by Mary Scianna
imagae by Klint Burton
Western Canadian machinery attachment OEM invests in technology for growth
If you’re an OEM of large, heavy industrial products for the resources sector, chances are, your manufacturing operations are somewhat of a hybrid between a custom shop and a production shop. Your customers aren’t typically looking for 1,000-part runs. Instead, they’re more likely to need short runs with products that often need to be customized for an end use.
That’s the case with Weldco-Beales Mfg (WBM) one of Canada’s largest OEMs of industrial attachments for machines used in construction, forestry, mining, and oil and gas.
The privately owned company operates four manufacturing facilities in Canada: Langley, BC, Edmonton and Fort McMurray, AB, and Barrie, ON, comprising more than 26,477 sq m (285,000 sq ft). Its largest operations are its steel fabricating and welding facilities in Western Canada.
At its Langley, BC, operation, the company fabricates and welds primarily attachments for the forestry industry and rollover protective structures, commonly known as ROPS. The operation, which is housed in multiple buildings in Langley, consists of presses, with its most recent purchase being an 800 ton hydraulic Mitsubishi machine, and an ESAB plasma cutting system, in addition to forming, rolling and Lincoln welding equipment.
“We don’t have a lot of volume. Here in the machine shop, which strictly supports our fabricating and welding operations, we’re typically doing one-offs or two-offs,” says Cam Gillespie, the machine shop foreman.
“We’re a niche market, adds John Folkers, fabrication foreman. “One of our customers may need 400 buckets one year and then typically re-assesses the work and if the volumes are high, the customer may decide to bring the work in-house, so we lose the large volume business. We tend to focus on lots of 1 to 20, but we’re always trying to get large volumes where we can.”
Boosting welding efficiencies
To remain competitive, Weldco-Beales regularly invests in fabricating and welding technologies, and in manufacturing strategies to increase production efficiencies.
At its Edmonton, AB, operation, truck-mounted cranes ranging from small tonnages up to 50 tons are the main product the company fabricates and welds. Weldco-Beales invested in robotic welding in the early 1990s, in part, to meet the demands of one of its larger customers. Since then, Weldco-Beales has continued to invest in robotic welding technologies from Lincoln Electric, says Blaine Stoesz, engineering supervisor at the Edmonton facility.
“We were innovators here in Edmonton when we installed robotic welding. All our robots are from Lincoln, and we use the PowerWave 455 system. In total, we have five robotic arms with the oldest being 21 years old and the newest one just over one year old now.”
While the initial foray into robotic welding was due in large part to customer demands, today, the continued investment in robotic welding has more to do with offshore competition, says Stoesz.
“We’re competing with offshore companies, and robotics reduce labour costs and improve efficiencies. It’s also good for worker safety because we’re dealing with heavy parts and the robot is able to handle these parts and rotate them more efficiently for welding.”
The Langley, BC operation has also improved welding efficiencies by implementing strategies to reduce set up time, says Folkers.
“We’ve seen 20 to 30 per cent savings in labour hours just by improving how we handle the parts our welders need to weld. We’ve invested in manipulators, fixtures and positioners that help us better handle parts and make it easier and faster to weld.”
Part of the production efficiency strategy has been investments in new welding equipment. In the last two years, Folkers estimates Weldo-Beales has purchased approximately $300,000 worth of new welding equipment from Lincoln, which encompasses 24 welding machines. The welding systems are easy to use, says Folkers. “You can use the trigger memory recall to use up to six saved settings by tapping the trigger on the welding gun.”
The company also purchased two positioners from Lincoln. “They’re 7,000 kg positioners for our welding cells, which helps our welders weld large heavy parts more efficiently without having to manually move them,” adds Folkers.
The semi-automatic MIG wire welding cells at the Langley, BC, facility use metal cored wire, but as part of a larger overall re-assessment of operating costs, Weldco-Beales is looking at non-cored welding wires to replace metal-cored wires, says Folkers.
“In 2013, Weldco-Beales corporately went through 300,000 pounds of metal cored wire. Hard wire is about 15 to 20 per cent less expensive than metal cored wire, so it would be a big cost savings for us to replace metal cored wires in our MIG welding cells. We used to use flux cored wire but it made a big mess, so we went with metal cored wire. But now the industry is trending toward solid wire, which we’re already using, with a copper coating, on some smaller stuff we weld.”
One of the features Folkers likes about the Lincoln welding equipment is the software.
“For two years now, I’ve had all the Lincoln machines hooked up to the Internet and through a cloud program from Lincoln I’ve watched how welders are working with the Lincoln machines. It’s a great way to monitor our performance and also to justify new investments. For example, to justify the costs of the new positioners we purchased, I used the cloud software and could see that with our best welders, they were pouring wire only 30 per cent of the time and when we monitored it, we saw that was because the remainder of the time was spent handling the part, preheating it, cleaning it, flipping it and rotating it and so the positioners were one solution to help us reduce that set up time for our welders.”
Asked why Weldco-Beales selected Lincoln welding equipment, Folkers says in addition to the technology, he liked the service.
“The rep from Lincoln, Scott Stanley, is always available to assist us when issues arise.”
Setting up for robotic welding
When Weldco-Beales’ Edmonton operation installed robotic welding cells, the company recognized the production efficiencies it could achieve but didn’t recognize fully what it would entail to operate the technology, says Stoesz.
“The biggest thing we’ve learned is what to put on the robot and how to put it on properly. We’ve learned to look at what you need to do upstream, for example, specific fixtures required for handling parts on robots. We also learned that our accuracy has to be much better with things such as fittings and product tolerances. You can’t have large gaps for welding because you have to be within a certain parameter for the robot to work consistently.”
For instance, it had to outsource laser cutting of its metal plates used to weld components in the robotic welding cell because of the required accuracy.
“The part has to be very straight through the entire length and our plasma system doesn’t allows us to achieve the accuracy we need; laser cutting is more accurate. We’re looking at our options and thinking that a high definition plasma cutter may be able to do the work; we just have to make sure we have a system that can provide the accuracy the robot needs to weld consistently.”
The Edmonton plant’s newest Lincoln robotic welding system is 30 m (100 ft) long and consists of two welding cells. It’s dedicated to welding 12 m (40 ft) boom cranes.
“It can weld on either side of the cell, but what’s unique is that two robot arms travel on a track, allowing the unit to weld two seams at once to avoid distortion,” explains Stoesz.
While the slowdown in the oil and gas industry has had an impact on Weldco-Beales’ operations in Western Canada, the company continues to look for ways to improve manufacturing efficiencies and to grow. At the Langley facility, Folkers says plans are underway to upgrade nesting software, and it’s also looking at future purchases of a plate machine to cut and drill holes, and robotics.
“Robotics is definitely the next thing we’ll get into here, says Cam Gillespie, machine shop foreman. “Our Edmonton plant has five robots for robotic welding, which has reduced manual labour. The technology is being analyzed and we know it’s the way to go once business picks up.” SMT