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How Can Digitization Improve Industrial Welding Process Efficiency

If a manufacturing operation wants to control costs, improve quality, or boost productivity—digitization may be the answer.

Think about these common questions and challenges and whether they apply to your operation:

• Which areas of operation are the most productive?

• Is there a struggle to control costs?

• Are quality issues making their way into the field and to customers?

• Are improvement efforts working consistently?

Digitization can answer all of these questions and help manufacturers stay ahead of the competition. Companies of all types and sizes can reap the benefits of a digitized operation.

In a digitalized manufacturing environment, things previously tracked by hand and often on paper can now be digitally tracked—automatically by the system in some cases. In addition, systems throughout the operation can be linked to provide a full picture, often in real time.

Welding is just one part of a digitized operation, but it has a significant impact on other areas of the manufacturing process and potential improvements. Having visibility into what’s happening in each weld cell is critical to improving quality and throughput in the entire operation.

If digitization is the right solution, these six tips can help optimize the process and the results.

Tip 1: Start with small steps

Jumping right into the deep end of digitization isn’t the best first step, especially for companies that have not digitized processes before.

Start with small steps to figure out what works best for the operation, then progress to larger and larger pieces over time. Rather than immediately digitizing the entire factory, start with one production line or one area of the plant.

Start with operations that have a lower barrier to entry in terms of cost. Digitizing the welding operation first, followed by the cutting area and then the stamping operation, for example.

Tip 2: Establish the baseline

What is not measured cannot be controlled. Establishing the baseline allows manufacturers to figure out where they are and what they want to measure—which in turn allows them to track and control those metrics over time.

When an operation wants to improve productivity, it must start by measuring all of the factors that make up productivity.

Miller® Insight Core™ arc data monitoring software can provide baseline data and visibility into the operation. Insight Core measures each welder’s arc-on time, allowing the establishment of a productivity baseline for the operation, plans for improvements, and measurement of progress toward goals. Dashboards allow identification of important trends and development of reports with data that can be analyzed, allowing you to take action.

Tip 3: Let the data drive the operation

For example, the hypothesis may be that there is welding productivity problem. However, once the digitization solution is in place, the data may actually show that welders are regularly waiting on parts. The answer might lie in changing the line layout or increasing the speed of the cutting and bending operations. Looking upstream and downstream of the weld cell can uncover other bottlenecks or issues.

A digitized weld cell is just one part of the overall operation—the problem or answer may not always be found in the weld cell. Data gathered in the weld cell can help operations figure out what questions to ask about the entire operation.

With an advanced welding intelligence system like Insight Centerpoint™, operators track activity and tell the system when they are waiting for parts or there is a holdup on the line. Over a week or a month, the company can then see how many hours per day operators may be sitting idle and can build a justification for any improvements they make to the entire operation.

Perhaps it’s better to bring preassembled parts into the upstream process, add equipment such as another cutting table, or outsource a certain task somewhere along the line.

Making data-driven decisions helps ensure you’re tackling the right areas to fix problems and optimize results at all stages in the process.

Tip 4: Document product workflow

Many manufacturers are dealing with labor shortages, so the expertise of operators on the production floor will vary. Some operators may have 30 years of experience and know the precise steps that go into building a part, while others are new to the company and still in training.

Documenting every step in the workflow helps ensure that proper procedures are always followed to produce consistent quality, even as the operators change.

Insight Centerpoint can guide operators through the weld sequence in real time. This reduces training time and helps ensure consistent, high-quality parts.

Documentation of the workflow is a step that likely won’t happen frequently. You document the workflow once and—unless the process changes—it doesn’t need to be done again.

Tip 5: Confirm the results

Gathering data and using it to make changes is good. Now these steps must be followed up with confirmation of the results. Trying new solutions in an effort to yield improvements is important, but making sure those solutions actually work is what closes the loop on the process.

With Insight Centerpoint, companies can use the same tool throughout the entire digitization process in the welding operation, from measuring the baseline to confirming results.

Tip 6: Attack the next thing

Continuous improvement is just that, continuous.

Using data to guide improvements doesn’t happen just once. It’s a “rinse and repeat” process that is undertaken multiple times.

Appointing someone in the organization as the champion of these efforts helps ensure that the ball won’t be dropped and that the operation continues to run at peak performance.

The fifth and final step of the 5S management strategy is “sustain,” as in sustained discipline of improvement efforts. The responsibility for this step should be shared between management and the workforce.

Leverage welding intelligence solutions

Digitizing the welding operation with welding intelligence solutions and connecting it to the overall enterprise improves product quality, provides better traceability of problems, and offers an understanding of true costs across the entire operation.

A manufacturing operation has many moving parts. Integrating the processes with a data-centered approach helps companies uncover improvements so they can reach their goals.

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Welding is just one part of a digitized operation, but it has a significant impact on other areas of the manufacturing process and potential improvements. Having visibility into what's happening in each weld cell is critical to improving quality and throughout in the entire operation.

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