In 2015, automation technology and robotics sales increased by 15% to 253,748 units—by far the highest ever sales recorded for a single year. By 2019, it is expected that there will be 2.6 million automated units in use globally. According to a recent forecast by the International Federation of Robotics, this amounts to an additional 1.4 million new industrial robots on today’s figures (World Robotics 2016 Industrial Robots Report).
This increased uptake of robotics and advanced welding technology (such as K-TIG) by industry is often tied to the loss of jobs, with the issue of welder employment rates inevitably raised.
However, in reality, the impact of introducing advanced welding technologies has quite the opposite effect. The benefits that technology such as K-TIG offers to welders are myriad, ranging from more employment opportunities and much greater job security, through to improved working conditions.
Reversing a Generation of Off-Shoring
The introduction and implementation of advanced welding processes and technology like K-TIG is helping reverse a generation of off-shoring that has seen enormous volumes (and billions of dollars’ worth) of fabrication sent offshore to China and other low labour cost countries.
It is often impossible for American, Australian and European manufacturers to compete with cheap welded imports, particularly from China. According to Reuters, in America the average hourly wage for a welder is US$22, while in Australia it is AU$25. By comparison, in China, the average hourly wage is just US$1.50 as according to CNBC. Clearly, developed nations cannot compete on cost (and nor would we want to).
Where developed nations can complete very effectively is productivity and efficiency.
Armed with the superior levels of productivity afforded by advanced welding technology, fabricators can compete aggressively with the low-cost labour countries that have ravaged the fabrication sectors of most developed economies over the last decade.
Developed nations can compete very effectively when advanced welding technology such as K-TIG is placed into the hands of highly skilled welders. K-TIG is a tool that increases the productivity of welders, rather than (for example) a robotic assembly line at Ford or GM where there isn’t a welder in sight.
Typically, fabricators who adopt K-TIG increase in size, rather than shedding welders. With the introduction of K-TIG, fabricators out-compete fabricators from low-cost labour countries, win far more work, and greatly increase their margins. K-TIG automates, streamlines and makes welding processes more efficient, ensuring companies stay competitive, thereby securing even more work. As a result, they can provide more employment opportunities and much greater job security to their welders.
In fact, by speeding up the welding process with automation, greater numbers of employees are required to undertake tasks such as preparing components for welding, as well as post-welding work, such as cleaning and finishing. Basically, the adoption of advanced welding technology such as K-TIG helps to lessen the bottlenecks traditionally associated with manual welding processes.
Improved Employment Opportunities Globally
Improved employment opportunities as a result of the introduction of advanced technology is not unique to K-TIG and the welding sector. Global figures across a range of sectors demonstrate time and again that the improved productivity afforded by advanced technology leads to more work, and therefore more jobs.
According to the International Federation of Robotics, in the United States, the automotive industry has performed well over the last six years. Between 2010 and 2015, many manufacturers embarked on restructuring programs, installing 80,000 industrial robots and advanced technological systems. As a result, the number of new jobs increased exponentially: with more than 230,000 additional people employed in the US automobile industry between 2010 and 2015.
Similarly, in Germany, the number of employees has increased in parallel to the growth of automation technology. Between 2010 and 2015, automation technology averaged an annual growth rate of 2.5%—with employment growth in the same companies averaging a parallel increase of 3% per year.
Essentially, advanced welding equipment like K-TIG slashes the cost of production, either lowering prices or improving profits or both. This, in turn, bolsters demand, which triggers more employment opportunities.
Circumventing a Workforce Crisis
Developed countries are set to experience a crippling shortage of highly skilled welders. In fact, the US is expected to have a deficient of over 400,000 welders by 2024.
This is compounded by an aging welder population. In the US, the average age of welders is 55. In the UK and Australia, it is over 57.
To compound this still further, the global manufacturing industry has grown exponentially since mid-2009, accelerating the demand for specialist welders. Two decades of deindustrialisation and offshoring combined with an overwhelming preference for knowledge-based work by school leavers has led to a complete inversion of the normal age distribution pyramid within the fabrication industry.
It is almost impossible to avert this looming skills shortage through an employment drive or a recruitment program aimed at secondary school students.
Developing new ways to increase welding productivity are the most effective way for innovative fabricators to convert this skills crisis into an opportunity.
K-TIG is helping fabricators increase their productivity to combat the looming welding skills shortage.
Improving Welder Health, Safety and Job Satisfaction
With the introduction of K-TIG, there are less occupational health and safety issues. K-TIG reduces the risks associated with welder fatigue, heat stress and proximity to the arc welding in confined spaces, helping to minimise the risk of injuries to welders.
While the nature of welding jobs may change with the introduction of advanced welding technology, the welding expertise and technical knowledge that is required to set up appropriate welding parameters and specifications remains essential.
Welders can make even greater contributions to productivity and profitability if they aren’t confined to performing repetitive, strenuous and, at times, high-risk tasks.
K-TIG in Action
A highly-refined version of TIG/GTAW, K-TIG offers 8x the penetration of GTAW, allowing it to perform x-ray quality welds in materials up to 5/8 inch (16mm) thick in a single pass, without the need for edge bevelling. The resulting welds are performed at up to 100x the speed of conventional TIG/GTAW. Gas consumption is reduced by more than 90%, and wire consumption is reduced by in excess of 90% or eliminated entirely.
GE has already deployed K-TIG in multiple locations and is using it in the fabrication of the 7HA – the world’s largest and most advanced gas turbine. GE has achieved enormous productivity and fabrication cost savings in excess of 90%.
K-TIG is currently playing a major role in the construction of the US$170 million Acueducto Gran San Juan – a 50km pipeline that will transport drinking water to San Juan in Argentina. Of the 50km of pipeline, 15km is being fabricated by Industrias Metalúrgicas Jaime SRL in 1,600mm diameter, 9mm thick stainless steel using K-TIG.
Just four months into this he project, the productivity gains delivered by K-TIG are remarkable. The fabrication of the pipeline is set for completion an astonishing 550 days ahead of schedule – from 720 days, down to just 162 days.