Robot welding cell helps to cut production times by 66 percent for Shelbourne Reynolds

An integrated welding cell helped major agricultural machinery manufacturer Shelbourne Reynolds to cut production times by 66 percent.

An ABB robotic welding cell is enabling agricultural machinery manufacturer Shelbourne Reynolds to dramatically reduce production times for its range of articulated hedge cutting tractor attachments. Handling the several hundred welds entailed in the production of the attachments, the cell has so far cut welding process times by 66 percent at the company’s factory in Suffolk, UK.

Versatile Solution
The installation features a specially adapted version of ABB’s FlexArc cell, which brings together a robot, positioner and the welding equipment needed for the process into one integrated package.
Installed as the latest step in a drive to automate Shelbourne Reynolds’ factory, the cell is used to handle the company’s more difficult and time-consuming welding tasks. As well as the hedge cutting attachment, the cell is also used to produce other equipment such as a grain stripper and subassemblies for combine harvester headers, both of which involve complex welds.

ROI Calculations by Shelbourne
“The decision on which tasks to automate with the robot was based on the amount of time they took compared with our existing process and the potential savings that could be achieved,” says Michael Scarfe, Manufacturing Manager, Shelbourne Reynolds. “For this reason, we introduced a cut-off point whereby anything that previously took an hour or more to weld was allocated to the robot cell.”
The result has been a significant reduction in welding times, with products now being welded in one-third of the time previously required, and complex welds, such as those involving welding around pipes and tubes, are now performed to a much higher aesthetic standard than before.
ABB helped to play a key role in optimising the cell’s performance from the outset. Using ABB’s RobotStudio software, a simulated version of the cell was created which enabled programming and testing to be performed in an offline environment. This reduced much of the set-up time when the actual cell was assembled on site, allowing Shelbourne to commence welding operations within just three days.

To Complement not Replace
For Shelbourne Reynolds, another key benefit has been the freeing-up of the manual welders who previously made the products now being produced by the cell. Compared with the previous team of six needed to handle the welding process, the robotic cell now only needs one team member to supervise one of two production shifts.
“It would be true to say that some of the team were understandably apprehensive when we first introduced the idea of a robotic welding cell,” says Scarfe. “However, the idea was always to use it to complement, not replace, our manual operations. Finding skilled staff is very hard, particularly when it comes to processes such as welding and plating. We are therefore very keen to hang onto the people we’ve got and to find ways to utilise their expertise in the manufacture of other products.” Proof of this is demonstrated by the fact that no one has been made redundant since the cell was introduced. Instead, workers have been redeployed to add value to other production processes, including fast turnaround tasks and those which are too large for the cell to handle.

Skills Training
Helping Shelbourne Reynolds to get the most from the cell, ABB provided in-house training for two of the company’s manual welding team, including guidance on operating and programming the robot.
” As robotic automation projects can often be quite involved, it’s good to work with a supplier that can help at every stage,” says Scarfe. “I have worked with various robot suppliers in the past but have rarely received the same degree of openness and assistance that I have received from ABB in this recent project.”

Remote Service Technology
The installation is also supported by an ABB remote service technology. This technology sends data on the robot’s performance remotely to ABB via GPRS technology. The information can then be stored and used for reference, and alarms can be directly monitored. Trends can also be spotted before problems become evident. In the event of a problem, an SMS message is automatically sent to an on-call service engineer, who can immediately access a detailed data and error log and quickly identify the exact fault.

JIT - Just-In-Time Manufacturing
“Our long term aim is to introduce another cell to help us further expand our production capabilities,” says Scarfe. “For now though, we want to find as many ways to use our existing cell as possible. We’ve already got five products on it and want to keep adding more until it is fully utilised 24/7. The Flex Arc cell is ideal for short batch manufacture with quick fixture changes, making it an ideal match with our Just-In-Time (JIT) manufacturing and reduced inventory philosophies.”

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    A versatile solution, cutting welding process times by 66%
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