A leading mechanical excavator manufacturer has installed a new ABB automated welding facility for the cab assembly of one of its new generation products, which are designed for even harder work, increased productivity and greater comfort.

To reach production targets for the new excavator, the manufacturer required an automated welding line that could weld a cab measuring 1.9m x 1.9m x 1.9m, every 18 minutes, with a target of over 50 cabs per day. The manufacturer had a requirement for a streamlined welding operation giving speed, efficiency and productivity. On inviting several companies to tender, the manufacturer awarded the prestigious contract to ABB, which was able to offer a combination of some of the most advanced robotics in the world today, past experience of working on similar projects, and the ability to achieve the tight timescale for commissioning. 
The ABB welding line, comprising four robots configured in three welding cells, operates on a two-shift system, 18 hours a day. Cells one and two, using the ABB IRB 2400L arc welding robots, weld the posts and sub-assembly panels of the cab. Cell three, using two larger IRB 4400L arc welding robots, is fully automated, including the loading and unloading of the workpiece, and welds together all the separate cab sections and completes the assembly in the 18-minute welding cycle. The cell has been designed to accommodate workpieces, with a weight of up to four tonnes, through 360º in two planes and is currently used to weld the huge frame of the excavator’s cab.

The customer’s senior manufacturing engineer comments: “Our new robot welding systems are modelled on the automotive industry’s one-piece-flow production system. The beauty of one-piece-flow is that inventory is kept to a minimum which in turn results in optimised manufacturing efficiency. For this reason the ABB system has to be unfailingly reliable so we never have any unplanned downtime where work in progress could stack-up.”

The ABB robots work in conjunction with the ABB Arcitec II welding power source. A fully integrated digital communication between the power source and the robot controller guarantees a streamlined and rapid welding process with closed-loop control. The entire welding process is handled from the robot teach pendant, giving the manufacturer complete control. The system s the quick and easy setting of welding parameters for short, spray, pulsed and high speed arc welding and includes a facility to individually tune all welding parameters in process. The system also includes two of ABB’s advanced welding control systems – SmarTac, a joint finding tool and Advanced Welding Control, which allows path correction in real time.

Chris Huckle, Project Manager at ABB says: “The robotic welding system installed at the customer’s site allows all weld parameters to be set and this means increased accuracy. Compared with manual welding, wire and power settings can be optimised which means less heat thus giving minimal distortion and less wire consumed. Together this offers the customer less consumable and running costs with significantly less post-weld treatment of the workpiece.”

The customer’s senior manufacturing engineer continues: “One of the arts of welding with a robotic system is mastering the programming. The introduction of the welding robots and their associated programming did mean a learning curve for our operators so ABB provided a five-day training course tailored to our needs. Our operators are all now extremely confident programmers but ABB provides essential back-up if we should ever encounter a problem.”

He adds: “We are very pleased with the way the ABB robotic welding system is performing for us. It provides consistency and this is very important – manual welding brings with it variations in quality and the up-time of a robot is more predictable than a person. We also save on wire and gas because the robot always uses the exact amount required – a person will always over-weld.”

In fact, the customer reports that the ABB welding system is performing over and above expectations and is responsible for welding 97 per cent of the cab as it gives a quality and consistent weld.

Remarking on the project overall, the customer’s spokesman comments: “ABB managed the welding system project like clockwork, from installation through to commissioning. The whole project was designed and implemented on a very tight timescale and ABB saw it through seamlessly, and, importantly, stuck to the original brief – everything slotted in to place.”


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