AGCO Sunflower Managers Embrace Data Driven Technology to Reduce Welding Costs while Boosting Output.
The AGCO Beloit, Kan., factory realizes significant yearly savings and improved productivity after it employs Axcess® E with Insight Centerpoint™ software in collaborative effort with Miller Electric Mfg. Co.
There is a commitment at the Beloit, Kan., AGCO Sunflower plant to use the latest technology and techniques to build the best farm machinery and to produce efficiencies on the production line. The company wanted to further tighten standards, reduce missing and defective welds, and shorten the learning curve for new welders. Plant managers turned to Miller to bring a world-class element to the technology in the welding cells at AGCO. The result of the Miller Axcess E with Insight system is driving down production costs significantly.
Metal into money
The makers of Sunflower planters and tillage implements have been listening closely to the needs of the farmer for better than 50 years. AGCO Sunflower has a reputation built on the determination to be a partner for the American farmer and design top-notch machines that stand up to the rigors of all types of farming applications.
The factory is set up dock-to-dock, bringing in raw materials like tubing and plating through the back door and sending finished product out the front door as modern planters and tillers. The material makes its journey through the factory floor where it is cut, bent, welded, painted and assembled and loaded up onto a truck and headed for delivery throughout North America.
“Basically, it’s metal into money,” says Greg Girard, quality manager at AGCO Sunflower. “Tried, true, and proven technology. We’re classified as the premier equipment manufacturer for tillage equipment in the industry. It’s been that way since the company started in 1945; we’ve kept that same philosophy of building a top-quality product, a premier product, for the industry.”
Girard says his plant employs some of the best welders in the country, mostly focused on MIG welding with .052” solid wire. The materials are generally tubing made to the A600 standard and/or laser grade quality plate up to 1 inch thick. The factory also incorporates laser technology to cut the material and ensure the quality of the product. Laser cutting makes cleaner cuts that provides AGCO with precise part fit-up.
Gleaning the information
It started out as a conversation, but soon managers from AGCO Beloit and welding experts from Miller began working together on ways that Miller could assist AGCO. The goal was to reduce missing and defective welds and increase productivity – to speed up the training of new welders and to tighten even further the standards of the AGCO welding cells.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to understanding (and improving) the various aspects of the welding process. To do that, AGCO understood that it would need a system that not only provided data, but one that could be used to drive positive change.
The solution for AGCO is the Miller Axcess E with Insight, a world-class data monitoring system that gives the power of information to the operator as well as plant management. Girard says Axcess E with Insight is a great product that his company is utilizing to make a better piece of agricultural equipment.
“Miller’s been great. It has been a very good relationship. This has been a situation where we were one of the first facilities to get one of the first two units that were available,” says Girard. “And so, it’s been a process of learning the technology and learning how to apply it. Miller has been very responsive to Sunflower’s specific needs by making adjustments to how the system works.”
The Axcess E with Insight system monitors the current, voltage, wire feed speed, and duration of each individual weld on a fabricated part. This high level of data monitoring is delivering key information to managers and welders. The system helps identify missing welds, and under and over welding, and assists in detection of potential weld defects. Sequencing is a key part of fabrication, and Axcess E with Insight is ensuring the proper sequence by guiding the operator through the step-by-step fabrication of a component. The system also gives managers access to key productivity factors like downtime due to non-welding activities such as loading the fixture, part manipulation, grinding, or any issue the user wants to track.
The historical data function gives decision makers an overall view of the welding cell and provides key data to analyze and potentially correct or modify procedures or production flow.
At AGCO the data is flowing to plant managers, supervisors, team leads, overall equipment effectiveness managers, weld techs, quality managers and quality techs. AGCO management has done an aggressive deep dive and quickly recognized ways to attack inefficiencies and develop new part-flow techniques to assist the welder. Further data driven goals include higher quality in the production line, part flow, corrections to part issues – and the company has recently jumped into root cause analysis on historical problem parts.
“We can go in, we can see why they’re non-conforming,” says Tammy Nelson, administrator of Centerpoint for AGCO Sunflower. “Our operators, our leads, our supervisors, and weld techs themselves can go out and punch information into Centerpoint and enter a note letting the next person know there could be an issue with gaps on the part or the part fit-up is not ideal. We can track issues, do root cause analysis, and take action to really address a solution.”
Nelson has been the point person for implementing the equipment and related software. A welder by trade, today she has a front row seat for the information produced by the software. Her Miller counterparts have been there from day one assisting with setup, troubleshooting and implementing change when the company recognized a need to adjust.
“It’s been really great working with Miller and the Insight system. It’s been a good collaborative effort. They’ve listened to us and they’ve met the needs of industry by developing this product specifically for major industry like we have,” says Nelson.
Today she distributes the data, trains and assists operators and maintains the system. As a former welder herself, she finds it remarkable that she can literally be in her office and watch a part be welded live on the factory floor via the graphical display on her computer monitor.
Nelson has witnessed firsthand the power of welding information. “You can actually go into the live history view, and you can see what your percentage is of parts that have passed. You can check how much time is actually spent on arc time. We can find efficiencies by focusing on cutting costs through jigging and un-jigging parts,” says Nelson. “Just by making your jigs a little quicker, keeping things closer to your bays so that the operator doesn’t spend as much time setting up really adds up in cost savings.”
