The platform was officially demonstrated for the first time at the recent EuroBLECH 2018 exhibition in Germany, where it was powered by Microsoft Azure IoT and utilised the ThingWorx Industrial Innovation Platform from PTC.

“We collaborated with Microsoft because Azure allows for a reliable and secure architecture that sends data from a digitally connected system, directly to the cloud,” says Mike Pantaleano, VP data driven advantage/digital solutions, Esab. “Eliminating the need for an on-site server or large IT infrastructure especially helps job shops and smaller operations gain the benefits of data management. Our reference architecture using ThingWorx also allows for on-site and hybrid (on-site/cloud) configurations, enabling us to configure and scale a connected solution for companies of all sizes. The right digital solution lets customers focus on improving their core business activities.”

For companies without IoT-enabled power sources, the Esab WeldCloud universal connector works with virtually any welding power source. The device can send data to Esab WeldCloud that includes arc-on-time, welding parameters and start/stop information.

Newly developed functionality in Esab WeldCloud enables managers to view high-level dashboards with a simple click. For example, an operations manager could view the following data for a fleet of welding machines: total arc time, average arc time per weld, number of weld sessions, total weight of wire used, wire used by station and average machine errors per session. A supervisor could easily view statistics for any welding operator, identify desirable performance characteristics and then seek to replicate them.

Other products in Esab’s integrated Digital Solutions portfolio include WeldQAS a real-time weld quality analytics product. Ready for connection to Esab WeldCloud, WeldQAS provides the micro details required by engineers and QA personnel. Where many weld data capture systems can only log data at 1 Hz, WeldQAS captures data at 23 kHz (and 234 kHz for stud welding). By comparing measured parameters with reference curves, the system calculates quality marks for each weld seam and provides an instant notification when an irregularity occurs. Faults detected can include poor arc ignition, porosity, burn-through, seam length (too long or short) and seam interruption.

Without formal data analysis programs, welding and cutting operations tend to over-estimate equipment utilisation rates and under-estimate actual arc-on time when quoting products.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it,” states Pantaleano. “Some welding operations think they’re at 30 to 40% OEE, when they’re actually in the mid-teens. The applications and dashboards that are part of Esab Digital Solutions enable customers to assess their current situation at a glance and then start building baseline numbers. Once they determine what their ‘steady state’ is, they can identify areas for improvement.”

For example, unproductive time might include grinding to compensate for a poorly prepared bevel or removing post-weld spatter. Having Esab’s CutCloud also logging data from automated cutting systems allows customers to gain insights across the main aspects of their fabrication process.

“When fabricators can document activity and associated costs, they can justify investing in solutions such as an automated plasma beveller or a premium electrode that reduces grinding time,” says Pantaleano.

Documentation and traceability required by the wind turbine, offshore pressure vessel and other industries, is another area where Esab’s Digital Solutions can help. Spending large amounts of time generating reams of paper to do simple documentation is non-productive, and is also prone to errors. Instead, this activity can be performed in a simple operator workflow; as easy as scanning a barcode. Esab’s newly devised WeldCloud scanning app enables customers (via a smartphone) to scan parts and associated variables, such as operator, welding or cutting machine, and consumables. That information is then logged centrally as part of the weld session data.

“Managers can look up a fabrication by part number and easily determine who worked on any particular part with a few clicks,” concludes Pantaleano. “Some of the biggest productivity gains come not from welding or cutting faster, but by harnessing the power of data to make intelligent decisions.”