The Robotic Welding System at Drake Trailers is now an integral part of their workforce and has provided many safety and productivity benefits to the manufacturing of their heavy equipment trailers.
Drake Trailers, an Australian owned company, specialises in the design and manufacturer of low loaders, mine site transporters and steerable platform trailers, including all of the ancillary equipment, axles, suspension units and other equipment used in the heavy haulage industry.
When you rely heavily on the accuracy and reliability of your machinery for your finished product, you want to be 100% confident in the system solution implemented. Not only can the product quality have a significant boost but the increased productivity allows for additional output.
The idea of integrating robotic welding into the trailer manufacturing process initially sparked concern that these robot welders would result in job losses. Almost a decade later, the fears have proved to be unfounded with robotic welding demonstrating some clear advantages for trailer manufacturers in Australia and for the humans they’ve replaced at the production line – many of whom are now using their skills in more rewarding ways.
The two main types of robotic welders are:
- Articulating robots employ rotating joints and arms, creating an irregularly shaped working zone
- Rectilinear robots move in a line across any of three axes and can also provide rotational movement using a wrist-like joint that creates a box-shaped workzone.
The rectilinear welding robot is the most common form used by Australian trailer manufacturers
Welding is dangerous work. The latest statistics available from Safework Australia state that of all occupations, fabrication engineering trades, including welding accounted for 5,620 serious claims in 2013/14. Dangers associated with traditional welding methods include:
- Electric shock
- Toxic fumes and gases – inhaling manganese can cause very serious damage to your brain and nervous system and if welding is done near solvents containing chlorinated hydrocarbons, the ultraviolet light can react with the solvents to form phosgene gas, which is deadly even in small quantities
- Respiratory problems as breathing in iron oxide irritates nasal passages, throat, and lungs
- Fire and explosions
- ‘welder’s flash’ – also known as corneal burn caused by ultraviolet light exposure that permanently damages the eye’s cornea
New technology aimed at improving worker safety has historically been widely supported by trailer manufacturers across Australia and now that robotic welders are a standard feature of the workshop landscape, having proven their worth in terms of improved safety for one of the most high risk places on the production line.
And while robotic welders may have replaced traditional welders in the most dangerous areas of the production process, there will always be roles for highly qualified welding tradespeople in the design and manufacture of heavy equipment, where there remains a high degree of customisation.
Productivity is often the starting point when weighing up the advantages of automation and with robotic welding, there’s no doubt that productivity has improved. A key benefit for trailer manufacturers in Australia is that the speed of a robotic welder drives down the unit cost – allowing local manufacturers to compete with cheaper imports – more important than ever as we move to the end of the resource boom.
Not only is robotic welding fast, its unbeatable when it comes to accuracy. It’s estimated that a robotic welder can achieve the correct welding angle, speed, and distance with repeatable accuracy of (± 0.04 mm). This means that every single welding joint is produced to the best possible quality standard, significantly reducing the need for costly rework. Just like the productivity benefits we looked at in part one, the improvements in quality and consistency mean our unit price is reduced while quality is actually improved. In terms of quality, Australian trailer manufacturers are now producing better trailers than ever.
The Perfect Weld Every Time
Consistency is part of the quality equation for trailer manufacturers because it guarantees product reliability. Manual welding requires a high level of skill as well as concentration to achieve consistency. A robotic welder can continue to perform precisely the same weld cycle continuously, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
For trailer manufacturers in Australia, product reliability is paramount and as Drake Trailers General Manager Khali Lake explains, the consistency benefits of a robotic welder directly result in a more reliable heavy equipment trailer.
“Our trailers are used in some of the most remote parts of the country across a wide range of industries. Our customers need a product that doesn’t require regular unscheduled maintenance or repairs. Using a robotic welder ensures consistency across the trailer manufacturing process, which in turn provides the most reliable product possible. We know each weld will perform to the standards it was designed for which gives our customers a trailer they can rely on.”
Welders of the Future
The benefits of robotic welders have exceeded expectations, not only for trailer manufacturers but for every company using welding in manufacturing. In the years since Drake Trailers purchased their first robotic welder back in 2007, the market for robotic welders has grown faster than any other industrial robot with the estimated value of the robotic welding and accessories market expected to exceed $1.9 billion in 2017.