Proven technology for welding boiler bodies

The company Spanner SK, k.s., from Považská Bystrica, is a company with specialised custom production in the field of metalworking. Also forming part of the German Spanner Group with more than 60 years of experience in the engineering industry. Today, it deals with complex sheet metal processing, production of welded assemblies and turnkey assemblies - from design to final product. It is also working hard to produce products under its own brand - the results of its own research, development, and design - and to succeed with them on at least the European market. This is matched by massive investments in the company’s development. One of the most recent is the robotization of welding processes by Valk Welding.

Spanner SK

Welding as the basis for production

According to the director of Spanner SK, Patrik Lišaník, about 95 percent of the local production is exported, mainly to Germany and Austria. Most of the production is destined for the energy, waste management, wood processing and construction industries.
Typical products of Spanner SK’s piece or small-lot custom production are biomass boilers, heat exchangers, components of filtration systems, packaging equipment or equipment for waste collection, sorting and recycling. “We process, weld and assemble sheet metal offering either finished products or products in various stages of development. Almost all final products and product parts contain welded assemblies, which is why we say that welding is the basis of production for us and represents the bulk of our added value,” explains the company’s motivation to invest in the development of welding technology. He adds that part of the reason for automating welding is the long-standing shortage of welding personnel. “We need highly skilled people, and we have them, but it is a problem to find new ones. Being in Považská Bystrica, where there are several dozen other companies employing welders, the market is exhausted,” adds Mr Lišaník.

Valk Welding made the most responsible offer

Spanner SK commissioned three established companies to carry out studies for a robotic welding supplier. However, the final selection of the technology supplier was not difficult in the end, according to P. Lišaník. “The offer from Valk Welding was, simply put, the most technically responsible. From the beginning, communication between us was open and we considered the solutions that Valk Welding presented to us to be reasonable and of high quality. It was very important to us that they had implemented applications in similar types of operations to ours. The competitors lacked this, and they presented us with some references, but these were more oriented towards large series or, for example, welding in the automotive sector. Valk Welding was also able to prepare product samples for us very quickly at their facilities in the technical centre in Paskov. They showed us that it is possible with their technology. Competing companies didn’t offer this, they didn’t really have a workplace where they could do this. This was one of the main reasons why we chose Valk Welding,” says Mr. Lišaník, director of Spanner SK.
According to Mr. Lišaník, the actual implementation of the robotic welding workplace did not take long. From the delivery of the technology to the handover of the workstation took a week, and within two weeks the first pieces were welded. “Deadlines were met, training for people was organised, even though everything was complicated by the pandemic situation,” he says.

Second robotic workstation within a year and a day

The welding gantry workstation at Spanner SK consists of a Panasonic TL-1800WGH3 industrial robot with integrated welding power supply. The robot is suspended on a stand - a gallows that moves along an eight-metre-long track. The robot can thus operate two workstations. One station houses a two-axis positioner, where more complicated products, mostly cubic in shape, are welded, while the other station is single-axis and clamped, where longer weldments up to 4.5 metres long can be welded.
“We have tried to make the entire workstation as versatile as possible so that we can use robotic welding for as many of our products as possible. We have therefore deliberately oversized it partially, both in terms of weight and dimensions,” explains P. Lišaník about the concept. The robotic workstation has been in full two-shift operation since October 2020 and the experience gained during that time confirms the correctness of the decision to robotize and also the choice of Valk Welding as supplier.
“Welding with a robot is roughly three to four times faster compared to a human, if we mean the net welding time,” says Mr. Lišaník, adding that this allowed the welders to be relieved of some of the routine and physically demanding welding operations. “We have moved skilled welders to activities that the robot cannot perform. The original number of welders has not changed, but rather we want to increase the number of welders - within the limits of the market. A significant benefit is the significant reduction in the welding error rate. These types of welds are tested under pressure and the tests have shown us significantly better results with robotic welding than with manual welding. The more or less constant high quality is one of the biggest benefits of robotic welding,” he explains.
The overall satisfaction is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that in June 2021 Spanner SK has signed a contract to supply a second robotic installation from Valk Welding, this time specialising in heat exchanger welding. It should be ready in the autumn of this year. According to Lišaník, Valk Welding once again submitted the offer with the best price/performance ratio.

New possibilities with offline programming

Robotic welding has a wider dimension at Spanner SK, given the company’s development plans. Only time will tell whether the second robotic workplace will be the last for a long time, according to the company’s CEO.
“It will depend on the workload and how busy the company is with custom production. We are opening doors to other customers and perhaps even to larger series. Even to those that we have not done so far because of lack of capacity or because of the price. It’s usually the case that when you have a new machine, you’re first happy that it runs, works without problems, and then it turns out that it has created new opportunities for you - creating new orders and customers. This was also the case with Valk Welding’s first robotic workstation. The customer has increased the volumes we have to produce for them many times over. Without robotisation it would not have been possible, the capacities were limited,” says P. Lišaník.
Currently, Spanner SK is focusing on offline programming. “We have started to use it to an increased extent only recently, when we got fully acquainted with the new workplace and mastered the robot functionality, which was new to everyone. Our goal - also in connection with the second welding robot ordered - is to prepare programs for our entire production, as if for stock. The programmers are already working on it so that we will be ready when the repeat order comes in. Because we are a custom small-batch production facility, we know that even an order with five or more pieces is already worth moving to a robotic workstation. And I think this is the only way to go in the future,” concludes Mr Lišaník.


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