Welding Robots Can Help With Skilled Worker Shortage

In the News
April 13, 2017

CHICAGO — Many companies are set in their ways and may take some convincing before automating processes that have traditionally been done by humans.

Such was the case with Onken’s Inc., which lacks access to a large pool of skilled labor because it is located in tiny Easton, Ill. (population 321). In particular, the recycling equipment manufacturer needed welders, which are in short supply across the U.S., so it turned to welding robots.

Last year, the American Welding Society (AWS) updated its forecast to an estimated shortage of 372,000 welders by 2026. Job search site Indeed listed nearly 9,000 open welder positions as of March. This presents an opportunity for robotics, said Zane Michael, director of thermal business development at Yaskawa Motoman’s robotics division, at last week’s Automate 2017 trade show here.

“The typical feedback I heard during my travels in 2016 was: ‘We can’t find qualified welders; when we do, they are hard to keep. Today, we have a 50% no-show in our weld shop. Finding welders who produce quality welds is next to impossible,'” he said.

This shortage has led to lost business, longer delivery times, and reduced product quality, according to Michael.

Business Takeaways:

  • The AWS predicts that the shortage of skilled welders in the U.S. will continue to get worse in the next decade. As a result, many organizations are looking to automation to relieve that shortage.
  • Illinois-based Onken provides a good case study of how welding robots can address worker shortages and improve productivity, said a Yaskawa Motoman executive at Automate.
  • However, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for work cell configurations, production requirements, and worker safety.

Onken case study
Onken experienced the problems firsthand. The company makes tanks, trailers and bins to hold bulk grease from restaurant operations, as well as oil storage tanks for auto parts companies and the U.S. government to explore with Yaskawa Motoman the pros and cons of automating the task.

Welding robots offer several advantages in comparison with human welders, Michael said, including the following:

  • Robots can weld faster than any manual welders.
  • Welding robots can change critical welding parameters to accommodate changes in the weld joint during welding.
  • The production efficiency of a robotic welder is approximately 4.5 times that of a manual welder.


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