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Int J Adv Manuf Technol (2005) 27: 281287

DOI 10.1007/s00170-004-2171-y

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

Wen-Hou Chu Pi-Cheng Tung

Development of an automatic arc welding system using SMAW process

Received: 4 July 2003 / Accepted: 5 March 2004 / Published online: 26 January 2005
Springer-Verlag London Limited 2005
Abstract This paper describes a developed automatic welding
control system for alternating current shield metal arc welding.
It replaces manual operations which require a well-trained technician. We derived a mathematical model of the welding control
system and identified the value of the system parameters thereof.
A fuzzy gain scheduling PID controller modulates the rate of an
electrode feed mechanism that regulates arc current. The electrode feed rate mechanism with this controller driven by an AC
servomotor can both compensate for the molting part of the electrode and the undesirable fluctuation of the arc length during
welding operation. It can also be easily applied to any welding
system whose electrode is consumed during the welding process. By maintaining the magnitude of the arc current at the
desired value and ensuring the stability of the arc length, excellent welding performance can be obtained. The simulation and
experimental results both show that this automatic welding control system, based on the fuzzy gain scheduling PID controller,
can perform effectively.
Keywords Fuzzy Gain scheduling PID controller
Shielded metal arc welding Welding robot
Nomenclature
a
e
e
na
nb
nk
J

Friction damping coefficient of the electrode feed-rate


mechanism.
Error signal of the fuzzy logic controller.
Derivative error of the fuzzy logic controller.
Number of poles of the ARX model to be identified.
Number of zeros plus one of the ARX model to be
identified.
Identification delay.
Total inertia of the electrode feed-rate mechanism.

W.-H. Chu P.-C. Tung (u)


Department of Mechanical Engineering,
National Central University,
Chung-Li, Taiwan 320
E-mail: t331166@ncu.edu.tw
Tel.: +886-3-4267304
Fax: +886-3-4254501

ki
ku
vf
vm
Ai
Bi
Ci
Di
Kd
Ki
Kp
Ku
Kt
Tu
Ua
K p
K d
K p,i

K d,i

C(s)
E(s)
G(s)
H(s)
U(s)
Ia (s)
Ir (s)

i
i

Coefficient ratio of the molting rate to the arc current.


Coefficient ratio of the molting rate to the arc voltage.
Electrode feed-rate.
Electrode molting rate.
Fuzzy set on the corresponding supporting set e.
Fuzzy set on the corresponding supporting set e .
Fuzzy set on the corresponding supporting set K p .
Fuzzy set on the corresponding supporting set K d .
Derivative gain of a PID controller.
Integral gain of a PID controller.
Proportional gain of a PID controller.
Oscillation gain at the stability limit under the P-controller.
Motor constant of the electrode feed-rate mechanism.
Period of oscillation at the stability limit under the
P-controller.
Arc voltage.
Crisp output variable K p of the fuzzy controller.
Crisp output variable K d of the fuzzy controller.
Value of K p corresponding to the grade of MF i for
the ith rule.
Value of K d corresponding to the grade of MF i for
the ith rule.
Controller of the welding control system.
Error signal of the reference input Ir (s) and the welding current Ia .
Control plant of the welding control system.
Current sensor of the welding control system.
Output signal of the current controller.
Transfer-function of the arc current Ia of the welding
control system.
Transfer-function of the reference input of the welding
control system.
Integral time constant: a singleton membership function fuzzy number.
Membership function.
Fuzzy set of the corresponding supporting sets .
Truth value of the ith rule of the membership function
values in the antecedent part.

282

Ai
MF value of the fuzzy set Ai , given some value of e.
Bi
MF value of the fuzzy set Bi , given some value of e .
xSmall () Fuzzy output variable for the rule Small.
xBig () Fuzzy output variable for the rule Big.

