AGCO’s Jackson plant is the site of a growing trend, an American company expanding existing facilities and adding jobs in the United States. The company is ramping up and building out as it adds to its production line. The welding professionals on staff wanted to streamline the welding process, monitor sequencing and mine the information at the point of the weld. The Miller Axcess E with Insight platform offered the weld process monitoring capabilities that AGCO executives were looking for to increase productivity and ensure product quality.
Focused on agriculture
AGCO is based in Duluth, Georgia and is the world’s largest manufacturer focused solely on producing products for the agricultural industry. The company manufactures a wide range of equipment, including tractors, combines, hay tools, sprayers, forage equipment, tillage, implements and related replacement parts. AGCO produces equipment under the trusted brand names of Challenger, Massey Ferguson, Fendt and Valtra. AGCO delivers everything from simple utility machines for the part-time farmer, to highly specialized, high-horsepower equipment for today’s professional farm operations.
AGCO’s attention to design and manufacture of its products has garnered worldwide recognition and awards for its products. The company recognizes its biggest reward is in the growing legion of modern farm operations that invest in AGCO products around the world.
AGCO has over 2,600 independent dealers worldwide with distributors in 140 countries. With factories located around the globe, AGCO is a leader in new technology. In Jackson, the company is expanding the facility, increasing productivity, monitoring the specs, and streamlining the welding process.
The company has recently transferred production of high-horsepower wheeled tractors sold in North America from Beauvais, France to Jackson, Minnesota. The factory was increased in size by 75,000 square feet to accommodate the larger Challenger high-horsepower row crop tractors coming off the assembly line.
Welding flexibility a requirement
AGCO Welding Engineer Dave Dehrkoop is responsible for the weld-engineering group at AGCO’s Jackson plant where there is a laser-like focus on integrating smart machinery, technology and innovation into the everyday function of the production line. There is a demand on world-class design included in every aspect of the machines produced by AGCO, from new engines to function control to complete redesigns. Quality is a cornerstone of production. It stands to reason there would be an emphasis on precise welding.
“AGCO uses the AGCO Production System as an all-encompassing philosophy relative to the way we run the business here. Five-to 10-person teams that actually work the same way a small football team or basketball team would work, look at opportunities for change that help support our focus of continuous improvement,” says Dehrkoop, “Instead of four or 10 people trying to solve a problem, now you’ve got hundreds, even thousands of people looking to improve the business, looking for opportunities and then implementing those throughout the factory.”
The welding department took a look at how they could improve productivity and quality. The welding needs are wide-ranging, from 22-gauge steel all the way upwards of 3-inch. Material type ranges from standard carbon steel, such as A36, all the way through HSLAs or stainless type materials. In some cases they weld dissimilar materials such as a stainless to a carbon steel or a galvanized carbon steel. The prevailing welding process is MIG welding utilizing the Miller Accu-Pulse™ Pulsed MIG process.
“Not only is Accu-Pulse an ideal process for manual welding, it has benefits on the automated side of the business as well,” says Dehrkoop, “it allows the operator to account for some of the inconsistencies of a manual operation, and it also allows us to get better travel speeds, less heat input and its ability to respond to variation in stick out.”
Ted Nelson is a weld engineer technician for AGCO. Nelson worked his way from the factory assembly floor into fabrication where he spent 12 years on the welding side of the Jackson facility. Today he oversees the welding programming and sequences for new and existing products.
“We try to hold our tolerances a lot tighter compared to common structural welding codes. We like to see no visible defects at all in anything that’s coming out of the shop,” says Nelson, “We’re monitoring the size of each weld to ensure it is to print without any variations.”
The demands of more and more complicated designs, exotic steels and precise welding requirements called for more direct feedback to the operator from the point of the weld. The more complicated the component, the more feedback was needed on weld sequence, heat, travel speed and the most critical task of all—whether or not the weld was done correctly.
Advanced system expands capabilities, enhances quality and productivity
The AGCO team took notice of the amount of valuable information provided by the Miller Axcess E with Insight system. The comprehensive welding data includes: missing weld detection, detection of under- and over-welding, identification of potential defects, sequence monitoring, cell downtime and production costs. It also provides productivity and quality information related to the welding process, visibility into the welding process through historical data, and convenient reporting functions that allow the management team to identify opportunities to streamline processes and assess the overall performance of the welding operation.
“We knew Miller’s Axcess E is a proven system; combined with Insight, weld data monitoring allows you to monitor the actual heat input going into the weld, the weld size, the weld length, and the sequence that you put the weld down,” says Dehrkoop. “It also allows you to track some of the basic background signature information and historical data that would go along with welding large and complex products.”
AGCO invested in Axcess E with Insight technology in order to govern the welding process. The Insight monitoring system is integrated into the proven Axcess welding power source platform. It has the ability to verify that each weld is produced within acceptable limits for current, voltage, wire feed speed, and duration. The technology allows users very specific feedback on heat input and weld length, along with weld size, all critical when working with structural members and structural welds. The focus for AGCO is on axles, wheel motors, subframe components—anything that’s going to have a high impact on the business. The ability to support critical, precise welding with a range of materials in one cell was a key selling point.
