An industrial robot from ABB Australia installed on a linear track system in 2008 has increased productivity and turnover for Brisbane-based Drake Trailers, one of Australia's largest manufacturers of low-loader and specialist large scale trailers.
Greg Allison, General Manager of Drake Trailers says that the robot’s performance challenges their staff who still weld by hand to be as good if not better than the robot in their work.
In order to avoid being swamped by cheaper imports, the company needed to upskill their workface and even add to it.
Allison says that Drake Trailers took some time to consider the best configuration for automating certain aspects of production. The ABB robot was identified as the most suitable option for factors such as speed, which could help them compete on price based on lower unit cost in addition to quality improvement that provided benefits such as better finish and repeatability.
That last factor is a key benefit: thanks to the ABB robot, which went live in May 2009, less handling is required when machining the suspension components, skid plates, ramps and up to 60 items that Drake has identified, which can be jigged for use with the dual station robot.
One welding station has a single axes L type positioner with 2000kg payload capacity. The second has a dual axes A type positioner, which has 750kg payload capacity, used for welding more complex components.
As for weld speeds, a quality manual welder can span 250-300mm per minute while the ABB robot manages 750-800 a minute. Additionally, there is minimal pause between welds unlike manual welding, increasing speed of operation as well as creating a cleaner and safer welding environment.
Integration by ABB Preferred Partner
The robot was installed by Machinery Automation & Robotics, Sydney-based integration specialists who have worked closely with ABB for more than seven years. Solutions Engineers Jamie Bailey explains that MAR is one of two ABB Robotics Preferred Partners.
Referring to them as market leaders, Bailey says that ABB’s strength lies in the supply of industrial robot systems where they are able to offer significant variety of reach and payload application-specific machines.
Both Allison and Bailey agree that the product support on their industrial robots stands ABB apart. Bailey says ABB is definitely one of the best supported robotic providers in Australia.
Overall, Allison estimates the robot has increased Drake’s productivity by 60-70%.
More Productivity = Greater Growth
The increase in productivity at the family-owned company has translated into an annual turnover of $45-50 million. Staff has more than doubled to 140 in the last five years as the focus from tandem and tri-axle trailers has shifted to a range of products north of the 100-tonne capacity mark.
Keeping Drake Trailers competitive
While Allison is delighted with the ABB robot, it has challenged both his production and design staff, few of whom fully recognised its potential until it was in operation. Its repeatability has opened their eyes to every stage of the manufacturing process.
“The more material we can standardise the more competitive we can be, which is a focus for our drawing and design office,” Allison says. “We’re fine-tuning the standardisation of things so they can be programmed for the robot. Then we could apply the same productivity savings to those components and suddenly what were once options for our clients might become standard.”
“And that’s how we remain competitive.”
He believes the robot has played a large role in Drake’s offering the same price list as it had in June of 2008.
Other benefits include less manual handling of heavy components by the welding team and reduced exposure to the potentially dangerous process of welding.
Plans are on for a second, larger ABB robot on a track to tackle the enormous welding requirements of goosenecks and similar scale equipment.
ABB is a leader in power and automation technology that enables utility and industry customers to improve their performance while lowering environmental impact.