Do's and Don'ts of Welding Information Management Systems: Tips for Gaining the Best Results
Welding information management systems offer real-time data to help companies ensure quality, augment training, and drive continuous improvement.
Welding information management systems
As companies seek to improve quality and productivity, and to reduce costs in their welding operations, many turn to new equipment or technologies to gain efficiencies to meet these goals. Welding information management systems can help. These systems electronically gather real-time data that empowers companies to drive positive change throughout the welding operation.
There are several levels of welding information management systems available in the marketplace today — from basic to advanced. These systems can eliminate time-consuming manual weld data collection and operations can use them for semi-automatic or robotic welding. They help ensure operators follow the correct welding parameters and can augment training efforts. In addition, the systems make it easier to benchmark continuous improvement efforts.
Basic systems often deliver welding information via Web-based browsers, and gauge high-level factors contributing to quality and productivity by monitoring:
- Arc-on time and total deposition rates
- Out-of-parameter welds
- Advanced systems expand on these benefits by offering varying levels of control over key facets of the welding operation. They operate via an Ethernet connection between the power source and a PC-based application. Benefits include, but are not limited to:
- Weld sequence control
- Monitoring of weld cell downtime or arc-off time
- Workflow management and part tracking
- Identification and reduction of missed and/or defective welds, as well as over- and under-welding
- Operator identification and performance metrics
- Successful implementation of any welding information management systems requires careful planning. It also entails collaboration between all stakeholders — from business owners and management to engineers and welding operators — along with a commitment to use the data to improve the welding operation.
To gain the best results, consider some important “do’s” and “don’ts” of adding this technology into the welding operation.
There are four key factors that can guide companies in their decision to implement welding information technology and help them achieve long-term benefits.
Do secure commitment from top management
Typically a welding or production supervisor introduces the idea of gathering electronic weld data to top management. These individuals, along with the welding operators, are most closely engaged in the welding process. Therefore, they can speak to the need for the technology; the key is to speak in the right language.
Among top management, the justification for adding a welding information management system comes down to the expense and the potential return on investment (ROI) — after all, they need to operate a profitable and competitive business. Help top management understand the payback of this technology through a trial run. With the assistance of a welding equipment manufacturer, conduct a brief trial or pilot test that enables the business to identify opportunities for improvement, as well as conduct an assessment of their internal network and infrastructure to determine the proper IT support for the technology (e.g. wireless coverage or wired Ethernet connections needed on the shop floor).
During the trial, focus on the most relevant factors to monitor and share with top management in order to secure buy-in with successful proof-of-concept results. Consider the history of the welding operation and problematic issues you have encountered. For example, has the company had liability claims due to missed welds? Encountered workflow challenges or arc-on productivity concerns? Whichever the case, monitoring the appropriate information illustrates the best way to maximize ROI and improve the welding operation.
Provide progress reports throughout the trial to further secure top management commitment and reinforce the benefit of the system.
Do identify an internal project champion
After a company decides to invest in the technology, choose an internal project champion. This person is the backbone of the project, serving as a liaison to work with both top management and the welding operators. Welding or plant supervisors are strong candidates for the job. Encourage them to create a cross-functional team dedicated to assessing the weld data, discussing potential modifications to the welding operation and executing those changes.
The internal project champion can also help generate interest and acceptance of the new technology on the plant floor by educating welding operators of the benefits. Since welding operators play such a vital role in the day-to-day welding process, securing their participation when making any changes is imperative. In some cases, it may be necessary to engage the welding operators in additional training to gain the best results.
Ultimately, the internal project champion’s goal is to identify and address the opportunities revealed by the welding information solution. He or she holds the responsibility and authority to drive the process of continuous improvement and deliver results.
Do have a clear plan of attack
Generate a baseline for improvement as a first step when implementing a welding information management system. Doing so helps establish expectations for success. The baseline can include an assessment of current arc-on time and deposition rates, as well as part cycle time and weld quality defects. From this baseline, the company can determine goals for improvements.
Moving forward from the baseline, stakeholders should use the available information to monitor trends and challenge status quo. For example:
- Where is the company compared to the baseline after a given period of time?
- How can the company use insight from the weld data to make improvements?
- What procedural changes will help increase productivity or achieve better quality?
- How can the company improve operations upstream or downstream from the welding cell?
Commit enough resources to the process and take a disciplined approach to the plan. Make sure there are enough people to help implement and sustain the improvements made visible by the welding information. Additionally, focus on logistics to further ensure success, such as establishing the appropriate network capabilities so there is minimal downtime for troubleshooting IT issues. There should also be a plan for the frequency of data review and reporting, and improvement progress.
Do share in the results with all stakeholders
The success of these systems is the result of collaboration among all stakeholders. Keep everyone involved apprised of the information being monitored, and the improvements being targeted and achieved. Encourage ongoing involvement and partnership to work toward and reach operation goals.
The data shared with stakeholders and the changes being made in the welding operation will vary accordingly to the audience. Top management will likely want to focus on the cost-saving element of the systems; they want to understand how changes generate a positive ROI and drive better profitability. Make welding supervisors and welding operators aware of the results of changes on the plant floor, including the successes, as well as ongoing challenges.
As with any change in the welding operation, the introduction of welding information technology can disrupt the daily and long-term functioning of the process if employed without proper precautions. Here are two key items to minimize trouble.
Don't try to do too much too quickly
These systems best serve companies by delivering incremental improvements. Trials should start out small, with the technology in only a few welding cells. Additionally, companies should look for the “low-hanging fruit”— they can target the easiest issues to resolve or those that are most beneficial. The focus often depends on where the company is experiencing the most pain.
As a best practice, companies should first address changes that do not require large amounts of resources. Doing so creates momentum with quick wins, helps avoid changes that are too complex to handle early in the process and minimizes the risk of employees abandoning the project. Involve all stakeholders to make sure that the improvements being sought are relevant. For example, if improving workflow is a goal, involve a manufacturing engineering, as well as the welding operators to learn the exact process of moving parts from pre- to post-weld operations. This insight prevents any misconceptions that could hinder results. Regularly engaging welding operators can help identify additional ways to improve the welding operation. Management may find an employee in one weld cell has discovered a way to streamline an activity that could be added to other weld cells.
Don't be afraid of internal pushback
It is not uncommon for any type of change to be met with resistance. Every company has its own culture that is determined by the personalities of the employees — not everyone will respond the same to the presence of a welding information management system.
Position this technology appropriately from the start and involve everyone. Top management should be aware that they can receive ongoing updates on the improvements in the welding operation. This can happen even if the leadership team is remote (via a secure Internet connection). The progress and success they see will help foster ongoing support and confidence in the long-term benefits, including a better bottom line.
Pushback from the plant floor may also happen, but it doesn’t mean the technology can’t be successful or that the welding operators will never embrace it. Internal project champions should help show the ways in which the systems can improve and expedite training, and help everyone do a better job.
Making welding management systems work
As with most changes to a welding operation, implementing a welding information management solution should be executed with careful consideration and planning. It is an investment. As such, the technology needs to position the welding operation for success by delivering results. Keep open lines of communication with all stakeholders as a best practice. Ultimately, the end goal is to generate collective interest in making the welding operation more productive, producing higher quality parts, and increasing profitability.