability.

Being proactive is the key with planning. Doing so helps minimize the opportunity for unforeseen risks that could be detrimental to the welding operation. Some basic tips can help along the way.   

Tip No. 1: Ask questions

To determine the desired outcome for a robotic welding operation, it’s important to define the welding process — in terms of how efficient and quick it needs to be — and to consider all details related to the project’s budget. Asking some fundamental questions can help stakeholders define the scope of the process they are using and the project they are undertaking.

  1. What efficiencies do we need from the welding process? 
  2. How labor-intensive will the process be? 
  3. Is there adequate staff for loading/unloading fixtures?  
  4. What training will staff need to keep the robot welding effectively? 
  5. How many robots do we need? And how hard or long do we want the robots to work?
  6. What should we consider about the weld cell ergonomics? 
  7. How should the robots be configured?
  8. What capital is available and how fast do we want our return on investment (ROI) to be? 

Answering these questions can help companies as they plan out their project and conduct cost analysis.

Tip No. 2: Set realistic goals

Along with asking questions to set the foundation for solid process and project planning, it’s also important to set realistic goals. These goals should relate to general processes in the robotic weld cell along with desired quality outcomes. 

For example, when considering the capabilities of the welding process in a robotic cell, a 75% to 80% efficiency rate may be a realistic goal. No welding process is 100% efficient, so it’s important to account for equipment downtime (planned or unplanned), consumable changeover, welding wire drum changeover and more. 

The same holds true for quality goals. Having 100% quality isn’t necessarily true to life since weld defects like porosity can occur, tool center point (TCP) can shift and stampings can become misaligned. Each of these instances is possible (and probable) in an everyday robotic welding operation. 

Setting realistic goals allows time for unexpected occurrences once the robotic welding system is at work. 

Product photo of the TOUGH GUN TT4 reamer with anti-spatter reservoir
Reamers clean spatter from the welding gun nozzle and gas diffuser to ensure smooth shielding gas flow that in turn supports good weld quality.

Tip No. 3: Look at the long term

While it may be tempting for companies to look for ways to reduce upfront costs during process and project planning, this doesn’t ensure that the long-term results are always positive. For example, neglecting to consider (and purchase) supplemental equipment, such as reamers (also called nozzle cleaning stations), can lead to greater expenses over the lifetime of a project. 

Reamers clean spatter from the welding gun nozzle and gas diffuser to ensure smooth shielding gas flow that in turn supports good weld quality. Reamers are available in analog or ethernet models.

It’s important to consider reamer quality, especially for heavy-duty, higher-volume applications. While reamers with heavy-duty construction generally cost more, they also last much longer than light-duty models. Be sure to size the reamer appropriately for the project because reamers vary in the amount of torque they provide when removing spatter. Heavy-duty reamers provide more torque and have cutter blades that can reach deeper into the nozzle for a more thorough spatter cleaning. 

Companies should also determine how much human interaction with the reamer is necessary to keep the welding process at target efficiency levels. For example, implementing a multi-feed anti-spatter sprayer system reduces time and labor for refilling the small sprayer reservoir on the reamer. It can feed multiple reamers from a large drum of anti-spatter solution outside the weld cell.

Tip No. 4: Pay attention to the small details

When it comes to identifying equipment for a robotic welding cell, it may be easy to overlook the importance of robotic MIG guns and consumables. While small in investment compared to a robot, each can have a significant impact on the efficiency of a welding process and the quality of the project. 

Frequent changeover due to poor-quality MIG welding consumables or ones that aren’t appropriate for the application can add up. Be sure to select those that will be compatible with the heat inputs. Brass nozzles are strong and better able to resist spatter adhesion than copper nozzles. However, brass can be brittle at high temperatures, so they are best for lower-heat applications. Copper nozzles are better for high-heat applications but tend to allow greater spatter adhesion. For pulsed applications, where waveforms can be especially harsh on contact tips, an HDP tip can last longer, reducing the frequency of downtime caused by tip changes. The same holds true for contact tips that offer coarse threads to reduce the risk of cross-threading during replacement. When possible, standardize consumables throughout the entire welding operation to bring greater efficiencies. 

Like consumables, the robotic MIG gun selected needs to match the duty cycle of the application to withstand the resistive heat and avoid overheating. The gun should also have an appropriate size of neck for the application to enable access to tooling and the weld joint.

Tip 5: Look for opportunities to optimize

Finding ways to maximize robot uptime is an important part of process and project planning. Robots are expensive, so companies want to be sure that they will get as close to 100% optimization as possible. 

Having a high-quality welding wire, like a metal-cored wire, that supports faster travel speeds is one option to help optimize the robotic welding system. Look for wires with a consistent cast and helix to support smooth wire feeding. 

Preventive maintenance (PM) programs help ensure that a robotic welding system operates efficiently, avoids unplanned downtime and supports more arc-on time. With a preventive maintenance schedule, companies can proactively check and change welding gun liners and MIG welding consumables during planned downtime, while also assessing the power cable and robot for damage. 

It’s also important to plan for the ways that employees can support robot optimization. Training is critical. Properly trained robotic welding supervisors or technicians can be more effective at understanding the process and adjusting equipment as needed. Appropriate training can also help them run the equipment longer and more efficiently. 

Putting everything to work

Once a company considers the key tips for process and project planning, they should be sure that everything works. Trials can help flush out unforeseen problems before starting full production and save money by preventing budget overages to fix issues. 

