Balancing the Bottom Line

Praxair’s StarSolver® Productivity Enhancement Program helps break down big investments into real dollars saved – and earned.

Robotic welding is fast becoming more affordable and flexible, especially for smaller shops that are looking for new ways to streamline operations and improve production times. While the price of an initial robot investment and continued cost of ownership may seem daunting, a StarSolver productivity audit from Praxair can help navigate customers through the decision making process. Magnum Power Products LLC, an equipment manufacturer located in Berlin, Wisconsin, was in the process of adding additional welding space in their facility. Triggered by an uptick in work, Magnum was preparing to not only increase manufacturing space, but also increase their production capabilities. Looking at the current welding capabilities of Magnum, Pete Trochinski, Manufacturing Engineer at Magnum, quickly realized that he was going to need to make some serious changes.Staying with their present manual welding processes and staff would limit their throughput – and that meant costly overtime across three shifts, six days a week. And, bringing on a new team of welders would result in a lot of time spent training and managing. What was the best solution – employ a better welding technique, increase the number of welders on the production line or a robotic solution? And would it fit in the budget?

“Production consistency is hard to predict when you are doing it manually,” said Trochinski. “Some of our guys could weld 30 pieces and others might only do 10. With the robot’s consistent quality and production time, we can make more accurate production projections.”

– Pete Trochinski, Manufacturing Engineer, Magnum Power Products

Trochinski contacted Jerry Sackman, territory manager for Praxair, to start a discussion about the equipment, processes and budget Magnum would need to get the job done. “I trusted Praxair’s recommendation,” says Trochinski. “Praxair has long supplied our welding supplies and gases, and Jerry is a knowledgeable rep that treats us well.” While Sackman thought a robot was likely the best option, he knew Praxair’s StarSolver® productivity audit would be able to quantify the improvements and savings. Jeff Ingraham, Metfab Productivity Specialist at Praxair, joined Sackman at Magnum’s facility and led the audit. Together, Trochinski, Sackman and Ingraham identified the best potential parts to weld with a robot. Typically, robotic welding works best with high-volume parts or parts with long weld times. Praxair did a comprehensive review for each piece and based on the results, two high-volume pieces were selected. With a robotic welding solution, Ingraham was able to figure a potentially significant reduction in cycle time for welding these two parts, which translated into major return on investment for Trochinski and Magnum. “Sometimes when a customer is looking into a big piece of equipment, they can’t get past the initial cost,” said Ingraham. “But that is exactly why the StarSolver® process is so successful and beneficial to our customers. For Magnum, we were able to work together, break down the benefits into real dollars saved and earned. We base our recommendations on one goal: move high-quality products out of the door quickly and consistently.”

Quality + Consistency

“The StarSolver report really broke down the recommendations made by Jeff and Jerry,” said Trochinski. “Time savings, cost savings…it was all there. Made the decision pretty darn easy.” Magnum invested in the first robot and as soon as it was delivered to their facility, Sackman and Ingraham were there to help install and program the new system. “The robot was installed, programed and running in about two days,” said Trochinski. “We were making adjustments along the way and within a week, we added another fixture to the robot production.” With two fixtures, Magnum could have the operator constantly unloading completed parts and putting another into place in one fixture while the other fixture was welding. And Trochinski watched as the shop’s productivity increased. “We tripled production output from 100 parts per day to 300,” he said. “And instead of running all three shifts, we run the robot on two shifts, sometimes two and a half if we are especially busy.” And it wasn’t just the cycle time improvements; weld quality was better and more consistent. “Production consistency is hard to predict when you are doing it manually,” said Trochinski. “Some of our guys could weld 30 pieces and others might only do 10. With the robot's consistent quality and production time, we can make more accurate production projections.”

Welding Skills Gap

Another important part of the decision was the cost of labor and the ability to fulfill so many skilled welding positions. A lot of smaller shops, like Magnum, presently face a shortage of qualified welding operators and technicians, especially in rural regions. There are numerous articles and opinions on the welder gap in the U.S. between older welders retiring out of the work force and new, skilled welders coming into the industry – and it is widening. Competition for these new, skilled welders is fierce. While large corporations can often afford to pay higher, premium wages and in some cases pay for training and certification, smaller metfab shops can be left struggling to find and hire welders. “Because of our location, it can be difficult to find a large pool of highly-skilled welders,” said Trochinski. “As a smaller shop, we struggle to pay that premium wage and overtime makes it even more difficult.”

Automation Was the Answer

“One of the biggest concerns for Magnum was bottlenecking,” said Jeff Ingraham, Metfab Productivity Specialist at Praxair. “Welding was really holding up production, and without making a change, there was no way they could have increased production.” Automation, for Magnum, was key to their ability to not only reduce bottlenecks in production, but to also be flexible as production changes with the busy and slow seasons. Since installation, orders and production have increased and Magnum is already looking into a second robot.

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