Western Allied Mechanical is a union design-build, full mechanical contractor based in Menlo Park, California. Western Allied stands on the cutting edge of HVAC system design and operation. The company combines innovative thinking and technologies with intricate engineering to create, build and maintain comfortable, energy-efficient environments.

Challenges that Forced Them to Investigate New Solutions

Western Allied operates in a highly competitive market, which combined with the nation-wide shortage of qualified welders forced them to look into innovative ways to get ahead in their market, and deliver projects better, faster, and cheaper for their clients.

One of the things we are trying to do more of is that we’re trying to automate our processes in production to improve efficiency and productivity. Robotics is the way of the future; we have been looking at it for a long time from the sideline. It was about two years ago when we decided to dive into it, get really involved and see where robotics would help us as a team to achieve some better results”, says Cyrus Patel, Piping Superintendent at Western Allied Mechanical.

How They Prioritized the Areas of Their Fabrication Shop that Needed to be Automated

Everybody has their way of prioritizing; we looked at areas in the fabrication process where we had the most fatigue. We learned that we were having fatigued welders and that was the bottleneck in our fabrication process. When we compared the productivity at the start of the day to the end, we noticed that we were kind of dragging. So that’s why we looked at automating our pipe welding and choosing the SWR, because it doesn’t call in sick, it doesn’t get fatigued and it takes a lot for it to beg for mercy”. Says Jim Jeffrey, Operations Manager at Western Allied Mechanical.

Novarc’s Spool Welding Robot (SWR) Solution

When they came across Novarc at FABTECH Expo, Western Allied knew that they had found the right welding automation solution that would address their challenges around welding faster and increasing productivity, as well as combating the shortage of qualified welders. They also needed to find a solution that would meet the requirements of ASME B31.1 and B31.3 codes.

 

We were looking for a custom, tailored product at the FABTECH Expo when we came across the Novarc machine. The SWR had the lead on the other solutions, so we took that and ran with it”, says Patel. “I really liked the SWR, it was a well manufactured product.

Novarc’s Spool Welding Robot (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.

 

Novarc did some testing for us and we fell in love.The first project we did we cut off 4.5 man weeks of shop welding, so we saved around $114,000 on that project, and it made us competitive and added value to the end user.”, says Jeffrey. “Also, with the SWR we could take the video of each weld and give it to the inspector if he’s not there, and that basically was the driver.

The Bottom Line

“We’re now going after projects that we were shying away from because of the size. Since we have implemented the SWR , we have been spooling a lot more and we are also taking on bigger projects, knowing that we have the capabilities of the welding in place. So it’s actually helped us go after some projects that we were not going after before”, says Patel.

“We’ve reduced our dependence on hybrid systems and embraced flanges and bolting it up because the net effect is that it is cheaper and faster, and the quality is there”, says Jeffrey.

Productivity Improvements

Companies that have invested in the SWR have increased their pipe welding productivity to 200-350 diameter inches per shift on carbon steel pipes, and have dropped their repair rate to less than 1%.

“We are getting repeatability and productivity so we can compete head to head with non-union shops. And I’m not worried about having a qualified welder that I have to have all the time”, says Jeffrey.

Combatting the Shortage of Highly Qualified Welders

Pipe shops across North America are experiencing a shortage of skilled welders, and according to the American Welding Society, this looming labor crisis will very quickly escalate to a shortage of about 400,000 welders by 2024. The SWR has helped Western Allied level this shortage and get that extra edge that they needed to become more competitive in their market.

“The labor shortage has been coming for years and we had been experiencing it before the pandemic as well, so we had to innovate to keep up with the demand”, says Jeffrey.

“Also, the training is very simplistic. Once you get it up and running, to feel happy with it and to feel comfortable with it, you are not talking months and you are not talking about getting another university degree. It’s very intuitive, and in three days, you are good at it. In five days, you are really good at it. So that’s what really more than anything else made me pleased. I can train people and I’m not dependent on people who have changing commitments.”

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.