Robot welds steel buttresses in highly varied small series

Valk Welding has supplied a welding robot system to the Belgian supplier ETS (European Techno Steel), which is used to weld steel buttresses for masonry support. The small series with the wide variety of models presented
Valk Welding's software engineers with the big challenge of coming up with an easily operable system. As well as the benefits of automation, the new welding robot system presents a solution to the acute shortage of professional welders and helps ETS to meet the highest welding quality standards.

ETS specialises in the supply of steel components for house building, utility building and civil works. The emphasis is placed on high-precision products. The production of buttresses for masonry supports accounts for 30% of the company's turnover. The buttresses are sold under the brand name Scaldex by the sales company of the same name on the Belgian and Dutch markets. All of the products are custom-made in small series. 

Price and delivery time determinative
To maintain a competitive edge in this market the price has to be right and the delivery time as short as possible. That is the challenge faced by ETS. Manager Geert Pas: "For that reason it made sense to automate the welding process, but the wide variety of positions for the holders and the length, thickness and shape of the girders formed a complex task for a welding robot integrator. But Valk Welding had already provided us with welding robots before and didn't shrink from the challenge. We've known Valk Welding for 20 years now. When they say they're on the case we have the fullest confidence that they'll succeed.

Ease of operation
As well as the need to automate the manual welding production, ETS set ease of operation as a second strict requirement. Geert Pas: "The distance and position of the holders is different for each series. It is important for the operator not to mix up the holder positions. For that reason we asked Valk Welding to develop a jig in which the precise position of the holders was indicated for each series. That makes it possible for an operator to see exactly where the welding robot has to weld a holder on the girder. 

Welding robot system on an E-frame
The design delivered by Valk Welding stands out for its simplicity. The welding robot system comprises two identical jig supports that are set up next to each other on an E-frame base. Both jig supports are equipped with
an advanced jig that clamps the girders with 3 servomotors. The position where the holders are to be placed are indicated with LEDs on the girder. The position is different for each series. A Panasonic TL-1800 WG welding robot is then used to weld the holders on the girder without any need for pre-attachment.

Program selection with QR code
The apparent simplicity of the system conceals a complex system of data processing, ranging from order input by Scaldex to the automatic configuration of the jig and programming of the welding robot. Scaldex presents its orders in an Excel sheet. The custom software 'Profilemaker' developed by third parties creates an interface with the ERP system of ETS. The numbers and model are thus determined entirely by Scaldex.

The CAM data for the laser cutting machine and work bench for the girders is first generated by the ERP system. The laser engraves a QR code on the girder, which is read out by the operator at the welding robot. That way the cell controls know which order is being processed and the jig and the welding robot are automatically configured. For this purpose Valk Welding's software engineers have developed custom software that dynamically responds to the input parametrically. The robot controls generate the program for the welding robot and the position of the holders is passed on to the jig. For each of the 68 positions LEDs light up to show the position for the buttress type. The operator only has to place the girders in the position shown by an LED and indicate which of the two stations the welding robot is to weld. 

Controlled production
Eighty percent of the buttresses are now processed with the new welding robot system. For ETS the investment has greatly increased the output compared to manual welding. "And", emphasises Geert Pas, "our production is now completely controllable and the welding quality is always consistent. The controller lays down the quality and composition of the weld in a report so that we can always demonstrate this in accordance with EN-1090. We also periodically carry out visual weld inspections. The welding robot system enables us to respond more quickly to market demand."


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