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Flexible Fixturing Enhances Production Flow in Welding Environments

In traditional welding environments, parts were held in place with dedicated tooling sensors and custom fixtures (jigs). Although effective, custom fixtured machinery can be expensive and limiting. Hard tooling does not allow for quick part changeover, part-to-part variations, or enable efficient workcells that can tackle multiple tasks. Traditional welding systems also required parts be moved manually into the workcell for hand welding and inspection.

Contemporary welding manufacturing environments demand flexibility and require frequent product changeovers whenever necessary. Constant pressure exists in the manufacturing environment to provide higher quality parts faster and in smaller runs to satisfy customers. In a welding system, this is done with multiple industrial robots adapted with simple grippers that allow the robot to manipulate the part from every angle, achieve 360° welds, and better overall weld positioning. This flexible fixturing with robotics is less expensive, improves product quality, and increases manufacturing potential.

In the following example, the robot equipped with a simple gripper picks up work pieces from random bins or trays. Flexible and low-cost robotic welding systems such as these eliminate dedicated peripheral devices and labor for part feeding and aligning. Lower cost, simple grippers are also used which eliminate the need for part present sensors.

Automatic Workpiece Feeding for Welding Applications

Automatic Workpiece Feeding for Welding Applications

Welding Process

Traditional System Issues Flexible Fixturing Robot System Benefits
Fork Truck Operator Chance of accident or injury. Fork Truck Operator or Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) Both cost effective and efficient.
Workcell operator retrieves part Heavy, awkward parts; hard to handle part-to-part variation. Vision system locates part in bin or feeder. A variety of parts can be presented with no fixturing required.
Operator welds the part. Inconsistent welds and weld process. Robot uses process data to weld the part. Consistent process and recipe management; matches repeatable high quality welds. Easy and quick changeover achieved. Cost effective lower volumes possible.
Inspector Possibility of human error. Vision system inspects the parts and the output. Accurate part output, improves part quality and better recipe management (gas, wire type, etc.).
Good/Bad Part Recording Time consuming and can be inaccurate. Network information is sent to the PC. Efficient data transfer and validation.
Dedicated Tooling/Sensors Expensive, inflexible. No additional sensors required. Uses vision to reduce the number of geometric tooling required in order to simplify the system.

Manual operations traditionally transferred workpieces into the workcell. Now, a robot with FANUC Robotics' integrated iRVision can be used to find and pick the parts. iRVision can be trained to locate different parts and sort them, or determine whether or not they pass inspection before or after the weld. iRVision tools can also be used in the actual workcell to adjust the off-line program to the actual workpiece.

Shown below is a TripleARM system in which two M-20iA robots together with an ARC Mate 100iC are controlled by a single controller to provide flexible programming and improved capability. The M-20iA robots' integrated through arm cables improve motion range and increase flexibility for a variety of conditions. iRVision 3DL allows loosely ordered parts to be picked from bins eliminating expensive complex tooling. iRVision also provides part identification and robot path guidance which increases process reliability. In this example, the M-20iA robots pick exhaust pipes from bins while coordinating the pipe assembly with an ARC Mate robot. This seamless coordination allows production of a wider variety of parts.

A TripleARM Robot Controlling Two M-20iA Handling Robots with an ARC Mate 100iC

A TripleARM Robot Controlling Two M-20iA Handling Robots with an ARC Mate 100iC

As discussed in Using Robots to Go From CAD to Part, off-line programming tools can assist in creating a cost-effective welding environment. Off-line programming uses a 3D CAD model of the workpiece to set up and program the system before it is tested on actual equipment. It simplifies and reduces costs for system layout, performing interference checks and estimating cycle time while conserving critical workcell resources such as equipment and manpower. The off-line programming operator can specify the welding path by simply clicking the line on the CAD model. A welding program is then easily generated with the designation of torch angle, and travel angle after the verification of both the robot stroke limits, and that there is no interference between robots and work pieces.

In the completely coordinated example below, the R-1000iA robot loads and unloads a family of products. A two-axis positioner with a simple tool holds the part in place. The DualARM ARC Mate 100iC robot with iRVision locates the weld seam. Finally, the R-1000iA cleans and polishes the product.


A QuadARM robot can be used to control two R-2000iB Handling robots with dual ARC Mate 100iCs providing flexible programming and improved capability. An ARC Mate 100iC through arm welding dressout package provides a wider motion range without the reliability of external weld torches. Through arm cables provide off-line programming capability without touchup so a variety of parts can be programmed off-line and there's no need to spend time to validate on the actual cell. Due to its high payload capacity and excellent work envelope, the R-2000iB robot provides flexible part placement with excellent path control for coordinated motion. In the following example, Dual R-2000iB robots with tool changers dock various part fixtures while coordinating with an ARC Mate 120iC robot improving workcell flexibility.

R-2000iB/165F and ARCMate 120iC Welding Workcell

R-2000iB/165F and ARCMate 120iC Welding Workcell

The following figure shows two QuadARM ARC Mate 100iC robots with DualARM M-710iC Toploader robots providing flexible programming and improved capability. The ARC Mate 100iC robots with integrated through arm cables improve motion range and increase flexibility for a variety of conditions. In this system example, a variety of parts is picked from loose ordered racks all while coordinating the assembly with QuadARM ARC Mate robots to produce high quality welds.

QuadARM ARC Mate 100iC with DualARM M-710iC Toploader Robots

QuadARM ARC Mate 100iC with DualARM M-710iC Toploader Robots

Several successful flexible fixturing systems exist that are proven to cut costs and improve production. For example ARCMate 100iB robots, along with Dual Arm and R-2000iA robots, have been used to weld after market mufflers. This system used several key software features to create a labor savings and flexible model changeover for the customer including Dual Drive simplified tooling and reduced integration and programming costs. In addition, the customer realized an increase in production and part throughput.

After-Market Muffler Welding

After-Market Muffler Welding

In another system in which no robots had been used previously, FANUC Robotics' M-710iC robots are welding commercial heating and cooling units. Using iRVision for part ID to locate weld seams among various stainless steel models, the customer was able to reduce labor costs and cycle time, while improving product quality. Faster process times were realized versus traditional touch sensing methods.

Robots are Being Used to Weld Industrial Heating/Cooling Units

Robots are Being Used to Weld Industrial Heating/Cooling Units

ARCMate 100iC robots solved increased labor cost issues and improved product quality for one industrial customer welding transformers. iRVision was used to locate and weld complex parts which also produced faster process times. No orientation was required since iRVision was used to locate the “flats” on each weld nut making welding easier. iRVision was incorporated into other applications within the same cell for an efficient and cost-effective process.

iRVision to Locate Weld Joints

iRVision to Locate Weld Joints

In some cases, flexible manufacturing systems combine material handling, spot welding and gas metal arc welding (GMAW) to incorporate an efficient and proven weld and process technology. This is the case in which ARCMate 100iC robots, along with R-2000iA material handling and servo gun robots are assembling a complex galvanized bumper assembly. Almost immediately, the customer realized a labor savings with a system that handles frequent model changeovers at low cost.

GMAW of Galvanized Bumper Assembly

GMAW of Galvanized Bumper Assembly

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