Robots help remove the barriers to productivity

30 November 2021

ZND UK, a fencing and barrier manufacturer, has within 10 years moved from a mostly manual manufacturing set up to having two automated production lines and a variety of robots. This has resulted in a five-fold increase in productivity.

Changes at ZND have been profound since it installed its first automated line in 2014. Today, some products are assembled, brazed, lifted and stacked completely automatically, with KUKA robots playing a prominent role. 

Throughput has risen; product defects have been reduced, and today employees do not have to do as much body-straining lifting work. “Traditionally, a two-man team would make 50-100 barriers in a day,” said James McLean managing director at ZND UK.  “With the automated line, a two-man team can now produce 500 per eight-hour shift.” 

ZND’s automation story has been gradual, with one piece of equipment leading to another. The investment really began from 2009. “In the last year the company has spent around £6 million on automation, mainly in the US but in the UK too,” said McLean. “This year we built a machine in Rotherham with an integrated robot, with another currently being built in Holland.”

Barrier panels are made from tubular mate¬rial and infill tubes. The tubes for the outer frame are first cut, swagged, pierced and bent to form two U-shaped pieces. Four feet are then projection brazed in position. In the final assembly stage, cut-to-length infills are introduced and the two halves of the outer frame are closed to form the barrier.

A KR 210 robot from KUKA removes the panel from the assembly machine and places it into a transfer system. 

Further small items are fitted to the barrier and, at the end of the line, a second KR 210 KUKA robot collects it and places it into an automatic fixture that is mounted on a single-axis servo-controlled positioner, in a brazing cell with two floor mounted KR 16-two robots, each fitted with two brazing guns. A ceiling-mounted robot is fitted with a single brazing gun.

The floor mounted robot MIG gun brazes two infill tubes at a time, while the ceiling-mounted unit brazes the feet. At the end of the cycle the second KR 210 robot removes the finished panel from the fixture and places it in a horizontal stack. A forklift truck empties the unload station when it is full. 

A second line, commissioned in 2016, works similarly to the first. Altogether, nine KUKA robots work on the two lines at ZND. System output is 1,000 barriers per eight-hour shift; the two lines, working together, could produce 3,000 barriers per 24-hours. Manufacturing this number manually in a single eight-hour shift would have required 16 people.

Retaining and retraining staff 
“Ten years ago, ZND had 120 people making these products, mainly by hand,” said McLean. “Today we have 120 and sometimes more with agency staff but we are producing four or five times the volume of units, thanks to automation.” Staff have been redeployed to different jobs, usually more highly skilled and with less physical strain. “I don’t recall ever making someone redundant as a direct result of automation,” concludes McLean. 

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