South Korean shipbuilding companies Hyundai Heavy Industries and Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering are using robotic welding arms to reduce welding times and cut construction costs.
Hyundai Heavy’s 670 kg industrial robot, which resembles a robotic arm, can curve and weld steel plates for the front and back of vessels, and is controlled using separate design software. The arm was designed and tested in-house, and is scheduled to begin operation next year. The arm will cut welding time by two-thirds and save around $9.4 m annually, according to a company spokesperson.
Daewoo Shipbuilding has been using five 16 kg robotic arms since 2016 to weld steel parts in the construction of ice-breaking natural gas carriers. The arms, nicknamed ‘Caddy’, have saved the company $4.2 m in construction costs for each vessel, and have prompted development of an even smaller welding robot weighing 14.5 kg.
Some Hyundai Heavy vessels require 200 people to build, unlike the car manufacturing industry, where around 70% of tasks are completed by machines. The shipbuilding industry has adopted automation more slowly than other manufacturing industries due to variations in the specifications and functions of individual ships.
Falling ship prices and increased demand have forced the industry to adapt. A 10% fall in ship prices since 2014 has made employing large numbers of staff unsustainable, and both Hyundai Heavy and Daewoo Shipbuilding have received more contracts – 29 up from 21 and 21 up from four respectively – this year than in the same period in 2017.