After a project has been put into motion, take time for reflection. Revisit all aspects to see what worked and what didn’t. Continuing to learn from projects can help companies achieve future success.


Ways Welding Reamers Support Quality, Productivity and Safety

Ways Welding Reamers Support Quality, Productivity and Safety

TOUGH GUN TT4 Reamer

A successful robotic welding operation depends on the ability to maintain high levels of quality and productivity, while also keeping costs low. Unplanned downtime associated with consumable or equipment problems jeopardizes these goals. It can also increase the labor needed for troubleshooting and resolving issues. 

But above all else, the weld cell needs to be a safe place for welding operators to work and interact with one another and the robotic welding system. 

Peripherals, such as welding reamers (also called nozzle cleaning stations), can help companies achieve their goals, while also helping maintain safety. 

This article was published in the August issue of The Fabricator. Read the full article here.


AccuLock Consumables Save Time and Money in MIG Consumable Changeover

AccuLock™ Consumables Save Time and Money in MIG Consumable Changeover   

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

They may seem like small pieces of a welding operation but when consumables aren’t properly installed or maintained, big problems can result — from poor wire feeding to weld quality issues. Related troubleshooting and rework cause costly downtime and lost productivity. 

Consumable changeover can also be a time-consuming part of the welding process, especially if it’s necessary to do it frequently or if less experienced welders install consumables incorrectly. 

Choosing the right consumables can help reduce or eliminate these hassles. Learn how AccuLock consumables can be used for Bernard® BTB MIG guns and Tregaskiss® fixed automatic and robotic MIG guns to help operations save time and money and improve efficiency. 

Family product photo of AccuLock S, AccuLock R consumables systems

Although small in size, both AccuLock R and AccuLock S consumables can deliver sizable time- and cost-saving benefits by reducing troubleshooting and downtime in industrial welding applications. 

The benefits of AccuLock consumables 

AccuLock consumables are designed to address common challenges faced in both semi-automatic and automated MIG welding operations. A switch to AccuLock consumables can help operations: 

  • Increase consumable life while reducing costs and improving productivity. 
  • Reduce consumable replacement errors and the time and money spent on troubleshooting, rework and downtime.
  • Simplify consumables replacement, improving accuracy and reducing employee training. 

The AccuLock consumable family for industrial welding applications includes AccuLock R and AccuLock S systems, two options that are designed to deliver timesaving benefits and optimized performance in automated and semi-automatic welding applications. 

Load and lock for increased productivity and throughput 

The AccuLock S (Semi-automatic) consumables system features liners designed to resolve issues and errors with liner trimming and installation as well as erratic wire feeding problems. Because AccuLock S liners are locked and concentrically aligned to both the contact tip and the power pin, they offer a flawless wire-feed path and error-proof liner replacement every time. In addition, a steel retaining ring on the diffuser helps keep the threaded nozzle in place during use and cleaning. 

The AccuLock R (Robotic) consumables system offers front-loading QUICK LOAD® liners that require less than half the time and effort to replace compared to conventional liners and can be changed from a safe zone in a robotic weld cell. Upgrading to AccuLock HDP contact tips can extend life by 10 times or more in pulsed welding applications. In addition, operations currently using TOUGH LOCK® consumables in robotic and fixed automatic MIG guns can easily upgrade to AccuLock R consumables without affecting TCP or requiring programming changes. 

Choose according to your needs 

When deciding between the two types of AccuLock consumables for industrial welding applications, there are several key factors to consider. It’s important to think about the type of welding being done in the operation and what current issues or challenges need addressing. 

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AccuLock S consumables are best suited for operations with the following issues or characteristics:  

  • Primarily focused on semi-automatic welding with little to no automation. 
  • Dealing with decreased productivity due to liner installation errors, burnbacks, bird-nesting and erratic arc.
  • Wanting to reduce the time and costs of troubleshooting, downtime and rework. 

AccuLock R consumables are best suited for operations with the following issues or characteristics: 

  • Primarily focused on robotic or fixed automatic welding with few semi-automatic guns.
  • Having a complicated and costly consumables inventory that may be the root cause of frequent consumable replacement errors. 
  • Experiencing issues with contact tip cross-threading and want increased tip life. 

Choosing between AccuLock S and AccuLock R on semi-automatic MIG guns  

Customers who are currently using TOUGH LOCK consumables on Bernard BTB MIG guns can upgrade their guns with either AccuLock S or AccuLock R consumables. Although AccuLock S consumables offer many benefits specific to semi-automatic welding applications, in some cases it can make more sense for these welding guns to be upgraded to AccuLock R consumables instead. For example, if a complex inventory of MIG gun consumables is the primary root cause of high carrying costs and consumable replacement errors in a given facility, AccuLock R consumables may offer a better ROI.

Switching existing Bernard BTB MIG guns to AccuLock R consumables is an easy change to make, requiring only an AccuLock R diffuser and an AccuLock contact tip — with no need to switch the liner, power pin, power pin cap or nozzle. 

Successful welding operations simplify inventory 

Both AccuLock S and AccuLock R systems share a common contact tip to simplify inventory management for facilities that choose to use both. AccuLock contact tips last longer due to increased mass and being buried within the diffuser, away from the heat of the weld. Coarse threads work in tandem with a long contact tip tail to concentrically align the tip within the diffuser prior to thread engagement, ensuring quick, accurate replacement without cross-threading.

