Universal Robots Eliminates Bottlenecks, Reduces Welding Time by Half at Siouxland Fabricating Inc.
01 the short story
Siouxland Fabricating has successfully deployed UR cobots on MIG welding and stamping applications, cutting cycle times in half with zero downtime at a fraction of the cost of traditional industrial automation.
02 the challenge
Siouxland Fabricating Inc. provides custom fabrication services, including cutting, bending, assembly and welding from its facility in the small town of Rock Valley, Iowa. Facing long term challenges finding skilled labor, particularly on the welding side of its business, Siouxland Fabricating decided to automate welding and stamping tasks. Previous experience with costly and complex traditional robots persuaded the company to explore collaborative robots for these tasks due to their affordability, ease of use, and their ability to handle high mix/low volume production.
Video — Siouxland Fabricating Inc. USA
03 the solution
Siouxland Fabricating successfully deployed a UR10 cobot on a high mix/low volume stamping application, in which the cobot picks a part, places it in a stamping machine, actuates the machine, and then palletizes the finished part. Based on these positive cobot experiences, it was a small step for Siouxland Fabricating to ask “Can we stick a welding arm on the end of our UR robot and make it weld?”
“Traditional welding robots require a lot of fixturing, programming, and a lot of tweaking between our robotic programmer and our welder. And it also takes a lot of floor space. We were looking for something that was simple that we could quickly integrate in the shop and start making parts,” says Toby Boogerd, Chief Technical Officer (CTO) at Siouxland Fabricating, noting that the price of traditional welding robots was also a significant deterrent and that Siouxland Fabricating wanted its welders to spend more time fabricating and putting parts together and less time laying beads. “We really wanted the robot to mimic what a hand-welder was capable of doing, from circular welds to butt joints.”
As Boogerd researched cobot-powered welding solutions, he discovered the UR10e powered BotX- Welder™, developed by Hirebotics and partners Red-D-Arc, Airgas and Air Liquide, and was immediately attracted to its mobility, ease of use, and programming features. Soon after it arrived, welders at Siouxland Fabricating were programming complicated welds using a combination of hand-guiding and the Hirebotics smartphone application, says Boogerd: “One of Hirebotics’ main strongpoints for me is their smartphone application. It just makes sense. When you move the robot, you hit a button on the robot, and it saves that spot.”
The ability to deploy UR cobots without safeguarding (following a risk assessment), made UR cobot-based welding solutions an attractive proposition for Siouxland Fabricating: “Traditional automation typically requires safeguarding, which tends to take up a lot of room or the cycle gets broken because someone trips the safeguard,” says Siouxland Fabricating’s CTO Toby Boogerd. “We didn’t want that extra hassle and because floor space is so precious to us, we wanted to find a solution that we could move around the shop, not having to deal with all the complexities of safety fencing.”
BotX, developed by Hirebotics and partners Red-D-Arc, Airgas and Air Liquide, comes with a Universal Robots UR10e cobot, a Miller XMT welding machine (350 or 450) and various table configurations. The BotX software application, which enables welders to program the system quickly and intuitively, is also included. Toby Boogerd, CTO at Siouxland Fabricating, says that the low initial upfront costs were a big factor in selecting the BotX welding solution “Compare this to traditional robots where you’re usually at easily $100,000 to start with. There are so many unknowns. By the time we talk with salesmen, travel somewhere to look at the machines, get the machine in the building, the costs might even end up at $200,000 to $300,000.”
Learning how to program the BotX has enabled Siouxland to automate some of the most challenging welds for hand welders to perform such as circular welds. Maintenance and Welding Supervisor DeMeester adds: “I love doing the circle welds. You just program three spots and basically turn your full circle on in the Hirebotics application and you have a perfect circle. What was very challenging on a regular robotic cell is now a piece of cake.”
“We did an online live demo with BotX where they showed me the solution and their programming, and it didn’t take long to realize how simple it was. It just worked,” says Toby Boogerd, CTO at Siouxland Fabricating, who scrolls through the Hirebotics programming interface on his smartphone.
“There is a marked contrast between programming a traditional welding robot versus programming BotX, says Dan DeMeester, Maintenance and Welding Supervisor at Siouxland Fabricating: “On typical weld cells, it’s very hard to get the torch in the right position. You’ve got to keep moving it back and forth. Whereas with BotX, I can just grab the torch and say, ‘Hey, this is right where I want it. This feels comfortable when I hand-weld it and it comes out good.’ Then, using the Hirebotics application, I choose the type of weld that I want, such as linear, radial, joint or butt. I can do that all on the cell phone and it’s very clear.”
