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Successful collaboration in single-piece production

STAS, a manufacturer of self-discharging trucks and tipper trucks, has been collaborating with Valk Welding for 18 years and has undergone a significant evolution in automation and IT during that time. The company has largely integrated its sales, engineering, and production with a strong focus on software development. STAS is therefore a pioneer in the field of Industry 4.0, and has received a ‘Factory of the Future’ award in Belgium for both of its production sites. “Within the Factory of the Future, a ‘human-centred organisation’ is paramount, and this is largely reflected in the way we have automated production, especially the welding department”, says Patrick Hugelier, Senior Automation Engineer.

STAS is an early adopter in the field of welding automation. This decision was prompted by a shortage of welders in the late ‘90s. In 2007, Valk Welding delivered the first welding robots to STAS for its facility in Doornik, where self-discharging trucks are produced. This successful collaboration has developed into a long-term partnership, resulting last year in the delivery of a large welding robot installation for the main plant in Waregem. Here, aluminium tipper trucks are produced.

Aluminium tippers

With its aluminium self-dischargers and tippers, STAS focuses on the transportation of bulk goods. Transporters using self-dischargers and tippers place great importance on stability, reliability, and low vehicle weight. Welding aluminium panels requires special attention because of specific challenges, such as the low melting point and the high risk of contamination of the weld pool. In previous installations in Doornik, STAS used many short robot programs per production order. This lowers the entry threshold for the welders that will be operating the installation. The combination of STAS’s control software and Valk Welding’s robot expertise has proven that a stable process can be achieved”, continues Patrick Hugelier.

Six welding robots

The project recently realised by Valk Welding at STAS consists of two production lines with a total of six welding robots. These installations are used for the production of aluminium floor panels and sidewalls for tippers. With this project, STAS can significantly reduce production lead times. Hugelier adds: “High user-friendliness of the installations has always been the starting point. The machine must adapt to the people, not the other way around. This has mainly been solved through software. Within this setup, our welders are now process and quality controllers, providing higher added value to the entire organisation.”

Development of custom software tools

“Internally, we have long established an automation department, and it works closely with Valk Welding’s software engineers”, says Hugelier. “Thanks to the combination of our own machine control and Valk Welding’s ROSE, we can control, monitor, and adjust production within the new installation. We have also created our own link to our ERP package. It is safe to say that an important part of the success of ‘human-friendly’ automation lies with the software.”

SQUADRON

From this background, the SQUADRON division was born. Through SQUADRON, STAS offers its knowledge and experience to assist other SME manufacturing companies with end-to-end digital transitioning. Besides welding automation, SQUADRON also takes care of linking IT-related matters, such as ERP integration and MS Power Apps, to operational matters such as project management, the development of user-friendly software, and the visualisation of production data.

Single-piece production

SQUADRON has developed an ERP package with a vehicle configurator for STAS, allowing dealers to configure all available variants there. When the configuration is converted into an order, this data automatically drives and generates material procurement, production planning, and welding programs. In this way, STAS can achieve single-piece production, similar to the automotive industry.

Challenge

“The next step is further integration to reduce even more ancillary activities and save costs. The goal is to add value only to the end product and to eliminate all waste. We are also still at the beginning when it comes to processing data. If we can add AI intelligence to the data, we should be able to initiate preventive actions online to avoid downtime. Realising this will be an exciting challenge in the future”, says Hugelier.

www.stas.be, www.squadron.be

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