Forklift manufacturer uses Cenit for simulation-based offline programming

Thursday March 29, 2018
Written by Manufacturing AUTOMATION
Mar. 29, 2018 - The forklift manufacturer Crown relies heavily on robotic welding automation for fabrication/production of its equipment in the Roding, Germany, facility.

The company has now begun to replace the time-consuming manual teaching of the robot systems with simulation-based offline programming for tool path generation. For this, the company relies on the Fastsuite Edition 2 software and the Cenit team.

Crown, a U.S.-based, family-owned company, has a global production, sales, and service network with 19 manufacturing sites around the world and more than 500 sales offices in 84 countries. For the production of forklifts, it strives to develop robust and durable products that meet high demands for quality, ergonomics, and reliability, as well as safety-related requirements. Up to 85 per cent of the components are produced in-house.

Crown has been producing forklifts in the Roding facility since 1986. Today there are several complex robot systems with up to 13 axes in the production floor. Programming and fixture construction play an important role. However, some of the solid steel components have seams that are difficult to access or many welds on a small area. This makes manual teaching and fixture construction difficult.

For some time, Crown has been considering using offline programming. Florian Braun, project manager in manufacturing engineering, saw an opportunity to optimize the use of welding robots. One supplier convinced the team that the IT and software consulting company CENIT, with its software Fastsuite Edition 2, could fulfill the needed requirements. A benchmark was set to program a component with the OLP software on a Reis compact weld cell and perform a download. Above all, it was judged how well the download works and how close the robot follows the contour of the weld path.

The software features required by Crown:

• CAD data-based welding seam generation (CAD-to-path algorithms) with automatic approach and departure strategies. Welding path generation not only describes the robot’s motion paths, but also includes the control commands for the welding technology. In this way, many manual programming steps are avoided and optimal process parameters are always used.
• The parameters for the weld seams and the positioning of the torch to the workpiece can be easily adjusted if required.
• External axes and workpiece positioners are automatically positioned and interpolated.

The performance of Fastsuite in the field test was convincing to Crown. Although the cell had not yet been calibrated and prepared for offline programming during the test, the toolpath was already very close to the expected result on the test part. Fastsuite was able to demonstrate its “ease of use.”

The implementation project had three phases. At startup, Cenit configured the software for the requirements of the corresponding system (phase 1). This was followed by the creation of a digital layout model of the cell (phase 2) that corresponds to the real installation. At the customer’s site, phase 3 began with the calibration of the facility with the digital model.

The result
The first welding cells were integrated into the simulation environment at the beginning of summer 2017. Instead of taking several days, programming a new workpiece or part variant now only takes a few hours. This is because the programming takes place in the simulation environment of Fastsuite Edition 2 (offline, i.e. parallel to the productive operation of the system) and as a result the downtimes of the system have been reduced. The production interruptions for setting up and teaching new components has also been reduced to a minimum. The welding quality of the solid steel parts are consistent and corresponds to Crown’s standards.

In summary, the OLP project has had a positive impact on streamlining the development and design of toolmaking. Crown says it is much faster and easier to determine the right fixture because the simulated system is available with all kinematics and peripherals as a virtual 3D model. Instead of testing the real device prototypes over and over, the virtual device can be tested for accessibility and then built in real life. New components can be optimized during development for later welding production.

With Fastsuite, Crown says it has an open and scalable software solution – a first step for a company with a strong Industry 4.0 vision.

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