Getting the most out of MIG gun consumables 

AccuLock S consumables solve many of the issues that can be traced to MIG gun liners that have been trimmed to an incorrect length or that pull out of position inside the MIG gun, creating gaps along the wire feed path. They are a good fit in most semi-automatic applications. 

In fleets with a lot of automated welding, AccuLock R consumables can extend contact tip lifespan (especially in pulsed welding applications), eliminate contact tip cross-threading issues, alleviate excessive downtime for consumables replacement and limit safety issues related to climbing up to access robots or wire feeders for gun liner changes. 

Although small in size, both AccuLock R and AccuLock S consumables can deliver sizable time- and cost-saving benefits by reducing troubleshooting and downtime in industrial welding applications. 


Implementing a Robotic Welding System: 5 Common Questions Answered

Implementing a Robotic Welding System: 5 Common Questions Answered

Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Many manufacturing operations want to improve productivity and weld quality. Robotic welding can often help achieve these goals. But success with a welding robot doesn’t happen by chance. It takes a lot of upfront planning to help minimize the time and money you need later to make improvements or fix issues. 

Before getting started, consider how these common questions could impact the way you establish a repeatable and consistent robotic welding operation — and how you can get the most out of it. 

How do I choose the right welding wire?

A: The filler metal used in a robotic welding system plays a critical role, as it can affect productivity, weld quality and overall costs. When you choose a wire for robotic welding applications, consider two things: the type and the thickness of the material being welded. 

Across various industries, solid wire has been the standard for robotic welding. However, metal-cored wire may offer better productivity and higher quality benefits, especially for manufacturers of heavy equipment, automotive exhaust, chassis and wheels. Metal-cored wire not only allows for faster travel speeds and higher deposition rates, but it also more effectively controls spatter levels to reduce post-weld cleanup. Last, it offers improved welding through mill scale, which helps eliminate pre-weld grinding. 

When in doubt, you can get suggestions from experienced welding equipment and filler metal manufacturers to help you match a welding wire to your process needs. 

What type of welding gun and consumables do I need? 

A: Performance in a robotic weld cell is significantly affected by your choice of robotic welding gun and consumables, including the nozzle, contact tip and liner. The right combination of gun and consumables can reduce unplanned downtime, increase lifespan and improve overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) in your weld cell. 

There are three types of robotic guns to choose from, depending on your duty cycle and amperage ratings: air-cooled, water-cooled and hybrid. It’s possible for air-cooled guns to reach ratings of 350 to 385 amps at 100% duty cycle with mixed gases. Guns with this rating are well-suited for a variety of applications and help eliminate the need for water-cooled guns, which can be more complex and expensive to maintain. However, hybrid air/water-cooled designs incorporate water cooling on the front of the neck with an air-cooled cable. This design is good for applications with borderline air-cooled duty cycles that experience a higher frequency of consumable changeover. The hybrid gun is the best option to provide an additional rating boost while effectively cooling the consumables, leading to longer lifespans.
 
Robotic welding systems typically operate at higher duty cycles (compared to semi-automatic welding) and may use transfer modes that can be harsh on consumables. Consider using heavy-duty copper or chrome zirconium contact tips or high-quality tips designed specifically for pulsed welding. Chrome zirconium contact tips resist physical wear (or the keyholing effect) better than copper tips and are ideal for applications with long welds. Make sure to undersize the contact tip from the wire size when using 500-pound-plus wire drums to help ensure consistent wire contact with the tip due to the wire cast. Keep the tips on par with the wire size in small wire packaging. 
Nozzle material also plays a factor in the application. Brass nozzles are stronger and have a lower spatter adhesion compared with copper, but brass is more brittle at higher temperatures. In short, brass handles spatter best while copper best handles higher heat.

Choosing a quality liner pays dividends in reducing your unplanned downtime. The majority of time, burnback in contact tips is a direct result of poor wire feeding or a liner cut too short. An accurately trimmed, quality liner will help to consistently improve wire feeding by reducing drag. The result is longer-lasting contact tips and improved robot uptime.

Chart with information on selecting air-cooled, water-cooled, hybrid robotic MIG guns

How do I select proper weld settings? 

A: Several factors, such as material type, wire size and material thickness, influence the proper weld settings for an application. Some welding power sources have the ability to suggest recommended parameters based on the operator’s input for the application. 

When a machine doesn’t have this technology, finding the correct parameters can involve some trial and error on your part to dial in heat and penetration. Consult with the robot manufacturer, welding power source manufacturer or system integrator. These partners can offer expertise and assist in choosing and testing specific materials to establish the proper weld parameters.

Why is tool center point (TCP) so important?  

A: Establishing an accurate tool center point provides consistency and repeatability across parts and is vital for your system to maintain quality welds.

You can set your own standards for the acceptable amount of TCP drift based on the application and type of welds being made. To set the tolerance of TCP variation, an acceptable starting point can be half of the thickness of the wire diameter. Also keep in mind that your TCP correlates with your contact tip wear — the more key-holed a tip, the more off location your TCP will be.
Touch-sensing features that monitor TCP and track any shifts from the original setting are available on many robotic systems today. If a gun is out of acceptable TCP range, you can remove the neck and recalibrate it to the original specifications with a neck-straightening fixture. TCP can also be automatically adjusted internally by the robot on some systems. 

It’s a good idea to schedule regular TCP checks. For example, it can be done every weld cycle, at the end of every shift or when the gun goes through a reamer cycle. The frequency of TCP checks is a matter of your priority preference. While it can be time-consuming to check after every shift, in the long run it can save money by avoiding rework if problems are caught early.

