An optimisation process has greatly reduced the production time at LAG Trailers. The final leap was recently made with the installation of two welding robots from Valk Welding. In this way, the European builder of aluminium tank trailers wants to continue to grow.
“Someone who worked here 10 years ago no longer recognises the factory,” said LAG Trailers CEO, Rob Ramaekers – standing at the production line in front of a welding robot from Valk Welding which was recently put into operation.
Every year some 2,000 tank trailers roll out of the factory in Bree (Belgium) where 420 people are employed. LAG Trailers is among the largest producers of aluminium tank trailers in Europe.
Ten years ago, LAG, which is part of the large Chinese transport vehicle manufacturer, CIMC, started an impressive optimisation process. The company outsourced the production of hundreds of components to other companies in the region. It also divested a range of ancillary products to focus entirely on the construction of tank cars in which it has specialised since 1947.
During the reorganisation, branched production lines were introduced and the company switched to a modular design of its tank cars. All these modifications greatly increased efficiency and reduced production time. For example, LAG Trailers today makes a tilt-bulk trailer in 250 hours where it used to take 800 hours.
“Standardisation is the basis of success,” said LAG Trailers Manufacturing Manager, Leon Bokken. “That also made the arrival of welding robots possible.”
The first robot was welcomed in 2020 and the second followed in 2022.
LAG has five production lines where it builds fuel trailers, tank trailers, bulk trailers, bulk containers and container chassis. One of the robots is used on the aluminium tanks production line for the bulk trailers, while the other is used in the bulk containers production line.
Customised welding robots
“Welding aluminium tanks presents several challenges,” said Peter Pittomvils, Commercial Director of Valk Welding, who supplied both welding robots. Valk Welding developed custom welding equipment that was produced in-house.
“This also allowed us to make custom welding torches for hard-to-reach places,” he said.
The robot is equipped with an Arc-Eye laser camera that copes well with the reflections of aluminium. The camera not only catches position deviations, but, if necessary, can also catch the variation of welding seam geometry, such as varying gaps, by adjusting the welding parameters in real time (adaptive welding).
With the welding robot, LAG Trailers saves two welders on its two production lines. However, saving on personnel costs was not the main goal of robotisation, Ramaekers emphasised. “Good welders are very hard to find, and if you have them, it is best to use them for work where they are irreplaceable.”
He also cites consistent weld quality as an important added value of the robots.
Pittomvils often hears the same arguments from customers. With the tightening labour market for technicians, Valk Welding, with nine branches across Europe, is experiencing a huge demand for flexible welding robots. The company is active in numerous sectors and due to its extensive experience in trailer and tank construction, the link with LAG was quickly made. Valk Welding is known within Europe for its very flexible welding robots and meanwhile also has solutions where welding robots are fully automatically programmed.
The welding robots were embraced by the staff within no time. The welding programs are created completely offline thanks to Valk Welding’s unique calibration technology. “Programming works just like Lego construction,” said Ramaekers. “You drag the necessary modules together and the welding program is generated.”