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Robotic equipment from ABB is helping the Youngman Group, a supplier of access equipment, lighting towers and events products, to improve productivity and reduce stockholding.

This latest investment – in two fully automated welding cells, complete with ABB’s IRB 1600 robots – was agreed following a management buy-out in 2005, when it became clear to new management that investment in its UK operation made more sense than continuing to outsource manufacturing processes to China.

All of the main production processes were manual, including cutting, cropping and welding aluminium tubes, while the manufacturing volume flexibility was only achieved by increasing the use of temporary skilled labour.

Paul Bentley, Youngman’s managing director, said: ’We recognised that we needed to invest in the future of the company as it was clear costs were continuing to rise and the company was facing cheaper competition from European and Chinese manufacturers.

’The other major concern was that, in the face of a slowdown in the traditionally cyclical construction market, the company would be slow in reducing costs and then slow to recover if labour had to be recruited and trained in skilled welding roles.

’Due to this, the decision was made to move towards robotic welding,’ he added.

The company’s production engineers identified laser cutting and robotic welding as the optimum areas for improvement and approached ABB with the task to undertake the turnkey project.

The first step was for ABB to establish the design requirement over seven different frame designs and five frame lengths and then to create a solution that would provide Youngman with the flexibility and ease of production required.

The solution was to install two fully automated welding cells.

In each cell, an IRB 1600 robot – ABB’s compact bending backwards robot – is mounted onto a servo-driven track to increase the working area of the cell.

The track motion system is designed to ensure the reliable and effective utilisation of a robot’s capability and to extend its working area, enabling one robot to reach long workpieces.

With the positioning of the welding torch critical to the joint required, the track motion system ensures the accuracy of the robot while maintaining the speed of production.

Part of Youngman’s investment was the development of the Cold Metal Transfer (CMT) welding process to match the finished product requirements.

This solution uses a controllable aluminium weld pool in all positions to allow precise control of the heat input to produce high-quality welds with minimum product distortion and an improved aesthetic appearance.

’The development of the CMT welding process called on our most experienced welding engineers to develop a complete, right-first-time solution, which was created in combination with ABB’s Robotstudio simulation software,’ said Steve Bartholomew, account manager at ABB Robotics.

Finally, ABB’s fifth-generation IRC5 robot controller is used to enable the robot, track and welding equipment to work seamlessly together, providing instant responses to changes in welding parameters, travel speed and robot positions.

Each 80mm weld path has an average of eight positions, with individual weld data, robot and track positions.

ABB is a leading supplier of industrial robots, modular manufacturing systems and service. A strong solutions focus helps manufacturers improve productivity, product quality and worker safety. ABB has installed more than 190,000 robots worldwide.

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