Industry 4.0 is all about the ongoing transition into an even smarter, automated manufacturing world, using new developments in technology to get us there. Through the use of intelligent, automated technology, we are able to communicate more efficiently, collect data with advanced traceability, and create human-like interactions between machines and computers.
These incredible advancements are made possible with research, time, and resources spent understanding this relationship that automation can have with modern day technology, but specifically in regards to welding.
The third industrial revolution brought pioneering automated robotic welding to factories in the 1960’s. Now, more than ever, manufacturing relies heavily on data analysis, complicated algorithms, smart/flexible part flow, connected production lines, and welding sensors/software. Industry 4.0 initiatives continue to revolutionize welding by introducing automated, intelligent, and autonomous systems fueled by sensor data and machine learning. Industry 4.0 is connecting and allowing welding systems to communicate useful process information to ultimately makes decisions without human involvement.
As welding systems keep getting smarter, we will continue to gain access to more data, which is leading to factories becoming more efficient and productive, with less scrap. In the end, it’s the communication between these machines, digitally connected to one another – creating and sharing information, that results in the true power of Industry 4.0.
Thanks to the evolution of sensor and software technology, weld process monitoring is becoming mainstream with Industry 4.0. Weld process monitoring allows for data driven decisions, a term you will hear often in talks regarding welding’s role in Industry 4.0, making intelligent welding a reality.
What is Weld Process Monitoring?
In simple terms; weld process monitoring is more of a comparative tool. You’re comparing weld conditions; current, real-time welding process results, to previous, known good weld results to ensure you findings fit within a defined threshold, or control limit. These modern compact, weld process sensors, instantly monitor the process for changing conditions that indicate a problem allowing for corrective action. These sensors are often used in-line requiring a small footprint and easy integration.
This sensor-based technology can be found in many welding plants around the world, but continues to be justified by others. The idea of automated weld process monitoring has been around for years, in the past the hardware and software had not advanced enough to make it a viable, useful, and/or robust solution for welding applications. Now that the monitoring tools exist, we’re experiencing a paradigm shift allowing us the ability to advance process monitoring beyond its original limits.
Using the data collected from the sensor, statistical process control (SPC) can be used to make predictions and corrections before problems occur. Efficient welding and profitable operations require a closed-loop welding system, meaning weld parameters are defined and the system self corrects from sensing the deviations. A simple example of this is the autonomous vehicle, you tell it where to go, it follows the rules, and your vehicle self-adjusts, as required, back to the original inputted values and parameters. We want the robotic welding process to do this same thing, self-correct based on deviation. Minimize, but not eliminate human involvement, freeing the company to use humans for other tasks. Realizing this vision of useful, self-correcting technology for welding is the key for local fabrication’s survival in today’s global economy. Using data proactively rather than reactively, is changing the game for so many in the manufacturing field.
Weld Process Monitoring Benefits
At the end of the day, it’s all about streamlining the welding process. Process monitoring detects faults in real-time, meaning changes can be found and fixed quicker. The is a valuable tool for determining root causes, which leads to corrective actions taken.
Allowing operators to find systematic faults directly where and when they occur, rather than at the end of the line where quality inspection takes place, creates a better system with productivity gains.
In addition to this, weld process monitoring provides concrete traceability, a part of Industry 4.0 that has changed the trajectory of how we document, track, and store all weld process information for each part made. All part manufacturing results must be able to be easily looked up and read in the future. This is valuable for long-term accountability, particularly for safety related products.
Let’s say a car manufacturer sends a car out the door and 5 years down the line there is an accident and the owner claims the doors had a bad weld, which resulted in the accident. Traceability and data collection confirms facts. The car manufacturer pulls the information for the exact car that left the shop 5 years prior. The documentation shows all four doors were welded correctly and no bad welds were detected during the process monitoring stage or inspection stage. Now you’re in the clear, because the facts don’t lie.
While today’s process monitoring is not a quality measurement method, it is a valuable indication tool of how stable the process itself is running. In the best case, it is the tool to spot potential root causes of error that can be rectified in real-time before the error becomes continuous.
Weld process monitoring is a critical part of realizing the benefits of Industry 4.0 in order to survive and thrive in modern advanced manufacturing.