By: Buffalo Manufacturing Works Team | July 11th, 2019

Tele-Welding: The New Remote Workforce for Manufacturing

by Henry Cialone

We live in a world where getting things done remotely is quickly becoming the new normal.

Every day, technicians use the internet to fix computer problems from afar, logging in from wherever they are and using a virtual mouse to remotely navigate a customer’s desktop. Physicians can now offer 24/7 care, diagnosing patients and writing prescriptions with the touch of a button on a tablet or smart phone. And around the world, millions of people (70% of professionals, to be exact) telecommute to their jobs at least one day a week.

That’s pretty astounding — and it speaks to the way technology is changing the way businesses work across all industries. Manufacturing is no exception, with artificial intelligence (AI) now influencing product design, factory work, and parts inspections, with more potential uses on the horizon.

Developing Remote Welding Operations

While AI and “robotics” may present the perceived issue of displacing human jobs, there actually are ways to use these technologies to retain employees who would otherwise be out of work or open up job opportunities to non-traditional workers.

For example in the welding trade — a job that can come with its fair share of back-breaking labor, often in cramped or dangerous work environments — many welders in the manufacturing industry leave the workspace at a relatively early age even though they still have the skills to do the job. Their departure leaves companies competing for scarce talent to replace them.

The concept of remote operation offers one solution to the problem. Inspired by the success of robot-assisted surgery or tele-medicine, “tele-welding” technology (or cloud-based welding) features a welding device that could be driven by an operator who is physically distant from the actual weld site. Much like a seasoned doctor with limited hand-eye coordination but clear knowledge of how to do the operation, welders would have the benefit of maneuvering the mechanical system all within the comfort and safety of a remote location.  This could extend the careers of current welders and open the field to non-traditional candidates like wounded warriors. 

Big Benefits of Tele-Welding

Using a remote-operations tool to allow welders to perform their job from a distance would solve many worker and workplace challenges. First, there’s the removal of personnel from the direct zone of welding arc and fume plus the reduction of knee and back damage when welding in strenuous positions. Remote operation can also be extended to other functions — especially in dark and dangerous areas such as tanks and ship bottoms where accidents are more likely to occur. Tele-welding would allow aging welders to stay in the work force for 5 or 10 years longer, and disabled workers could re-enter the workforce even when they face physical limitations from age or injury.

Another less obvious benefit is that remote-operations technology would move welding and potentially other processes into more of a high-tech environment — a shift that would attract young workers and get them excited about a profession they might otherwise view as outdated. The technology also would reduce geographical limitations on hiring; the talent pool would grow as people from all over the world could be hired to do welding work regardless of their location.

When tele-welding becomes available to the manufacturing
industry, the business impacts will be substantial, including:

  • Increased
    worker productivity
  • Decreased
    cost of hiring and training large numbers of local personnel
  • Improved
    first-time quality rates as the most-skilled welders can be virtually deployed to
    any location
  • Reduced
    injury or illness by removing workers from hazardous situations

At EWI, we’re working to make this concept a reality in the form of new tele-welding application.  We’ve recently been awarded a project to develop a tele-welding system for shipbuilding by the National Shipbuilding Research Program.  We look forward to exciting developments over the next couple of years. 

Read more about EWI’s advancements in tele-welding here.

Henry Cialone is the President & CEO of EWI.

The post Tele-Welding: The New Remote Workforce for Manufacturing appeared first on EWI.

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