Update for skilled trades
Be it gas shielded arc welding or manual arc welding, on sheet metal, tubes, or using fillet welds – the wide-ranging education program provided by the welding department of the Halle Chamber of Trade’s training and technology center (BTZ) in Halle-Osendorf has it all. Around 70% of the students are apprentices involved in vocational training, while the remainder come to the BTZ to take part in further education and training courses. The welding courses address a whole range of sectors, although most participants are HVAC engineers, metal and steel fabricators, or mechatronics engineers specializing in agricultural and construction machinery. In other words, a wide-ranging audience and an offering that is continually being developed. What has stayed the same, however, is the technology in the BTZ workshop. “To put it bluntly, there’s been a distinct lack of investment in recent decades and welding technology has fallen by the wayside”, explains Thomas Klokow, head of the metalworking department at the Halle Chamber of Trade. Obsolete welding technology has only been replaced piecemeal over the past 15 to 20 years. The high energy requirements of the individual welding systems and the complicated reconfiguring that is necessary when several welding processes have been taught have not changed. Klokow grasped the opportunity to change all this in 2016: He applied for some funding that the state had earmarked for the digitalization of skilled trades. The aim of the project is to tap into both the technical and commercial potential offered by the digital transformation of these trades – either in the form of new business models or by optimizing processes.
Thomas Klokow drew up a requirements catalog and started looking around for eligible welding power sources. “To gain an overview of what the market currently had to offer, we got in touch with Fronius and several other companies”, recalls Klokow. He worked together with the trainers to compare the different welding power sources. The final decision was for Fronius, as their TPS/i power source was the only one that ticked all the necessary boxes, which include networkability, the ability to upload updates, and remote access. “None of the other devices we tested were able to offer all these”, noted Klokow.
Digitized power source
However, the Fronius system has much more to offer, as can be seen as soon as the technology hidden beneath the rugged housing is revealed. The TPS 320i is a digitized inverter power source. Its central control unit is linked to a digital signal processor, which means it can control the entire welding process. By constantly monitoring the actual data sent by the device, the control algorithm is able to react immediately to any changes and so maintain the desired status. This is one of the main features that distinguishes the TPS/i from conventional power sources. Its powerful processor enables it to measure and transmit large numbers of control variables very quickly, facilitating the accurate analysis and control of the welding process. The result is less spattering in the dip transfer arc process and improved droplet detachment. The arc itself remains stable, even at higher welding speeds, and ignition properties can be more carefully controlled, meaning less rework and more efficient processes for the user. Thomas Klokow offers some food for thought: “The companies that can benefit most from this are those that have already more or less optimized all their processes.” The modular architecture was the decisive factor that clinched approval for the funding. It enables firmware updates to be uploaded very easily. Every component in the power source network can be upgraded at a moment’s notice. New processes can be demonstrated and installed from a USB and activated as required. “Customers only purchase what they need, yet always remain completely up to date. They can adapt their devices to their applications whenever they want”, explains Jens Mellmann, a sales engineer at Fronius Germany.
For trainers, the power source offers plenty more benefits in addition to the digitization aspects. For one thing, it’s extremely versatile. If a trainer had previously been working with a MIG/MAG device, switching over to TIG or electrode welding was a major undertaking. “TPS/i has put an end to all that: I now have a device that enables me to use just about any welding process”, explains Klokow. Another important feature that helps in day-to-day training is a function that blocks access to the power sources for the trainees; something that improves safety aspects and also helps protect the devices.
The eight power sources have now been in use for about a year, working more than 38 hours a week. “We initially wanted to carry out the training on site”, recalls Mellmann, before going on to stress: “The degree of cooperation was excellent from day one.” Klokow is also appreciative of the support provided by the application and service engineers based in the Leipzig subsidiary. He made extensive use of the Fronius Service at the beginning to learn how to create backups on his laptop and upload them again to the TPS/i. His verdict: “There was always someone there to give me a hand.”
Since the investment in TPS/i, Fronius has started attending information events put on by the Halle Chamber of Trade. “It’s our duty to show companies what a modern workplace has to offer and the advantages it brings”, explains Klokow. As far as he is concerned, Fronius welding systems more than satisfy this requirement.
Next item on the shopping list: WeldCube
Following this initial success, Klokow is now planning more projects with Fronius. He wants to integrate the WeldCube into the training environment, as it takes the digitization process a stage further. It formats the most important welding data and then presents it in a simple manner. For example, the actual values per seam for each power source can be recorded, monitored, and evaluated on both a machine-by-machine basis or globally at component level. The system monitors and records set values, such as job data, over the entire service life of the welding system. Using the TPS/i platform also allows jobs to be created, edited, and compared centrally. All values can be exported in a variety of file formats or printed out directly. Intelligent statistical and filter functions also carry out individual analyses. If the power sources are linked into a network, the results can be accessed on a PC or a mobile device, such as a tablet or smartphone. Technical documentation and monitoring of the weld seam are examples of topics that are currently of interest to the automobile industry. “I must of course come up with a plausible justification as to why a device is important for training purposes. As we are already using Fronius devices, the WeldCube is the next logical step”, is Klokow’s confident assertion.
The only thing that’s still missing is the necessary infrastructure. “We want to network our systems, but we need to create a dedicated network for this purpose in the training department”, he admits. “This should happen once the WeldCube is installed”, is his hope.