A Robot’s Grind

Fortaco Kurikka’s grinding robot keeps people happy: it lets welders weld, keeps costs under control, and ensures uniform quality.

Ossi Antila and Tomi Metsä-Ketelä pose with Janne, the grinding robot

There’s a reason it’s called “grinding.” Because it’s awful work. For welders, grinding is dirty, noisy, can cause upper limb injury, eye injuries, not to even mention the hazards associated with the tens of kilos of steel dust it generates. And it’s a lot of work: there are close to 200 seams in each of the roughly 3,000 Fortaco cabins produced in Kurikka each year for top OEMs in mining, forestry, defense, and the material handling industries.

Grinding is dirty, thankless work. Better a robot do it.

But you can’t get around grinding. Grinding removes welding sparkle, oxide, and scratches. Cabin surfaces must be protected against corrosion, with the surface sealed flat for painting. A robot can reduce the takt time of the welding line by 30-40 percent, meaning significant gains in efficiency and capacity.

Tech talk for engineers

It’s not every robot that can give you those results. Fortaco’s grinding robot station is from Flexmill and uses MillControl- and Tool Time Manager software. The robot itself is an ABB Irb 6700-150/3.20 series.

Flexmill and ABB technology.

RFID tags are used to enable the robot to recognize cabin models, essential for highly-complex manufacturing operations like Fortaco’s, where customers require much customization. When operating, the robot can choose from up to 10 tools needed to do the job, and it operates unmanned, holding three cabins on the line. For cabins not welded on the line, there is a side-feeding feature to enable their grinding. At the end of the line is a two-axis manual control manipulator for use in inspection, with the outfeed done by forklift.

Fortaco’s grinding robot at work on the cabin of a Komatsu forwarder.

But beyond the tech, it’s important to note that the robot’s benefits extend to the HR department. “The grinding robot speeds up some processes and frees workers’ hands for other tasks. This, in turn, reduces the need for recruitment in this sector and makes work easier for us in the HR department,” says Sonja Koskela, People & HR and Employer Branding Specialist at Fortaco.

So why doesn’t everyone have one?

If a robot can offer such impressive results, even in a fairly customized production environment, why doesn’t every manufacturer have one? Well, because they’re expensive.

Ossi Antila, formerly Team Leader for Product Development, and now Chief Engineer for Product Development, concedes the robot required major investment, but was simply the next step in production development. “For us, with the quality requirements of world-class cabins, this robot was the next logical investment after a takt-based welding line.” 

Robots of this caliber are “quite rare in the business,” says Tomi Metsä-Ketelä, Sales Manager for Kurikka. “But they’re also a requirement to for us to both continue to grow and to maintain the consistency and quality that our customers expect.”

I christen thee, Janne’

“If this robot makes such a significant contribution,” a visiting journalist asks, “does it have a name?”

A roomful of engineers and technical experts are at a loss for an answer, but rally driver Ari Vatanen, a Fortaco ambassador present to examine the robot, takes matters into his own hands. “I christen thee, Janne,” he says. “And I’m happy to be your godfather.”

But Janne pays no attention. He continues to grind.