Gullco's automated welding carriage speeds job setups

By Lynn Stanley

Above: Operator employs MOGGY Programmable Fillet Welding automation for ship hull application.

Tool-less design of re-engineered automated welding carriage speeds job setups, delivery schedules

October 2018 - Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle said “Quality is not an act, it is a habit.” The practice has anchored 64-year-old Gullco International and kept it from drifting off course in the face of market fluctuations, technology disruptions and the growing gap in the availability of skilled labor.

The North American supplier of welding, cutting and beveling automation has also rebuffed the temptation to outsource by keeping its focus trained on its niche market space.

“We‘ve resisted the throw-away product mentality,” says Gullco Marketing Manager Nick Drake. “It’s easy to see the impact that low-quality production has had on China and its suppliers. Despite the higher cost of manufacturing [in North America], we have continued to build quality into our machines.”

Founded by Drake’s grandfather, Mike Harris, the Newmarket, Ontario-based company supports the shipbuilding, bridge construction, power generation and tank fabrication markets with its KAT, MOGGY and KBM series welding carriages and KATBAK products.

FFJ 1018 welding image1

Gullco re-engineered its KAT 300 welding automation carriage to give fabricators a smaller, lighter tool-less design that simplifies setup and adjustment.

“Technology can help you quantify your downtime,” according to Drake. “The knowledge gleaned from that data quickly makes buying lesser quality equipment unacceptable just because it’s cheaper.”

Several trends are making automation ever more relevant while strengthening Gullco’s foothold.

Trend watching

“An aging labor force is expected to create a projected skills gap of 300,000 welders by 2020,” Drake notes. “Automation makes it easier for less-skilled workers to perform precise welds. But it’s a two-sided problem. There are no career jobs anymore due in part to larger companies downsizing. Younger people entering the industry don’t want to do dangerous jobs. Millennials are looking for flexible work hours.”

Gullco, he says, has a presence in four different time zones including Australia. Its hours are fluid. “It’s not 9 to 5 anymore. But for welders, the job requires you to be present on site. It doesn’t mesh with a flexible work schedule. That said, I believe welding will experience a resurgence because the jobs that pay well are the ones that typically survive.”

Reshoring is another trend that helps to boost the adoption of automation. In 2017, the number of U.S. manufacturing jobs created through reshoring or foreign direct investment (FDI) grew to more than 171,000.

The Reshoring Initiative reported that this statistic, along with an additional 67,000 in revisions to the years 2010 through 2016, brings the total number of manufacturing jobs brought to the U.S. from offshore to over 576,000.

The Kildeer, Illinois-based advocacy group believes the increases were largely based on anticipation of greater U.S. competitiveness due to expected corporate tax and regulatory cuts following the 2016 election. Surveyed companies report that automation played an important factor in their decision to reshore or reinvest.

“We recognized a strong sense of optimism at Fabtech 2017,” Drake says. “People were abuzz over the election, the pro-manufacturing stance and the pending influx of business. Since then, we’ve observed a positive trickledown effect in the consumption of automated welding products in industries like oil and gas, where you have railcars, trucks and other transportation modes involved in moving oil.

“We’ve also seen increases in the Navy in terms of repairing existing ships and building new ones,” he notes. “Our company was born on automating the welding process for shipbuilding.”

Gullco’s leadership also acknowledges the growing need for industry to embrace technological breakthroughs, although the adoption of the latest technology can be a long, slow process.

FFJ 1018 welding image2

This KAT 200 welding oscillator is used to build a railcar.

The age of YouTube

“You can’t hide from it. Information is more readily available than ever before,” says Drake. “Whether you are part of a good-size company or a small guy, anyone can look stuff up on YouTube and teach themselves how to do things.”

In 2014 Gullco took its own advice by implementing enterprise resource planning software to connect its facilities and processes. The OEM took advantage of a government subsidy to offset 30 percent of its costs and has since completed the rollout at its three factories.

If maturing businesses want to compete, they will have to tie into technology and automation, asserts Drake. “We’ve streamlined our supply chain. We can monitor our stock levels in real time. Our managers at headquarters can see what is happening at our other locations. We’ve reduced manufacturing time and our delivery times have shortened because our refined processes allow us to ship faster. In some cases our deliveries have been cut by as much as a week.”

In addition to these upgrades, Gullco recently re-engineered its KAT welding automation carriage. The equipment is smaller and lighter yet more robust. A tool-less design simplifies setup and adjustment. Self-aligning wheels, dynamic dovetail racking and a semi-rigid track combine for greater versatility.

“The more time you spend on setup, the less time you spend on welding,” says Drake.

Technology improvements help Gullco respond to customers faster. Controlling quality also contributes to quicker response times. “We make as many of our internal components as possible,” Drake explains. “We design them to last. If we can’t make a component, we source as close to our facility as we can.”

Face to face

With the push to buy North American-sourced materials and products, Drake believes the presence of international suppliers in the production chain will dwindle.

It’s no secret that Gullco is “old school” when it comes to quality and customer service. “I’m a millennial,” Drake acknowledges, but I still want to talk to customers face to face, to find out who they are and what they need.”

A look at Drake’s travel log bears that notion out. “After flying what is the equivalent of going to the moon and back and equal to 40 times around the Earth, I have met many friends, in many countries,” he says.

Traveling more than 100 days a year, “I have eaten food I can’t pronounce in places I can’t pronounce. I have been from the north of Russian to the south of Chile and back again. All the hours in planes and airports and hotels and restaurants is worth it when you know you are doing your part in bringing a better product and a better quality of life to people around the world.” FFJ



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