How a Small Company Future-Proofed Its Industrial Production

Hampered by aging robotics and facing production challenges, a small company in Germany overcame its obstacles with newer, more-advanced technology.

AWS Publications | January 13, 2022 | Tech and Industries
Welding Digest ►  How a Small Company Future-Proofed Its Industrial Production

Hampered by aging robotics and facing production challenges, a small company in Germany overcame its obstacles with newer, more-advanced technology.

With 35 years of experience welding aluminum components, ALTEC Aluminum-Technik GmbH & Co. KGaA, Mayen, Germany, has a diverse portfolio of products, ranging from rolling scaffolds, facade scaffolds, and flat roof fall protection systems to complete docking systems for aviation applications and special solutions. Up to 95% of the materials processed and welded at ALTEC are aluminum. The company and its 50-person workforce are qualified to EN 1090-1, Requirements for conformity assessment for structural components, and EN 1090-3, Technical requirements for the execution of aluminum structures.

 

Lead photo: In ALTEC’s warehouse, aluminum gleams. (Credit: Fronius International GmbH.)

 

To meet customers’ expectations, ALTEC has countered its relatively small size by relying on future-oriented processes and production technology, including computer-aided design (CAD) workstations, fully automated robotic welding cells, and advanced welding process technology, according to Siegfried Berenz, a master metalworker and international welding specialist who has been ALTEC’s plant manager since 2019.

As part of ALTEC’s trend toward automation, a specific aluminum framework part (AlSi1, 2 mm) that it requires in large quantities was to be transferred from manual production to robotic welding. ALTEC desired high welding speeds to gain a competitive advantage and the greatest possible process reliability.

 

Incorporation of New Welding Technology

ALTEC was already familiar with Fronius, a specialist in light-gauge sheet and aluminum applications located in Pettenbach, Austria, having used Fronius’s CMT (Cold Metal Transfer) process and TPS 320i high-tech welding system platform since 2018.

After 25 years of automated production, however, other areas of ALTEC’s robotic welding technology were also aging. In the case of the framework part in question, the advantages of robotic welding had been completely lost. Weld joint appearances no longer met its standards. But the component did not have to be produced in sufficiently high quantities to make investing in a modern robotic system economically viable. Impressed by his positive experiences with the CMT process, Berenz again turned to Fronius.

 

Further Challenges in ALTEC’s Production Operation

A new plant would have to be compatible with existing robotic technology and have the highest possible process reliability. The biggest challenge was welding in a single operation without moving the workpiece. Due to the round style and semi-circular preparation of the rung, the unmanipulated welding process ran through the uphill joint, flat position, and downhill joints in a single step.

At the same time, a gap of 2 mm was present in the section of the flat position due to the preparation. Thus, especially high ability to close root openings had to be ensured. To clearly differentiate itself from the competition in the framework structures sector, ALTEC’s welding process would have to be accompanied by the best-possible weld joint appearances.

 

Change to PMC Ripple Drive

Extensive welding tests at Fronius’s applications engineering center, Neuhof-Dorfborn, Germany, led to the conclusion that the company’s PMC Ripple Drive welding process variant was the most suitable solution to ALTEC’s challenges.

Photo 2PMC Ripple Drive makes it possible. (Credit: Fronius International GmbH.)

 

With Ripple Drive, defined pause times are set between a number of pulses determined by the welder, during which the arc is completely switched off. This gives the weld pool time to cool, allowing for welding to be conducted in all positions. The ability to close root openings of up to 2 mm is guaranteed. The Ripple Drive generates a weld rippling effect that matches the elegance of gas tungsten arc welding.

The Pulse Multi Control (PMC) functions also enable the number, shape, and size of the individual welding spots to be determined by precisely defining the pulse currents. The characteristics of the gas-tungsten-arc-welding-like joint pattern can also be varied.

Then, the new TPS 320i digital high-tech welding system platform and the Fronius Robacta Drive push-pull welding torch needed for Ripple Drive were combined with ALTEC’s aging, but still fully functional, robot technology. The large number of fieldbus protocols (modern interfaces) supported by Fronius, as well as the option to connect the TPS 320i by means of conventional digital or analog interface technology, means TPS/i is compatible with almost any robot. Minimal installation time is needed to integrate the power source into the robot system.

Photo 3-1The CMT process and PMC Ripple Drive pulse welding process variant enable ALTEC to weld aluminum thin sheet applications without difficulty. (Credit: Fronius International GmbH.)

 

Berenz says the Fronius has reduced ALTEC’S welding times by “roughly 20%,” partly because the welding robot no longer has to move from the center of the weld joint in both directions.

“By using Ripple Drive, it has been possible for the first time for the robot to weld from left to right in one go, through the challenging vertical-up and vertical-down positions,” Berenz said. “At the same time, weld seam defects have become such a rarity that the rework we used to have to do has now been almost entirely eliminated.”

Part of this is due to the high-precision wire feed, whereby every component in the welding system, from the wire drum to the contact tip, is perfectly matched to one another. This gives the extremely soft AlSi 5 wire the necessary taut wire feed over the required 7 m. Downtimes have become rare.

“The visual appearance of the weldments has also improved significantly, making subsequent cleaning almost superfluous,” Berenz said. “The high process stability of the Fronius welding system has thoroughly impressed us.”

 

This article was submitted by Fronius.