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Welding

Electric jolt

By Gretchen Salois

Above: Quality Metalcraft outfitted its shop with seven robotic guns and 10 manual welding guns from Weldquip for its automotive jobs.

Shop unifies welding cells to take on growing electric automotive jobs

November 2017 - In October, General Motors Co. announced its plans to create a seismic shift from traditional internal combustion engines to electric vehicles. GM’s product development chief told investors that while “that future won’t happen overnight,” electric is the goal. In Livonia, Michigan, Quality Metalcraft is already hard at work welding together parts of other electric vehicles built by a wide range of automakers. In order to keep up quality and meet deadlines, Quality Metalcraft needed to streamline its welding cells. Multiple welding cells were equipped with different welding guns and tips. “We needed to standardize how we purchased weld guns and tips so we didn’t need to have so many different types of spare parts to match each gun,” says Aaron Bacon, welding engineer.

Bacon asked around and learned that American Weldquip Inc. offered reasonably priced weld guns and supplies. “I noticed in particular their new Heat Resistant Technology (HRT) tip,” Bacon recalls. The HRT outlasted the tips Quality Metalcraft used previously, “by a long shot.” Weldquip’s special alloy extended-life HRT tips cut down changing times.

“The industry average for changing a contact tip is five to 10 minutes,” says Weldquip President Howard Fisher. “When you’re switching tips in a high production environment four or more times a day, those minutes saved add up.”

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Quality Metalcraft found that switching to one kind of torch and tip for all manual welding stations saves time and avoids confusion.

Weldquip’s Robo-Quip robotic nozzle cleaning station is another convenient product customers find helpful. “You’ll find cleaning stations from other manufacturers but our design features keep maintenance and access in mind,” Fisher says.

After decades in the industry, Fisher says he’s learned what frustrates welders and what are helpful solutions. A self-adjusting nozzle clamping system allows switching from a different outside diameter nozzle to another without changing a v-block or making readjustments. Inlet air pressure gauges easily monitor air supply to the reamer and a modular valve manifold system makes it easy to service.

“I used to service welding equipment when I started in this industry 43 years ago, so I understand it has to be easy for a maintenance guy to get into and repair,” Fisher says. Robo-Quip’s pneumatic air lines are color coded, for instance. “The air lines are green, yellow, red or blue, providing a quick visual of the different operation parts —and it’s clear and easy to distinguish between the different functions.”

Another area causing frustration among welders is inadequate input air pressure at robotic nozzle reaming stations—a problem Weldquip addresses specifically. “We put an air gauge right on the side of the reamer so the user can quickly check for the required 80 lbs. of air pressure. The maintenance person does not have to look around and install another gauge to measure input air pressure at the reamer when there is an issue.”

Unified approach

Quality Metalcraft outfitted its shop with seven robotic guns and 10 manual welding guns for its automotive jobs. “We like the low-volume jobs,” Bacon says. “We’ve been welding for Chevy Bolt, the Volt, RHD Ford Mustang and other models—and because we’re changing from job to job more often, we’re constantly switching out tooling within the same cell. We needed a better way to move the process along.

“We weld a lot of sheet metal upper body structures as well as engine brackets,” he continues. “Changing out tooling is important as we switch between mild steel, aluminum, stainless steel and advanced high-strength steel.”

The shop works on traditional cars as well, welding aluminum for vehicles like the Cadillac CT6. “The CT6 requires a lot of aluminum welding and we needed easy access to welding guns and consumables so we’re always ready to go,” Bacon says.

Turnaround and improvisation are expected daily at Weldquip. “We [try to]  turn around orders on special products faster than anyone else in the industry—instead of weeks we’re talking about shipping within three days,” Fisher says.

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Examples of seams before the company installed Weldquip and after switching to Weldquip tooling.

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A customer comes to the torch manufacturer with a request for a special torch and Fisher says the project is usually signed off on in two days or less and shipped in 48 hours.

Instead of waiting two to six weeks for new welding equipment, Weldquip gets parts to Quality Metalcraft fast. “It’ll take three days or less [for equipment and supplies] to get to us and Weldquip will drive it up to us if they have to,” Bacon says.

Ongoing support

During the shopping process, Bacon says Weldquip’s attentive service locked in his decision to purchase from the torch maker. “Even if I give them a new weld design for a weld gun, by the end of the week they have something for us,” Bacon says. “They sell you the gun setup you need and keep a ‘master gun’ on hand so in the event you need replacement parts or want the same type of design, they can turn it over quickly.”

Weldquip receives calls from customers that know what they want as well as others not sure what might be the best fit. “We also call on prospective customers and you’d be surprised how many people respond by saying, ‘You know what, we do have a problem with XYZ equipment,’ and we’re able to provide the right solutions,” Fisher says.

Weldquip also prides itself on promoting “Made in the USA” for its equipment. “We manufacture about 95 percent of our products in our Sharon Center, Ohio, facility,” Fisher says. “Sourcing raw materials and performing the engineering and manufacturing within the United States allows us to remain flexible to our customer needs, offer faster turnaround times on specialty items, and we have greater control over the quality standards.”

Quality Metalcraft has two facilities, one dedicated to production and the other to prototype work. “A few years before a car comes out, we’ll have our robotic welders working on entire new bodies and frames,” Bacon explains. “The robotic welder simulates a production environment so the manufacturer can get an idea of what a weld schedule would be like.”

In addition to welding, Quality Metalcraft stamps and hems hoods for vehicles and also provides metal finishing. “We do a lot of things—our foundry allows us to pour special molds if we need to do a quick run,” Bacon says. “It’s really neat what we have going on. If it’s something metal, we try to get into it and Weldquip helps us keep on schedule.” FFJ

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