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Fencing and barrier manufacturer ZND UK is a great example of how addictive automation can be.

From mostly manual manufacture of these bulky products 10 years ago, the company now has two automated production lines and a range of robots, including 11 KUKA models.

05 September 2023

The outcome? Five-fold productivity increase and higher capacity.

Demand for temporary fencing and barriers is steady year-round but, during construction peaks and the summer events season, demand shoots up. There is a strong business case to automate the manufacture of these big, cumbersome products in high volume, to reduce costs, increase capacity and reduce heavy manual handling.

ZND, which has plants in Holland, Germany, France, Poland and the US, manufactures temporary fencing, hoarding, pedestrian barriers and wire mesh for fencing. Its UK operation, in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, has invested heavily in robots and automation equipment, mainly specified by AMI in Italy, for the last 10 years and installed its first fully automated line in 2014.

Changes at ZND have been profound. Some products are now assembled, brazed, lifted and stacked completely automatically, with KUKA robots playing a prominent role.

Throughput is up massively, product defects are down and employees do not have to do as much body-straining lifting work now.

“A two-man team would make 50-100 barriers in a day before. With the automated line, a two-man team can now produce 500 per eight-hour shift,” says ZND UK managing director James McLean. “While other automatic machinery is integrated into that production line, KUKA is an integral part of it.”

ZND’s automation story has been gradual, with one piece of equipment leading to another. The investment really began from 2009.

“Between 2019 and 2020 the company spent around £6 million on automation, mainly in the US but in the UK too,” James says. ZND is always looking for a new solution to automate. “In 2020 we built a machine in Rotherham with an integrated robot, with another currently being built in Holland.”



"Changes at ZND have been profound. Some products are now assembled, brazed, lifted and stacked completely automatically, with KUKA robots playing a prominent role."

How it works

Barrier panels are made from tubular material and infill tubes. The tubes for the outer frame are first cut, swagged, pierced and bent to form two U-shaped pieces. Four feet are then projection brazed in position. In the final assembly stage, cut-to-length infills are introduced and the two halves of the outer frame are closed to form the barrier.

A KUKA KR 210 robot removes the panel from the assembly machine and places it into a transfer system. Further small items are fitted to the barrier and, at the end of the line, a second KUKA KR 210 robot collects it and places it into an automatic fixture that is mounted on a single-axis servo-controlled positioner, in a brazing cell with two floor mounted KR 16-two robots, each fitted with two brazing guns. A ceiling-mounted robot is fitted with a single brazing gun.

The floor mounted robot MIG gun brazes two infill tubes at a time, while the ceiling-mounted unit brazes the feet. At the end of the cycle the second KR 210 robot removes the finished panel from the fixture and places it in a horizontal stack. A forklift truck empties the unload station when it is full.

A second line, commissioned in 2016, works similarly to the first. Altogether, nine KUKA robots work on the two lines at ZND. System output is 1000 barriers per 8-hour shift; the two lines, working together, could produce 3000 barriers per 24-hours.

Manufacturing this number manually in a single eight-hour shift would have required 16 people.

Robots help retain and retrain staff

The company has continued to grow year-on-year, through disruption from Covid-19 and Brexit.

“Ten years ago, ZND had around 120 people making these products mainly by hand,” says James. “Today we still have around 120 and sometimes more with agency staff and we are producing four to five times the volume of units, thanks to automation.”

Staff have been redeployed to different jobs, usually more highly skilled and with less physical strain. “I don’t recall ever making someone redundant as a direct result of automation.” he adds.

Covid was a tough period. From May to August it usually supplies to distributors for the big music festivals – these had all but gone during this time. But ZND UK’s staple market is construction, which is more dependable.

The barriers and fencing are used everywhere. Social queueing systems, fencing for public demonstrations, and at festivals and music events – these are typical uses of the products.

Find out more about our welding robot, from the low payload CYBERTECH nano range, below.

KUKA – for continuous-path, welding applications, featuring the KR CYBERTECH nano ARC. The welding robot from the low pay-load category, the industrial robot delivers maximum performance at minimal costs.

Automated arc welding, with the KUKA CYBERTECH nano