Guided by the light

Valk Welding delivers a specialised welding robot system to VDL Containersystems which involves automated guided vehicles.

For the Europe Container Terminal (ECT) in the Rotterdam seaport, VDL Containersystems together with eight other VDL companies have developed an Automatic Guided Vehicle (AGV) that can be used for unmanned sea container transport.

The first AGVs were welded entirely manually, but VDL Containersystems installed a welding robot system from Valk Welding. VDL programs part of the welding programs for the welding robot using Valk Welding’s offline programming system. That will not only save VDL a great deal of time with the welding work but will also guarantee consistent quality.

ECT Rotterdam, Europe’s biggest container transhipment company, has already been using AGVs for 20 years and asked the VDL Group to develop a new, replacement model at the end of 2009. A completely new generation of diesel hybrid AGVs was developed and built in just 12 months. This was done under the management of VDL Containersystems in close partnership with VDL Steelweld. The development concentrated on lowering the maintenance costs and power consumption. Based on the prototype, ECT Rotterdam placed an order for 85 AGVs, which VDL delivered in 18 months.

Turnkey project
The new AGV has an overall length of almost 16 metres and weighs 27,000 kg. Virtually all of the welding work on the AGV is done at VDL Containersystems. The power pack and wheel suspension are then assembled at VDL Containersystems, after which VDL Steelweld in Breda deals with the system integration. The chassis alone involves 600 m of welding. Company manager, Mark Verdonschot, said: “The VDL Group’s policy is to continue to produce competitively in its own country. That is only possible with automation, so using a welding robot for this project made perfect sense. Because the AGV project is already completely underway, there was a need for the fast delivery of a properly working welding robot system. Welding robot integrator Valk Welding has ample experience of turnkey projects and has made very good progress with offline programming. Valk Welding was able to work simultaneously on both the hardware and the programs. One of our employees spent one day a week in Alblasserdam during the project to write the programs for the wheel suspension and the power pack under Valk Welding’s supervision while the Valk Welding programmers programmed the chassis.”

About 600m of welding per AGV
The product is divided into several steps to ensure that the welding robot can reach all of the welding seams. First of all components are added to a jig and attached to the chassis. These components are then welded on the robot. These steps are repeated a number of times until all of the components have been attached.

“The welding robot makes it possible for us to weld a chassis three times faster.” said Verdonschot. “That not only enables us to achieve a high level of efficiency: we are also able to consistently maintain the welding quality at a high level. By using robots we expect to be able to deliver the required numbers in 18 months, without having to work in shifts. We can always change gears if necessary.”

VDL Containersystems
VDL Containersystems develops, produces and sells a wide range of hydraulic container handling systems. The company specialises in hook lifts, gantry lift and cable systems, container trailers and containers for lorries, trailers and agricultural vehicles. Spreaders and automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) are made for the transhipment of ISO containers. Service and after sales are provided by a worldwide network of local partners.

Unmanned container transport
The ships at this terminal are loaded and unloaded almost entirely with unmanned vehicles that are controlled by a central computer. A wharf crane places the container on the AGV, which then automatically takes it to its place in the stack, where it is put in the right place by an ASC (Automated Stacking Crane). The new AGV generation developed by VDL can transport a load of 70 tons, is suitable for all container types and travels unmanned over the port area at a maximum speed of 21 km/h. See the film clip here.

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