Closeup of weld cell supervisor programming robot with teach pendant

How do I program the robot path? 

A: Much like programming the weld settings, programming the robot path may also involve some trial and error. When you initially program the robot’s path, think about four factors: the application, the material type, the welding process you are using and the gap size being filled. The travel angle — and whether it’s a push or pull weld — will impact the weld quality and aesthetic. Dialing in the correct path to achieve your desired results can take time. 

Having the robot move to perch points or ready-to-enter points once the home positions are set helps to keep the robot safely away from potential collision areas. It also allows the system to move with air-cut moves to and from these points quickly and effectively. 

When you program the robot to move to a weld, it’s common to set the approach point just above the weld start location. The robot should approach the start location at a slower and safer speed before it strikes an arc. This approach position provides a good lead-in and typically does not require adjustment unless the weld is relocated. Some robotic systems have technology that assists in setting the initial robot path.  

The robot’s welding location can play a role in premature gun failures. Heavy articulation in the gun or an excess of +/-90 degrees, especially during welding, can cause accelerated cable failures. Minimizing your robot’s axis five and six during welding can help extend gun life by reducing wear.

Tips for robotic weld cells 

Many variables, including proper cable and consumables selection and TCP control, play an important role in weld quality and gaining successful results with a robotic welding system. Establishing a thorough plan before implementation and continuing to monitor key issues can help you optimize your OEE so you can get the most out of your investment. 


From Semi-Automatic to Automatic: Tips for Selecting a Welding Gun

Image of welder with Bernard MIG gun

From Semi-Automatic to Automatic: Tips for Selecting a Welding Gun

Choosing the right equipment for a welding operation is critical to achieving high weld quality and productivity while also eliminating costly downtime. And that includes welding guns.

In many cases, companies may have a mix of welding processes and guns. For example, in heavy equipment and general manufacturing, it’s common to have semi-automatic welding along with robotic welding. In oil and gas and shipbuilding applications, semi-automatic welding and fixed automation are prevalent. The combination of welding processes and equipment allows companies serving these industries to weld a variety of part volumes and sizes.

These process mixes, however, can pose challenges in terms of gun selection. That’s why it’s important to know the best welding gun features to look for to achieve the desired weld results — and the best efficiencies.

This article has been published as a web-exclusive on thefabricator.com. To read the entire story, please click here.


Selecting Contact Tips for Robotic Welding

Selecting Contact Tips for Robotic Welding

Contact tips are often referred to as the smallest fuse in the fuse box that is your robotic welding cell. But this small fuse can have a big impact on productivity. In terms of overall efficiency, the contact tip is key.

Contact tips depend upon repeatability to be effective in the welding process. Learn more about the different types of available — and how choosing the right one for your application can improve results and save money.

How do contact tips affect efficiency?

The job of the contact tip is to transfer the welding current to the arc and guide the welding wire as consistently as possible. If either of these two factors degrade, the overall welding process also degrades, affecting quality.

When an operation changes contact tips every few hours, there is an obvious effect on productivity. It requires the weld cell to be shut down, and the operator may have to enter the cell to change out the tip. If the robot is buried inside the welding line, contact tip changeover takes even longer.

Not only are these changeovers inefficient, but they also introduce the potential for mistakes. Every time a human interacts with the robot, there’s a risk of incorrect consumable installation or other improper adjustments that can lead to poor quality welds and costly rework.

Tregaskiss TOUGH GUN TA3 robotic air-cooled MIG gun welding in automation application
Contact tips are often referred to as the smallest
fuse in the fuse box that is your robotic
welding cell. But this small fuse can have
a big impact on productivity.

Choosing the right tip depends on the results you’re looking for and the needs of the application. In the automotive industry, for example, choosing a quality contact tip is critical since unplanned downtime is the enemy of a high-volume multi-robot operation. Contact tips in these applications need more wear resistance.

A high-quality contact tip provides a longer life and a more consistent and stable arc. Longer tip life results in more robot uptime, less time wasted on non-value-added labor for tip changeovers and reduced human interaction with the robot that could lead to error. But the contact tip itself isn’t the only factor impacting tip life — the welding wire, part fit-up, robot programming and grounding also contribute.

Types of contact tips

There are several types of contact tips available. Understanding the differences can help you select the best choice for your operation.

1. Copper contact tips: Contact tips made from this material are the most conductive to transfer welding current. But copper is also the softest option and will keyhole (or wear the bore unevenly) much faster. If keyholing is a pain point in your operation, this may not be the best choice. The initial cost of copper contact tips tends to be cheaper than other options.

2. Chrome-zirconium contact tips: This alloy provides better wear resistance and longer life than copper tips, holding up better to the demands and increased arc-on time of robotic welding. They are slightly less conductive than copper tips, but they are still sufficient for most robotic applications.

3. HDP contact tips: HDP tips can last 10 times longer than copper tips — and up to 30 times in some cases — depending on the application and waveform being used. Operations may be able to go from changing contact tips every two hours to only changing tips once a week. HDP contact tips are engineered to endure wear better, providing increased resistance to arc erosion in pulsed welding, as well as spray transfer and CV MIG. The precise fit between the tip and the wire also results in good arc stability to help produce high-quality welds. Because HDP contact tips reduce the impact of the welding current decline over time, they can provide a more stable and consistent arc over the life of each contact tip. These tips work best in applications that use high-quality copper-coated solid wire.

