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Welding

Riding shotgun

By Lynn Stanley

Above: KAT welding carriage provides controlled, repeatable welds for overhead work.

Automation technology takes over the wheel to boost welding productivity and quality

September 2017 - Apple Pay, a Do Not Disturb while driving screen, and a new voice and “brain” for Siri are just some of the improvements that mobile device users anticipate this fall with the release of a major software update. Increasingly, consumers covet gadgets that can take a variety of tasks off their hands. When it comes to introducing the welding industry to technology advances like automation, the reception is somewhat less enthusiastic.

“Manufacturing technology is not looked at in the same positive light as product launches from Apple—for several reasons,” affirms Nick Drake, marketing manager for Gullco International. “In the field, automation is perceived as taking away a job instead of adding value, improving productivity and quality.”

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Gullco KAT Oscillator welding carriage.

Heavy regulation of established welding procedures, and the high cost of making changes to those practices, sometimes hinders manufacturers from modernization. There is also the capital equipment costs associated with buying new equipment. As a result, many fabricators still “try to get by with manual welding operations.”

A 63-year-old, Newmarket, Ontario-based company, Gullco has navigated these and other obstacles to forge a niche as a North American supplier of welding, cutting and beveling automation. Founded by Drake’s grandfather, Mike Harris, Gullco primarily supports the shipbuilding, bridge construction, power generation and tank fabrication markets with its KAT, KAT II, KBM series welding carriages and KATBAK products.

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“We don’t sell welding equipment but rather the automation component that is integrated into welding equipment produced by major OEMs,” Drake explains. “Our open architecture design means our carriages can be fitted to any manufacturer’s welding system. That’s been the intent of the company since its inception.”

Drake points to several trends that have helped spur Gullco’s growth. Following a decade of overproduction, 2008 saw government funding cease, capital equipment and infrastructure purchases slow down and work flow dwindle. “Companies tightened their belts as a hedge against the financial crisis that impacted the supply chain,” says Drake. “The modern manufacturing environment that emerged from the Great Recession dictated the need to produce less while increasing efficiency. This led to broader adoption of welding automation.”

An aging workforce and the lack of “young blood” to fill the pipeline have also prompted companies to turn to automated welding for higher throughput and lower costs. “It’s an option that is especially attractive for companies managing a large project that has fallen behind schedule,” says Drake, “or for customers who want to bid on a project but are concerned that a lack of skilled welders might cause the job to lag behind or go over budget.”

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Worker uses Gullco MOGGY trackless welding automation carriage to produce a fillet weld on a ship hull stiffener.

The supplier has 15 product lines that each support hundreds of models. “Our equipment is not inexpensive, but the payoff is technology that can maintain the precise parameters a customer requires and do it again and again, day after day,” Drake says. “We have eliminated the potential for human error and fatigue.”

The durability of the equipment has been field proven. Gullco has documented the performance of carriages installed in 1971 that “still operate eight hours a day.”

Drake credits the staying power of Gullco’s products to that of the company itself. “During the financial crisis of 2008, a lot of companies moved out of Canada and the U.S.,” he says. “We stuck to our guns and didn’t move our operations to China. We stayed true to our roots and built off of that to provide a high quality product.”

Easy to set up and easy to use, Gullco KAT products “take the welding gun out of the hands of the welder and put it in the equipment for high quality, faster welds.” The KAT weld oscillation carriage takes variables like speed and pattern out of an operator’s hand.   “The individuals monitoring the weld are just making sure that the carriage’s settings are producing the required weld,” says Drake. “It is a little like a craftsman that goes from using a hammer and nails to screws and an electric drill. This is like power tools for welders.”

Next generation

Gullco’s newest KAT carriage series has been re-engineered to eliminate the need for tool setup. The ergonomic design supports a faster, lighter, easier-to-use carriage without compromising performance. Union regulations sometimes limit the amount of weight an employee can lift or carry. As a result, equipment sometimes has to be disassembled. On the other hand, there is concern that “lightweighting can result in loss of durability,” says Drake. “The welding environment is very rugged. We didn’t want to sacrifice the dependability of the unit by shaving pounds off. Our task over the last three to four years has been to work closely with the product to eliminate as much weight as possible while maintaining performance. It can be used and abused and still run great.”

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Operator uses welding system equipped with Gullco’s Pipe KAT Automation Carriage on a pipe application in Israel.

In addition to creating next-generation carriages, Gullco’s investment in research and development is also aimed at attracting young people to the welding trade. Despite the success had by professional organizations and academia to improve the trade’s image, Drake feels there is still work to be done.

“My generation has veered away from this kind of career path,” he acknowledges. “In my region, I think lack of funding to promote the trade in schools is part of the problem. If it is not promoted to students at a young age, if your high school doesn’t have a program, then it’s likely you won’t be aware of it. You couldn’t take a welding class in my school or my district. It was a craft that had to be pursued through a trade or secondary school.”

Like a video game

Gullco is keeping pace with today’s technology-based culture by using automation to reinforce the idea that welding is no longer a dangerous, dirty, manual job. “Operating our welding automation can be a little like playing video games,” Drake says. “It also opens individuals’ eyes to the world of welding. Typically stick welding is the photo everyone sees, but it is just a fraction of the types of welding being done.”

Gullco will keep improving productivity with its products along with more efficient use of time and energy for different types of welds. Companies are spending cash on R&D to find methods to move the arc more efficiently.

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Gullco’s newest KAT carriage series has been reengineered to eliminate the need for tool setup.

“If you are performing weld oscillation on a vertical application like a tank seam, you are moving from the lowest to the highest point on the seam,” says Drake. “This conventional approach lowers weld deposition because upward movement slows the weld puddle. Currently, a vertical weld technology is being developed that will allow the operator to weld from the top down to achieve a faster weld deposition rate. The more weld you can deposit in a short amount of time, the better [for the] bottom line.”

As an industry, says Drake, “we need to look at improvements in manufacturing technology as a positive and not as a tool designed to threaten jobs. Jobs aren’t going away, they will just change.” FFJ

Sources

  • Gullco International
    Newmarket, Ontario
    phone: 905/953-4140
    www.gullco.com

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