Behlen - Brandon, Manitoba
Behlen Industries LP was established in 1969 in Brandon, Manitoba and is Canada’s largest manufacturer of steel building systems. Behlen was the first North American steel building manufacturer registered to ISO 9001. Plant facility: 214,000 sq. ft. and around 300 employees. Today, Behlen sells steel structures including industrial, commercial, recreational and institutional facilities, which are manufactured in our Brandon location and shipped to construction sites around the globe. We started looking at robotics to reduce the large amount of time required for fitting and welding our products. After assembling the main components together, we then took the frame to another station where all secondary members were added (clips, stiffeners, gussets, etc.). Also, a lot of time was spent finishing welds. We wanted to automate this part of the process to get the biggest bang for the buck. One of the main challenges we are facing is that we don’t actually fabricate standard prismatic shapes but custom tapered members. The idea is to go with minimum weight, which leads to minimum cost and therefore the most optimized solution for our customers. After reviewing different options, we selected AGT Robotics as our partner to integrate a flexible robotic welding system. Using top of the line components, AGT Robotics delivered a fully integrated solution, ensuring proper communication between the different components and good technical support. We started looking at robotics 4 years ago. One of our problems came from the modeling software because most of popular softwares (Tekla, SDS/2) don’t manage tapered beams. We then started to go to 3D modeling knowing the path we wanted to take. We spent 2 years developing this software. Then we started discussion with AGT. They gave us a bit of a reality check: You can’t weld everything. Seam finding through the use of Touch sensing determines the position of the frame inside our cell. Therefore, the system can compensate for manual fitting, which is somewhat imprecise. Programming is also a big challenge for unique parts. Although programming times have gone down a lot, at one point we were still taking 20 to 45 minutes to program every single part, so obtaining financial benefits on “one off” was difficult to achieve. We have recently adopted Cortex for auto-programming. Making sure we are putting all the weld information in our models, we are now capable of batch processing several parts overnight. The next morning a report is generated and confirms the number of parts programmed and the percentage of items to be welded by the system. For example, out of 40 frames programmed, 24 may be fully welded and 16 may require a few minor touch-ups. This allows us to make sure we have enough parts to fit the robot and helps us schedule production. The results are quite positive. As an example, a frame that used to take 4 hours to weld manually, now takes less than 1 hour of machine-time. Our internal study gives a result of 4 to 1 productivity gain on welding. We can process small batches. Today, we are able to handle “one offs”. Even a quantity of one part can be efficiently and economically processed with the equipment. Above all, we have flexibility. First of all we can do our tapered members. We also have access to 3 programming modes (Teach pendant, Offline and Auto-programming) It is actually possible to take that cell and just weld a variety of other parts (with various types of shapes). Behlen Industries recently had a contract for a large number of assemblies and we could use the system for this contract, therefore maximizing the use of the robot. So it is not only for tapered members, but it can weld any other configurations as well . So overall, a very successful launch for us.