A novel software tool could enable small and medium-sized enterprises in the welding sector to compete on the international stage.
Welding engineers play a vital role in any manufacturing environment, providing support to design teams by selecting and costing welding and associated processes such as manipulation.
However, because many small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across Europe cannot afford the luxury of in-house welding engineers, they have to rely on internal ’estimators’, who may not have the required welding expertise, or outsource the role to third parties.
But now, thanks to European Union funding, a software-based welding tool is currently under development that could change all this. Called WELD-IT, the system will offer smaller welding and fabrication companies a means to reliably and automatically select and cost welding operations used to construct steel assemblies.
The software is being developed by a consortium of companies led by the MFKK Invention and Research Centre in Budapest, Hungary. Joining them in the project are welding experts from TWI, based in Cambridge, UK, and Slovakia-based First Welding Company, who will work alongside developers at Bulgarian software company Nemetschek, design and CAD experts at Infotron in Turkey and materials handling and welding specialists at Sudotim in Romania and GI-Flex in Hungary.
Using software developed at MFKK, the WELD-IT program under development since November last year will first read CAD drawings to identify where weld data are to be found. Once that has been achieved, the characteristics of the specific welds will be compared against a database of existing welding data to find a suitable match.
According to Paul Jones, who is managing TWI’s contribution to the project, the development of the database is crucial to the success of the project. ’A key aspect of the work is to build up a library of welding jobs and their associated costs so that the software can provide an estimate of the welding and fabrication cost, based on options selected by the software itself and/or entered by the user,’ he said.
As such, Jones added that the database will need to be updated with at least 500 examples of welding instances before the software package is rolled out to an SME user group in August 2011. That group will then put it through its paces by entering data into it and validating the results that are obtained. To create the database, the engineers at TWI are working with a core of 10 companies in the UK, while the other consortium members are working with similar numbers in their respective countries. Jones explained that the system will capture the most relevant parameters involved in costing a welding process. It will also contain data relating to heat treatment, manipulation and handling, all of which add to the cost of manufacturing steel assemblies.
Once fully developed, the WELD-IT software will also be capable of generating preliminary welding procedure specifications documents that describe how welds should be performed in a real production environment based on the welds that it identifies in the CAD drawing.
When it is launched in November next year, the WELD-IT software package will take the form of a traditional software product that can be licensed by manufacturers.
The consortium members decided on this approach rather than distributing the software as an online application after consultation with potential customers who expressed concern about disseminating proprietary or confidential information that they might enter into the software from their own databases.
Once it does reach the market, however, Jones is confident that it will play a vital role enabling SMEs in the welding industry to be more competitive with larger players in the sector, both in Europe and abroad.
Production essentials: The key facts to take away from this article
- WELD-IT will help SMEs to reliably select and cost welding operations
- It will be able to generate preliminary welding procedure specifications
- The software will be available for licensing in November 2012