Group of three AccuLock HDP contact tips
HDP tips can last 10 times longer than copper or chrome zirconium tips — and even longer in some cases, depending on the application and waveform being used.

Common pitfalls with contact tips

Once you understand the types of contact tips available, there are numerous factors to consider when choosing the right tip for your application. Here are some common mistakes operations make when choosing contact tips so you can avoid the same pitfalls:

1. Only considering price: Many operations may look only at the price per tip when they purchase contact tips. But it’s important to look beyond the initial price and consider the big picture, which includes the downtime and labor required for changeover, along with any quality issues that may be happening in the weld cell. If a contact tip lasts three times as long, the robot can continue to weld instead of being down for a tip changeover — and there is less human interaction inside the cell .

2. Ignoring ID tolerance issues: The size and cast of the welding wire are important in making a decision about contact tips. Some tips need to be undersized for the welding wire used, while some tips need to match the wire size. And the same exact wire will vary in the necessary contact tip size depending on if the wire comes in a small spool or a 1,000-pound barrel. For most copper and chrome-zirconium tips, it’s recommended to undersize the contact tip by a single wire size when using a 500-pound barrel or greater of wire due to the wire cast. With smaller sizes of wire packaging, use contact tips that match the wire size. The goal is to maintain a clean, consistent contact between the wire and the tip so the weld current is conducted as efficiently as possible.

3. Using poor quality wire: In most cases, poor quality welding wire will lead to poor results from your contact tips. This is due to the lubrication on the wire, as well as the consistency of the wire diameter; inconsistent wire diameter wears the tip faster. Choosing a higher quality wire can improve tip life and produce better results. Also, be aware that wires without a copper coating and cored wires wear tips much faster. Using copper-coated solid wires typically slows contact tip wear.

4. Not being open to change: Some companies think the status quo is fine because they aren’t experiencing issues. They change tips in the robotic welding cell every couple of hours, even if those tips don’t need to be changed. Looking at the true length of their current tips or investing in higher-quality tips could optimize efficiency and the overall process — saving unplanned downtime and reducing the need for non-value-added labor hours.

Analyzing the robotic operation

If contact tips are being removed proactively even when there is no keyholing, burnbacks or erratic arcs, there could be potential to get more life out of contact tips.

So how can companies best analyze their robotic welding operation to determine when to change to a different type of contact tip?

Contact tips react differently to different applications, so an important first step is to run trials with varying quality levels of tips. This will provide an accurate comparison and a level set for expectations. Run each tip to failure, including the current brand, rather than proactively changing the tip on a set schedule. Be sure to log the time each part lasted. Ideally, run multiple contact tips in any trial to eliminate any outliers.

This type of trial can help to identify how much labor time is spent on tip changeovers, how much robot uptime can be achieved and what failures are occurring with each type of contact tip.

If an operation previously experienced 10 burnbacks a day and reduces that to zero by using a higher quality contact tip, this can help eliminate unplanned downtime.

Optimizing contact tip efficiency in robotic welding

It’s important to look beyond the purchase cost and consider the big picture to best evaluate the potential productivity, as well as weld quality and efficiency gains of certain contact tips. The benefits can be especially significant in robotic welding applications, where regular contact tip changeovers can be greatly reduced.

How Robotic Welding Supervisors Can Improve the Operation

How Robotic Welding Supervisors Can Improve the Operation

Gaining a good return on investment (ROI) from a robotic welding system doesn’t happen by chance. It’s a matter of optimizing the robot and the robotic welding cell to operate at peak efficiency. And while this task is a team effort, it is led by the robotic welding supervisor.

Tregaskiss fixed automatic MIG gun
Even if a robotic welding system is meeting production and quality requirements, it’s important that robotic welding supervisors commit to a continuous improvement process

So, what can the supervisor do to guide the way, while looking at more advanced considerations? Pay close attention and collaborate.

Find opportunities for improvement

Even if a robotic welding system is meeting production and quality requirements, it’s important that robotic welding supervisors commit to a continuous improvement process. Regularly looking for ways to increase efficiencies could provide the ability to produce more parts. It can also help identify issues within the robotic welding cell before they become problematic and cause downtime.

Robotic supervisors should pay close attention to details such as cable and consumable management, parts handling and workflow to pinpoint areas that could be streamlined. The goal is to avoid settling for less than optimal work practices to realize the full potential of the system. Doing so can provide companies with higher productivity and profitability and can set them apart from their competitors.

Rely on available resources

While the robotic welding supervisor may oversee the overall health of a robotic welding cell, the robot operator works hands on with the system daily to load and unload parts. For this reason, they are an excellent resource to rely on for insight into potential or existing problems, such as:

Excessive spatter
• Poor joint configurations, or
• The need for tooling adjustments

Quality technicians are another internal resource to help the robotic welding supervisor identify any issues and drive performance improvements. In conjunction with welding engineers, they can help rectify issues like overwelding or part distortion.

External sources, such as a robotic welding integrator or equipment manufacturer, can help troubleshoot and offer advice to gain efficiencies. In many cases, they can also offer ongoing training that helps everyone improve their interaction with the robotic welding cell.

This article is the second in a two-part series focused on key information welding supervisors should know to help ensure robotic welding success. Read article one, Best Practices for Robotic Welding Supervisors. 


