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A Sustainable Decision-Making Framework for Transitioning to Robotic Welding for Small and Medium Manufacturers

Epping, Kyle, Zhang, Hao
Sustainability 2018 v.10 no.10
analytical methods, automation, case studies, decision making, engineers, environmental impact, managers, manufacturing, robots, small and medium enterprises, social impact, welding
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) face challenges in implementing industrial robotics in their manufacturing due to limited resources and expertise. There is still good economic potential in using industrial robotics, however, due to manufacturers leaning toward newer technology and automated processes. The research on sustainability decision-making for transitioning a traditional process to a robotic process is limited for SMEs. This study presents a systemic framework for assessing the sustainability of implementing robotic techniques in key processes that would benefit SMEs. The framework identifies several key economic, technical, and managerial decision-making factors during the transition phase. Sustainability assessments, including cost, environmental impact, and social impact, are used in the framework for engineers and managers to evaluate the technical and sustainability trade-offs of the transition. A case study was conducted on a typical US metal fabrication SME focusing on transitioning a shielded metal arc welding (SMAW) process to a robotic gas metal arc welding (GMAW) process. A sustainability assessment was conducted following the framework. The results suggest that the transition phase involves numerous factors for engineers and managers to consider and the proposed framework will benefit SMEs by providing an analytical method for industrial robotics implementation decision-making.