Article - Robotization essential for maintaining metal industry

By
Sander Voerman
– Updated
May 3, 2017

For over 30 years the Dutch company from Tiel, Kranendonk, builds, in partnership with ABB, robotised welding systems for single piece production used in offshore, shipbuilding and heavy steel construction. Noticeable is the fact that a big part of their market is located in countries such as Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Poland. 

Kranendonk vakblad lastechniek ABB

Highest level of robotic welding

Written by: Margriet Wennekes

Last year, magazine “lasstechtniek” (welding) released their robot welding special, mainly focussing on companies that are just starting to embrace robot welding. The most important message of this special: start approachable by integrating the robot slowly in the company’s existing production line.  We classified the level of welding robotization in four different ones, from one easy welding cell (level 1) to an almost completely automatic production process (level 4).

The intelligent production systems built by Kranendonk, possesses all qualifications of the highest level of robotic welding; design software, production software, and robot control software, corporating smoothly and enables them to create big and complex products. In June 2016 the company received the life time achievement award by ABB robotics, thanks to years of collaboration and useful contributions to robot technology. Recently Kranendonk moved to their new office in Tiel, where there is space to build large test setups. Enough reasons to visit the company and talk with the founder of the company Arie Kranendonk and ABB Robotics’ sales manager: Martin van der Have.

No welding mould

For ABB the co-operation with Kranendonk is valuable, because all of the robots’ parts and functions are tested thoroughly. That’s how Kranendonk discovered that a cutting robot with an exceptional low speed is not stable enough and will start shaking. Van der Have: “For a robot enthusiast working at Kranendonk is a dream come true.  Since the software is thoroughly tested and used by Kranendonk, bugs have been discovered that normally wouldn’t have. This helps us to keep improving the robots.“

To be able to program and instruct the welding robots offline, Kranendonk developed their own software: RinasWeld.  Extraordinary is the fact that this enables the robots to work without a welding mould. Kranendonk: “Welding moulds are commonly needed to be able to hold the product parts together, direct the welding torch in the right position and to guarantee the right shape. However, designing the welding mould is time consuming and not cheap. Furthermore it can only be used for one product design. RinasWeld makes a welding mould unnecessary, it calculates movement and heat. We are able to weld panels with sizes from 4 up to 12 meters long, not using a mould.  An example is STAS trailers in Belgium, we have build an installation that made it possible to weld a complete chassis, without the help of a mould. In the past building a mould was the most time consuming activity. Now the product moves freely. By adjusting the welding order and thickness, the product is even straighter than when using a welding mould.”

Kranendonk vakblad lastechniek stas
Chassis welding at STAS trailers

Craftsmanship

Arie Kranendonk considers the welding robot mainly as a helper to support the welder and improve quality and productivity. “Craftsmanship doesn’t get lost during the process, in the contrary, it becomes even more important because the craftsman’s knowledge is needed to capture it in the automatized system.” But how does Kranendonk gets its expertise welding knowledge? “Nobody knows how the welding should be done better than the customer.” Kranendonk explains. “The first employee visiting us in a new project is the company’s welding engineer, even if it is all the way from Japan. In Tiel he will be trained for three weeks to teach him how to work with the robot and RinasWeld. Therefore the customer will be having all tools and knowhow needed to be put into the system. The planner will only be working on the welding, not the robot." 

Competing

Despite the increasing robotization, welding will remain an important craft. Only the tools are changing. “Welding manually while being on your knees is not challenging on the long-term nor is it very healthy. This isn’t a popular craft for the youth anymore. Modern production tools that are currently available need to be applied. The Netherlands has been fallen behind in this.” According to Kranendonk, that worries him. “Currently the Dutch (heavy) metal industry is unable to compete enough with countries such as Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Poland. They are already working with sophisticated robotized welding systems for several years. At first our production moved to low-wage countries, now it seems our knowhow and craftsmanship is disappearing as well. What will be left behind?” However, Kranendonk thinks it is still possible to maintain the metal industry for the Netherlands. “But it will be necessary to change the state of mind in the industry. Apart from applying the most modern robotic technologies, there is a need to start applying innovative solutions and keep thinking about future innovations. Due to a focus on low-labour costs over the last decades, the necessary focus on innovation has fallen behind.” 

Internet of things, services and people

We continue talking about the newest developments in the robotized production processes such as ‘the internet of things’ which was a recent subject of a lecture given by Arie Kranendonk during the event ‘Futureproof!’. Using sketches he explains his story. “With programming and producing from a CAD/CAM model, information moves from the top to the bottom, from the design software to the welding robot. The ‘internet of things’ means that the information flow streams upwards as well.  During the whole production process, up-to-date data of cutting, welding and gluing processes, as well as information about the air quality are being send to the service centre. With one click in the current CAD design, all relevant information about the welded end-product is immediately available. Currently this information is being used for quality control and reporting.

Three important trends

The robot manufacturer is on the move as well. Martin van der Have mentions the current three market trends: simplification, digitalisation and collaboration. “Simplification needs to be achieved by making it easier to integrate robot installation in the production process. One tool ABB designed for this purpose is connecting an Oculus Rift (virtual reality glasses) to ‘robotStudio’, ABB’s offline software. By simulating robotization we are trying to speed up the acceptance of working with robots. The second trend, digitalization, is connected to the ‘internet of things’. “We developed Connected Services that made us able to solve disruptions from a distance. Our service engineers don’t need to be on location to solve the problem, 9 out of 10 times we are able to solve it from our own office. Yumi is an example for the third trend, collaboration. “This collaborative robot is meant to be working together with people in the electric-industry. For the heavier industry we developed SaveMove, which enables a more save interaction between humans and robots. Which is another one of Kranendonk’s innovative products.

Kranendonk Academy

In the end we asked Arie Kranendonk about his plans for the future. “My goal used to be to robotise the production of heavy complicated steel-constructions. This plan succeeded. Als the welding efficiency on shipyards  has grown considerably. Currently we are busy trying to realize robotized submerged arc welding and laser hybrid welding. The last one hasn’t been realised yet, due to security reasons and high tolerances. After welding we will continue to work on robotizing the assembly process as well.”

There is enough ambition, but where do you find the right people? “Most of our 65 employees are young technicians that just received their bachelor or master degree. From the Netherlands but also from countries such as Poland, Japan, Romania and Portugal.  My employees should be able to think logically. Level of education is not as important as enthusiasm and being able to think logically.” To be able to transfer Kranendonk’s information to the younger generation, the Kranendonk academy will be opened in 2017. One of the quality control employees who has been working at Kranendonk for over 20 years, will be teaching the younger generation. “Our job is requiring a lot of creativity, one should not only know how something is made, but why it is made that way. This is one of the most difficult aspects to teach.“

Read the article in Dutch here:

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