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News - 05 March, 2018

The steel industry is about to change completely


Voortman Steel Machinery’s pride, also known as ’The Fabricator’, will be taken into production this autumn. A fully automated assemble and welding system that has never been shown before. The market is ready and competition is watching curiously. And the team behind this sensational development? Although they feel proud, they remain down-to-earth.

The Fabricator has caused some considerable brain-racking, but in the end it was all worth it. Govert Verboom, Test Engineer R&D at Voortman Steel Machinery: “You invent something, that becomes reality in this machine. When it is all in process and working out like planned, well, that’s mighty good to see”.

IT ALL STARTS WITH AN IDEA

The idea for “The Fabricator” arose in 2010. When it comes to preprocessing, a major part is already automated: drilling, cutting, sawing. “This only takes a few men, the rest is done by machines”, Mark Voortman explains. “But when it comes to assembling and welding of the materials: that part is truly labor-intensive. It can easily take 50 to 80 men, while at the same time there is a great shortage of workforce willing to do this type of work.”

CHANGE THE WORLD

The problem was clear, but how did that result in “The Fabricator”? Mark Voortman’s explanation is simple: “You put together a few of your best men with their own specialties. You give them your trust and the time they need to come up with something new. Something that can change the world. And they will stun you with their solution.”

THE SPECIALISTS

A lot of people within the Voortman Steel Group are involved in “The Fabricator” project. Writing this article we talked to 5 of them:

  • Erik Baan Detailing Engineer at VSC
  • Peter Lanting Software Engineer at VSM
  • Arie Riezebos Software Lead Engineer at VSM
  • Martijn de Roo Software Engineer at VSM
  • Govert Verboom Test Engineer R& D at VSM

Five men, each having their own specialty, respecting each other and each other’s professions. “Of course you are free to have an opinion and to criticize each other. But at the end of the day, it is your own discipline and you are the one to decide on the approach”, Mark argues. The good atmosphere within the team shows when all five are gathered around the table. “But if necessary, we can also be very clear to each other,” Govert states. The others agree with nodding and smiling faces.

TESTING AND TESTING AGAIN

The idea that started in 2010, became reality in 2011. “The Fabricator” as we know it, started off with a lot of drawing and calculating. Arie was involved from the very first beginning. “It all started with some rough sketching, the development of the software components and eventually we could start testing. Will the ideas you had in mind work in practice? A substantial part appeared to be working accurately, but some things did not. “As a human being, one can observe and improvise. A robot doesn’t have this ability, it needs the correct input all the time. This will take time, but I am convinced it can be done.”

Martijn is the Benjamin of this team. Right after finishing his education, he started at Voortman Steel Machinery and became a fulltime member of “The Fabricator team. “I was among other things occupied with predictions,. How will the machine react? How can we prevent a crash inside it? How do we realize two processes at the same time without the robots touching each other? For me ‘the making of’ “The Fabricator” is a great challenge.”