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Robot welders keep their tips clean with chemically-treated water


In Cambridge, Ont., Oxford Automotive knows all too well the need for clean water in the workplace. Located in an area of the province where hard water is the norm, the manufacturer of car suspensions has been plagued with production problems caused by chemicals that occur naturally in city-supplied water.

"Our biggest problem was with our robotic welding machines," says Suki Singh, the company’s technical services manager. "We have 50 of them on the go. They are used for critical welding on our production line." The welding units run at a very high temperature; so hot, that after each weld, the tip is flushed with cold water to immediately cool the unit down in time to make the next weld.

"With hard water we were getting contaminants adhering to the welding tips," continues Singh. "Not only did it reduce the cooling of the robotic units, it caused poor welds — to the point where sometimes the welds weren’t fusing."

General Motors purchases Oxford’s car suspensions for the production of its automobiles. GM expects, and gets, perfect parts. Poorly operating robotic welders slowed production and ran up costs.

For a decade the company fought to produce clean water. It was not only a losing battle, it was a drain on time and money. A weekend shutdown to clean the robot welders came with a $40,000 price tag. A water treatment company came in, looked at the problem, prescribed a solution … and failed.

Singh realized it was time to step out of the box and called in a firm that specializes in designing solutions to fit a customer’s specific needs. Klenzoid Company Limited stepped up to the plate and solved Oxford’s water problems for good.

"To cool the robot welders we use a recirculated cold water system. It is about ten years old, and, aside from the tip scaling problems, it runs very well," says Singh. "They (Klenzoid) helped us find the solution. What we did was very simple, really. We pumped city water through some heavy duty softeners and then, again with Klenzoid’s help, used a chemical treatment to keep the water inside the system running cold and clean."

"Major funds were being spent at Oxford every weekend, installing filters, repiping and descaling vital components," says Klenzoid’s technical service manager, Patrick Smith. "Our first visit to the site was used to conduct a water analysis of the raw water and recirculating water in the system. A piping schematic was drawn to ensure the cooling application was understood. It was apparent that alternate chemistry was required. After presenting the proposal for a soft water treatment program with fully automated bleed control and chemical addition, we were given the go-ahead to proceed."

The water quality was under control within days of installing the Klenzoid designed system. Klenzoid conducted weekly technical service visits to ensure that the soft water was indeed letting the robots do their tasks correctly. In only one week, Klenzoid was able to resolve a situation that had frustrated Oxford for ten years. The company found the answer and followed through with daily on-site visits to the plant to ensure the new system was scaling into a balanced chemical system.


Stephen Weir is a freelance writer living in Toronto.