Why so many development, testing and optimization had to be done? Arie can be clear about that: “Welding robots normally work in series. For example, normally you weld 10 times the same trailer, make a small adjustment and then you start the next series. “The Fabricator” is able to connect unique products piece by piece.” “In addition, “The Fabricator” takes over human action, which can cause some physical problems,” Peter complements. “Take the example of a small profile with a plate in the middle: that is hard to reach by hand, but even harder when working with a robot. All these kinds of problems need to be solved. But until now, we succeeded every time.”
Peter, being a Software Engineer, was added especially to the team by Voortman Steel Machinery. “I didn’t know much about welding, but thanks to Govert I’m improving,” he claims. Govert is the technical man of the team. When something is dysfunctional, it is his job to inform the Software Engineers correctly. Govert: “In that case, you cannot use a lot of technical terms. You try to explain the problem as clearly as possible, so that Peter (in this case) is able to solve it from his expertise.”
“The Fabricator” is an impressive machine to see, made out of a base frame, three welding robots and one handling robot. The overhead crane places the steel beam into the so-called profile rotators, which are able to rotate the beam 270°. A shuttle delivers the plates to the robots, which will measure the profile before welding the plates together. To do so “The Fabricator” needs a really smart software system. And an extremely precise preparation. “The CAD-system as we know it cannot provide enough information. In our experience, 80 percent of CAD’s welding information is correct, and 20 percent is not complete, or even incorrect. With manual welding, we do not use this CAD information directly. Therefore, it does not influence the production process. However, “The Fabricator” will stop immediately if the information is incomplete”, Mark explains. Voortman Steel Machinery is developing a platform (BIMReview) together with an English company, that will be able to import the information from the CAD system and at the same time make sure it is 100 percent complete and correct.
Erik joined the team recently. “I work at Voortman Steel Construction and this autumn we will move “The Fabricator” from the Experience Center to our own factory. There and then “The Fabricator” will be taken into actual production. In fact we are the first real customer to work with this machine.” So this autumn “The Fabricator” will turn from show-model into reality. Govert: “The significant difference is that currently, we deploythe machine only in cases when we think it will function. But then it should be able to operate in all circumstances. And if it doesn’t work as planned? Then we will optimize it, to make sure it will work next time”.
The team expects to sell one or two “Fabricators” next year. “By delivering “The Fabricator”, we also offer a raining and keep in touch for after-sales service. It will completely change the way of working for our customers, therefore it takes knowledge and experience. We will conduct research in the customer’s chain to make sure the information that will be put into “The Fabricator” is as good and complete as possible”, Peter explains. It is not yet certain which company will be the first to own an original “Fabricator” next to Voortman Steel Construction, although there are some interested parties. “The first piece will not be shipped to Amerika or Russia for example, that’s for sure. To offer the proper service, we want to place “The Fabricator” close to our home base.”
A while ago, during a demo-day in the Experience Center, “The Fabricator” was started up especially for our attending customers. “You could feel the enthusiasm, it felt great”, Peter remembers. “Our main business at this moment is to check what is not working properly. Therefore it is good to see the amazement about the abilities of this machine and to hear those positive remarks; it was a great experience.” Erik adds: “With “The Fabricator” we face the beginning of a big change in steel construction. It’s manifesting everywhere, and that makes it extra special.”
Mark: “When you put the right people together and they create chemistry, they will be able to perform above expectation. The achievements will be bigger than you could ever imagine. That is what is happening with “The Fabricator” right now. And that makes me extremely proud of all our people.”