Smart robots raise performance and quality at towbar manufacturer

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Smarter robots are helping one of Australasia’s towbar manufacturers, Best Bars, to lift performance and create higher quality products in record time.

Best Bars is a genuine part supplier to Chrysler, Ford, Holden, Hyundai, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen in Australia and New Zealand from its base in Auckland.

Best Bars has used robotic welders and other automated processes, such as plasma cutting, for some time. "We are now employing new, smart systems to make it all work seamlessly together and with spectacular results," says Clifford Jackson, Manufacturing Manager, Best Bars.

“Set up times have reduced dramatically and that makes a big difference in terms of flexibility – it means we can be more efficient and provide a better service to our customers,” adds Jackson.

Systems have been enhanced with smarter robot welders that can be programmed to virtually eliminate down time, produce a higher quality and more precise product.

The robots have increased functionality compared to previous generation welders and are able to deliver more consistent products.

This investment in automation allows Best Bars to offset cost imposts similar to those faced by all manufacturing businesses, while continuing to provide customers with safety critical component at an affordable price.

“Welding is critical in products such as towbars,” says Jackson. “If it isn’t done correctly it can cause issues and delays throughout the manufacturing process, as well as affecting performance & therefore safety.”

Upon completion of the current investment programme in mid-2012 around 85% of Best Bars production will be robotically welded.

“Although a person can weld in the same time, a robot can do it consistently to specification every time. Our people have been re-trained in areas such as quality control, which also has a positive impact on health and safety in the factory and the engagement of our staff,” adds Jackson.

The new smart system at Best Bars incorporates a process known as Single-Minute Exchange of Die (SMED), which is one of the lean production methods for reducing waste in a manufacturing process.

It provides a rapid and efficient way of converting a manufacturing process from running the current product to running the next product. This rapid changeover is key to reducing production lot sizes and thereby improving flow, says Jackson.

Best Bars is adopting latest technology and production systems to keep ahead of the competition and maintain its relevance in the market at a time when manufacturing in countries like New Zealand and Australia is under enormous pressure.

“If you can surpass customer expectations with an innovative idea and impress them on quality and delivery, all at an acceptable price, it’s a very compelling story and one we aim for at Best Bars,” adds Jackson.