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Welding cell makes medium-sized galvanizing plant fit for the future
Many medium-sized companies are planning to automate and expand their range of products and services. Verzinkerei Sulz GmbH, a galvanizing plant from the Black Forest, dared to take this step. The managing director of Verzinkerei Sulz, Bernd D. Euschen, and Christoph Welle, managing director of the integrator KIWI-Automations GmbH & Co. KG, provide insights into the path from idea to successful project.
10 May 2023
Reading Time: 4 min.
When and how did your collaboration start?
Bernd D. Euschen: Our customer sent us a lot of welded assemblies for galvanizing. At some point, we noticed that the quality of the welded seams was not consistently good. We then learned that the customer was sending them to a contract manufacturer from Eastern Europe for welding. Afterwards they came to us for galvanizing. To reduce the carbon footprint, our customer considered looking for someone nearby to do the welding. We asked what a welding cell would need to provide and looked for a way to do it at our facility.
Christoph Welle: We and the company Verzinkerei Sulz actually came to welding without any further experience. In mid-2020, Bernd D. Euschen contacted us after he found us on the KUKA website as a system partner. We are located just 65 kilometers from Sulz. Our company has been a KUKA system partner since 2016, and we knew we had welding professionals on our side with the KUKA team. So, it was very feasible for us to integrate the desired cell in Sulz.
What were the requirements for this cell?
Bernd D. Euschen: We wanted it to be compact. We also wanted it to enable us to take our first steps in the direction of robot welding and build up know-how. Last but not least, of course, all safety-related matters had to be taken into account. We had enough space, and an employee for loading and unloading the cell was quickly found. We then hired an employee with programming skills.
Christoph Welle: It was clearly required to weld the various parts of an entire product family at a relatively high cycle rate in consistent quality. Verzinkerei Sulz opted for the compact welding cell from KUKA with the KR CYBERTECH nano, a Fronius TPS 400i as the welding system, and a manual turntable as the positioner on which the welding fixtures are located. KUKA supplied the complete cell, we supported as the integrator and system supervisor.
What did the employees say about the expansion of the product range and the robotic cell?
Bernd D. Euschen: We employ 65 people, but not a single welder. Fortunately, our employees were open to automation and interested in the welding cell, especially since we didn't dismiss anyone, but even hired new employees. To this day, they are very positive about the automation solution because they see that we are breaking new ground and thus securing the production site.
What does the balance sheet look like about one year after commissioning?
Bernd D. Euschen: Also very positive. We can process a six-figure number of welded assemblies within a year. We had calculated that we would need 2.5 years for the return on investment, but the reality looks better. Now 1.5 to 2 years is realistic. Each welding process takes less than a minute, and the quality of the welded seam is excellent. Our major customer is promising us more orders. Furthermore, welding brings us additional galvanizing orders, and we can strengthen our core processes. In addition, many shipment trips are eliminated and we have been able to greatly reduce our customer's carbon footprint.
Christoph Welle: For us as a plant manufacturer, this project is a very good pilot project to show other medium-sized companies that getting started with automation doesn't have to be difficult. That you don't need to have inhibitions, but can slowly grow into it, even as a small company. Once again, we have experienced KUKA as a reliable, competent partner. When it came to welding qualification, welding programming and welding optimization, the KUKA team supported us very well.
Bernd D. Euschen: : Our conclusion is that the risk involved in integrating a welding cell of this type is relatively low, even for medium-sized companies. This is because the investment costs are manageable and there is the opportunity to take the first steps towards automation, to build up know-how and to land good customer orders. We are already planning further automation options, again with KIWI-Automations and KUKA robots. It has all worked out very well and we are glad to have taken this step.