Welding Well


 

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What's Your Steady State?

By: Mike Pantaleano

Vice President, Data Driven Advantage/Digital Solutions, Esab Welding & Cutting Products

Thursday, November 1, 2018
 

If you ask an average welding- or fabricating-facility owner or manager to estimate the percentage of time their operators spend welding, they typically guess 30 percent or more. However, boots-on-the-ground observations by Esab’s value-added engineering team members reveal an average of middle to high teens for the best semiautomatic gas-metal-arc welding (GMAW) and cored-wire welding operations. Without knowing the actual cost of welding (or cutting), these owners and managers could shortchange themselves when estimating jobs. Their productivity increases result from instinct rather than data. Other than “a lot,” they’re likely unaware of actual costs related to documentation and traceability as well.

Esab WeldCloud dashboards
Esab WeldCloud dashboards provide high-level overviews, allowing managers to assess the health of their welding systems at a glance.
The bottom line is that you can’t improve what you can’t measure, and the welding and fabrication industry is in the earliest stages of online data management. However, the rate of adoption should begin to accelerate as deploying an IIoT solution becomes simpler and easier, allowing fabricators to drive continuous improvement in three major areas: asset and productivity management; traceability and documentation; and quality.

Easier Deployment

Most companies that should use an IIoT solution don’t, largely because they fear costs and complexity. While a modest-sized job shop may not have the IT resources of a large manufacturer, no longer is that a barrier for several reasons:

  • Greater availability of digital welding and cutting systems are available with optional communications modules (IIoT boxes).
  • Universal connection modules can capture and communicate arc-on/off time and voltage and amperage data for companies with older analog equipment, and from virtually any power source with a positive and negative terminal.
  • Cloud-based solutions such as Microsoft Azure simplify deployment. The IIoT box connects to a router (either wirelessly or by Ethernet cable), and the router sends information to the cloud, eliminating the need for a costly on-premise server.
  • Federated or hybrid solutions, where on-premise servers aggregate data locally and then send data to the cloud in a single stream, can be used by companies with larger fleets. All transmissions use secured protocols, and data is password protected.
  • Data dashboards, accessed from an internet-enabled device, are user-friendly. Clicking on a button generates high-level information such as arc-on time, number of weld sessions, errors and wire consumption. Clicking on a part number enables drilling down to find out who touched the part and when, and does so without the need to manually manipulate or extract data.

Asset and Productivity Management

After deploying a digital data-management system, a company then can build baselines and establish its true steady state instead of using anecdotal or antiquated data about what it actually takes to build their products. A good place to start is evaluating the health of the welding fleet through error reporting. As a real example, one end-user recently forgot to put coolant into a water-cooled system. A technician working with the company used a cloud-based solution to identify the poorly performing system and deduce the problem. Automatic alerts via text and e-mail, such as for a system that suddenly shuts down or welds outside of specification, are standard features.

Another good place to start is identification and replication of optimal welding parameters. We’ve all heard a welder boast that, “I like to weld hot and fast,” but who determines whether hot and fast yields the most productivity? If it leads to intermittent fusion and rework, slow and steady might be a better option.

Ideally, everyone welds using ideal, consistent and recommended parameters. A data-management system enables a company to monitor its best welders or welding cells, link those welding variables to productivity and quality results and then push those variables out to an entire fleet or enterprise.

It also enables them to spot anomalies, such as low arc-on time or wire consumption, then determine a root cause. If, for example, an operator spends too much time grinding, is it because of spatter or a poorly prepared bevel? If so, then a low-spatter wire or automated plasma-beveling system might make sense. As noted, estimates based on inaccurate data can cost a company money. By capturing actual operator time, consumable and material use, companies can precisely estimate job costs and increase profit margins.

Documentation and Traceability

Documentation and traceability, often required by customers in the power, wind-tower, offshore, pressure- vessel and other industries, generates reams of paper. Most fabricators look at it as unproductive time, yet the need for traceability and documentation is growing.

New technology enables using a smart-phone app to scan a barcode for every component, operator, power source, consumable and shielding-gas cylinder used in a weld session. Coupled with weld-parameter monitoring (more on this shortly), a fabricator can automate what is a tedious and costly process prone to human error.

Quality

A first step toward consistent weld quality is linking production variables with results. Even then, weld-quality monitoring happens after a part is completed or sent farther down the production line. A quality-assurance system based on looking in the rearview mirror is costlier, especially if multiple parts have defects.

Conversely, a data-monitoring system can provide the operator or manager with feedback in real time. Imagine the value of immediately identifying a weld flaw on the root pass of a 1-in.-thick joint instead of after making the cap pass. On an automated system, because travel speed also would be captured, the operator would be able to identify the location of the flaw.

The type of online management systems discussed so far can capture and log data at a rate of up to 1 Hz (and sometime much slower). The data is generally higher level (e.g., the welding arc shut off and the system recorded an error). The micro details required by engineers and quality assurance personnel require a real-time weld quality-assurance system that captures data at rates of 23 kHz or faster. By comparing measured parameters with reference curves, the system calculates quality marks for each weld seam and provides an instant notification when an irregularity occurs. Faults detected can include poor arc ignition, porosity, burnthrough, seam length (too long or short) and seam interruption. MF

 

See also: ESAB Welding & Cutting

Related Enterprise Zones: Welding


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