“For example, a boom structure is more like a crane, so I’ve got very thin material,” says Dehrkoop. “Heat input has a great amount of impact on how that material flexes. So there I’ve got low alloy. Then, on the other side of that, when you get into some of your heavy plate steels, I’ve got a lot larger weld, which means a lot more heat shrink that’s the cause of component distortion. By using the Axcess E, we’re able to control that.”
The added benefit of the Axcess E with Insight over the previous weld systems at AGCO includes added program profiles that the company didn’t have before. The welders find the ability to adjust and make better welds because of the control of the puddle makes a significant difference in enhancing productivity.
The Axcess E with Insight provides information flow that allows continuous productivity improvement. It gives managers specific information that can be used to diagnose or detect issues and allow a correction to be incorporated.
“When you look at trying to understand what happened with a particular weld and diagnosing that, you can “armchair quarterback” what you think happened without actually being down there on the floor. I can pull up the history of a specific event and look at a specific weld on a specific part and get a good understanding of what is going on,” says Nelson. “I can determine if I have a repeatability issue, or was there something that specifically happened on that one occasion, and then try to correlate across groups of data to get some statistical information. Am I always having problems with joint 53? If I’m always having a problem with joint 53, Insight Centerpoint allows me to very quickly isolate the issue. For instance: was it the fixture that’s starting to wear, do I have some type of a part fit-up issue, do I have some other type of an issue with the actual physical equipment, the plugging of the nozzle or something else?”
The benefits of Axcess E with Insight were quickly apparent. Not only was the company seeing the weld process data it desired, but the information was paying for itself in shorter training curves, better productivity and use of fewer consumables.
“If we look at the benefits of the Axcess E relative to the business and just from the productivity, you’re getting a return on investment in less than a year just because the process and the machine is just so much more efficient, because you’ve dialed that in. You’ve honed that program specifically for that part,” says Dehrkoop. “Little things like weld spatter and having to grind off the weld spatter or touching up a part; sometimes that’s lost in the process. So, as a whole, you’ve got a system that nets a lot of gain to the business.”
The company has seen a sharp reduction in over-welding thanks to Axcess E with Insight. With the system, AGCO operators are able to control weld size as they’re actually laying down the weld. The system alerts the operator when a weld is either too long or too short. As a result, the company has seen significant reduction in the amount of wire and gas used while also improving quality.
“Our welds are to print, and are high quality welds. But at the same time, you’re eliminating some waste of excess wire and gas use, thanks to Axcess E with Insight,” says Dehrkoop.
On the floor, training the operators is far different than it was before Axcess E with Insight. The system allows trainers to easily work with a brand new operator or an experienced operator moving to a new cell. The process of educating new employees takes fewer training hours and the new operator is producing much sooner than in the past.
“It greatly reduces training time,” says Nelson, “because we have already determined the correct sequence, it’s simply a matter of showing them how to put the parts together in the fixtures, and then the weld sequence itself is already there for them, so it helped greatly reduce the amount of training time.”
The Axcess E with Insight can provide a visual Human Machine Interface (HMI) for operators to follow. Using either digital photos or CAD drawings, the operators are guided through the fabrication of a part on a weld-by-weld basis. This approach ensures welds are in within limits for current voltage wire feed speed and weld duration. The system monitors each weld independently while governing the sequence. This gives longtime welders the benefit of peace of mind that the weld was done to spec. The operator receives real-time information on the weld as it’s laid down. The information flow and the point and click function of the system keep the operators focused on welding and parts moving down the line. The Axcess E with Insight system gives production and plant managers the power to review operator productivity and performance, understand production rates and costs, as well as troubleshoot issues such as why a welding cell is experiencing downtime or why potentially faulty welds are being produced.
“It has helped us determine whether we need to change the sequence or whether we need to change a fixture or even if it’s an engineering issue, bad joint fit-up or bad joint design,” says Nelson, “I think it’s really helped narrow down the root issues and keep us from chasing our tails, so to speak. I think it’s really helped reduce the time in identifying and correcting those types of issues by helping us understand where we need to look.”
AGCO’s Dehrkoop says the fact that he has the ability to know exactly what is happening inside the welding cells is a great benefit for management. He knows his operators have the tools they need to get the job done accurately whenever they spark a torch, ensuring the job is done right the first time, and that AGCO ultimately delivers the high quality products their customers expect.
“By having the Axcess E technology,” says Dehrkoop, “I know I’m getting a good weld, the right weld, every time.”
The Axcess E with Insight provides not only “best in class” welding technology, it provides the type of valuable information that helps AGCO stay ahead of the other competitors in the highly competitive global agricultural equipment-manufacturing segment. By delivering tangible benefits for operators, engineers, and plant management, the Axcess E with Insight has been able to help AGCO reduce cost, increase productivity and enhance overall quality.