ABB’s robotic automation solution quadruples capacity of EeStairs production line

ABB’s robotic automation solution quadruples capacity of EeStairs production line

Dutch manufacturer EeStairs’ new solution reduces production time from four hours to one for its range of compact spiral staircases.

Summary 

The challenge 
Staircase manufacturer EeStairs needed an automated solution to increase the production capacity for its 1m2™ range of spiral staircases. It also wanted to offer a variety of customizable options without its operators having to reprogram the robots each time to tweak the design.  

The solution 
System integrator RobWelding delivered a solution using two IRB 4600 robots from ABB – one for handling parts and the other for welding them together. The solution also includes a system to translate customer specifications directly into corresponding robotic actions without the need for manual reprogramming.  

The application 
Working together, the two robots automatically assemble EeStairs’ 1m2™ range of compact spiral staircases to order, based on dimensions and other specifications chosen by customers via an online configurator tool. This has quadrupled production capacity on the 1m2™ range and freed up EeStairs’ highly skilled welders to work on the company’s other products.  

EeStairs is an innovative Dutch company producing high quality stairs and balustrades from its factory in Barneveld in the Netherlands. Many of its products are entirely bespoke, but it also offers some designs as standard. This includes the 1m2™ range of compact spiral staircases that are mainly used in domestic settings. While the underlying construction of the 1m2™ products is standard, customers can tailor the dimensions of each staircase to fit their own space, specifying their preferences online via a configurator tool.  

Each staircase was previously assembled manually. It took one skilled welder around four hours, which is equivalent to building roughly two staircases per day. It also involved welders working at heights of up to four meters as the stairs came together, raising health and safety concerns. EeStairs wanted to automate production in order to increase capacity and free up its welders to work on other more value-added projects.  

Stepping up production with robots 

EeStairs called in RobWelding to help devise a solution. RobWelding is an award-winning systems integrator specializing in designing and delivering welding solutions using ABB robots. “We chose RobWelding because they are a great partner that comes up with great solutions,” says Martijn Cluistra, operational director with EeStairs.  

Although the construction of the 1m2™ staircases is standardized, no two are exactly the same, which makes designing an efficient automated solution more difficult. The height of the staircase can vary from 2 to 3.2m, for example, and each robot arm must be able to work through a full 360o range of motion. 

“Robots make people think of a product series, but the 1m2™ is definitely not a serial product because its dimensions constantly change,” said Mr. Cluistra. “That’s why it’s special that we are now able to create this product with robot technology.” 

Customers configure their ideal staircase via the company’s website, so RobWelding designed converter software to turn customer preferences from the online configurator into a virtual 3D model. This automatically generates all the coordinates for welding and step placement, instructing the robots via an IRC5 controller. The handling robot takes each step from a crate and holds it in position against the central column while the welding robot gets to work.  

Crucially, the entire process from specification to manufacture takes place without the need for manual reprogramming.  

Around 95 percent of that testing was carried out virtually using CAD and ABB’s RobotStudio® programming and simulation software tool. Upwards of 600 hours of reachability studies were carried out, for instance, leaving only fine tuning to be completed during the commissioning stage.   

RobWelding’s extensive previous experience of working with ABB robots helped the EeStairs project to go smoothly. “For every new order that RobWelding receives, ABB looks at the configuration to determine the feasibility of the project. Together we look at possible adjustments to offer the customer the best possible automation solution,” said Mindel van Gijzel, Channel Partner Specialist with ABB Robotics.  

The complete system has been dubbed ‘Lassie’ and has been fully up and running since September 2023. “Lassie exceeds expectations,” said Mr. Cluistra. “We expected it to be a bit more difficult because it doesn’t produce serial products, but it’s been going really well.” 

Lassie is currently operating three days a week, leaving plenty of room to expand production in the near future. 

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