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Safety Technologies Inc.: Robotic Welding Speeds Up Manufacturing of Mobile Road Safety Devices

Jim Lorincz
By Jim Lorincz Contributing Editor, SME Media
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Chuck Fanslow (left), founder of Safety Technologies, and his son Jared (right), chose the IRB 1660ID robot from ABB Robotics to automate welding of the AutoFlagger automated flagger assistance signs for work zone traffic control.

We have all encountered delays in traffic due to road work being done. In the northern climates to fix potholes left over from winter; and everywhere where repair and maintenance and even major re-engineering of roads, highways and bridges are required. Recognizing that these work zones are potentially hazardous to workers and travelers alike, Chuck Fanslow founded Safety Technologies Inc. (Red Wing, MN) in 1994 to manufacture the AutoFlagger automated flagger assistance signs for work zone traffic control, according to his son, Jared Fanslow, who is in charge of product development.

“We are a small business so we know how important any improvement in productivity can be. For example, our automated flagger assistance signs and the trailers that deliver them to work zones depend on welding to provide sturdy construction that can weather the most rugged outdoor environments that are potentially dangerous to construction road crews and the traveling public,” Jared said. “So when we needed a way to increase productivity, improve product quality and free up time to develop other products, we looked into automating our welding processes,” he said.

AutoFlagger traffic control assistance devices are welded fabrications with their own self-contained power and solar power units. The basic components of the AutoFlagger system include a solar cell, a trailer with an adjustable hitch that can be combined for a single tow, a tool box with control panel, and an adjustable mast that can be raised up three more feet at the jobsite.

Introduction To Robotic Welding

Available in two models, the AutoFlagger 76-X with stop sign and the AutoFlagger 54 with traffic signal, the devices had been fabricated with manual welding. “We looked at robotic welding at a FABTECH trade show as a way to increase our production of the AutoFlaggers as well as the substructures of the trailer decks that supported them.”

Working with its welding equipment supplier, Fronius, Safety Technologies updated to a welding system that would work with whatever robotic arm the company selected. “All you have to do is get the right interface for it,” said Jared. The company chose the IRB 1660ID robot from ABB Robotics after meeting with ABB representatives at the trade show. “We sent the welding system to ABB so that they could test everything right in their factory. When we got the whole process back we knew that it would work.”

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With the IRB 1660ID robot, Safety Technologies does 90% of the welding in its one cell, reducing time from three hours welding manually to 40 minutes.

The IRB 1660ID compact robot is designed for arc welding and machine tending, according to ABB. The robot’s integrated DressPack makes it easy to program and simulate predictable cable movements. In addition, the ABB says that the more compact footprint and minimized cable movement reduce maintenance cost by as much as 50% due to reduced wear and tear on the cables. The IRB1660ID’s compact, hollow wrist with Integrated DressPack is well-suited for applications requiring work in tight spaces such as arc welding and machine tending. The IRB 1660ID can handle payloads up to 6 kg and has a reach of 1.55 m.

Big Drop in Welding Times

Safety Technologies has one welding cell. “With the robot automation, I can do 90% of the welding with the robot, reducing time from three hours welding manually to 40 minutes,” said Jared. “I make special fixturing with a jig table with some jigs taking 20 minutes and others as much as a whole weekend.”

Programming of the robot is easy, according to Jared. The company has 40 different programs for its three different products, the two AutoFlaggers and the axle router which comprises ten different components. There are 30 different components that go into the trailers. At FABTECH, ABB demonstrated how the joystick works and how using the FlexPendant enables programming the robot with the hand-held device. Jared points to the FlexPendant’s easy touch screen, easy interface and joystick control as time savers for the welding process.

Fast, Agile and Reliable Solution

That was exactly the result that ABB was looking for when it introduced the IRB 1660ID. “Our aim from the beginning was to deliver a robot that offers superior and consistent quality in arc welding as well as a fast, agile, and reliable machine tending solution,” explained Dr. Hui Zhang, head of global product management for ABB Robotics.

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Jared makes special fixturing with a jig table, with some jigs taking 20 minutes and others taking as long as a whole weekend.

“This robot allows our customers to increase productivity, deliver better workpiece quality and reduce cycle times. As a direct result of close collaboration with our customers, the IRB 1660ID also includes a new generation of accurate, efficient and reliable motors,” added Zhang. “We spent a great deal of engineering effort making the robot as rigid as possible to better protect it, and to equip it for the confined spaces in which it is designed to operate.”

For Safety Technologies, volume and sales have increased since adopting the welding cell, said Jared. “We’re selling about a dozen a year to construction companies, contractors and govern-mental agencies and municipalities.” Jared credits the automated robotic welding for the sales increase due to Safety Technologies’ ability to meet deliveries promptly as well as developing its other products. “For a small company like ours, it was pretty daunting to get involved with robotic automation but it’s not as complicated as it might seem,” said Jared. “My advice is don’t be afraid of robots. They are a great investment.”

For more information from ABB Robotics, go to www.abb.com/robotics, or phone 248-391-9000.

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