Best Practices for Robotic Welding Supervisors

Best Practices for Robotic Welding Supervisors

With careful planning and attention to detail, companies that invest in a robotic welding system can gain advantages, such as:

Robotic MIG welding gun with AccuLock R consumables in action
It is important for welding supervisors to understand how to quickly troubleshoot issues and how to adjust the weld programs, as needed.

• Increased productivity
• High weld quality
• Cost saving
• Parts consistency

The welding supervisor managing the robotic welding cell plays a key role in achieving these results — and with some best practices in mind, can help ensure long-term success. There are some basics that provide a good starting point.

Understand the robotic welding system
To maximize uptime in a robotic welding system, welding supervisors need to look beyond the administrative and operational duties often involved with this position and consider the actual components in the system. Maintenance personnel can often help.

It’s important for welding supervisors to understand how to quickly troubleshoot issues and how to adjust the weld programs, as needed.

Having a solid understanding of the functions of the robotic welding gun, welding consumables, power cables, and their impact on quality and productivity is also important. It makes it easier to identify problems and provide the best solution.

Establish documentation and maintenance 
Keeping an accurate, detailed log of all activities in a robotic welding cell can help welding supervisors maintain control over changes that could impact performance of the robotic welding system. Information to document includes:

• The names of all employees who enter the weld cell, when they entered and why
• Parts that have been cleaned
• Consumable changes
• Drive roll tension adjustments
• Installation of a new welding wire drum

This documentation provides insight into changes in the robotic weld cell, making it easier for maintenance staff to troubleshoot any issues. It can also help the welding supervisor and maintenance personnel determine the appropriate frequency for a preventive maintenance schedule, which helps reduce unexpected downtime.

This article is the first in a two-part series focused on key information welding supervisors should know to help ensure robotic welding success. Read article two, How Robotic Welding Supervisors Can Improve the Operation.


Understanding Fixed Automatic Welding Guns

Understanding Fixed Automatic Welding Guns

Tregaskiss Fixed Automatic MIG Gun
Fixed automation welding is commonly used for welding pipes, structural beams, tanks and vessels in a shop environment prior to them being moved to the jobsite where they will be placed into service.

When it comes to automating the welding process, many companies opt for robotic welding systems due to the flexibility they provide and their ability to reach and weld multiple joints. These systems provide the advantages of speed and accuracy and can be reprogrammed to manage new projects.

But these robotic systems aren’t right for every application. In industries such as oil and gas, railcar, structural steel fabrication and shipbuilding, joint configurations are often less complex, consisting of a single part to be welded as opposed to full assemblies. In this case, fixed automatic welding is generally preferred.

About fixed automation welding

Fixed automation welding, sometimes called hard automation welding, is commonly used for welding pipes, structural beams, tanks and vessels in a shop environment prior to them being moved to the jobsite where they will be placed into service. It can also be used for welding steel plates for the general fabrication industry or in the manufacturing of hot water heaters and propane tanks.

Common Factors for Suitable Applications

One common factor in these applications is the need for either longitudinal or circular (inside or outside diameter) welds that require repeatability as opposed to versatility. Other factors that make applications suitable for fixed automation welding include:

1. A high volume of similar parts with low variety
2. Large parts with very long welds or several similar welds
3. Large parts that would be difficult to weld manually

In some cases, fixed automation welding can help companies meet high production goals at relatively low cost. And it is easy for a single operator to oversee and load parts, making it desirable from a labor perspective — particularly given the shortage of skilled welders the industry is facing.

Setups

A fixed automation welding cell can be set up in two ways. The first option requires tooling that holds the part in place, while a fixed automatic gun moves along the weld joint by way of a mechanized seam welder or a track and carriage that holds the gun in place. This option would be viable for a long structural beam, for example.

In the second scenario, the welding gun may be fixed in a single place by tooling while the part, such as a pipe, rotates on a lathe or circumferential fixture during the welding process. In today’s marketplace, there is equipment that can rotate parts in a wide range of diameters and weights.

Tooling for fixed automation welding offers minimal flexibility and can be expensive to adjust for new parts. This is true particularly in comparison to a robotic welding system that can be reprogrammed to articulate and weld in different positions along the X, Y and Z axes.

When investing in the tooling for fixed automation welding, it’s important for companies to determine upfront what their long-term applications will be. Will they continue to weld parts that are straight or circular for the foreseeable future?

Avoiding pitfalls in the process

MA1 air-cooled and MW1 water-cooled fixed automatic MIG guns with straight necks
Necks are typically available in the marketplace in varying lengths, from approximately 4 to 12 inches, and with either straight neck or 22-, 45- and 60-degree bends.

One very important part of the fixed automation welding system is the welding gun. It is not uncommon for companies to take a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach to this piece of equipment. Namely fixturing a semi-automatic gun in place with various components to mimic the performance of a fixed automatic gun. Sometimes this is done out of convenience, due to the shop having an abundance of semi-automatic guns, or because of a perceived cost savings.

Unfortunately, a DIY gun assembly for this process can be time-consuming to set up and maintain, which adversely affects productivity. It also is not optimized for fixed automation welding. Quality may suffer due to off-seam welds or other inconsistencies, leading to rework that further reduces throughput and increases costs. Also, if replacement parts are needed there could be variations in the assembly since it is not set up for this process. Again, this can lead to quality issues.

Instead, it is important to invest in a fixed automatic gun that is designed for the process. These guns have consistent components that can be sourced from manufacturers so that the welds are repeatable. And the gun manufacturers can provide service and technical support.