1 Introduction
Welding machines are widely used in the industry. Of a variety
of welding processes, stick electrode welding is the most common. It is more formally known as shielded metal arc welding
(SMAW) and conventionally performed by manual operators.
Although the labor wages continue to rise up and manufacturers
are moving to automate their processes for increasing productivity, SMAW still holds a large share of the total welding filler
metal business. This is largely due to its attractive advantages
including exceptional versatility, low cost of equipment, convenient power source, low maintenance costs, durability, relative
simplicity of operation, and ease of set-up [1, 2].
The welding performance can be improved by appropriate
inverter control [3]. There have been many control methods proposed for this such as output current slope control and pulsed
output current control [4]. Since these control methods have basically ignored the welding problems occurring in the metal transfer procedure itself, this may result in the welding procedure to
be performed under non-optimal conditions, so that there can be
only limited reduction of spatter generation, as described in [5].
A more desirable welding performance can be achieved by incorporating an instantaneous output current control, which is based
on a metal transfer procedure using the feedback current control
method [6, 7]. However, the practical implementation of this type
of control is complex, since it requires an optimum reference
waveform of output currents, and sophisticated adjustment of the
gain of the current controller. All papers on this subject have focused on gas metal arc welding (GMAW) and gas tungsten arc
welding (GTAW).
The SMAW process is conventionally performed manually.
The arc is initiated no sooner than the electrode touches the base
metal. After igniting the electrode, the heat of the arc melts the
surface of the base metal to form a molten pool at the end of
the electrode, and the electrode supplies the filler metal in the
welding process. In the SMAW process, the electrode also acts as
a consumed material in this welding process. It requires a welltrained technician to perform such a consumed electrode welding
technique. To develop an automatic welding control system for
replacing manual welding, the main challenge is how to control
the feed-rate of the electrode to preserve the stability of the arc
during the welding process. This is also the central object in this
study.
The best known controller for the industrial application is
the PID controller, whose design requires the determination of
three parameters: the proportional gain, integral time constants,
and the derivative time constant. The Ziegler-Nichols [8] turning method may be the most popular among the various kinds
of turning methods, which have been developed for this purpose. On the other hand, the application of knowledge-based

systems in the control process is growing, especially in the field


of fuzzy logic control [9, 10], due to its empirically demonstrated
robustness [11], as well as its applicability for unmodeled dynamic system control. Furthermore, the fuzzy control methods
can not only be used as a PID control scheme [12, 13], but it can
also be used to tune the parameters of the PID controller using
a fuzzy gain scheduling [14, 15]. This paper proposes an automatic welding system using a SMAW process based on a fuzzy
gain scheduling PID controller [16].

2 Dynamic system modeling


The schematic structure of our automatic SMAW control system is shown in Fig. 1. It consists of the computer-controlled
electrode holders driven by a welding robot, a positional table,
and a welding power supply. The servomotor A drives a welding
robot, which is served as an electrode feed-rate control mechanism moving up and down, while the servomotor B drives the
welding robot along the welding path direction. An electrode
holder is fixed to the welding robot. A current sensor is used to
generate a feedback signal, so that a closed-loop SMAW control
can be achieved. An arc current controller is used to drive servomotor A, and regulates the feed-rate of the electrode so that the
arc length can be kept stable to obtain the desired current setting
value. Consequently, this automatic SMAW control system can
be considered as an electrode feed-rate control system, or a kind
of arc current control system. The arc current controller plays
a very important role in this automatic welding control system.

Fig. 1. Structure of the automatic SMAW control system

283

A conventional 160 A constant current AC power supply


with a very steep current output slope as shown in Fig. 2, provides the welding current. The output current is essentially constant in the normal operating range. Such a constant current
power supply is used for numerous welding processes, but primarily for flux-covered stick electrode (SMAW) welding, since
a steady current is very important in these processes. During operation, the desired welding current values are predetermined by
the operator. The fuzzy gain scheduling PID controller controls
the electrode feed-rate, based on the feedback signal obtained
from the current sensor. The desired current value is obtained by
regulating the length of the arc between the electrode and the
work-piece.
We can eliminate arc length fluctuations of a consumed electrode arc welding by modulating the feed-rate of the electrode.
Furthermore, we can stabilize the system parameters, such as the
arc current Ia and the arc voltage Ua selected for the welding
process. To maintain a stable arc length, the electrode feed-rate
v f should be equal to the consumption of the electrode or the
melting rate vm , i.e.,
vf
= vm ,

