Robotics keeps Ohio manufacturer ahead of the curve

Robotic welding keeps Ohio manufacturer competitive and profitable in tight economic times.

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Manufacturer G&W Products has found itself well positioned to weather the current economic storm, thanks to recent expansions in technology that increased capabilities while maximizing productivity. For the last five years, Lincoln Electric Automation has been a key partner in contributing to this effort.

Despite the worldwide slowdown in manufacturing activity, the Fairfield, Ohio-based company is on track to achieve year-over-year growth between 2008 and 2009. Automated welding plays a big role in the company’s growth plan, says CEO Gary Johns.

“There is no question robotic integration has allowed G&W to be more competitive in the marketplace,” Johns notes. “It has allowed us to swiftly complete medium-to-large-volume welding work. It also has allowed us to realize significant gains in the consistency and quality of overall productivity. Automation and other initiatives have allowed G&W’s business to grow approximately 35% over the last three years while maintaining nearly the same number of employees.”

G&W, which employs 120 workers on three shifts, offers a full range of fabrication services for such industries as material handling, military hardware, retail displays, power distribution and construction equipment.

The company produces metal stampings and fabricated metal parts to customer prints and specifications. Its engineering department also works closely with customers to turn concepts into manufactured parts, and assemblies.

In addition to MIG, TIG and spot welding, G&W provides a full range of manufacturing capabilities, including laser cutting, stamping, metal forming, tool and die manufacturing, and even powder coating. This gives customers a total solution of value-added production options in a competitive marketplace. These services take the concept of traditional job shop operations to a higher level.

In the past four years, the use of robotic welding systems has become firmly integrated into the company’s list of well-established capabilities. At G&W Products, automation is not just a passing fancy; it’s now an important part of the company’s production process and a strong contributor to its competitive bottom line.

“There are many jobs we have quoted that are ideally suited for robotic welding and often it is an advantage when we are competing with companies without this capability,” explains the company’s vice president of sales, Randy Sagraves. “More importantly, this technology has fit in well with our value-added operations. As customers come to us for welding requirements, they are introduced to many other areas that can add value to their purchase. Evidence to our success with robotic welding is introduction of four additional Lincoln systems in the past two years.”

Ahead of the curve

G&W Products offers its customers more than 2,500 available welding hours each week in MIG, TIG and spot welding in both stationary and portable environments. Five Lincoln Electric robotic welding systems help the company keep pace with higher volume MIG welding demands, particularly in light of the well-documented shortage of skilled welders in the United States.

Despite the worldwide slowdown in manufacturing activity, the Fairfield, Ohio-based company is on track to achieve year-over-year growth between 2008 and 2009.

Reports from the American Welding Society (AWS) say this shortage, combined with the drive for higher productivity and reduced costs, will continue to boost the popularity of automated welding systems on shop floors. In fact, the market for welding robots is growing at a higher rate than any other industrial market. The industrial sector, as a whole, boasts sales of more than 15,000 robots a year, including welding robots. A report released in June 2008 from the International Federation of Robotics notes the supply of robotic welding systems in use in both North and South America increased 42% over the previous year.

That’s not to say manual welding performed by the G&W’s highly skilled team of 20 welders doesn’t have its place in the company’s production process. The size of a job plays a determining role, allowing the company to employ the substantial skills of its manual welding team more efficiently — where they are most needed.

“Most items we are welding robotically can be manually welded, as well. The factors driving us to robotic welding are related to cost and capacity, rather than capability,” Sagraves says. “Volume is the most important variable in determining a fit for robotics. With some parts, we make several hundred pieces of a particular item each month, so it makes sense to robotically weld it. This allows us to be cost effective by spreading the cost of the equipment and the fixturing over the cost of the job and while involving our highly skilled welders with jobs of varying volumes or items that are too large or complex for the robotic cells.”

Integrated system

The robotic welding area at G&W features three System 50HP Dual Headstock Robot Cells, a System RCT TurnTable Robot Cell and a System 40 TurnTable Robot Cell, all from Lincoln Electric Automation. The company produces more than 20,000 parts on its robotic systems each month, some of which can be welded six times faster than they could be welded manually.

“Our robotic line handles MIG welding of aluminum parts, high-tensile-strength steel and weldment geometries that require creative fixturing,” says Doug Keehn, G&W’s director of advanced manufacturing. “Once the fixture is proven out and the programming is completed to meet these challenges, the production and quality are quite consistent.”

Pre-engineered, the System 50HP units are dual-headstock workstations designed for medium-sized parts that can be welded using the flexibility of reorientation — something that fits well with G&W customers’ varied parts orders, which can include structural, plate, tubing, sheet metal extrusions and even special shapes.

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