Looking at the choices

Guns need to be specified or customized for the application according to the available space, taking into account the distance between the gun and the part and also how far away the wire feeder is. These factors impact neck length and bend or angle, as well as cable choices.

Necks

Tregaskiss fixed automatic MIG gun with curved neck
For higher-amperage fixed automation welding applications that require longer periods of welding on thicker material, a water-cooled gun may be a good choice.

Necks are typically available in the marketplace in varying lengths, from approximately 4 to 12 inches. Available with either a straight neck or 22-, 45- and 60-degree bends. Companies need to determine the reach required to meet the weld joint, as well as the necessary angle for completing a sound weld.

Cable Lengths

Cable lengths vary from as short as 3 feet to as long as 25 feet. Longer cables are ideal for reaching a wire feeder placed further away from the part, including on a boom. In other situations, a company may mount the feeder directly on the tooling or nearby. In that case, a cableless gun is an option for air-cooled operations. These guns plug directly into the wire feeder via a power pin and do not require a cable. Amperage and duty cycle also need to be factored into the selection of a fixed automatic gun, and both depend on the thickness of the material being welded and the amount of arc-on time required.

Air-cooled fixed automatic guns are typically available from 300 to 500 amperage models, offering either 60% or 100% duty cycle. Duty cycle is defined by the amount of time within a 10-minute cycle the gun can weld without becoming overly heated.

The necks on these guns are particularly durable since they have fewer internal channels than a water-cooled gun and rely on the ambient air to cool them. They are also more resistant to bending, and replacement parts are less expensive.

For higher-amperage fixed automation welding applications that require longer periods of welding on thicker material, a water-cooled gun may be a better choice. These models are typically available in amperages ranging from 450 to 600 amps and offering 100% duty cycle.

Hybrid water-cooled guns are another option. These fixed automatic guns have a sturdy neck similar to an air-cooled model with water channels running external to it. These channels make the guns easier to maintain than water-cooled guns.

Additional considerations

Along with selecting the appropriate components for a fixed automatic gun, it’s also essential to choose high-quality consumables — nozzles, contact tips and gas diffusers. This helps minimize downtime for frequent changeovers and supports production goals. They can also reduce quality issues that could require rework later in the welding operation.

Consumables are available that can be used across different types of welding guns, including semi-automatic ones and fixed automatic guns. This compatibility can be beneficial to simplifying inventory and preventing errors when installing new consumables on either type of gun.

Animation | Tregaskiss TOUGH GUN Reamer Robotic Nozzle Cleaning Stations

Tregaskiss® TOUGH GUN® Reamer Robotic Nozzle Cleaning Stations Animation

Automating spatter removal helps to extend the life of your robotic MIG welding guns and consumables. It can benefit your bottom line, production up-time and throughput. Choose between our TOUGH GUN TT4A reamer (analog model) or our new TOUGH GUN TT4E reamer (Ethernet model) for further enhanced with digital Ethernet communication for better integration.

    5 Misconceptions About Robotic Welding Guns and Consumables

    5 Misconceptions About Robotic Welding Guns and Consumables

    Tregasskiss Automatic application

    Robotic MIG welding guns and consumables are an important part of the welding operation yet are frequently overlooked when investing in robotic welding systems. Companies may often choose the least expensive option when, in reality, purchasing quality robotic MIG guns and consumables can lead to significant cost savings in the long run. There are many other common misconceptions about robotic MIG guns and consumables that, if corrected, can help increase productivity and decrease downtime for the entire welding operation.

    Here are five common misconceptions about MIG guns and consumables that may be affecting your robotic weld cell.  

    This article has been published as a web-exclusive on thefabricator.com. To read the entire story, please click here


      Reduce Downtime and Costs with Water-Cooled Robotic MIG Guns

      Reduce Downtime and Costs with Water-Cooled Robotic MIG Guns

      For many fabricators, the choice between an air-cooled and water-cooled robotic MIG welding gun is easy. Their heavy-duty applications simply demand a water-cooled model due to the high amperage and duty cycle requirements of the job — an air-cooled gun would overheat and fail prematurely under such conditions.

      Robotic arm performing a weld
      The weld joint design and type or thickness of the material can help determine whether to convert to a water-cooled MIG gun. 

      In the right application, a water-cooled robotic MIG gun can often prove beneficial by minimizing downtime, increasing productivity and reducing consumable costs. These guns typically have higher duty cycles than air-cooled models and operate at higher amperages, which means they can run for longer periods of time.

      Still, deciding whether an operation would benefit from converting to a water-cooled MIG gun involves a careful analysis of several factors. In addition to considering the amperage requirements and duty cycle, a fabricator should consider the upfront costs, potential return on investment (ROI) and the specific application.

      For example, some fabricators may choose a water-cooled robotic MIG gun because of the length of their welds — they need a long arc-on time to produce long welds, which generates more heat in the gun. Similarly, critical start-and-stop points along a longer weld joint typically require a gun that can handle extended weld times.

      The weld joint design and type or thickness of the material can also help determine whether to switch to a water-cooled MIG gun. For instance, heavy plate sections that have been preheated can generate substantial radiant heat that impacts how well a gun cools, and can adversely affect the life of the front-end consumables. In this scenario, a water-cooled gun would be better suited for the job.