(1)

where v f is the electrode feed-rate, and vm denotes the electrode


melting rate. The electrode melting rate is a function of arc current Ia and the arc voltage Ua [17, 18], i.e.,
vm = ki Ia ku Ua ,

(2)

where ki is the coefficient ratio of the melting rate to the arc current, and ku is the coefficient ratio of the melting rate to the arc
voltage. Substituting Eq. 1 into Eq. 2, we can obtain the following equation:
Ia =

v f ku
+ Ua .
ki
ki

(3)

Equation 3 represents the relationship between the arc current Ia


and the arc voltage Ua , based on the assumption that the electrode feed-rate v f is equal to the electrode melting rate vm for
a specific electrode feed-rate.
The operating points of Ia and Ua must always be kept on the
characteristic curve formed by Eq. 3. The welding process with
this operating method will satisfy the condition vm
= v f . The
melting rate, vm , will not be equal the electrode feed-rate, v f ,
when the operating point deviates from the characteristic curve.
This results in a fluctuation of the arc length. Equation 3 shows
that the welding current, Ia , is dependent on the electrode feedrate, v f and the arc voltage, Ua , for a constant electrode feed-rate
welding process.
The SMAW is classified as a kind of long arc length welding
process. For this process, the welding current Ia affects the electrode feed-rate v f more than the arc voltage Ua . Thus, to simplify
the control of the automatic SMAW welding control system, the
arc voltage Ua can be treated as a disturbance. As a result, the arc
current Ia is almost proportional to the arc electrode feed-rate v f ,
then
vf
Ia =
.
(4)
ki
The electrode holders driving mechanism, which consists of
a ball screw welding robot driven by the AC servomotor A, is
a first-order velocity dynamic system. It can be expressed by
a transfer function of the form:
V f (s)
Kt
=
,
U(s)
Js + a

where K t , is the motor constant, J is the total inertia, and a is the


friction (viscous) damping coefficient of the driving mechanism.
The purpose of this driving mechanism is to control the electrode
feed-rate v f , making it equal to the melting rate vm , using the AC
servomotor A as an actuator. The input signal is the control voltage U, applied to the AC servomotor input terminal; the output
of the velocity driving mechanism is the electrode feed-rate v f .
By combining Eq. 4 with Eq. 5, and considering Ua in Eq. 3 as
a disturbance Td , the controlled plant of the automatic welding
process can be expressed as:
G(s) =

Fig. 2. Current output characteristic and the arc static characteristic for
a SMAW welding process with constant current power supply

(5)

Kt
.
ki (Js + a)

(6)

This can be described by the block diagram shown in Fig. 3.


The automatic SMAW welding control system is illustrated
by the block diagram in Fig. 4. In this figure, G(s), C(s), and
H(s) represent the controlled plant, the controller, and the current
sensor, respectively. The reference input Ir (s) is the command
signal of the welding control system, while the arc current Ia (s)
is the controlled output variable. A feedback voltage signal that
is directly proportional to the magnitude of the arc current Ia is
obtained using a current sensor. The error signal E(s), which is
the difference between the reference current Ir (s) and the current
sensor feedback signal, serves as the input to the controller C(s).
Reference input Ir (s) is subtracted from the current sensor feedback signal at the summation point. We can thus obtain the error

284

to the methodology proposed by Zhao et al. [16], a fuzzy gain


scheduling PID controller can be obtained as follows:

Fig. 3. Block diagram for an open loop transfer function of the SMAW
welding control system

(1) Normalize the two controller gains K p and K d , the range between zero and one, i.e., K p , K d [0, 1] via the following
linear transformation:
 