Turning hand welders into programmers – and programmers into welders
BotX can be operated by a welder alone, explains Boogerd: “BotX enables us to let the welder move the robot and create the program on the fly. This was something we had always hoped for and we found the solution. I can weld on the UR robot too; even though I can’t hand-weld.”
Matt Van DeKamp, Weld Robot Supervisor and Programmer at Siouxland Fabricating, appreciates the simplicity of the BotX programming process: “Probably the biggest thing with BotX is being able to get it from Point A to Point B in a fraction of the time. You also have corrective positioning that takes care of positioning and your angle — which is everything in welding. I no longer need the help of the hand-welder, or his opinion of how he would hold his torch. That’s a big deal.”
The usability of the BotX application took a lot of the “nervousness” around automation away, says Maintenance and Welding Supervisor, Dan DeMeester: “There’s literally like three buttons you’ve got to know on BotX,” he explains. “Our traditional robots take a lot longer to program. You can get a part and BotX takes 15 minutes to program whereas on another machine it would take a couple hours. I can program it, set the schedules, make sure the part’s good, and run it myself. BotX turned me into a programmer.”
More advanced welds cut cycle time in half, reduces consumable consumption
“Traditionally, we would just do two or three passes on welding because we didn’t understand how to use some of those more advanced features,” says Boogerd. “But having used the UR robot, we’re able to use the weaving feature, which cuts cycle time in half. It also saves on consumables since we’re not laying all that extra gas and bead.”
Weld Robot Supervisor Van DeKamp adds: “That was awesome. I now pulse and weave on probably seven different programs, which has helped drastically. I have also taken the advanced welds I have learned on the UR robot and put them on our traditional robots too.”
Siouxland Fabricating deployed a UR10 to improve productivity and ergonomics on an important stamping application. Based on the success of this deployment, the company started exploring the feasibility of cobot-powered welding solutions.
“Our part sizes vary from anywhere from a 4 x 6 part to very long parts, anywhere from four pounds to 20-25 pounds, so sometimes we do push the payload of the robot, but we’re still putting a 20-pound part through the robot into the stamping machine,” says Toby Boogerd, CTO at Siouxland Fabricating.
Siouxland’s UR10 cobot puts a part in the stamping tool, actuates the machine to stamp it, and then palletizes the part. “We use UR’s built-in palletizing wizard on the unload side of the robot. Once you do it one time, the wizard is very graphical, and it’s very easy,” says the Siouxland CTO.
With floor space at a premium, Siouxland Fabricating wanted a solution that was more mobile than traditional welding robots. Here, a complete UR-powered stamping cell is shown being wheeled to another location in Siouxland Fabricating’s Iowa production plant.
“We use UR’s built-in palletizing wizard on the unload side of the robot. Once you do it one time, the wizard is very graphical, and it’s very easy. Since we’re a high mix, low volume shop, there might be times where we run 500 of the same part through, and there might be times where we run 20 pallets of different parts through, and the beautiful thing is, once it’s programmed, it’s done — the operator just has to pull up the program, change out the stamp, and hit go,” explains the Siouxland CTO.
Freeing up manual welders
The BotX Welder deployment has freed up workers to focus on more ergonomic, higher-value tasks such as fabricating and tacking, while the robot lays the bead. “In the end, you see more production going out the door because I can have the robot working without an operator having to babysit it,” says Boogerd.
Given the success of its BotX deployment, Siouxland plans to add another welding cobot to its fleet, says Boogerd: “We have the traditional UR10 robot and the BotX welding robot. And we’ve seen the advantages and production just keeps increasing. And, instead of having to hire more people, we can utilize that time with the robots.” The company also plans to test its stamping cobot on machine tending tasks involving CNC machines, mills and lathes with a view to adding more cobots to that side of its business too.
- Reduced cycle times by half
- Led to increased production
- Improved ergonomics for existing welders
- Allowed welders to upskill to programmers
- Improved programmers’ understanding of welding
- Affordability, ease of use, and mobility
- Enabled more complex welds
- Reduced consumables
- Easy deployment on stamping & welding applications
- Low footprint saves floorspace
- Safe to deploy around humans
- Stamping high/mix low volume batches
- High mix/low volume welding applications, including complex welds
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Cost-effective, safe and flexible collaborative robots - or cobots- are making automation easier than ever, even for the small and mid-sized companies.