The Evolution of Robotic Welding -- A historical retrospective
From the time primitive man began making tools, manufacturing has been an integral part of every human’s life. Look around. Everything you see that doesn’t exist naturally was manufactured somewhere in the world. From the cars we drive to the chairs we sit in, many of these things have been touched by robotic welding. But, how did we get from primitive man to welding robotics?
Originally, items were made by individuals themselves, and then in later centuries, by craftsmen in small shops. Once the Industrial Revolution started in the 18th century, products moved out of shops and into large factories. Once Eli Whitney invented the mechanized assembly line in 1797, the beginnings of modern day manufacturing were underway.
One of the key processes in the manufacturing of metal items is welding. Welding, the process of joining two pieces of metal using heat and pressure, has been around in some form or another since the early days of man. Egyptians used pressure welding as far back as 3000 B.C.
It wasn’t until the 1860s that Henry Wilde used the electric sources available and patented the first form of electric welding. From there, the early to mid-twentieth century was concerned with developing different types of welding processes – arc welding, flux cored welding, electron beam welding, etc. While the process of welding put humans in hazardous environments of extreme heat and toxic fumes, the application was necessary for manufacturing.
Then, in 1962, everything changed.
That year, robotic welding began when General Motors started using the first industrial robot in their automobile factory – the UNIMATE, developed by George Devol and Joseph Engelberger. The UNIMATE performed spot welding on automobiles going through the assembly line.
While Unimation was the first robotics company, started by Devol and Engelberger, during the 1960s and 1970s, many other robot manufacturers like KUKA, FANUC and Motoman came on the scene.
Welding robotics did not really begin to take off until the 1980s, when other automotive companies followed GM’s lead and started using robots for spot welding. It was then that the industries began to grow and understand the benefits of welding robots.
By 2005, over 60,000 robotic weld cells were working throughout North America. While companies may have stifled their automation goals early because of the high price tag, costs have now begun to come down as more and more companies switch to welding robotics automation.
In recent years, the arc welding process has grown in popularity, and as industrial robotic welders become more sophisticated with more axes (for better movement) and 3-D vision (for better welding accuracy), many facilities use only robotic welding cells for their welding processes.
With man’s internal fascination with metals and manufacturing, it is easy to see why robotic welding is the way of the future.
Robot welders create high-quality, precise welds, and they boost productivity on an assembly line. These robots save manufacturers money in production in labor costs because of their speed, ability to work without breaks, and their ability to reduce errors.
They also raise the safety level of shops by getting human workers out of that hazardous welding environment, away from the fumes and extreme heat. While humans are taken out of the danger zone, robots still need humans to program and function, showing that while manual welding may become obsolete, humans will always be an important part of the welding and manufacturing process.
RobotWorx, a certified integrator for KUKA, Universal Robots, Motoman, ABB, and FANUC robotics, works with manufacturers to find the right robotic welding solution for their facility. If you are a manufacturer looking to automate your welding process, contact RobotWorx today at 740-251-4312 and learn more about your robotic welding options.