The Belgian manufacturer of wheelchairs and home care products Vermeiren was one of the very first companies to buy a Panasonic AW7000 welding robot during the introduction of the Panasonic welding robots at Techni-Show 1988.
Since then, Vermeiren has acquired 6 Panasonic welding robots from Valk Welding for the production at that time in Belgium, some of from which some of them later moved with the production relocation to Poland, where more than 20 units were delivered subsequently . “The attractive price and the support Valk Welding was able to provide were good reasons for us to choose for Panasonic”, head R & D Patrick Jespers says, who at the time experienced the commissioning of the first welding robot in 1988.
Due to increasing competition from low-wage countries, Vermeiren was forced to critically review the production costs. Although the bending and welding of the frames are only a small part of the production process, robotisation of the welding production has already resulted in considerable savings. Six years later, the wheelchair manufacturer decided to move the entire production to Poland because of the much lower wage costs. “Upholstery, wheel production, and assembly remain labour-intensive activities that offer few possibilities for automation”, Patrick Jespers explains.
“It was indeed the first welding robot that we bought . Which means, working with robots was completely new to us at the time. The choice for Panasonic instead of a German manufacturer was mainly made on the basis of price. Our people could also attend training at Valk Welding Belgium facility in Schoten, which is close to our factory ”, Patrick Jespers explains. At that time, the robots had two pneumatically operated indexing tables and H frames were not yet available. Therefore, the positioning of robots and tables had to be done as accurately as possible, to ensure the existing programs could be kept exchangeable between robotsystems as much as possible.
Creation of Reha-Pol-A
At the start of our Polish establishment in mid-1994, a number of welding robots moved from the factory in Kalmthout in Belgium. The installation in Poland was done by people from Valk Welding. Wim Rombeek, who at the time worked as an advisor at Valk Welding: “Valk Welding helped to dismantle the robot systems in Belgium and to make it as easy as possible to restart them in Poland. At that time, Valk Welding mechanics regularly drove around 1000 km to Poland with our people to do the necessary follow-up work. Gradually, this was taken over by people locally from both Vermeiren and the Valk Welding technicians from the Czech Republic.”
Poland’s largest production facility
Poland is now the largest European production site of Vermeiren. Patrick Jespers: “In Belgium, we only do conversion and adjustments of wheelchairs and aids. The use of welding robots at Reha-Pol-A is not so much motivated by wage costs, as is an important issue in Western Europe, but purely from an efficiency point of view. “More than 20 welding robot cells provide a constantly high output in a 3-shift operation and that cannot be beaten with manual welding. In addition, the constant, high quality of welding plays an important role in it
From the start in 1994, Valk Welding supplied 23 welding robots, replacing technically outdated welding robots with new ones. “Older types continued to produce until they eventually had too many technical problems to keep them in service”. The fact that a robot has been depreciated over the course of several years is no reason to replace it with a new one,” Patrick Jespers concludes. The oldest, still working Panasonic welding robot at Reha-Pol-A is from 1996.
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