automatic stitching and welding system

They are contemporaries, Mark Voortman, CEO Voortman Steel Group and Willem Reijrink, Managing director of Reijrink Staalconstructie. Competitors too in the steel construction industry, but above all business partners. The first Voortman machine that Reijrink put into operation (some 15 years ago) was delivered by Mark Voortman personally.

That punching and shearing machine still has a place in Reijrink's enormous production hall in Esbeek (The Netherlands) and is still active for around 16 hours a day. "Indestructible", Willem Reijrink qualifies the machine.

Today, with a fully automated production line and several plate, flat and angle processing machines from Voortman, Reijrink certainly has not limited itself anymore to a punching machine. "We are Voortman's showroom in the southern part of the Netherlands", Willem Reijrink laughs.

It is therefore not surprising that after the first Fabricator for its own use, Voortman installed the next automatic stitching and welding system at Reijrink. In addition, Reijrink also has the scoop of the first Fabricator integrated in a complete production line with multiple Voortman machines.

Working with and learning from each other

This is a pilot project both for Voortman and Reijrink. But one that creates a win-win effect for both companies. With the arrival of the Fabricator, a long-cherished wish of Reijrink to automate its full production process is fulfilled. The Fabricator is not a stand-alone machine, but the perfect final component of a fully automated production line, which enables Reijrink to take the next step towards a smart factory and an even more efficient production process.

For a company which produces 150 tons of steel every day, the Voortman Fabricator is a welcome addition: "We are fully committed to automation and the Fabricator is an extension of the machines we already have. Good welders and fitters are becoming increasingly difficult to find, so this is a necessary investment. In the future, we want to be among the top five most automated steel construction companies in the Netherlands. And with the Fabricator, we're taking the next step in that direction."

For Voortman, the cooperation with Reijrink is the perfect opportunity to test the Fabricator with real production, analyze data and further develop and optimize the machine. At the moment, the Fabricator is suitable for the most common type of connections within steel fabrication. The goal is to use the collected data to expand the system possibilities and increase production capacity.
But this collaboration involves more than just the Fabricator. The machine is part of a bigger picture, with intra-logistics playing an important role.

That's why Voortman initiated a collaboration with Reijrink's engineering department a little year ago. By learning from each other and focusing on the right things, a strong foundation has been established for optimal production. Components suitable for the Fabricator, for instance, must be provided with the correct welding information and routed to the Fabricator prior to production start.
Once they arrive at the Fabricator, it is also important that the right parts are present. In addition to solid engineering and work preparation, the optimal convergence of multiple production lines is essential here.

Voortman's Henk-Jan together with Reijrink's engineer Rick

The Voortman Fabricator during production

The Voortman and Reijrink teams collaborating

A well-thought-out production line

Voortman developed a fully automated beam processing line, which we call Multi System Integration. This production line, specially designed for Reijrink, can handle the full capacity for their two production locations (Esbeek and Someren) and provides an automated and therefore optimized workflow.

Full profile lengths of up to 27m are automatically batched at the most optimal blasting distance by the Voortman Shot blaster’s infeed system. Then the batches are taken apart and profiles are automatically routed to be drilled, marked, cut, coped and with the Fabricator in place also to be welded.

The line is configured with four different material outfeed locations. Plates can be taken off directly after the shot blaster for further processing in Voortman plate processing machines. Profiles for more complex assemblies are transported to the manual production hall in Esbeek, where they are distributed to various welding stations. Profiles suitable for fully automatic welding are automatically tilted to allow the automatic magnetic crane to position them in the rotators of the Fabricator. At the end of the production line, profiles are picked up and loaded onto trucks for the production location in Someren.

This is how the fabricator operates

The Fabricator is equipped with our in-house developed VACAM operating system. In addition to being able to communicate with any system, our proprietary VACAM control provides for seamless integration into the Voortman production line. This has a huge advantage both for machine operators and work preparation. The integration within a MSI-system is just one of its great benefits. Equipped with Panasonic- and Stäubli-robots, the Fabricator guarantees a stable and accurate welding process and optimal and flexible work distribution.

With the introduction of the Fabricator in mind, a common assumption that robotic welding will completely replace manual welders and fitters becomes a topic. However an automatic welding and fitting system like the Fabricator is not designed to process the more complex components like trusses and other 3-D frame work.

The system focuses entirely on automatic fitting and welding the majority of (long and heavy) profiles with the most common connection types, (unmanned both during the day and at night) while the real human welding specialists do what they do best: welding challenging constructions that require professional knowledge, experience and craftsmanship.

Unique features of the Fabricator:

  • 3 welding robots and 1 handling robot using rotators to enable simultaneous fitting and welding.
  • Welding of plates, angles and box sections to I/H profiles, box- and U-sections.
  • Simultaneous loading and unloading of the machine with an automatic magnetic crane.
  • Automatic welding strategy, selection based on measured material tolerances.
  • Optimal work preparation through automatic analysis, correction and addition of welding information in a 3-D model that can be used by the Fabricator as well as for planning the welding shop (work preparation).
  • A cloud-based model analysis that can run in the background
  • Fitting-only or fitting and complete welding of structures
  • Automatic calibration of the machine
  • Automatic process time prediction for production planning on the Fabricator
  • The Fabricator can be integrated with other Voortman machines in a complete production line.