ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Universal Robots and Hirebotics today announced a new application that utilizes a cobot arm with arc welding, which the companies say will address an acute shortage of welders nationwide. The BotX Welder is designed to produce quality parts quickly and in small runs for metal fabrication companies. The system is now available to early access companies, and will officially launch in November at the FABTECH show in Chicago (Nov. 11-14).
“Many people didn’t believe that collaborative robots could perform such heavy-duty tasks as welding,” said Rob Goldiez, co-founder of Hirebotics. “We realized the need of a solution for small and medium sized metal fabricators trying to find welders.”
Hirebotics said its “hire-a-robot” business model is built on Universal Robots, setting the foundation for the BotX. The solution is powered by a UR10e cobot that Hirebotics said is easy to teach, with the ability to produce automation quality with small-batch part runs.
In developing BotX, Hirebotics addressed two major hurdles of robotic welding: the ease of programming and the ease in which a customer can obtain the system without assuming the risk of ownership. There are no installation costs with BotX and with cloud monitoring, manufacturers pay only for the hours the system actually welds. “You can hire and fire BotX as your business needs dictate,” explains Goldiez.
The complete product offering comes with the UR10e cobot arm, cloud connector, welder, wire feeder, MIG welding gun, weld table, and configurable user-input touch buttons. The customer simply provides wire, gas, and parts. Customers can teach BotX the required welds simply via an intuitive app on any smartphone or tablet utilizing welding libraries created in world-class welding labs. A cloud connection enables 24/7 support by Hirebotics.
The company also said that PMI LLC, based in Bloomer, Wis., was one of the first BotX customers. “A large order would mean, we need to hire 10-15 welders to fulfill it – and they’re just not out there,” said Erik Larson, vice president of operations at PMI. “Therefore, we would No Bid contracts on a regular basis. With the BotX solution, we now quote that work and have been awarded contracts, so it has really helped grow our business,” said Larson. “The BotX Welder doesn’t require expensive, dedicated fixturing and robot experts on the scene.”
The company added that its existing operators can handle the day-to-day control of the BotX, which welds a variety of smaller product runs. The Wisconsin job shop has now stored weld programs for more than 50 different parts in their BotX app. “We are now able to deliver quality equivalent to what we could accomplish manufacturing with very expensive tooling typically used with higher-volume part runs,” said Larson. “Being able to simply hire the BotX Welder, and quickly switch between welds by using our smart phone—and only pay for the hours it works—is huge for us. It took our area lead, who had no prior robotics experience, half an hour to teach it how to weld the first part.”
Another significant benefit was PMI’s ability to get the BotX welds certified for customers who require this. “This now means we do not need to use certified welders to oversee the operation. As long as the cobot welder’s program is certified, any operator can tend the cobot welder. This really unlocks a lot of resources for us,” said Larson. “Hirebotics and Universal Robots really hit the mark with this, we’re looking forward to a long partnership with them.”
Hirebotics’ Goldiez said they had several reasons for choosing Universal Robots as a partner on the BotX Welder solution. “With Universal Robots’ open architecture, we were able to control, not only wire feed speed and voltage, but torch angle as well, which ensures a quality weld every time,” Goldiez said. “UR’s open platform also enabled us to develop a cloud-based software solution that allows us to ensure a customer is always running with the latest features at no charge. We can respond to a customer’s request for additional features within weeks and push those features out to the customer with no onsite visits.”
In addition, the collaborative nature of the robots, which doesn’t require safety fencing compared with traditional industrial robots, means a smaller footprint for the equivalent working space, Goldiez said. “Put another way; less floor space to produce same size part, in many cases less than half the floor space of traditional automation, he said. “The collaborative nature of the solution enables an operator to move between multiple cells without interrupting production, greatly increasing the productivity of an employee.”