2013 was a very busy year at MPS Alabama. Major changes were made to existing equipment, new equipment was implemented, and numerous changes to existing tooling were made in order to increase productivity. The most challenging and significant change at the Alabama facility was the implementation of a brand new robotic welding system.
Based on manufacturing requirements of the products produced at Alabama, the type of robotic welding system chosen for the operation was a custom system with dual arms for welding and a third arm for material handling. The new system can weld a large range of product types and diameters, ranging from 1.5″ round corner square solid material up to 4.5″ diameter pipe. The length of products welded can vary from 36″ to 120″, with helix diameters of 8″ to 14″.
In order to accommodate the wide range of parts, significant time was spent researching vendors for robotics, automated welding and system integrators to find the best possible system. The final product uses a combination of robotic arms and welding components. The final system uses up to 34 programs for welding more than 300 different combinations of products.
The robotic system provides many benefits including quality, productivity, capacity, ergonomics and lead-time reduction. Regarding quality, the new system provides the ability to monitor 100% of the welds produced. This ensures that all welds meet programmed requirements. If not, the system will “shut down” so the operators can determine the problem with the welds and correct the problem before additional material is produced. The robotic cell has increased welding capacity at Alabama by 40%. In addition, the robotic cell minimizes the material handling of the operator resulting in much improved ergonomics.
The productivity improvements and lead time reduction are the result of the dual held welding system and the material handling system, which reduces fatigue and improves ergonomics. There are two major tasks for producing a welded anchor. One of them is the actual value added of welding and the other component is the non-value added time of preparing the part to be welded. One of the benefits of the new system is that while the parts are being robotically welded, the operator can be preparing the next part so that it is ready when the system is ready. Also, with the dual system, two separate welds are made at the same time, which reduces the overall time to produce a complete part. As a result, the robotic weld system is between 100% and 400% faster than manual welding cells depending on the product configuration.
When asked how the robotic system can help MPS going into the future, a Product Engineer from our Civil Products Team offered the following, “The Civil Products team at MPS is very excited about the addition of the robot at the Alabama plant. The potential for cost reduction, margin improvement, and potential new products should help our ongoing efforts to bring an innovative and economic product to the market. The increase in production will help to reduce lead times, which, in the civil construction market, could be the difference between winning and losing projects. Our hope is that the robot, along with several other production improvements, will provide the edge MPS Civil needs to gain market share and branch into new markets.”
The development and implementation of the robotic welding system was a complete team approach at Alabama. It would not have been possible without the cooperation of the entire Alabama team, especially the people who spent many long hours and many late nights/early mornings working to ensure the success of the project.
We are very excited about the addition of our new system and look forward to continuous improvement.
Installation of the new robotic welding system