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As technology continues to advance at an unprecedented pace, the field of welding has not been left untouched. Automation has brought about significant changes, streamlining processes, enhancing efficiency, and improving overall productivity in welding operations. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 560,000 workers get injuries every year from welding accidents. Another great resource for welder safety is OSHA. The emergence of automation usually means increased safety. And with recent awareness and studies on welder safety people are starting to pay attention. One example is the Australian government taking action due to the dangers of weld fumes, for a better recap on that, check out Weld Australia’s breakdown. In this post, we will delve into the evolving landscape of welding safety in the age of automation and explore how industries can ensure the well-being of their workers.

The Rise of Automation in Welding:

Automation in welding involves the use of robotic systems to perform tasks traditionally carried out by human welders. When it comes to pipe welding, a primary safety goal is to keep welders away from the arc whenever necessary and the best way to do this is with the use of a cobot (collaborative robot), our Spool Welding Robot is an example of this. We designed this with the welder’s safety and longevity in mind. Robotic welding systems are designed to handle repetitive, hazardous, or difficult tasks, offering precision and speed that may surpass human capabilities. Welding robots are becoming increasingly prevalent in industries such as automotive, manufacturing, and construction, where large-scale and high-volume welding operations are common.

Advantages of Automated Welding:

The adoption of automated welding brings numerous benefits, including increased productivity, consistent quality, and reduced labor costs. Robots can work tirelessly without the need for breaks, resulting in faster production cycles and, in many cases, improved weld quality. Additionally, automation allows for precise control over welding parameters, leading to more accurate and reliable welds.

Ensuring Welding Safety in Automated Environments:

Risk Assessment:
Before implementing automated welding systems, thorough risk assessments must be conducted. This involves identifying potential hazards, evaluating the level of risk, and implementing necessary safeguards. Understanding the specific challenges posed by automation is crucial for developing effective safety measures. Overall, the best way to ensure welder safety is to keep them away from the arc and related risks relating to proximity (see General Health and Safety For Welding section below)

Robotic Safeguards:
Installing safety features on robotic systems is essential. This includes sensors and cameras that can detect the presence of humans in the vicinity, emergency stop buttons, and physical barriers to prevent accidental contact. Collaborative robots (cobots), designed to work alongside humans safely, are also gaining popularity in welding applications and each cobot has its safety protocols in place specifically designed for each cobot. Our Spool Welding Robot is a robot with a collaborative application in welding. Equipped with emergency stop buttons on the arm, the pendant, as well as every single positioner, any hazardous situation can be stopped right away and get the robot in a safe torque off (STO) state. Mechanical hard stops and electrical stops are also there to limit the working space of the robot. A safety encoder mounted on the distance axis ensures the speed of the robot does not go beyond 130mm/sec in all operating modes which is well within the safety standard (250mm/sec). Current sensors also make sure the torque (force) is not above the torques (forces) allowable by the standard at all times.

Training and Education:
Proper training is paramount for both human welders and those responsible for programming and maintaining robotic systems. Workers must be well-versed in the safe operation of automated equipment and be aware of emergency procedures. Additionally, ongoing education is crucial to keep up with evolving technology and safety standards.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE):
Despite the automation of certain tasks, PPE remains a critical aspect of welding safety. Welders and other personnel should use appropriate protective gear, including helmets, gloves, and clothing designed to shield against sparks, UV radiation, and fumes.

It’s always good to review general health and safety risks for welding. These things should always be considered when it comes to welding within any shop setting whether automation is involved or a shop is strictly doing manual welding.

General Health and Safety for Welding:

  • Welding Fumes: Inhaling welding fumes can lead to respiratory issues and long-term health problems. Proper ventilation and the use of respiratory protection are essential to mitigate this risk.
  • UV Radiation: Welding produces intense ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can cause eye damage and skin burns. Welders must wear appropriate protective gear, including welding helmets with UV filters.
  • Electric Shock: Contact with live electrical components or faulty equipment can result in electric shock. Insulation, proper grounding, and regular equipment maintenance are critical to prevent electrical hazards.
  • Arc Flash: Sudden and intense bursts of light, known as arc flashes, can cause eye injuries and burns. Welders should wear appropriate eye protection, and workplaces should implement barriers to shield non-welding personnel.
  • Noise Exposure: Welding generates high levels of noise, which can lead to hearing damage. Ear protection, such as earmuffs or earplugs, is necessary to reduce the risk of hearing loss.
  • Burns and Fire Hazards: Sparks, hot metal, and flammable materials in the vicinity pose a risk of burns and fire. Adequate fire prevention measures, such as fire-resistant clothing and fire extinguishers, should be in place.
  • Musculoskeletal Strain: Maintaining awkward postures during welding can result in musculoskeletal strain. Proper ergonomic practices, including adjustable workstations and regular breaks, help reduce the risk of strain injuries.
  • Eye Injuries: Welding operations expose workers to various eye hazards, including flying debris and intense light. Protective eyewear, such as safety glasses with side shields, is essential to prevent eye injuries.
  • Electric Magnetic Fields (EMF): Welding equipment can generate electromagnetic fields, which may pose health risks with prolonged exposure. Maintaining a safe distance from the welding arc and using appropriate shielding can mitigate EMF exposure.
  • Compressed Gas Hazards: Handling and using compressed gases for welding can lead to leaks, explosions, or asphyxiation. Proper storage, handling, and training are crucial to prevent accidents related to compressed gases.
  • Lead and Other Toxic Substances: Some welding materials, such as lead-based paints or coatings, can release toxic substances when heated. Adequate ventilation and the use of appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) help minimize exposure to harmful substances.
  • Trips, Slips, and Falls: Welding cables, tools, and equipment can create tripping hazards. Maintaining a clean and organized work area and using cable management systems help prevent slips, trips, and falls.

Conclusion:

The integration of automation in welding processes undoubtedly enhances efficiency and productivity, but it also demands a heightened focus on safety. Industries must prioritize comprehensive risk assessments, implement robotic safeguards, provide adequate training, and ensure the consistent use of personal protective equipment. By embracing these measures, the welding industry can confidently navigate the age of automation while safeguarding the well-being of its workforce.

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