Innovative solution for missing welds
Rework is a drag on productivity and the costs of a missed or defective weld increases exponentially the farther the part gets from the welding cell. The earlier a potential problem is identified, the less it costs to make a fix.
“One of the major problems we were experiencing at that time was missing welds,” says Girard. “Miller engineers and design teams went to the drawing board and they came up with a world-class solution for AGCO: the Axcess E with Insight.”
Missing welds were one of the costliest issues on the AGCO line. The flow through the factory means that the discovery of the missing weld usually doesn’t occur until the paint line. The part or unit comes off the line and is brought back into the welding cell where it is repaired and put back into the line. As Girard calls is it, “a lot of wasted motion that puts parts and products behind.”
“One thing right off the bat we determined, that on an annual basis, we could spend $400,000 easily on just missed welds alone,” says Girard. “And that’s something we’ve taken down to almost zero. So, $400,000 savings right there. That’s not even counting the productivity savings, the power savings or anything else.”
The welding inside the cells was quicker and more likely to be within acceptable limits. In fact the system allowed for a tightening of the parameters for welds, because the welders had the feedback they needed to improve their overall weld quality. Nelson credits the improvement in efficiency and accuracy to the Insight Centerpoint human machine interface (HMI) The immediate feedback each welder receives on current, voltage, wire feed speed, and deposition drives positive results. The welder’s access to the computer screen and the software-generated information means he gets feedback on every weld. He can immediately see the results of improving his torch angle, or contact tip to work distance, or travel speed, helping drive first-time quality.
The company is also using fewer consumables like wire and gas, decreasing the associated costs. Saving wire, consumables, electricity, and the time to weld a part adds up to a large savings for AGCO and ultimately its customers.
“We are using less wire and less gas because we are actually welding more consistently according to the weld parameters,” says Nelson.
Productivity gains & welder success
The monitoring of productivity meant new time standards for parts. AGCO considers time spent on parts production the most significant cost driver on a factory floor. The less time you take to build a part today compared to yesterday drives down the bottom-line cost.
The investment in Axcess E with Insight has helped with productivity because it is cutting the time it takes to weld a part. New welders are quickly brought up to speed with a graphical interface that gives real-time feedback. The program shows the new welder how to fabricate the part and then monitors quality on a weld-by-weld basis.
“So that helps the new user who is off and welding in a fourth of the time it used to take,” says Girard. “But it also helps the veteran user because we are standardizing every part. So everybody is going to do the same part the exact same way, every time. The production increase is significant.”
The AGCO welders are also learning from the Axcess E with Insight system. Improved technique, better tip-to-work distance – and their gun angle is improved because they can see the difference on the screen. The information flow gives the operator confidence he knows how to make sure he has stayed within parameters throughout the welding process. The welder knows when a strong weld has been put in correctly.
“The Axcess E with Insight has made the welders better because it is helping with the consistency of welds. They actually can see and acknowledge the weld size. So if I say a quarter-inch by two, it is teaching them to create a quarter-inch by two” says Nelson. “It’s also driving them to strengthen their weaknesses. So if they’re used to going under current by having too much stick-out, this is teaching them to go a little closer to pass those welds so that they’re not under current.”
Nelson says the newer generation of operators is readily tapping into the technology of the Axcess E with Insight; in fact they are asking for the chance to use it. She accounts the speedy adaptation of the technology to the video games the younger generation grew up playing. The time spent playing with X-Box, PlayStation and other game machines translates to success on a welding system that comes with a computer screen.
“This is almost like a challenge to them. What can I do to improve? How can I beat my last percentage? Can I beat my percentage from yesterday? We’ve actually got one user that has asked, ‘How can I get faster at welding? Or how can I improve my welds?’” says Nelson. “I had one operator who was just learning the system and he says to me “I’m going to use it every time it comes into my system because I really like to challenge myself and drive myself to do better.”
Some of the veteran welders were resistant to using new technology. In some cases Nelson has spent time in the cell with her hesitant operators to show them the benefits of the system. She says it would only take a a few parts to work through, and she could see a change in the welder’s attitude and a visual change in the welds.
“In one case he recognized that his knowledge in his welds increased. He learned he was too close to the weld — within parameters mind you and a good weld — but he learned he could improve that weld even more,” says Nelson. “By the end of the day, he was saying, ‘You know what, I like using this system.’ He says, ‘it’s making me a better welder.’”
Nelson has the firsthand view of how well the system is helping AGCO reach their manufacturing goals. She is looking forward to adding more Axcess E with Insight to the fleet in the future, knowing she will get the very latest in world-class equipment and the very best in a partner that will help the company meet its aggressive goals.
The partnership with Miller and AGCO managers will continue to grow, as the company believes they have just begun to tap into the tremendous value of the information coming from the welding cells. AGCO Sunflower has already experienced savings of hundred of thousands of dollars and is looking to the future for even more ways to increase the first time quality of its products and maintain its world-class status.