Agricultural automation

An ABB integrated welding cell has helped agricultural machinery manufacturer Shelbourne Reynolds cut production times by two-thirds and enhanced quality.

Suffolk-based Shelbourne Reynolds manufactures a range of articulated hedge cutting tractor attachments, each of which entails several hundred weld processes in production.

The recently installed ABB robotic welding cell and reduced production times for these products by 66%.

The technology  

The installation features a specially adapted version of ABB’s FlexArc cell, which brings together a robot, positioner and the welding equipment needed for the process into one integrated package.

The cell is versatile. As well as being used for the hedge cutting attachment, it also enables speedier production of grain strippers and subassemblies for combine harvester headers, both of which involve complex welds.

Picking processes

The welding cell was implemented as part of a wider drive to find efficiency through automation at Shelbourne.

Michael Scarfe, manufacturing manager at the manufacturer explains that decisions over which processes to automate were based on the achievable time savings robots could bring. “For this reason, we introduced a cut-off point whereby anything that previously took an hour or more to weld was allocated to the robot cell,” he says.

With the assistance of ABB, a time study was conducted with estimated time savings being identified for various welding processes in order to identify the ones best suited for handling by the cell.

Benefits

As well as reducing production times the welding cell has also enhanced capability and quality.

Complex welds, are now performed to a much higher aesthetic standard asserts Mr Scrafe: “Circular interpolation processes involving welding around tubular objects can be a challenge for even the most skilled manual welders, particularly when time is of the essence. The robot cell is able to handle these processes at a much faster rate, producing consistently strong, high quality and visually pleasing welds.”

The recently installed ABB robotic welding cell has reduced production times of producing articulated hedge cutting tractor attachments by 66%.

Furthermore, the cell has freed up manual welders. Previously, a team of six was needed to carry out the welding for products now produced by the cell, which needs just one team member to supervise one of two production shifts.

Freed-up staff have not been made redundant. Instead, workers have been redeployed to add value to other production processes, including fast turnaround tasks and those which are too large for the cell to handle.

Scarfe says that the combination of automated and manual production facilities gives Shelbourne the best of both worlds. “The robotic cell gives us fast, accurate automated production in a compact footprint, whilst our skilled manual workforce enables us to produce high quality welds on our other products where using a robot is not practical,” he explains.

Next steps

Shelbourne is leaving no stone unturned in finding ways to optimise its automation investment. It is involving design teams in projects to redesign products for automated manufacture and using ABB’s training services to upskill production staff.

“Our long term aim is to introduce another cell to help us further expand our production capabilities,” explains Scarfe. “For now though, we want to find as many ways to use our existing cell as possible. We’ve already got five products on it and want to keep adding more until it is fully utilised 24/7. The Flex Arc cell is ideal for short batch manufacture with quick fixture changes, making it an ideal match with our Just-In-Time (JIT) manufacturing and reduced inventory philosophies.”