      When deciding whether a water-cooled robotic MIG gun is the best choice for an application, it’s important to keep in mind some maintenance and replacement costs. While a water-cooled gun costs more upfront, there is the possibility to conduct maintenance on each individual component within the cable assembly (e.g. water lines, gas hose, etc). However, an air-cooled cable combines all its components into one common part and if any single component fails, the entire cable needs to be replaced, resulting in higher replacement costs. It is necessary to weigh those factors against each other.

      Understanding water-cooled robotic MIG guns

      Welding guns — whether air or water-cooled — must stay cool to protect the power cable, gun body, neck and consumables from heat damage during welding. That heat takes three forms: radiant heat from the arc; resistive heat from the electrical components in the welding circuit; and reflective heat from the welded part, particularly aluminum or preheated parts.

      Whereas an air-cooled MIG gun relies on the ambient air, shielding gas and arc-off time to dissipate heat, a traditional water-cooled robotic MIG gun circulates a coolant from a radiator unit through cooling hoses inside the power cable and into the gun body and neck. The coolant then returns to the radiator, where the radiator’s baffling system releases the heat absorbed by the coolant. There are also guns available on the market today that cool only the front of the gun, where heat is generated, and still use an air-cooled cable.

      Air-cooled MIG guns also use much thicker copper cables and inner neck tubes, whereas water-cooled robotic MIG guns use much less copper in the power cables and thinner wall sections in the necks because the coolant carries away the resistive heat before it builds. Water-cooled MIG guns, however, do have multiple inner lines that run through the neck to the front-end consumables, making this portion of the gun heavier than an air-cooled neck.

      When to switch to a water-cooled robotic MIG gun

      There are three key indicators that signify a welding operation could benefit from converting to a water-cooled MIG gun:

      1. Excessive consumable usage
      2. Excessive gun temperature (overheating)
      3. Excessive cycle time (high duty cycle)

      All these factors are interconnected, because if the weld is too hot, excessive consumable usage and gun temperature will automatically result.

      In general, water-cooled robotic MIG guns are most beneficial for high-amperage applications and are typically available in 350 to 600 amp models.

      Closely related to amperage is duty cycle, which refers to the amount of time during a 10-minute cycle that the gun can operate at its rated capacity without overheating. Water-cooled robotic MIG guns have varying duty cycle capacities depending on the manufacturer and model. It is important to make the appropriate comparison during the selection process, as some guns may be rated at either 60% or 100% duty cycle, which results in different amperage ratings. 

      Converting to a water-cooled robotic MIG gun

      600 amp robotic water-cooled gun photo
      In general, water-cooled robotic MIG guns are most beneficial for high-amperage applications in the 350- to 600-amp range. 

      Fabricators who plan to change from an air-cooled to a water-cooled robotic MIG gun should follow these three steps to help ensure a smooth conversion.

      Match the existing tool center point (TCP) and approach angle. Be sure to have access to all the weld joints with the new water-cooled MIG gun. Make sure that the tooling will work with the new system. The gun may require a special neck or special mounting arm to achieve the desired TCP. Often, converting to a water-cooled gun will require a new mounting arm and insulating disk to maintain or achieve a specific TCP while changing the dimensions of the neck itself to create better access.

      Ensure overall clearance. A 3-D simulator can help determine whether all parts of the new system will clear all tooling or any other obstructions. In addition to having front-end clearance and access – once installed, it’s important that the gun body and cable bundle fits properly to avoid getting caught on tooling or other equipment. 

      Get a water cooler. It is necessary to invest in a radiator for the new water-cooled robotic MIG gun. Ensure that the water-cooler has been installed and maintained, as per the manufacturer’s specifications.

      Maintenance and usage tips

      Because all the lines and hoses in a water-cooled robotic MIG gun are separate, it is possible to conduct maintenance on individual components if they become damaged. However, due to the lines being internal to the gun, it is difficult to perform preventive maintenance on them. There are options though to care for a water-cooled gun.

      As with an air-cooled MIG gun, it’s important to inspect a water-cooled robotic MIG gun to ensure that all consumables and connections are tight and working properly. Inspect the water lines frequently to make sure they are tight and have no leaks, and replace the O-rings when necessary (e.g. when cracks or wear appears). Ensure there is a flow switch installed in the return line from the gun and the radiator to indicate any leaks within the system — this component will save time and money in the event of a failure.

      Using a reamer or nozzle cleaning station adds significant benefits to the preventive maintenance of water-cooled robotic MIG guns. A reamer eliminates the need to manually clean out the front-end consumables and can, with the addition of an automated sprayer, add anti-spatter compound to help further extend consumable life. This feature adds to the overall cost of the equipment, but it helps increase uptime for production since there is less manual intervention. The ROI is typically worth it.

      It is important to always use the correct coolant — do not fall prey to the notion that it is cheaper to use tap water in a water-cooled gun. Doing so can cause algae growth or mineral build-up and, eventually, lead to costly clogging. Instead, use deionized water or the specially treated coolant solution recommended by the manufacturer. These coolants contain special additives to lubricate internal pumps and O-rings, as well as to prevent algae growth. 

      Lower operating costs

      Although converting to a water-cooled robotic MIG gun is often more of a necessity than a choice (because the application demands it), this type of gun has its value. Applying a water-cooled gun to the appropriate application can result in a more efficient system performance and lower overall operating costs.

      Consider the various costs, specific application needs and joint accessibility to determine whether a water-cooled robotic MIG gun is the best option for the specific robotic application — and don’t hesitate to consult a trusted welding distributor, welding equipment manufacturer or robotic welding system integrator with questions.