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    An Introduction to Laser Welding Robots

    As manufactured components become more complex, demand for precise assembly solutions arises. This issue compounds as plastic manufacturing produces more sophisticated parts. Laser welding provides a solution for these issues. Laser welding also makes welding difficult materials such as copper and aluminum easier. Welding such materials are common in battery system manufacturing. Some facilities will manually weld materials using lasers. However, manufacturers commonly automate due to the high demand for precision.
    Industries for Laser Welding Robotics

    Laser welding robots exist as a niche application within manufacturing. Very few industries require the unique characteristics and benefits of laser welding. However, for those industries, access to automated laser welding is vital. Examples include:

    1. Automotive
    2. Aerospace
    4. Electronics
    5. Healthcare
    6. Metals
    7. Plastics

    A robotic weld cell is a complex combination of other subsystems. Initially, keeping track of the required components can be daunting. So, let’s break this system down into its parts:

    The Robot

    The welding robot is the central component of the weld cell. Here, the robot refers to the robot’s mechanics and controls. Regardless of the type, the robot is responsible for applying the weld. This component both moves and operates the controls of the laser directly. The application requirements should primarily drive robot selection. Robot models feature different design characteristics. When selecting your robot, you should consider ratings like reach, payload capacity, speed, and precision. The application requirements will call for specific performance characteristics that will narrow the types of robots appropriate for your project. We’ll look at some robot selection options in the next section.

    The Laser

    The laser system is responsible for generating the welding beam. The laser includes the head and the power generator/amplifier, sometimes a separate component. The material and weld requirements help define the laser type required. Be sure to understand which laser best fits your welding application.

    Cooling

    Most laser types require a cooling system to function. Lasers generate massive levels of heat. Consequently, this heat can damage internal components. Cooling systems keep laser temperatures within a functional range. Therefore, laser cooling systems are often part of the overall laser package.

    Part Presentation

    You should consider how you will present the part to the robot for welding. There are often more options available in this area for laser welding systems. This is thanks to the process having a low physical impact on the part during welding. Common options include:

    1. Conveyors
    2. Jigs
    3. Turntables
    4. Clamps
    5. Other robots

    Sensing/Monitoring Systems

    Such a high-tech system comes replete with sensing equipment. Temperature sensors and safety equipment are standard in weld cells. Additionally, beam and seam trackers aren’t uncommon. Suppliers often configure packages with vision systems. These systems can provide a variety of functions. You might prefer different features based on the application. Common applications include:

    1. Quality control/inspection
    2. Safety
    3. Thermal monitoring

    Safety

    Laser welding is a dangerous application for people. Consequently, it’s essential to implement safety measures to protect employees. Risk mitigation measures commonly include:

    1. Safety guarding/enclosure
    2. Light curtains
    3. Safety scanner(s)
    4. Lock-out/tag-out systems
    5. Live-man switch

    Laser Welding Robot Types Used Today

    A couple of robot types hold a monopoly on the laser welding market. These robots offer the functionality required to automate a laser welding task. However, their differences are significant. Understanding these differences helps you know which is suitable for your application.
    Six-Axis Robots

    Six-axis robots offer a great mix of speed, reach, payload capacity, and reach. These robots can cover the vast majority of laser welding applications. They excel in small to medium-sized welding tasks. Their excellent range of motion helps them weld complex part geometries.

    However, the six-axis robots’ shortcomings can limit their compatibility with larger jobs. For example, their reach is limited to a meter or two. Unfortunately, this is the case even for the biggest robots. However, manufacturers can reduce this shortcoming with the help of an RTU. A robot transfer unit (RTU) extends the reach of your six-axis robot. However, this is an expensive piece of hardware. In addition, RTUs carry separate integration costs and considerations.

    Additionally, robots will have an upper limit to their payload capacity. This limits their ability to handle the enormous lasers required for some tasks. Unfortunately, you can’t mitigate this limitation without a more robust or different robot type.

    Gantry Robots

    Gantry robots provide nearly unlimited capacity for laser welding. Suppliers can configure gantry robots to handle the largest applications. Additionally, their superior mechanical rigidity allows them to move the biggest lasers. Furthermore, their simple design enables gantry robots to achieve unmatched levels of precision.

    These benefits don’t come without drawbacks. Gantry robots are limited in their ability to handle complex parts. Six-axis robots are better designed for tasks demanding high dexterity. Their multi-jointed construction allows them to excel in such applications.

    Types of Laser Welding Robot Suppliers

    Now you have a grasp of the fundamentals of robotic laser welders. Your next likely step is to research potential suppliers. There are many options in the robot welding market. Let’s cover some common supplier types. This clarity allows you to categorize suppliers in your research. Ultimately, understanding which supplier is right for you can make integration a smooth process.

    Robot Manufacturers

    Robot manufacturers design, build and sell robots. Most manufacturers cover a broad range of applications and industries. Some even have unique models optimized for welding in mind. Benefits of purchasing directly from the manufacturer include:

    1. Direct access to the best engineering support
    2. Preconfigured options
    3. Engineered solutions
    4. Best training access
    5. Great for standard applications

    Integrators

    Integrators are 3rd party solution providers. They’re typically official channel partners of at least one robot manufacturer. Integrators tend to have broad access to other lines of equipment tangential to the robot system. Benefits of working with integrators include:

    1. Often provide the best local support
    2. Highly flexible for custom solutions
    3. Commonly offer a variety of services outside of robotics

    System Solution Providers (OEMs)

    System solution providers supply off-the-shelf robot packages. These preconfigured systems are purpose-built for a specific application. There are often variations of these packages to cover a broad range of application requirements. Benefits of working with these suppliers include:

    1. Cost-efficient overall
    2. Usually built with unique features
    3. Ease-of-use
    4. Compatibility with other systems (industry 4.0)
    5. Quick integration
    6. System training

    Laser Welding is one of the most high-tech applications in modern welding, and automation is helping manufacturers unlock even more productivity within this process.
    As a niche subfield within the broader welding industry, there can be some mystery surrounding laser welding and how to automate it. Understanding the suppliers and components of a robotic laser welding system is critical for beginning your automation journey. Your awareness of these facts is vital to automate this task successfully. This article will cover the above topics to give you the confidence to move forward with your first laser welding robot cell.


    Post time: Nov-14-2022
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