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Welding

Work zone safety

By Rhonda Zatezalo

Above: Jared and Chuck Fanslow of Safety Technologies with their finished product, the Autoflagger 76-X

Father-son team develop product to prevent tragedy

October 2017 - In Red Wing, Minnesota, Safety Technologies President Chuck Fanslow and his son, Jared Fanslow, are helping keep road crews safer through American ingenuity and a commitment to lasting quality. Safety Technologies produces the AutoFlagger, a remote-controlled flagging device that helps direct traffic flow in work zones.

The idea for the product was conceived in 1994 after a 19-year-old flagger was struck and killed on the job. The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) asked Safety Technologies to design a solution. Within a year, the company had designed and built the first of two models. The trailer-mounted product adhered to the Federal Highway Administration regulation of a stop/slow system. When demand began outpacing the production abilities of their two-man shop, the Fanslows sought a robot and welding system that allowed for both automation and manual welding.

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Telescoping mast on the AutoFlagger 76-X, which is fabricated using the Fronius TPS/i welding machine.

The AutoFlagger is a rotating sign that indicates whether vehicles should stop or proceed with caution. A gate arm raises and lowers to reinforce the direction. A single operator, standing from a safe distance, controls everything. Once triggered, the sign relies on magnetic sensors to rotate and change.

Welding spatter is difficult to detect and remove. If left encased in the finished paint, metal spatter can wreak havoc with the AutoFlagger’s magnetic internal sensors. “It was maddening,” and potentially life threatening in service, says Chuck Fanslow.

The younger Fanslow began taking classes on robotics at a local college and attended industry trade shows with his father. The Fanslow’s spoke with several manufacturers of both robots and welding systems and scheduled a demonstration with Fronius USA LLC of the TPS/i welding machine. Knowing they would still need to perform manual welding, they were glad to learn Fronius offered both options in a single machine.

“When we first started looking at robotics, several manufacturers mentioned Fronius,” says Jared Fanslow. “Since we did not have a robot yet, we wanted something that could be integrated at a future date. Our initial demo was with a brand new unit and it exceeded our expectations. The manual welding with the TPSi model was exceptional, reliable and predictable. The integration with the robotic arm was seamless and the functionality between the two is flawless. I can go from manual welding to robotic in a matter of minutes.”

Setting parameters

Not only could the TPS/i switch easily between manual and robotic welding, it significantly reduced spatter, even during manual welding. The LSC Advanced feature of the TPS/i system keeps the arc length shorter for increased stability, deeper penetration and reduced heat input.

Within two hours of the demonstration, both Fanslow’s were comfortable setting parameters and using the machine to weld.

Both the Autoflagger 76-X and the Autoflagger 54 use a telescoping mast and a telescoping hitch for paired transport with one vehicle. The hitch receiver of the trailer is about 60 in. long and is welded at 4-in. intervals. “If I get spatter passing through the welds, it will interfere with the telescoping of the hitch and creates major problems,” says Jared Fanslow. “The cleanup inside the receiver is troublesome, considering it is 60 in. and has a 3.5 in.-by-3.5 in. opening.”

“Reducing spatter cleanup was an important factor in a new welding system.

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Welded bumper for nested trailer design.

Fronius’ LSC Advanced is a modified short-circuit process within the TPS/i platform. Producing high-quality weld seams with minimal spatter even when there is a high inductance in the welding circuit from long hose-packs or work cables.”

“One reason I like the Fronius LSC Advanced so much is because the root pass that I do has zero spatter traveling through to the other side,” Jared Fanslow continues. “I then cap the weld with the Pulse Multi Control (PMC) mode. The same holds true for the three-stage mast that lifts the sign head.”

The AutoFlagger models use both steel and aluminum in a variety of thicknesses from 18 gauge to 1-in.-thick plate, which requires many different types of welds per unit. With the new Fronius Jobmaster torch, parameters can be set and saved for a specific weld. This lets the user select the saved job as needed to perform more uniform welds.

“In manual function, I like the fact that I can quickly change weld parameters during a weld,” Jared Fanslow says. “I also love the Jobmaster torch. It is ergonomic and the light ‘whip’ of the hose makes maneuvering around a lot easier.

“The water-cooled torch consumable lifespan is beyond anything I have seen,” he continues. “I have pushed upwards of 200 lbs. of wire through a single tip. I change it at times to make myself feel good.”

Reducing rejects

Saving programs during robotic welding allows the Fanslow’s to make changes to any parameter as they go and see results in real time. “This greatly reduces rejects and rework,” says Jared Fanslow. He uses the manual welding option for larger workpieces, such as trailer decks.

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Fronius’ TPS/i partnered with an ABB robotic system in Safety Technologies’ Red Wing, Minnesota, shop.

“I can quickly change the weld settings from the torch when I transition from weld to weld, and if a parameter needs to be changed, I can change it at the torch.”

In addition to the convenience of switching jobs right on the torch, the touchscreen interface on the welder allows him to save jobs with names and dates he will understand when requested to perform the sequence again for a repeat order.

The quest for higher production was achieved through robotic welding with better quality welding, resulting in less weld spatter. Looking back after a year with the new system, the Fanslow’s couldn’t be happier. In fact, the company plans to add a second TPS/i soon.

Safety Technologies is building equipment that helps keep people safe. The quality and longevity of that equipment is key to its mission. And for this father-and-son team, knowing the product lives up to their spatter-free standards and warranty helps them sleep better at night.

“Before, we’d spend 45 minutes cleaning up welds with a scraper and wire brush. Then, when the trailer came back from the paint shop, there—right in the middle of everything—would be this speck of spatter,” says Chuck Fanslow. “Now we get done welding, and there’s almost no spatter. What spatter there is can almost be wiped off with a rag.” FFJ

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