K p = K p K p,min / K p,max K p,min ,




K d = K d K d,min / K d,max K d,min ,

(8)



where the appropriate prescribed ranges K p. min , K p. max
and [K d. min , K d. max ] are determined experimentally.
(2) Determine the parameters K p , K d , and by a set of fuzzy
reasoning rules of the following form:
If e is Ai and e is Bi , then K p is Ci , K d is Di , and is i
i = 1, 2, , m ,
Fig. 4. Block diagram of the controlled plant for an automatic SMAW welding process

signal E(s), which is input to the controller C(s). U(s) is its


output signal, which determines the performance of the welding
control system.
The values of many unknown parameters in Eq. 6 cannot
be directly obtained. Thus, in order to precisely design a controller that satisfies all the requirements, a system identification
technique is required to obtain the value of these parameters.
By using the ARX model in the MATLAB Identification Tool
Box, the best-fit values of the parameters for the welding control
system are estimated. Accordingly, the nominal mathematical
model of the SMAW controlling system can be expressed as
follows:
Ia (s)
19034
=
.
U(s)
s + 166.9

(7)

It is clear that the transfer function in Eq. 7 is a first-order nominal transfer function with one pole located on the left half part
of the s-plane. The DC gain of the SMAW control system transfer function is 114, which means that the nominal current output
will be 114 A if we apply 1 V as input to the system.

3 Control methods and simulation results


Once the mathematical model of the SMAW control system is
obtained via the identification method, we can design a current
controller using a traditional control design method. However,
since we assume that the arc voltage Ua is a disturbance, the
mathematical model obtained should be a nominal model with
some uncertainties. Therefore, we can not design a current controller for the welding process with sufficient precision by using
conventional control methods.
In this paper, we introduce a fuzzy gain scheduling PID controller [16] with a rule-based gain scheduling scheme to control
the current for this automatic welding control system. According

(9)

where Ai , Bi , Ci , and Di are fuzzy sets on the corresponding supporting sets, and i is a fuzzy number with a singleton
membership function.
(3) Seven triangular membership functions are used for the two
inputs e and e for the fuzzy controller, while only two are
used for the outputs, K p , K d ; four singletons define the output i .
(4) The fuzzy sets, Ci and Di , may be either Big or Small and are
characterized by the membership function (MF) , where the
membership function and the fuzzy variables x are represented by the following functions:
xSmall () = e4 ,
4

xBig () = 1 e

for the Small rules,


, for the Big rules,

(10)

where x may be either the fuzzy output variable K p or K d .


(5) The truth value of the ith rule in Eq. 11 i is obtained from
the product of the membership function values in the antecedent part of the rule:
i = Ai [e] Bi [e] ,

(11)

where Ai is the MF value of the fuzzy set Ai given a value


of e, and Bi is the MF value of the fuzzy set Bi given a value
of e .
(6) We determine the crisp output values of the fuzzy controller,
K p and K d , for each rule from their corresponding membership functions based on the defuzzification process through
the following relations:
K p =

m


i K p,i ,

i=1

K d =
=

m


i=1
m



i K d,i
,

i i .

i=1

(12)

285

Here K p,i is the value of K p that corresponds to the MF


grade i , for the ith rule.
(7) After obtaining a normalized K p , K d , and , the PID controller parameters K p , K d , and K i can be calculated by the
following equations:


K p = K p,max K p,min K p + K p,min ,

 
K d = K d,max K d,min K d + K d,min ,
(13)
K i = K 2p /(K d ) .
(8) A rule of thumb for determining the range of K p and K d is:
K p,min = 0.32K u ,

K p,max = 0.6K u ,

K d,min = 0.08K u Tu ,

K d,max = 0.15K u Tu ,

(14)
Fig. 7. Parameters of the fuzzy gain scheduling PID controller in Fig. 6

where K u and Tu are, respectively, the gain and the period of


oscillation at the stability limit of the P-controller [8].
Figure 5 shows the configuration of the automatic SMAW
control system with the fuzzy gain scheduling PID controller. In
this paper the gain, K u , and period Tu of the oscillation are obtained experimentally as 0.75 and 0.2, respectively. The simulation results of the automatic SMAW control system with a fuzzy
gain scheduling PID controller are shown in Fig. 6, where 80 A
step input is the reference command. Figure 7 displays the simulation results for the three control system parameters, K p , K d ,
and K i .

