Sparks fly as BAE Systems brings innovation to welding in automated vehicle system

2 min read

BAE Systems has implemented what it calls a first-of-its-kind welding robot for improved quality and consistency on multiple combat vehicle production lines.

Lifted several stories above the production floor, an aluminium vehicle hull is welded together as sparks rain down below. This mighty, automated jig flips the hull around numerous times and into various positions as it fastens together the body of what will soon become a combat vehicle.

The advanced robotic welding system is being employed by BAE Systems on multiple major U.S. Army combat vehicle programmes: the M109A7 Self-Propelled Howitzer (SPH), M992A3 Carrier, Ammunition, Tracked (CAT) and the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV).

Funded by the U.S. Government, BAE Systems engineers collaborated with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory and Wolf Robotics to develop an agile manufacturing robotic welding cell customised for aluminium structures that comprise the combat vehicle’s hull.

“We’ve never put aluminium welding on a system of this magnitude and capability for a hull structure ever,” said Ben Hall, principal engineer at BAE Systems’ York facility. “This is literally the first system of its kind; I’m not aware of any other system in the world with this type of robotic capacity for this type of specific application.”

Prior to welding automation, large aluminium pieces that form the hull were hand-welded together, requiring numerous weld passes at each seam to build the hull. The number of weld starts and stops in a single seam is based on the length and reach of the welder’s arms. The further a welder can reach, the less he or she needs to stop and start again.

The incorporation of an advanced automated welding system not only reduces the number of weld starts and stops, but also decreases the number of weld passes required compared to manually performed welds by increasing the input energy and weld filler wire diameter. This process provides a higher efficiency, more consistent and repeatable process that yields high quality welds. For example, in specific long seam welds, it requires a total of 32 hours to manually complete the weld. The automated welding cell reduces long-seam welds to about three hours.

“The robotic process is completely automated,” said Andrew Stern, engineering and robotics automation lead at BAE Systems’ primary combat vehicle manufacturing hub in York, Pennsylvania. “Once the vehicle is loaded into the robotic cell and all the safety devices are closed, the robot will orient the vehicle, validate the proper vehicle was selected, then begin its operation.”

BAE Systems plans to continue to innovate welding processes within the next year by incorporating a third robotic system into its weld school programme that can be used for training, process development, and qualification. The goal is to inspire the entire BAE Systems team to continue to find new ways to improve production processes and ultimately make better, stronger vehicles.