Distinction with state-of-the-art robotic welding

Several leading trailer builders choose to deploy state-of-the-art welding robot systems from the Dutch welding robot integrator, Valk Welding.

Deployment of welding robots and automation in general offers a solution to compensate both the shortage of skilled workers and the high labour costs in Europe.

Compared to manual welders, welding robots have the advantage of offering a higher and more consistent weld quality. This factor is often of decisive importance in the transition to robotic welding, as greater demands are placed on the strength and quality of the welded chassis frames. Requirements that are hardly achievable without welding robot technology.

Weld robot technology
Valk Welding supplies complete robotic systems with all the components necessary to enable the automation of high quality welding, utilising Panasonic’s welding robots, which have been specifically developed for the automation of arc welding processes. Given the strong increase in high mix/low volume production, the speed and ease of deployment of welding robots is also a decisive factor to partner with Valk Welding.

In addition to this, Valk Welding has invested heavily over the past 40 years in developing tools in the robotic welding sector, this includes:

  • water cooled robotic torches with pneumatic cut off;
  • seam search and tracking systems;
  • offline programming (DTPS) and automated offline programming (ARP);
  • friction free wire feeding systems; and
  • custom frame and track solutions including manipulators.

Each of these developments are what contribute to the continuous high-quality welding process, high duty cycle and strong increase in output that Valk Welding can supply.

Offline programming
Programming complete assemblies such as chassis frames is virtually impossible without software tools. Valk Welding, with more than 1,500 licences of the desktop simulation and programming software DTPS, plays a trendsetting role in this.
For well-known trailer manufacturers, including Wielton, Faymonville, Kögel, Van Hool, Stas, Fruehauf, BMI, Knapen, System Trailers and many more, this software has enabled the deployment of welding robots within the high mix/low volume environment.

In fact, according to Daniel Kemp, Manufacturing Manager at Van Hool, offline programming is one of the most important items in the automation process.

“We are among the early adopters in the field of offline programming,” he said. “Together with Valk Welding, we have witnessed the evolution in this field over the past 25 years up to automation of the programming process. The most recent step is Automatic Robot Programming with AI (in partnership with Oqton). By taking automation technology to the next level, in partnership with Valk Welding, we are able to produce high-quality custom products in a wide variety.”

Welding processes
To meet the high strength and quality requirements, the use of the right welding process is crucial. For Faymonville, which specialises in building trailers for heavy transport, higher weld quality is of primary importance. To that end, the company uses the digitised welding processes that are standard in the Panasonic WGH robots.

“Of these, we use the ‘deep penetration’ welding process,” said Faymonville. “This guarantees a very deep penetration that also allows the welding seam preparation to be adjusted so that welding costs can also be reduced. For the heavy construction we apply multilayer welding. Programming in the classic way would take an enormous amount of time.

Panasonic offers ‘Thick Plate Software Solutions’ especially for this purpose. With this software, we program a new product every day. Thanks to the total package of hardware and software from Valk Welding, we have been able to make a considerable improvement in the efficiency of welding small batches. We know how to keep the production in the various branches within Europe competitive and we have been able to further strengthen our position in Europe.”

High mix/low volume
Within the European trailer construction industry, competition is fierce. The German manufacturer System Trailers, as an independent producer of semi-trailers and trailers, has acquired a distinctive position in this.

“Partly due to the use of welding robot systems from Valk Welding,” said System Trailers Director, Ralf Saatkamp.

“In order to offer our customers a consistently high quality and favourable purchase price, we have completely geared our organisation, production and automation to high mix/low volume production. Due to the large number of different trailers, the changeover time of the welding robot is a crucial factor. We were looking for a partner who could flexibly set up the entire programming for this.

“With the offline programming system DTPS, the welding robot can immediately start working with the programs, almost without corrections. Partly due to the logistics automation, we reduced the lead time of the longitudinal supports for the chassis by 30 per cent. It is important to build a partnership with the customer in order to get to know the customer’s wishes better. On that same philosophy, we work together with Valk Welding.”

Distinctive in welding seam tracking technology
Also, for the Polish manufacturer of trailers and semi-trailers, Wielton, the integration of Valk Welding welding robot systems has been decisive for the company’s substantial growth over the past two decades. In terms of production numbers, Wielton is now among the largest European trailer builders. One of the problems the company ran into was weld seam detection on aluminium parts in particular. Their desire was to solve that with a vision system instead of conventional search finding systems.

“While existing vision systems couldn’t do that because of the reflections on aluminium, Valk Welding could with their Arc-Eye laser sensor,” said Wielton Robot Programming Manager, Mariusz Skupinski. “With this, we were able to correct deviations in welds in real time in the welding program, so that the seam is followed exactly by the welding robot. Also, thanks to the use of their welding robot technology, we were able to double the capacity of our W5 line within the same floor space.”

Halving production time
LAG Trailers, Europe’s largest producer of aluminium tank trailers, deploys Valk Welding welding robots for the production of bulk trailers and bulk containers. The reason was to relieve the fabricators of the monotonous welding work, by using robots. Through standardisation and design of line production, the company has been able to greatly reduce production time in ten years.

For example, LAG Trailers today makes a tilt-bulk truck in 250 hours where it used to take 800 hours.

“Deploying welding robots does mean that when there is downtime, the entire line comes to a halt,” said LAG Trailers CEO, Rob Ramaekers. “That’s why we asked several robot integrators, with a high reliability requirement at the top of the list. With their knowledge and experience in the field of welding robot technology, Valk Welding was able to fill in the complete picture, both hardware and software-wise. In addition, their methodology of offline programming makes it possible that line production does not have to be interrupted for programming.”

Specialist in the field
It is clear that a successful transition to welding robotisation in trailer construction requires high-quality welding robot technology in which all aspects such as welding processes, programming, weld seam tracking, wire feeding and manipulation are optimally coordinated. Valk Welding distinguishes itself as a specialist in this field, with a high level of knowledge and an organisation that, with its scale, is one of the few to successfully realise such large automation projects

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