ABB contributes to cleaner oceans with multi-robot solution at cargo ship ballast water purification system manufacturer

A Swedish company which manufactures water purification systems for cargo ships has used ABB robots to overhaul its production process, dramatically improving productivity and flexibility, while helping to contribute to global sustainability.

Summary 

The application: 
Three distinct welding processes: spot welding, laser welding and TIG welding, used in the manufacture of electrochemical cells for ballast water purification tanks on cargo ships.  

The challenge: 
The biggest challenge was the sheer complexity of the project, and automating many different aspects and disciplines to combine into one cohesive process.  

The solution: 
Three robotic cells were installed to carry out the spot welding, laser welding and TIG welding processes. Each type of welding created its own set of unique engineering challenges. Ultimately, all processes are now almost entirely automated, requiring practically zero human interaction. The benefits have been wide ranging, and have exceeded all expectations.

The installation of three ABB robotic cells has significantly reduced lead times, along with maintenance costs and energy consumption, while providing better productivity and greater flexibility for Swedish electrochemical manufacturer Permascand. The robots, installed by Norwegian integrator Goodtech Solutions, with input from several ABB divisions, have automated the spot welding, laser welding, and TIG welding processes. The project has improved the efficiency of each respective process far beyond expectations, while the increased production capacity as a result of the investment has allowed Permascand to double its turnover without hiring any additional staff.

Based in Ljungaverk, Sweden, Permascand has for 50 years produced electrodes with catalytic coatings and electrochemical cells. These are used in the manufacture of purification systems for ballast water on large cargo ships. Such systems prevent pollution of the world’s oceans, and ensure that pathogens and other unwanted materials are not spread by ships from one region to another. The business thus plays a vital role in keeping the world’s oceans clean, safe and healthy, Each of the three welding processes requires very different conditions, and as such led to a range of engineering challenges. For instance, the previous spot welding machine was several decades old, and required a highly proficient operator to switch between different products quickly. Flexible racks and tools were developed to allow operators to quickly and easily change production between long and short series without major downtime.

In the laser welding cell, in which anode and cathode plate are joined, the complexity of the process, which comprises several discrete steps, was a challenge. Along with the actual welding process, fixtures must be loaded and unloaded, sheet metal moved to where it is needed, and units picked into an unbuttoning machine. The process has now been entirely automated with five robots operating in seamless cooperation, and requiring almost zero human intervention.

TIG welding, a relatively uncommon practice involving the use of titanium, was previously carried out manually. This too has been automated, cutting production times and improving ergonomics for operators. In the TIG welding cell, one of the challenges of the project was how to position the material so that it could be easily picked up with the robot. This was solved with the use of a palette magazine.

The benefits have been numerous and exceeded all expectations. Together, the three robots have resulted in better productivity, shorter lead times, reduced maintenance costs, reduced energy consumption and a less carbon intensive process, greater flexibility, more consistent quality, and a better working environment for operators.

“We have seen a tremendous improvement in productivity.” says Peter Lundström, CEO, Permascand, “There is a big demand for cargo water treatment in shipping, while there is also an increased interest in electrification and renewable energy. As well as doubling our turnover, the payback period for this project is less than one year which, given its size and complexity, is a staggering result. We will definitely continue to invest in automation and robotization.”

Johan Håkansson, CEO, Goodtech Solutions, adds: “In order to realize Permascand’s vision for future production, we had to develop a flexible and efficient production flow with a good working environment for operators. We worked with ABB because they have excellent products and a track record of delivering success on similar projects. The solution is extremely successful, while contributing to our wider goals of reducing energy consumption and decarbonizing industrial operations across the planet.”

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