With over eight decades of experience, Harder Mechanical is a large nationally recognized contractor with an outstanding reputation for working safely, meeting tough schedules, delivering quality projects and coming in on budget. Based in Portland Oregon, they work primarily in the 11-western states with regional offices in Phoenix AZ, Richmond CA, Reno, NV, Austin, TX, and Salt Lake City, UT.

Challenges that Forced them to Investigate New Solutions

Many professions suffer from workforces that lean heavily toward an older population, and welding is no exception. With an aging welder workforce and the lack of uptake of the welding trade, there are no simple solutions for the welder demographic. The welder shortage crisis is affecting many industries, including construction, and it is one of the main reasons why Harder Mechanical decided to look into welding automation solutions.

“Our biggest priority was to get qualified welders. Like everybody else in construction we’re seeing a lot of skilled labor retiring and the new generation of workers not choosing blue-collar union jobs. So we were getting pretty nervous about finding specifically hard wire welders for our shop. To find guys who have the skill to weld hard wire with a gun and be able to pass x-ray was getting pretty flimsy. Our biggest concern was buying equipment that we can train people on easily and get them up and running and making x-ray quality welds”, says Mark Nastari, Corporate Quality Director at Harder Mechanical.

Novarc’s Spool Welding Robot (SWR)

Harder Mechanical was looking at pipe welding automation solutions that would help them combat the shortage of skilled welders when they came across Novarc’s Spool Welding Robot (SWR).

The SWR is a cobot (collaborative robot), designed specifically for pipes, small pressure vessels, and other types of roll welding. Being a cobot, the SWR combats the shortage of highly qualified welders by working with a less experienced operator to significantly improve shop productivity, and produce high-quality welds every single time.

We’re very tech savvy at Harder Mechanical and we’re always looking for better tools, better means and methods. So we looked at a variety of mechanized and automatic weld equipment. It came down to a decision between Novarc and another pipe welding machine that we had seen at FABTECH. What made the Novarc machine stand out was the quality of the root pass, the laser, and the technology”, says Nastari.

 

Another benefit of the Novarc machine is the safety factor. You don’t have welders hunched over, breathing fumes; they are standing back behind a weld screen, looking at the HMI, recording it. They really don’t need to get near the weld except for when they start it and when they stop it”, says Nastari.

The Bottom Line

By implementing Novarc’s Spool Welding Robot, Harder Mechanical has been able to overcome the challenge of finding skilled welders; Achieve 0% repair rates; Increased productivity to over 200 Factored Diameter Inches (FDI); And maximized arc-on time.

The robot really kicks butt because we do not need to stop and clean in between passes. We’ve had a lot of clients come to see our shop during the bid process and they go crazy when they see the robot. They love it! They love the videotape capability. We play back the welds for them and they are absolutely gorgeous welds”, says Nastari.

Combatting the Shortage of Skilled Welders

Novarc’s pipe welding cobot has helped Harder Mechanical overcome the shortage of skilled welders, which is one of the biggest industry challenges at the moment. Instead of having to assign highly skilled welders to operate the SWR, they have been able to assign junior welders, and achieve x-ray quality welds.

Currently we have three people trained. We are a union contractor and two of the people trained are apprentices. The third guy is a journeyman, and all three of them are about the same as far as competence. We’ve never had apprentices who could wire a weld and pass x-rays before. That’s a huge benefit to us and it’s fantastic!”, says Nastari.

Productivity Improvements

Novarc customers are achieving significant productivity improvements with their SWRs, which is making them much more competitive when bidding on jobs and increasing the margin on jobs they’ve already won. Companies that have invested in the SWR have increased their pipe welding productivity to 200-350 Factored Diameter Inches (FDI) per shift.

In our wheelhouse piping, which I call 2”-16” diameter pipe, a good welder would average about 120 diameter inches. With the SWR we have already exceeded 200 diameter inches, and we are not even at full throttle. It will be easy for us to get to 300 dia inches on our wheelhouse piping with the SWR”, says Nastari.

Weld Quality Improvements

The SWR minimizes human error and therefore reduces the failure rates from the North America Industry average of 3-5% to less than 1%, resulting in massive cost savings for fabrication shops.

 

Prior to purchasing the SWR, we were experiencing failure rates of 2-3%, which is better than industry average. But on the current job with the robot, we are doing x-rays and we haven’t had any repairs”, says Nastari.

World-Class Support

The support was fantastic, we were always able to get a hold of the Novarc support team. They were always able to work on the screen in real-time and they always showed up when they said they were going to show up”, says Nastari.

About Novarc Technologies

Novarc Technologies is a Canadian-based robotics company specializing in the design and commercialization of collaborative robots for industrial applications. Novarc’s Spool Welding Robot (SWR) is the world’s first of its kind in pipe welding application. Novarc’s SWR has built a reputation for its unique form factor and advanced features for pipe welding not unlike a human’s precision and dexterity, with an operator-friendly user interface, adaptive control systems for accurate torch control, and machine learning algorithms to detect features.

As a proven pioneer in the field, Novarc has a dedicated team of engineers and scientists eager to solve challenging industrial automation problems that improve customers’ bottom line. The welding industry is looking to adopt these technologies in order to solve the shortage of qualified welders, accommodate the millennials workforce, and solve the cleantech challenges of this century.