How a Swedish company has increased productivity and improved working conditions with a cobot welder

“We get a better working environment and less stress as the welder does not have to sit for long hours near the welding gas and the heat, and at the same time profitability increases.”

Sven-Ingvar Björck, CEO of Vattholma Mekano AB

Finding skilled welders is getting more and more difficult. The Swedish metalworking company Vattholma Mekano has found a solution. They have “hired” a new robotic team member that welds tirelessly and perfectly every time.

The new team member is a UR10e-cobot from Universal Robots fitted with a SmoothTool welding kit from Smooth Robotics.

The cobot welder has helped to improve the working conditions of its human colleagues and freed up a lot of valuable time for them to do more complex and interesting tasks.

In this case study, we will take a look at how Vattholma Mekano got started with robotic welding.

The company

Vattholma Mekano AB is a small family-owned metalworking company with 6 employees located north of Uppsala in Sweden.

The company is having a difficult time finding new welders to hire – a problem that many other companies are facing all over the world. The labor shortage in the welding industry is a global issue that is not going to improve soon. The younger generations are choosing other career paths and the few skilled welders left in the industry are in high demand and their numbers are decreasing.

programming the cobot welder

Vattholma Mekano does a lot of welding on large objects, such as repair work on excavator buckets, which is repetitive and time-consuming. They have a full order book and would not think twice about hiring more welders if they only could find them, but that is proving increasingly difficult. That is why the company has long been looking for automated welding solutions.

“We have been looking for a welding robot for over 15 years, so I have been aware of industrial robots for a long time. But these are not suitable for our business because they are expensive and need large series production to be profitable. We run exclusively piece production to order, not large series,” says Sven-Ingvar Björck, CEO of Vattholma Mekano.

“Reprogramming the robot and switching between different jobs takes between two minutes and half an hour…”

Sven-Ingvar Björck, CEO of Vattholma Mekano AB

Increased profitability

After introducing the new Universal Robot welder, the company has experienced several improvements, here are listed some of the benefits that the company has gained by adding the new cobot welder to the team:

  • Frees up valuable time for the skilled welders
  • Improved working conditions
  • Increased profitability
  • 20 to 30% in time savings on the welds
  • Improved consistency of welds
  • Increased production capacity

The cobot welder solution has freed up time for Vattholma’s skilled welders. This means that the company can now take in orders for more complex welding jobs. So, while the cobot is doing the time-consuming repetitive welds with perfect consistency, the experienced welder can instead focus on the more advanced and complex jobs.  

“We get a better working environment and less stress as the welder does not have to sit for long hours near the welding gas and the heat, and at the same time profitability increases. We estimate that we save 20 to 30 percent in working time. So now we can keep up with more jobs and more complex welding assignments without hiring more welders,” says Sven-Ingvar Björck.

Vattholma Mekano does a lot of welding on large excavator buckets. These are tasks that require a lot of actual welding time with repetitive welds performed in awkward and stressful working positions for a human welder. One of the unique properties of a cobot welder is the lightness of the setup. At Vattholma Mekano they place the cobot directly in the excavator bucket via a magnetic base mount. The setup is easily lifted and moved around, making it a perfect fit for these types of welding tasks.

The new cobot welder is not only doing repair work at the company. Vattholma Mekano also has its own production of custom-produced metal staircases – here the welding cobot is used as well, producing quality and consistent welds that last.

One of the reasons that the cobot can be used in multiple welding tasks at the company, is that it can be operated easily by all the employees. The intuitive SmoothTool programming interface makes operating the robot easy and something that welders and machine operators can pick up very quickly.

“The programming was easy to learn during the three half days we received training from Svenska Elektrod, even without previous experience with robot programming. Reprogramming the robot and switching between different jobs takes between two minutes and half an hour, depending on how advanced the pieces are, for example, if you are going to weld around corners,” says Sven-Ingvar Björck.

Getting started with Robotic welding

Sven-Ingvar Björk had been looking for the right welding automation solution for a while. One day he visited Svenska Elektrod, a welding supplier and certified Universal Robots integrator located in Täby just north of Stockholm.  

Here he was shown the setup with a UR10e and SmoothTool and got a chance to try it out for himself:

“I had seen Universal Robots cobots before, at expos and on the internet, but this was the first time I tried one,” says Sven-Ingvar Björck about the visit to Svenska Elektrod.

Karl Ericsson programming in SmoothTool

At Vattholma Mekano they are doing MIG-welding with different types of wire and working with metal thickness from 3 to 70 millimeters.  

The installation and setup of the cobot welding solution were taken care of by the local integrator Karl Ericsson from Svenska Elektrod, who also took care of the training for the employees at the company.

At Vattholma they have hooked up the Universal Robot with their existing manual Lincoln power source. This is possible due to the custom I/O integration option in SmoothTool and is a very cost-effective way to get started with robotic welding, given you already have a manual power source available.

Automation is the way forward

Vattholma Mekano AB has successfully and easily integrated a welding automation solution in the form of a Universal Robots cobot arm fitted with the SmoothTool from Smooth Robotics.

Their new cobot welder colleague has increased productivity and improved working conditions at the company, while also assuring consistent welds of high quality.

By working with a local integrator, the company was able to easily get started with welding automation. They were even able to use their existing power source which made the barrier to entry even lower.

Breaking the barrier and getting started with welding automation can prove important for companies that want to future-proof their production. It arguably makes the company more attractive to both customers and future new employees, while also boosting productivity and profitability.

If Vattholma Mekano can benefit from cobot welding, so can many other SMEs that does welding work. The technology is relatively new, and its adoption is still in the early stages in many countries, but the benefits are undeniable.

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