Welding a Strong Partnership
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Press release date: March 2, 2008
For a country with more than 1.1 billion people, the increasing use of robots in welding and cutting applications indicates the growing demand for skilled manpower. Automation is clearly the way forward, decides the Indian company Finearc.
A decade back, a prediction that Indian industry would go in for robot automation systems due to labor scarcity would have raised eyebrows. But today, Pune, India-based Finearc Systems, a market leader in specialized welding applications, is turning to robots to manufacture a wide range of welding systems serving both Indian and foreign customers.
Finearc Managing Director S. S. Pathak says that Finearc started operations in 1986 and the existing facility in Pune was set up in 1990. "Welding technology has been our basic domain and expertise," he says. "We handled applications from 0.05 millimeters to 400 millimeters of thickness, and as demand for even loading-unloading automation systems grew, we provided material handling systems along with our welding systems."
Ten years ago Finearc entered robotics. Now Pathak predicts that with new avenues of profitable employment opening up in India absorbing the large workforce, robotics will play an increasingly important role in welding applications and systems. Pathak's son Rahul Pathak, manager of corporate services, is a great believer in using robots for welding applications.
Rahul Pathak says that ABB's strong global brand, a larger range of robots and a reputation for after-sales service and support steered the company into a global sales channel partnership with ABB. "Our second factory was coming up," he recalls. "We looked at ABB's robot applications for different industry segments such as aerospace, aviation and construction and realized it's a multibillion-dollar company with a global presence and would support us through teething problems."
Finearc manufactures hard automated and robotic welding and cutting systems, and a wide variety of applications and solutions in different industry segments. The company's brand new factory is professionally run. "It is a team effort all the way," Rahul Pathak says of the family-run business. Pausing before a complicated system, he points out how the finished system would be used by a major auto manufacturer (Toyota) to make instrument panel clusters for its automobiles. At the demo room in the company's headquarters, a series of flawlessly welded auto exhaust systems are on display.
Pathak explains that at the Finearc factory, the robot is an arm that does arc welding and cutting, using multiple processes such as, for example, Mig, TIG and plasma. It not only eliminates and sometimes reduces human labor, but it can work in a hazardous environment such as excessive heat, and it provides flexibility. "More than reducing human error, the robot eliminates the inconsistency, moodiness and emotional swings associated with humans," he says. "You can have controlled heat input, and in hazardous, intricate and demanding applications robots work better and more effectively."
A man can work for only eight hours, but robots can do all shifts and have a meantime before failure of up to 100,000 hours. But, says Pathak, in 20 percent of complex and intricate jobs "where you need a lot of add-on sensors on the robot and the parts are not up to the mark" human intervention is required. When the gap between two welding components is too big, human judgment is required. Ultimately a person needs to teach or program the robot. "A robot has mechanical and motorized elements, but at its heart is always the robot control, which has to be programmed by a human," says Pathak.
Pathak says he is proud that Finearc has been chosen by ABB as a global partner. "We are miniscule in size, compared to this global giant, and we're happy that ABB respects us, has confidence in us," he says. "They've been very transparent and ready to cooperate." But Pathak also knows his company's strength. "Without drum beating, I'd say we are professionals, and ABB sees in us application knowledge and technology," he says. "ABB makes robots; we make the entire application system. Both of us bring to the table what each needs to fulfill the end application."
Deepak Chaturvedi, ABB India's manager of sales and business partner development, says that in the global partners program he looks for machine manufacturers, line builders, jigs and fixture makers, specialists such as laser welders and gripper makers and so on. "Finearc is an established welding automation system maker for fixed stations and 2- to 3-axis welding automated solution providers," he says. "Their innovative management ideas and technologically forward approach made them strong and long-term partners."
ABB robots are known for accuracy, reliability and longevity in welding applications, he says. Finearc's customer, a civil construction equipment manufacturer, wanted long reach and accurate welding robots. Against the robots offered by competition, the clincher was, says Chaturvedi, "our exact simulations using an offline simulation system running on the same software as in the Real IRC 5 Robot Controller. The cycle time displayed by our simulation was far superior and closer to the real process. This convinced the customer and Finearc."
Rahul Pathak comments: "In India people think several times before buying a robot because it is expensive, and the activity doesn't end with the robot purchase; it starts with it. Training, installation, systems and spare parts support are required across industry segments, so the right partner is crucial."
For Chaturvedi, promoting the use of robots in non-automotive sectors is important. "We have high expectations from this industry segment," he says. "The experience of Finearc will help establish ABB robots as well-accepted automation machines among non-automotive users in India."
Pathak says his objective is to "maintain our focus on being a very strong engineering and applications company and become the best welding and cutting company. We are already the best welding applications company in India; you won't find so much technology under one roof as you find here." But, he says, his company doesn't want to grow at any cost - "only in a controlled and comfortable manner."