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What Industry 4.0 means to the welding department

Industry 4.0 may sound like something in which only large, multinational manufacturers are players but that’s not the case. Digitising information flow straight from the welding booth to a quality measuring system and being able to react in real time is something that all manufacturers can do, no matter their size. This is an industrial revolution in which companies of all sizes can participate.

So what is Industry 4.0? You’ve probably heard the buzzword but not really known what it relates to. The Industrial Revolution taught in history books came toward the end of the 18th century, when mechanisation changed the way that humanity was able to grow crops, extract raw materials from the ground, and ultimately help economies to grow more rapidly. The second revolution came at the end of the 19th century with the emergence of fuel sources, such as electricity, gas, and oil. The third revolution occurred in the second half of the 20th century with the rise of electronics, computers, and robots.

The internet has spurred this new era of connectivity. Machine-to-machine, machine-to-enterprise, machine-to-man—all are connected in a web of communication. In the connected enterprise, manufacturers have the right information to make the right decisions at the right time. Being left in the dark is a choice.

That is especially true for manufacturers and their welding operations. As companies up and down the supply chain have gotten leaner over the last 10 years, they all need to know that the parts, assemblies, or products leaving their docks for delivery to their customers meet quality expectations.

Imagine you are part of an automotive supply chain, not necessarily a Tier 1 supplier, but perhaps a Tier 3 or 4 company with fewer than 50 employees. The parts you ship to another company ultimately work their way to the automaker, which has absolutely no desire to have its vehicles involved in any recall related to a defect. So that Tier 3 or 4 company has one simple question it wants answered before parts leave its shop floor: Is the part of good quality or not?

Of course, it’s not just vehicle and automotive parts suppliers with these concerns. Any manufacturer must be concerned if bad parts are delivered to the customer. Consider a tube producer that has a mill churning out hundreds of feet of tubing per day. Company management knows that the mill is likely to produce some scrap, but that defective tubing can never be delivered to the customers. If it does, the poor-quality tubing disrupts the customer’s production at the very least or creates a larger headache if it causes problems as part of an end product.

The promise of Industry 4.0 is manifested in the form of an automated weld monitoring system. It brings digital connectivity to the welding department.

Some quality assurance systems promise to deliver on weld monitoring, but in reality they fall short. Connected to welding power sources, both in automated cells and in manual operations, these systems track certain parameters, but that’s about it. They are tracking a status value, such as the power source’s current falling within a certain range. A welder might hear an alarm if during the welding process too much current is noticed, but this type of quality system is only keeping track of the procedure, not totally defining quality.

To deliver a diagnosis of quality, a weld monitoring system needs to be able to track many welding parameters, such as current, voltage, gas flow rate, and wire feed speed, and take multiple measurements every second. Using patented algorithms to analyze the real-time welding data, modern weld monitoring measurement systems can detect when a problem arises.

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