Assemblies as a specialist field

The Dutch supplier Van Lierop has a good story on metal. The company presents itself as a specialist in assemblies and strives to be the best in its field. This has led among other things to the investment in a welding robot cell with 3 stations in which a Panasonic welding robot on a track operating in 2 shifts has made a 'one piece flow' possible. CEO Hans van Lierop: "Supply has become top sport and if you want to play in the Champion's League you and your employees have to continuously improve, innovate and automate. 

Employing 30 people, Van Lierop is one of the many medium-sized sub-contractors in the Eindhoven region. The company succeeds in gaining customer loyalty by providing them with a full-service solution. "We do this by talking with our customers as early as in the prototype phase. They often have only limited knowledge of manufacturing and are looking for a good partner that contributes actions as well as words. Customers know what they want and we know the best and most efficient way of making it for thém. The fact that Van Lierop is able to deliver custom products and serial work at a good price makes it the best partner for sub-assemblies. We have all the disciplines we need for that", explains Hans van Lierop. 

Focus on assemblies
Van Lierop originally started out as a construction company but has since developed entirely into a supply company for both single-piece custom made products as well as serial-based sheet metal and welded assemblies.
Its customers are found in various market segments, and exports account for 30% of its sales outside the Netherlands. Various types of steel (including high tensile steels) and stainless steel are processed, including the required certifications, including NEN 3834-2. Investments in laser cutting and welding robotisation have made it possible to produce flexibly and economically small series. "During the crisis period in 2009 we re-evaluated this and considered what we are best at and how we could raise our profile even more. The answer always came back to assemblies. We have focused entirely on this area since then, both for single-piece custom made products and repeat orders.”

Welding robots 2.0
Van Lierop already had 2 Valk Welding systems with Panasonic VR-008 welding robots on an H-frame setup, each with 2 work stations. Van Lierop: "This makes it possible for us to completely weld smaller work pieces in one set-up. For larger assemblies consisting of several sides we first made the separate assemblies in series and then put them together entirely manually. That involves a lot of handling and calls for extra internal storage. Together with Valk Welding we analysed how we could get rid of those steps. The result was a setup with 3 work stations next to each other that were operated by a Panasonic TA-1900 welding robot suspended on a gantry on a track with 13 m stroke. Parts which are welded on the outer stations and then assembled on the middle station are completely welded by the robot. That made it possible to eliminate a number of internal steps and we are now able to produce even more profitably in larger series and with less manual work.

Installation universally deployable
The welding robot installation has three 4 x 2.5 m work stations but can also be converted into two stations with a work range of 6 x 2.5 m by replacing fencing and moving counter bearings. The welding robot installation is currently being used to produce an order of 4,000 cheese boxes, but in December we will be using it for other, larger work pieces that are assembled in multiple steps. We're now making preparations for that: good preparation is often half of the work!

Win-win situation
Van Lierop believes that this way of working creates a win-win situation for the employees, the company and the customer. "The welding work has now become less monotone. Employees aren't challenged by the forecast to weld 4,000 pieces, but yes they are by the prospect of helping out with the setting of the welding robot. Their knowledge of the welding sequence, heat input, tolerances and product specifications are of great importance here. And the benefits yielded by automation will also help us to keep the work within the Netherlands. That would no longer have been financially possible with manual welding."

Ready for the next step
To Van Lierop the investment in the welding robot installation was therefore a big step in the right direction: "The welding robot is programmed offline. We can weld larger products with internal steps in both steel and stainless steel and retool faster with tools that we have developed ourselves. But the hectic market continues to demand further measures. We will have to respond more to the 24/7 economy and take a closer look at the limits of automation. Unmanned welding could be the next step, concludes Hans van Lierop. www.lieropheeze.nl



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