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ESAB / ABB Arcitec Aluminum Welding Issues

Robot Welds on Ford
6061 Aluminum Car Seats.

During 2000, I was requested by an engineer at VAW a tier one supplier to analyze the welding performance of their ABB robot and ESAB Arcitec welding equipment. This plant produces extruded aluminum parts. The aluminum welded car seats were for Ford. The car seats and parts required small welds which were made on thin gage 6061 aluminum.

Criterion Machinery was the system integrator for the seat frame parts. Two ABB robot cells were ordered, ABB advised Criterion that their "Swedish Arcitec" welding power source could handle the thin gage aluminum welding requirements. The Arcitec power source claim to fame was, it was unique in that it was one of the first MIG power sources that was truly integrated into an ABB robot control panel.

Two ABB robot cells containing the Arcitec power sources were shipped to Criterion for initial fixture and weld tests. The weld tests carried out at this time were minimal as Criterion did not have the necessary weld process expertise to evaluate the Arcitec or any power source. The two units were then shipped to VAW the tier one supplier.

the installation of the robot cells, continuous production of optimum weld quality parts has been impossible due to the issues documented in this report. Weld reject rates averaged sixty percent and the robot down time per hour averaged 20 to 30 minutes.

Many issues are documented and I have not included them all in this report, however the primary cause of the extensive weld quality and productivity issues at VAW was the ABB Arcitec power source . This weld equipment had extensive electronic problems. The bottom line is the weld results were inconsistent and unsuited to the needs for the high volume, small welds on the thin aluminum parts.

Arcitec Power source History.The Arcitec power source was manufactured by ESAB in Sweden in the late 1990s. The Arcitec was an inverter pulsed GMAW power source. This power source was integrated into the ABB S4/S4C robot controls in an attempt to improve the communication "response time" between the robot controller and welding power source.

I have extensive knowledge of Arcitec power source issues, as I was previously employed by ABB, the Swedish manufacturer of robots. My position with ABB was weld manager / senior weld process engineer. Part of my responsibility was to evaluate the application performance of new welding equipment which included the Arcitec.

I have evaluated many power sources during the last three decades and cannot recall any welding power source that even came close to the amount of welding Issues generated by the Arcitec. The bottom line, this equipment was introduced by ESAB to the market place without sufficient testing by ESAB.

The German marketing manager at ABB Fort Collins, made the mistake of believing the Swedish sales spiel from the marketing manager at ESAB about the capability of the Arcitec. Over 100 units were ordered to be installed in the ABB robots for North America. As I tested the Arcitec and found the erratic performance and many other issues, I documented the faults and the demonstrated the issues to the ABB marketing manager, as this manager had foolishly ordered approx one million dollars worth of Arcitec inventory he was not happy with my reality and he ignored the Arcitec test results and my reports.

As a result of the never ending software / hardware issues and erratic performance from the Arcitec, eventually ABB did reduce it's focus and promotion of the European ESAB package and instead focused on promoting either the slightly less inconsistent Miller Invision, and Lincoln Power Waves.

Four years after the introduction of the erratic Arcitec, I was requested by VAW to evaluate their poor performing robot installations. I knew the installation had an Arcitech power source, however I was under the impression that the poor performing Arcitecs were taken out of service and I would be examining new ESAB units that had evolved electronically from the original equipment I had evaluated four years previously. What I saw while welding at VAW was I believe the same Arcitech power sources which were manufactured four years earlier. The units I tested at VAW certainly had the same unique electronic glitches causing burn backs and other issues which I was familiar with, and the power sources still produced an inconsistent output weld voltage and weld performance.

VAW History of Arcitec:

[] A few months after VAW accepted the robot cells, "three Arcitec power sources were replaced" by ABB. The typical life of a traditional MIG power source is 10 years without requiring repairs. With the more sophisticated, inverter pulsed equipment one would anticipate that this equipment should at least last till the warranty runs out, which is typically two to three years.

[] Five months after the robots were installed, the two robots with replaced Arcitech equipment were unable to produce consistent, acceptable weld production or quality. Weld reject rates were in the 60-70%% range and the production cycle efficiency rarely attained 40%.

[]A Primary Weld Issue. "Wire Burn Backs"
From a weld production perspective the most serious issue was the numerous welding wire burn backs which were generated during the arc sta