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Frontline benefits with ABB’s robotic technology

Producing perfect aluminium welds and eliminating harmful dust during polishing operations has been achieved by the acquisition of a series of CSF (Complete Surface Finishing) robotic solutions at Frontline Australasia at their plant in outer south-east Melbourne.

The systems designed, manufactured and installed by CSF Australia using ABB robots, have produced a series of important benefits for Frontline, by greatly improving the quality of the welded aluminium products, while abolishing the manual labour that was previously a by-product of the manufacturing process.

Frontline is a wholly owned Australian company that manufactures components for the defence and automotive industry. CEO Kevin Hooper explained that 30 per cent of their production is for defence and 70 percent for the automotive market. “We manufacture locally fitted components for the automotive market sector; supplying original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) including Toyota, Ford, General Motors, Mitsubishi and Kia.”

With the Australian manufacturing sector under extreme competitive pressures from suppliers in Thailand, Vietnam and China, the future of the local industry depends on the application of best available technology and the local expert knowledge base to remain viable. “Cost savings and annual productivity increases of 20 per cent are essential for us to maintain the edge over imports,” Hooper says.

“The ABB robots have produced a productivity increase of 45 per cent, with another 20 per cent in the pipeline over the next 12 months. We need to become more efficient, and industry players working in cooperation with governments and academia is an important partnership to offset the growing impact of overseas competition on the Australian manufacturing sector,” Hooper said.

The robots can handle an almost unlimited range of intricate welding patterns, with uniformly consistent quality outcomes. Turning to the relationship with ABB and CSF, Hooper described it as first class, with good technical backup and technical support, training, and availability of spare parts and prompt service when the need arises, ensuring seamless operation of 20 hours a day, six days a week for the six ABB robots. The initial robot was purchased four years ago, with five additional units added over the last nine months.

Among these the following are operating at the Frontline plant: –

– 1 twin polishing robotic cell with two IRB 6640 robots

– 1 aluminium robotic welding cell with one IRB 2400 robot and Fronius Welding source

– 1 water jet robotic cutting cell with one IRB 4400 robot Foundry protected

Apart from the welding processes, Frontline, supported by a $1.5 million grant from the Federal Government, matched by similar amount by the company, has also developed a process of manufacturing titanium pipes, a process for which they hold global patents, to be price competitive with stainless steel pipes. This process can produce titanium pipes at a cost of about 25 percent of product currently available from existing technology.

“Using the latest technology, high productivity, trained staff, government and industry cooperation, all working together, is the doorway to the future of a viable and successful Australian manufacturing industry. In short ‘working smarter’ needs to be the catch cry to take us into the next decade and beyond,” Hooper said.

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