A large number of competent welders, sufficient space and lower wage costs were more than enough reason for Belgian entrepreneur Karel Louwagie to move the production of containers for the automotive industry to Slovakia 14 years ago. In 2003, Valk Welding was asked to help with moving the existing welding robots and designing the factory. For the Westland company this heralded the start of a successful enterprise, and for Valk Welding it was the reason to set up its own branch in the Czech Republic. By now the Westland has a welding robot system to weld constructions up to 6m long which enabled the company to win a large container order from Volvo.
Before the move to Slovakia, Westland already had Valk Welding welding robots at its Belgian site. Karel Louwagie commented “In the early days I was a little sceptical about welding robots, because a welder’s work is a relatively simple action. However, gradually I became convinced of the shorter lead time with welding robots, of the improved quality of the welds and of the certainty that no welds could be forgotten, because everything was pre-set.”
Supplier to automotive
In Slovakia, Westland specialised under the name Westmetal SK in engineering and manufacturing containers that are used to move semi-finished products, including complete car bodies, from one production unit to another in a convenient and safe manner.
Opportunities with a larger welding robot
“When we received an RFP from Volvo for an order of 1,300 containers of 6 x 2.2m, it was clear we needed a welding robot to offer a competitive price, so we took the plunge. We are convinced that the large welding robots provide more opportunities. We are now one of the few who can weld such large pieces in series, and that makes us an attractive supplier for OEMs.”
Karel Louwagie continued “The new, large welding robot is in full production for the sub-assembly of car body racks for the Volvo V60, of which we weld one an hour on average. With the order for 1,300 units, the welding robot will be busy for a little while. Meanwhile the smaller robots are used to weld the smaller frames for containers in series.
Support from Valk Welding CZ
Preliminary discussions and the commercial part were handled by Valk Welding Belgium based on a relationship going back to 1995, when the first welding robot was installed in Belgium. The system was built in Alblasserdam (NL) and following purchase it was rebuilt on the client's site in Slovakia in close cooperation with the employees of Valk Welding CZ. Support for programming, calibration and training of the operators was also provided by the employees of Ostrava. Karel Louwagie commented “That’s the benefit of working with a robot integrator with sites throughout Europe.”
“For programming the welding robots we use the DTPS software. We draw the piece and the corresponding welding mould in 3D (often in Autodesk Inventor) so that everything is visualised and then we convert it into DTPS software. That is how we control the movement of the welding torch. After that, it’s only a matter of fine-tuning before starting the robot, in order to correct any inaccuracies in the mould and product,” concludes Karel Louwagie continued. www.westmetal-sk.eu
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