Laser and Press’ products are typical of many Australian businesses. Despite challenging market conditions, a strong Australian dollar and overseas competition, they are able to still continue to deliver a competitive first class product to the Australian market.
The company employs more than 50 staff and has been in business for nearly 50 years, with an enviable reputation for designing and manufacturing high quality stainless products across all industry sectors from retail, education, hospitals, commercial and recreation right through to industrial sculptures and art work – with projects ranging from $1,000 to $2 million.
Laser and Press’ differentiator has always been around quality. Quality of product, which translates directly into quality of the welds, has always been paramount to their success. Therefore, in moving from a manual system to an automated system there were two key drivers; how it could increase quality and overall deliver a better product.
At the same time there were other considerations. What effects on the business would an automated system have over a manual system in terms of staff skills, OH&S, cost of production, effect on design, and overall time to completion? These all had to be considered while factoring in several different variables – from one off products through to ‘large-run’ items, as well as the different metals and thicknesses of materials they work with.
With the investment in an automated robotic system Laser and Press also wanted to understand what other benefits could be achieved over their current manual system, especially on ‘large-run’ items where consistent high quality could be more difficult to achieve. The beauty of an automated system in regards to large-run items is that if the first product is 100%, every following product will come out exactly the same.
Laser and Press were manually welding all products using standard TIG welding, which is excellent for many metals as long as the welder has the expertise and speed is not a requirement. CMT (Cold Metal Transfer) enables an extremely high quality weld while the overall weld zone remains ‘cooler’ relative to a TIG solution. This becomes particularly important when working with sheets as thin as 1.2mm, such as some of the aluminum products that they produce.
They looked around at various options and companies before deciding to work with Machinery Automation & Robotics. MAR has a proven track record in the welding field, with a range of offerings of custom or bespoke welding cells.
The final solution used a single KUKA KR 30 L16-2 robot, supplied by Headland Machinery and placed in the middle of two welding cells. This enabled one loading station to be set up while the robot was actually welding in the other cell. A simple yet extremely effective design, that immediately enabled load times to be halved.
Included, as part of the design was a fully integrated safety system that ensured that if anyone entered the cell the system would immediately stop running ensuring that no one could be put at risk.
The company wanted to be able to program the robot themselves. MAR designed and built the cell, including all the necessary safety systems, and then to set the robot up with a program template that would enable their staff to do be able to do all the required set up for each individual job.
Two sheet metal workers with no robotic or programming experience took a 4-day course and became fully proficient in using the software interface enabling them to work independently.
Laser and Press found that they were getting up to a ten fold increase in welding times as well as a higher quality and consistent weld to what they were previously getting. The cell met their requirements 100%.
In addition, their turnaround speeds increased as well. All jobs required a setup time and jigging, but even allowing for this, the increase in operation was still substantial for even one off jobs. The longer the run of a job saw the average turnaround continue to drop.
They also found that once a job had been done once, it was easy to train their other operators to use the system as it was already programmed and ready to run. Anyone can load parts and press start and stop buttons.
Part of the brief was to also future proof the system. The system that they chose also will also meet their needs going forward. They chose a robot with a higher payload and reach than required, and a welding system that also has much more capacity than they are actually using currently.
As the Managing Director, Tristan Opie said “The system gives me the certainty that we can we are providing the best possible product to our customers. The bonus is we are able to do it at such an improved production rate”.
“We got what we were expecting – which was a real good bonus”, Opie says.