Emerging Trends in the Welding Industry Explained by Belgian Welding Institute Experts
While we step into the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, it's crucial to understand disruptions driving this digital transformation, such as big data, robotics, advanced analytics, machine learning, 3D printing, etc. Smart machines have arrived, and they can help us work faster, more efficiently, and more accurately. Industry 4.0 created a significant shift in how we manufacture products, organize workflows, manage the supply chain, and manage valuable data.
To understand better the current state of the welding industry, trends, and challenges, we reached out to Bart Verstraeten and Wim Verlinde from the Belgian Welding Institute.
Belgian Welding Institute is a non-profit organization counting over 350 members - mainly industrial profiles. The Institute provides different services for welding companies, such as:
Welding Trends Powered by Automation
The Belgian Welding Institute is on a mission to help companies on different issues, from training the staff to providing hands-on practical advice. Two years ago, they started focusing on robotics research, automation, and programming of robots because there's an ongoing demand in the market.
"The pain points of welding companies are mainly situated in the lack of skilled welders and skilled personnel in general. So, businesses need to invest in optimization, robotics, and skilled robotic programmers to resolve this issue," explains Bart Verstraeten, Technical Director at the Belgian Welding Institute.
"Every company is unique, with specific materials, combinations, clients' and requirements, meaning the way how they should build a robotic installation is also unique. Our customers often ask how they can leverage robots. Previously, a robot was a standalone installation, and now we see it getting more and more and more integrated into the whole installation," adds Wim Verlinde, Technology Advisor at the Belgian Welding Institute.
Exploring Technological Opportunities to Solve Prevalent Challenges
If a welding company wants to deploy robotics into their workflow, companies should understand there is a learning curve involving many parameters. "Companies need to organize their workshop in a new way. Besides that, they also need to have enough work for the robot to have full occupation effects. Additionally, the people that work with the robot need to be properly educated and fully competent to do their job," explains Bart.
After installing a robot, welding companies traditionally faced the most difficult question: who will program the robot? Should they invest in a programmer or a welder? Ideally, they find a person that can do both (which is very rare), so teams are usually left with two options: train a person within the company - which can take a long time; or hire an external consultant to program the robot - which is very expensive. Luckily, there are software solutions on the horizon that remove the complexity of robots and allow a welder to program the robots directly. "A software solution like this would be a great advantage, and I'm sure many companies would start implementing automation and robotization more," reveals Wim.
Over the last few years, we have seen significant changes in software due to more and more research around artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotics. As Bart reveals, "In the past, programming robots was a difficult and lengthy job. For example, for a robot to weld for one minute, a programmer was required to work on the code for half an hour or more. This took a lot of time and a lot of knowledge, but thanks to AI, software is getting better and more efficient.”
"The easiest solution would be to create a kind of automatic platform developed around the robot, so the operator only has to fine-tune some operations. I think there are some great opportunities there, and we see some great improvements over the last few years," concludes Wim.