Entrematic’s manufacturing facility is no stranger to using robotics in manufacturing. In fact, the facility first started using robotics as early as 2004.
That early industry-leading initiative has since evolved over time with the adoption of new generation robotic technology which is always improving, according to Bob Hawk, General Manager, Loading Dock Products, Entrematic. As a direct result, the company has experienced an efficiency gain of ten to 15 percent compared to older robotic technology the Reynosa facility was using 14 years ago.
Robotics ideal for high-volume production
The most recent robotic manufacturing initiative at the facility includes two identical robotic cells that weld the top plates on Serco brand dock levelers. The model fits well into the high-volume business model which is based on standard product widths and lengths.
For high-volume dock leveler production, top plate welding is the most labor-intensive and complex part of the process. “Depending on the leveler configuration, we can turn out a top plate from each side in about seven to 14 minutes,” Hawk explains. “In addition, the robotic cell takes up much less manufacturing floor space than the number of fixtures potentially required to weld the top plates manually.”
Proper placement and quality equal
Based on the current weekly production volume at the facility, Hawk estimates it would take approximately 40 employees to weld the same amount of throughput that the robotic welding cells are now handling.
“The primary benefits with robotic welding for our customers is that we’re achieving much more consistent, precise and higher quality welds than we would relying on 40 different people with varying degrees of skill,” Hawk points out.
Proper placement and the quality of the welds – with one unable to exist without the other – both contribute to additional end-user benefits for the customer. They include:
- longer product life;
- less unplanned downtime;
- faster lead times for the customer;
- reduced chance for product rejection and returns.
Dry run modeling comes first
“Programming the robotic cells is a carefully orchestrated process,” says Hawk. “It involves undergoing dry runs to get program modeling at about 95 percent. After that, we begin running live welding on two to three products to catch all of the fine points and to ensure precise outcomes.”
Hawk added that if top plate welds are off anywhere from an eighth to even a sixteenth of an inch in actual production, a product is then deemed defective. “The goal with the dry run modeling is to ensure all of the welds will be correct even before the live weld modeling begins.”
Using a combination of Miller® welding equipment and FANUC industrial robots, top plate leveler components arrive at the robotic cells by a conveyor. The conveyor then moves the components either right or left into whichever cell is open at the time.
The robotic welder then starts a touch sensing cycle of defined points to make sure the product components are properly aligned and ready for welding. If any of the programmed parameters are off, due to mill spec variations in raw material or other issues, the robot will go into error mode and notify the operator to investigate what might be causing the problem.
Skilled welders meet important need
Although Entrematic’s 310-employee facility is benefitting greatly from its most recent robotic welding initiative, the operation still relies on skilled welders. Working at 85 welding stations, they handle less complex welding configurations. But at the same time, the welders also perform tasks that are more difficult to configure for a robotic welding cell, says Hawk.
“Entrematic being able to quote product delivery within two to four weeks is a real plus for us and our customers,” Hawk emphasizes. “So, within reason, we’re in a strong position where we won’t refuse an order for lead time purposes. The robotics that we’re using here have helped us to reach and maintain a high standard of operation. In addition, robotic welding has enabled us to provide an even higher level of responsiveness to our customers.”