A notable shortage of specialist welders was the reason for the Northern Ireland trailer manufacturer, bmi trailers, from Dungannon to take the step to welding robotisation.
This manufacturer now welds complete walls, floors as well as partitions and tailgates with a Valk Welding robot system. Thanks to the use of macros as part of the QPT programming system, the programming time for single pieces could be drastically reduced. A good example of robot deployment in a high mix/low volume environment.
With a skills shortage within the Northern Ireland and UK labour market and exacerbated by the uncertainty around Brexit since the referendum decision, bmi felt that to help them to overcome this skills shortage they needed to consider the introduction of robotic automation for their manufacturing and production facilites in Dungannon.
The trailer builder researched many videos and products, and came across YouTube videos of Valk Welding which encouraged them to get in touch with Valk Welding.
Welding aluminium sidewalls
Brendan McIlvanna, Managing Director of bmi trailers, saw the biggest challenge in robot welding was with the aluminium sidewalls.
“Due to the expansion of aluminium as a result of the heat input, the position of the weld seam occurs during the welding operation,” he said. “A manual welder can correct this instinctively, but each welder does so in his own way. The result is therefore never consistent.”
During a visit to the Dutch trade fair ‘Metavak’, the bmi team presented the demand for an automation solution to a number of robot suppliers.
“Only Valk Welding could help us further in this and that was the beginning of a good collaboration,” McIlvanna said.
Welding seam tracking
With the laser-controlled Arc-Eye welding seam tracking system, Valk Welding has proven to be able to weld the welds in aluminium assemblies with the robot exactly and with high quality consistency. The concept for a welding robot system for bmi trailers consisted next to a TM1400 WG3 welding robot on a longitudinal movement of 30 meters, also an Arc-Eye CSS laser camera and integrated welding fume extraction.
Eventually, bmi trailers commissioned Valk Welding to also create the programs for different products in order to be able to start production as soon as possible. Prior to commissioning, some of the bmi team had completed the robot and programming training at Valk Welding in Alblasserdam to help them to master all the details of this software.
High mix/low volume
During the start-up phase, the number of variants in the dimensions of the side walls turned out to be larger than foreseen. To limit the programming work for this as much as possible, Valk Welding used the QPT programming system (Quik Programming Tools).
This software makes it possible to copy parts of programs within DTPS using macros. (DTPS is the successful Off-Line programming system of Valk Welding,) Users with their own product can thus create programs faster. At bmi trailers, this has resulted in the advantage of also being able to weld single pieces and small numbers with the robot.
Capacity and quality increase
“After some adjustments in the preliminary process, we had the process fully under control after just 6 months, the weld quality improved significantly and the capacity increased,” said bmi trailers Process Development Manager, Stephen McMahon.
“The welding robot now delivers the output equivalent to the production of eight professionals and we now weld all the side walls, floors, bulkhead panels and back doors with the welding robot.
“We even quickly switch between Aluminium and Steel. Our next goal is now to also weld the chassis, which we have made externally, on a separate welding robot system.”
The fact that bmi trailers was able to make the automation move to robotic welding so quickly is partly due to the high-quality service support provided by Valk Welding, says Stephen McMahon. “For example, an employee from the Valk Welding organization was here for 3 weeks during the start-up phase to optimize the work preparation and answer practical questions. That’s what we call service and we are now manufacturing more trailers with the same number of employees, Stephen concluded by telling us “We would definitely recommend Valk Welding”.