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Innovation That Bonds

Steinbeis experts work with a plant manufacturer on the development of individually produced tanks

Container and equipment requirements necessitate increasingly precise and adaptable production options, especially in the fields of food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, and chemicals. A particular problem faced by small and medium-sized companies is that the automation options for very small batch sizes, even to a batch size of one, are still very much in their infancy. This contrasts to welding robots used in serial production, without which fields such as the automotive industry would be unthinkable these days. This is where a welding handling system developed by Empl comes in. The machine maker has developed a device that is suited to an array of sheet thicknesses, container diameters, and frame lengths. The Mannheim-based Steinbeis Research Center for Applied Measuring Technology worked with the container and industrial equipment producer as part of “SME Innovative,” a funding program backed by the federal government. Aside from providing the Schwindegg (Bavaria) firm with expertise during the application process, the center gave hands-on support and coordinated the experts at Empl during the project.

The welding-handling system works with metal thicknesses of 1 – 25 mm, frame diameters of 750 – 4,000 mm and frame lengths of up to 2,000 mm. It can carry out a number of tasks. For a start, the system helps bend sheets into a frame. With classic production methods, bending radii have to be defined using templates, unlike the new system which determines the bending radius using automatic measurements. It also has roll arms to support metal sheets and improve safety. Using a workshop crane, finished frames can then be secured to a handling system for transporting to automatic welding equipment, where it can be fixed for welding. Until now, it required a great deal of effort from operators to undertake the dangerous process of transporting thin metal frames from the bending machine onto the automatic welding equipment. It was also difficult to place materials in exactly the right position.

The next step of the process involves using the handling system to add circumferential welding points to several frames or welding frames and bases. This involves exactly synchronizing the movement sequences between the handling system and the automatic welding equipment. The automatic welding device uses plasma taphole welding, and seams are tracked automatically using an integrated camera system. The project partners are learning as the project progresses until they succeed in developing a product that is ready to be commercialized. The next big step will be to launch bending radius measurement in the market, either by working with bending machine producers or by offering it as an add-on. The research and development project (UNISA) was financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research under a funding program called SME Innovative: Production Research (official ref. 02P15K650). The initiative is being overseen by the PTKA project sponsor (Karlsruhe).