Towbar manufacturer Witter Towbars has continued its investment in robotic technology by installing 10 new ABB welding cells for arc welding at its North Wales plant

The company currently manufactures a complete range of towbars and towing related accessories including cycle carriers, roof racks and towing and non-towing steps. Following on from its last investment in 2005, Witter Towbars approached ABB with the requirement for new welding cells to help improve plant efficiency and control, and provide full traceability of weld parameters by enabling monitoring of the resulting weld data.

Working closely with Witter Towbars, ABB examined the key stages and requirements of the production line to determine what the robots would need to achieve and how. The answer was to provide Witter Towbars with 10 welding cells, each featuring an ABB IRB1600 ID robot. The robot, which has an extremely slim arm, can combine multiple-axis movements and 360 degree rotations, ideal for performing the complex welds on round tubing needed in towbar manufacture.

Since being installed, the IRB1600 ID robots have helped the plant achieve a 20 per cent improvement in efficiency. The robots’ ability to complete 360 degree welds has also reduced cycle times and has improved both path accuracy and the overall quality of the weld.

The installation is also helping Witter Towbars to meet its own stringent requirements. The cells have been planned to accommodate the company’s production line requirements, which limited the amount of floor space available for ABB’s equipment. Using ABB’s RobotStudio offline programming software, each cell has been virtually tested before being installed, enabling the company to anticipate and resolve any potential problems in advance. There was also a requirement for improved fume extraction to improve workplace health and safety.

Speaking about the robot cells, Gary Nuttall, senior manufacturing Engineer at Witter Towbars explains, “Our history of investment in automation has helped to reduce the number of manual welds carried out over the past five years. We still have a manual weld facility, but it is now only a fraction of what it was and is only used on specific, very old products that cannot be carried out using a robot.”

Nuttall continues: “Our employees now form a multi-skilled workforce and have a much nicer plant to work in. The new cells contribute to an improved appearance at the plant as it is cleaner and quieter, producing a pleasant working environment for our employees. The new lines are an important development for the plant and the company as a whole as they will be used for two of our new product lines; commercial roof racks and a new four-bike cycle carrier, ZX400.”

The welding cells form part of a larger investment which Witter Towbars has made in its new modern manufacturing facility in North Wales, which also houses newly installed laser cutting machines as well as ABB’s welding technology. Older models of ABB robots are being replaced and further developments for new automated production lines are currently under consideration.

The IRB 1600ID is suitable for arc welding applications as its dress pack is integrated inside the robot’s upper arm. Containing all of the equipment necessary for arc welding, including power, welding wire, shielding gas and pressurised air, the integrated dress pack is a key feature of the robot automation system in place at the plant.

An integrated welding cable follows the arm’s movements, which ensures it doesn’t get caught in any surrounding fixtures or workpieces. Nuttall credits the process arm’s manoeuvrability as a major selling point. “The older robots we have been using have a form of manipulator using eight index positions. With the new full manipulator, tubing that used to require a number of separate welds can be completed in a single 360 degree movement, helping to reduce our cycle times, improve accuracy and enhance the quality.”


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