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Fronius sheds light on how data documentation can improve industrial welding processes in automotive production

Fronius weldcubeIn the increasingly digitalised and interconnected automotive OEM and supplier industries, one factor that is playing a growing role is the efficient acquisition and processing of the data generated in production. This enables manufacturers to optimise the performance of machines, systems and processes, and react quickly and flexibly to deviations in the production cycle.

Welding technology plays an important role as a central component of many value creation chains. That is why Austrian technology leader Fronius has developed extensive capabilities for data documentation in industrial welding processes.

Welds in the automotive OEM and supplier industries not only need to fulfill stringent optical requirements. They must also provide a reliable bond. A weld failure can lead to expensive property damage and injury. Therefore, monitoring the quality of weld processes assumes a role of special significance. In the end, the finished products must meet customer requirements. They should be safe, suitable for their intended use and have the longest possible life – and that is only possible with flawlessly executed welds.

However, speed and efficiency are just as crucial in welding – especially in the industrial field where cost pressures are typically high. Welding is high-tech and requires intelligent technologies that enable users to work flexibly and economically while achieving optimal results. Especially noteworthy here are the systematic digitalisation and interconnection of individual systems – better known under the concept ‘Industry 4.0’.

More transparent, faster, saferIndustry 4.0 makes production processes more transparent, faster and safer from the ground up. As a result, both large and small lot sizes can be manufactured economically and with uniform high quality. One prerequisite is high-performance processors, sensors and control units that let users reliably master systems that continue to grow in complexity. Another is that all relevant product data and process data must exist in digital form and be made available to all participating stations. Not only is the acquired data essential for the smooth interplay of processes in automated manufacturing. It also promises enormous potential in analysing and optimising processes.

TPS/i – the latest MIG/MAG equipment platform from Fronius – is an innovative product solution for welding in the era of digitalisation and connectivity. TPS/i is a modularly built welding system for manual and robot-assisted applications, which consists of networked components that are well matched to one another. It has a high-performance processor and a high-speed bus leading to greater precision and excellent welding results.

Communication functions simplify workOne of the great strengths of the TPS/i resides in its extensive communication functions. An intuitive clear text display provides information on all device parameters in 30 languages. The system automatically detects all available components and warns of any incompatibilities. Welding data can be called up readily at any time and can be modified as necessary – not just locally, but also via the browser of a computer, tablet or smartphone. For this purpose, the power source is equipped with what is known as a SmartManager which gives the user easy and secure remote access.

The SmartManager provides a detailed and intuitive overview of data, parameters and settings of the TPS/i system. A secure connection protects sensitive information from unauthorised persons. A user management system makes it possible to configure individual access rights, so that employees can only use those TPS/i functions which they actually need. Authorised persons can view the jobs stored on the power source as well as details about the installed system components and characteristic curves. The Live Viewer also lets users track what is currently happening at the power source. This means that running processes can be monitored comprehensively with fine resolution to assure high quality of the results.

Exporting data and installing upgrades easilyFor documentation and analysis, the TPS/i SmartManager lets users export PDF files of all welds produced with the power source. This feature is extremely helpful, especially in the automotive OEM and supplier industries, in which thorough traceability is required for produced parts. In addition, users can easily install upgrades as well as additional weld processes and characteristic curves at a later time – this creates more flexibility for future challenges. The TPS/i can be equipped for special welding methods such as the CMT (Cold Metal Transfer) process by what are known as Welding Packages.Data acquired in the TPS/i about electrical current, voltage, wire feed rate, welding speed and welding time can be used to optimise welding processes and avoid errors. Furthermore, users can integrate the power source into a networked and automated production environment. In addition, Fronius has developed a WeldCube data management solution; software that enables better utilisation of the information acquired in the power source. It visualises the data provided by the power source and makes the results available via web browser so users can call it up conveniently from any computer or mobile device. In addition, up to 50 welding systems may be interconnected over the network. This makes it possible to merge and manage the information generated by different equipment and at different production sites. In this way, WeldCube boosts transparency in the welding process and helps to make quality verifiable in production.

Monitoring and documenting target and actual valuesThis is made possible by the system’s extensive statistical and evaluation functions. The actual values of power sources can be documented both individually and as a group. WeldCube is also equipped for component-specific monitoring, including component administration. Precise analysis of consumption is enabled by continuous monitoring and evaluation of auxiliary data and usage data for consumables such as gas, wire and energy. Actual values can also be observed, and the system acquires them over the entire life of a welding unit. An analysis tool immediately reports when the actual value exceeds a parameter’s upper or lower limit.

To save on resources and time in post-processing the collected data, the WeldCube system focuses on information that is really important and useful. For efficiency reasons, the goal is not simply to collect massive amounts of data in industrial production. Instead of ‘big data’ the trend is more toward ‘smart data.’ Not all of the information is stored – just the relevant information.

Reliable welding within limitsLimit monitoring is an important feature for users. They can set parameter limits for a specific welding task. If a parameter’s upper or lower limit is exceeded during welding, the system informs the user right after the operation so that, for example, a visual inspection can be made. In sensitive applications, it is also possible to have the welding operation interrupted automatically. This enables immediate rejection of parts that could potentially be of inferior quality.

Analysis and documentation of the data generated during welding represent a factor that should not be underestimated in quality assurance in the automotive OEM and supplier industries. By applying good data management, manufacturers can check and continuously verify whether production processes have run according to plan and track the parameter values with which a specific weld has been produced. This makes it easier to assure uniform high quality and maintain it reliably.