PI: Emory Zimmers and Robert Gustafson Jr.

University: Lehigh University

The objective of this research project is to take a new patented robotic steel embed plate-stud welding technology to the next level of reliability required for full commercialization and to help develop a go-to-market strategy. This includes developing systems for automatically placing reusable ceramic ferrules and improving the machine vision algorithms for reliable operation in sub-optimum production conditions (e.g., low light, contamination, etc.).

A steel embed plate is a metal plate with studs connected to it. Steel embed plates are used to attach concrete structures to steel framework, a vital component in the construction industry. The plate is set into wet concrete elements such as flooring, piers, precast columns or tilt-up walls, concrete slabs, or poured-in-place concrete walls to create a connection point. There are an estimated 30 million embed studs used in the USA each year.

Over the past five years, Structural Services, Inc. has developed a robotic welder that can create steel embeds with 10% of the labor cost and improved operator safety than the current manual manufacturing methods. They are preparing to commercialize the product, but would like to eliminate the need to manually place the ferrules and to make them reusable. They would also like to improve the technology in order to make the machine more tolerant of ambient conditions such as light and dirt.

The project will create the technology to allow the robot to open and close the ferrules around the shank of the stud during the welding process. This will support automated placement and reusable ferrules. It will incorporate classical machine vision technology with advanced algorithms to locate the stud placement and determine the optimum target position within the perimeter of the welding site. The project will also develop a business model and go-to-market strategy for a new company.