4 Experimental equipment and results

Fig. 5. Schematic diagram for a closed loop SMAW controlling system with
fuzzy gain scheduling PID controller

Fig. 6. Simulation result of the fuzzy gain scheduling PID controller using
80 A as the reference command input

A schematic diagram of the structure of the automatic welding control system is shown in Fig. 1. It includes a PC-based
controller (586 PC Computer), a welding robot driven by an
AC servomotor, a current sensor, and a welding power source.
The welding current is measured by the current sensor, and then
transferred to a digital signal by an A/D converter, which acts
as feedback to the PC-based controller. The controller evaluates the error signals via the implemented fuzzy gain scheduling PID control algorithm, and sends the output signal through
a D/A converter to an amplifier. The amplifier drives AC servomotor A, which is built into the welding robot, to regulate the
electrode feed-rate.
An LEM HAS 200 SI current sensor, which is of the Hall
effect type, is used to measure the welding current. The peak current and the rms rated voltage of the sensor are 200 A and 50 V,
respectively. We also use a PC-based controller, which is capable
of realizing the complex control algorithm, to control this welding system. The welding current command is set to 80 A. The
centerline of the electrode driven by the AC servomotor B is kept
vertical to the welding path and the direction of its movement
is tangential to the welding path. The current controller controls
the electrode feed-rate. The electrode type is E4313, and the core
wire diameter is 2.6 mm.
Figure 8 shows the steady state response of the experimental arc current for this SMAW controlling system controlled by
a fuzzy gain scheduling PID controller with 80 A as the reference

286

Fig. 8. Experimental arc current output response using 80 A as the step reference command input
Fig. 10. Plate position welding experiment

command input. Although the sampling time for the welding


control process is 1 ms, the data can only be taken per 5 ms, because of the limited memory of the control computers MS-DOS
operating system. Figure 9 shows evaluated values of the three
corresponding parameters, K p , K i , and K d .
Unexpected noise can arise during the experimental process
due to errors arising from the derivative term. This kind of noise
is undesirable, especially for faster sampling times, which leads
us to calculate the derivative error, e simply by subtracting the
error at two neighboring sampling times. As a result, the value of
the derivative component is smaller than that of the other parts,
which is why the derivative gain K d in the simulation diagram
is much smaller than that in the experiment plot. Since increasing the reference input command increases the derivative gain
K d , we must set an upper limit for this parameter during the
experiments.
Figure 10 shows the experimental results for a plate position welding experiment. It shows that the welding result has
uniform ripple beads. Figures 11 and 12 show the arc current
response and the experimented results for a manual operation

Fig. 11. Arc current output for manual operation

Fig. 12. The welding result in Fig. 11

Fig. 9. Experimental parameters K p , K i , and K d of the fuzzy gain scheduling PID controller in Fig. 8

welding process. After comparing Figs. 8 and 10 to Figs. 11


and 12, the stability of the arc welding current, the uniformity
of the welding beads, and the reduction of spatter generation
are improved dramatically. Figure 13 shows the experimental
results for a tube welding process. It is operated with 80 A
as the reference command input. The photographs show that
the automatic SMAW control system works well for both plate
and tube welding processes and can obtain a better welding
performance.

287

ual operations, but can also effectively perform shielded metal


arc welding.

References

Fig. 13. The tube welding experiment

5 Conclusion
In this paper, an automatic SMAW control system, based on a
fuzzy gain scheduling PID controller is developed for an alternating current power supply welding machine. A mathematical
model of this automatic welding control system is obtained by
analyzing physical laws and the system identification method.
By employing a Hall effect current sensor to measure the arc
current, a desirable closed-loop control system is formed. The
fuzzy gain scheduling PID controller determines the output signal by evaluating the error signal and the derivative error signal
obtained using a current sensor. This control output signal is
then sent to a welding robot driven by an AC servomotor, so
that the electrode feed-rate mechanism can be controlled and
the arc length can be regulated to obtain the desired current
setting value. We also examine the performance of this fuzzy
gain scheduling PID controller experimentally. The experiments
show that the developed automatic SMAW control system, with
a fuzzy gain scheduling PID controller can not only replace man-

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