Gantry Robot System Eases Bucket Fabrication

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Since 1968, ACS Industries has provided attachments for large-scale earth-moving and construction equipment. In the aftermath of the 2008-09 recession, the company was ready to dig deeper and build a more enduring presence in new markets. A robotic welding system designed to fabricate implements for heavy industries such as mining and steelmaking has helped it do just that.

Ohio-based ACS Industries has installed a gantry robotic-welding system for the complicated fabrication of buckets and similar products for mining and steelmaking customers. The payoff: greater efficiency and more bucket orders.
Located in a 100,000-sq.-ft. facility in Kent, OH, ACS Industries serves the heavy-equipment industry as a fabricator of a variety of work tools—buckets, forks, blades, couplers and other implements—used by construction vehicles for digging, clearing, demolition and mining.

ACS has enjoyed a number of firsts in the construction-equipment industry, including the introduction of attachment-changeover technology. This innovation, along with the introduction of the first single-point, self-aligning wheel-loader coupler system; the first front-locking excavator coupler system; and a bucket with a monolithic floor design for the hot-slag industry, has kept ACS at the forefront of its industry.

With a primarily North American customer base, ACS does conduct a small amount of international business. In addition, a substantial and growing portion of the company’s business includes the U.S. military. For example, since the late-1980s, ACS has made heavy material-handling equipment used by the United States Marine Corps.

New Channels, New Opportunities

Like most companies, ACS emerged from the widespread recession of 2008 on a changed landscape. And like most companies, ACS had to adjust, says Joe Zeno, ACS CEO.

“We were in the process of redeveloping our business plan, identifying the opportunities,” says Zeno. “We always identify opportunities around pain. If we can understand what the pain is, and come up with a better solution, that’s an opportunity. It was during that period that we looked at our channels of distribution in the marketplace and said, ‘We need to broaden those channels. We need to do a better job of controlling our message and getting it to the end-user.’”

Multiple grades of steel require use of different welding-wire types and multiple passes to produce finished buckets.
As a result, ACS reorganized into two primary business channels: product line and engineered product. Product line includes tools for standard construction activities: site clearing, underground water and sewer development, road building, and the like. Engineered product focuses on more specialized implements for industries such as aggregate mining and steelmaking.

“We had only played in the engineered-product market sparingly,” says Zeno, “and we knew that if it was a direction we wanted to take, there were other competitors. If we were going to gain market share, we had to have a better value proposition for our customers. This proposition was developed to provide more innovative products, reduced delivery lead times, and lower costs of acquisition and operation. It became apparent very quickly that the only way to achieve that was through the development and utilization of robotic technology.”

ACS already had robotic systems to address its product-line segment, but not for engineered product. After contacting four robotic-welding-technology providers, ACS chose Lincoln Electric (Cleveland, OH) as its project partner. The team undertook a six-month collaborative process of system development and design, leading to the official project launch in late-2013.

Multiple Materials, Multiple Welds

Resulting from the detailed consultation and planning was a custom overhead gantry system employing two Fanuc robotic arms. In action, the robotic system welds large buckets, to 22 cubic yards and weighing as much as 28,000 lb., for use in quarries and steel mills.

With efficiency improving from 60 to 80 percent since employing the custom robotic-welding system, ACS Industries has seen its bucket orders jump, according to company officials.
The entire robotic-welding assembly was mounted in a 5-ft.-deep pit, 40 ft. long by 20 ft. wide and dug into the ACS factory floor to keep the 26-ft.-high assembly under the overhead crane. The system welds the bucket in six different axes, with a variety of wire diameters at each axis, starting with as little as 0.035 in. dia and going up to 1⁄16-in. dia.

“We will do anywhere from 3⁄8-in.-thick fillet welds to 1-in.-thick groove welds that require multiple passes,” says Bob Willoughby, ACS president. “Above a 3⁄8-in. thickness are all multiple-pass welds that require multiple movements and multiple programs for all of the axes.

“In many of our buckets we are welding two different grades of steel, which requires two different processes,” he continues. “Lincoln has helped us develop those processes and select the wire and gas required to weld the different grades. So it isn’t a process where you just stick a bucket up there and use one wire. The machine has to pause for us to change to the proper wire. We’ve been very successful at that.”

And given the rigorous demands of the buckets’ end use, quality and precision are paramount concerns, says Willoughby.

“These buckets are digging at the face of a granite wall, or they could be handling molten slag at 2800 F out of the furnace,” he explains. “So the welding of these products is critical, and ultimately impacts how they perform.”

While the development of processes and procedures is ongoing, initial results using the new robotic-welding system are exceeding expectations. Thus far, non-value-added labor has been reduced, and consistency of quality has improved.

“We know how much time these buckets take us to weld manually, and we know how much time they’re parked on our factory floor,” says Zeno. “Instead of parking there for 5 weeks, as they have in the past when we were welding them strictly on a manual basis, they’re usually only there for a matter of days. So the reduction in non-value-added labor is significant, exceeding 60 percent. That’s enabled us to offer quality products in a price-competitive way, and in most cases at a significant pricing advantage over our competitors.”

“Our efficiency has gone from about 60 to 80 percent,” adds Willoughby. “We’re obviously aiming for 100 percent. I don’t know that it’s possible to ever maintain 100 percent on a continuing basis, but it’s a goal that we continue to work toward.”

More importantly, ACS believes that the introduction of this technology has made a statement about the level of quality and service the company is prepared to provide to its customers. The results have been multi-layered: increased growth and profitability in its existing business, as well as new opportunities in yet-untapped markets. For example, the robotic-welding technology has helped ACS initiate a bucket-development program, culminating in a major OEM increasing bucket orders by $1,500,000 to date. ACS also has accelerated sales growth into the aggregate-mining and steel-production industries.

Look for Future Technology Investment

Integrating the gantry robot with their existing processes took time and persistence.

“We’re still in that learning phase,” says Zeno, “but we’ve covered a lot of ground, and we’re beginning to see the real tangible benefits of all the work that’s gone into this activity.”

Even with the system up and running, Lincoln Electric continues to provide guidance, support and fine tuning in response to ACS’s processing needs and the changing demands of the industry.

“Things continue to change,” says Zeno. “The things that you put to bed today may not necessarily be put to bed tomorrow. If our business continues to grow in a way we believe it will, there’s going to be a need for additional equipment and robots. With our past success as a great foundation, ACS and Lincoln Electric will be able to incorporate all of the things we’ve learned collectively on this robot into what we’re planning for the future.” MF

Article provided by Lincoln Electric Co., Cleveland, OH; 888/935-3878,


See also: Lincoln Electric Co.

Related Enterprise Zones: Automation, Fabrication, Welding

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