What does the welder of the future look like? Before discussing that, we should take a moment to examine the welder of the past. Throughout our careers, we've worked with and crossed paths with many welders. A welder, in our observation, is a highly skilled, extremely hard-working, artistic individual who takes pride in their trade and the work that they perform. Unfortunately, welders by this definition are becoming harder and harder to find.
By 2025 it is predicted that there will be 400,000 unfilled welding positions in the United States alone. This is a real problem that is already being felt in the industry.
Where did all the Skilled Labor go?
We believe that there are several factors that have caused a shortage in skilled labor. First, for the past 20 years or more, we were all told that if we didn’t go to college and earn a degree then we wouldn’t be successful. Pursuing a career path in a trade was looked down upon and discouraged. We are now feeling the effects of this across many industries.
Unfortunately, there also appears to be a culture shift that we have all seen. Very few people want to work, especially when it comes to the trades. Everyday, a welder must wear a heavy welding jacket, helmet, and gloves and work in a hot, often dirty environment. Many simply just don’t want to do this and those who are left, well many of them are retiring.
Recently, we visited one of the machine shops we utilize for fabrication. Most of their machinists had been pulled back out of retirement at the behest of the owner because he simply couldn’t continue production due to a shortage of skilled workers.
A misconception we often hear from workers is that robots are going to take their jobs. Are jobs from robots at risk? Yes, certain unskilled labor jobs perform tasks that robots can do, and can often do better. But, for skilled laborers, your value has gone up and will continue to if you embrace the growth of automation and robotics.
So who is the Future Welder?
It is imperative that these skilled labor positions are filled. It is unlikely that these positions will be filled so an alternative solution must be found. The welder of the future is one who is willing to evolve and embrace robotics. It’s important to emphasize the “Skilled” in skilled labor. The individuals we are talking about here are highly intelligent problem solvers. The welder of the future will not only be a master of their trade, they will learn to manage a fleet of robot workers that will perform the repetitive and monotonous tasks that he or she will be responsible for teaching.
Enter the Cobot Welder
So what exactly is a Cobot Welder? Collaborative Robots, or Cobots, are robots that can work alongside humans with little or no guarding depending on the application. These robots work more at human speeds and payloads rather than traditional robots that are very fast and must be guarded for safety. These Cobots are becoming more and more popular and are perfect for many welding applications. Workers will still need to wear the normal protective gear while working around these robots just as they do when working around another human welder. These Cobots are also much easier to learn and program when compared to traditional industrial robots. Those who have never interacted with a robot before can usually be trained within an hour or two and can be mostly self sufficient by then.
Although a Cobot Welding Robot is extremely good at performing the task of laying down a perfect bead, they are not smart enough to do it on their own. They still need an expert welder who knows how to set up the welding machine and adjust its various parameters in order to produce the perfect weld. The welder is also required to identify the optimal fixturing of the parts in order to optimize the robot welding path when performing the welding operations.
Several parts can be fixtured for one robot to weld, and this can be scaled to repeat on multiple robots. Our expert welder has now become even more valuable by expanding his or her knowledge as a robot technician in addition to a welder. Unskilled laborers can now be responsible for loading and unloading the Cobot robot stations while our expert welder focuses on keeping the welding parameters optimized for new jobs and overseeing their robot workforce.
There are opportunities for welding technicians, particularly those who will be open to learning new skills and becoming robot technicians as well. The two constants will be that industry must have more welding experts - and robots will play a key role in helping to fill this need. The future is bright for those who pursue this career path.
If you are interested in learning more about Cobot Welding, please reach out to BlueBay and our experts will help you every step of the way.