A unique robotic welding cell powered by Alma’s off-line programming software.

COMPTE.R is a French high-capacity biomass and wood-fired boiler producer. The company stands out thanks to its responsible and ecological approach to industrialization. Recently, in order to optimize production and create high-value jobs, COMPTE.R invested in a robotic welding cell unique by its size and capabilities: a Yaskawa robot mounted on a 8mX6.5m gantry able to weld a boiler in a single cycle. Alma’s act/weld off-line programming software has been chosen to power the one-of-a-kind robotic cell.

Boilers of the future

COMPTE.R’s century-long synergy with Auvergne’s forests and ecosystem has turned the company into a leader in the renewable energy market. With 150 employees and close to 1.800 fully functionnal boilers around the world, COMPTE.R is  a leader for industrial biomass and wood-fired boilers. Clients include industrials, farmers and local authorities.

Innovation is not just a word for COMPTE.R. The company reinvests over 7 % of its turnover into R&D, with the aim to decrease the energy consumption and environmental impact of its boilers.

The production team is working closely with R&D in order to help improve overall product quality. Today’s unveiling of COMPTE.R’s robotic welding cell is a direct result of this collaboration.  « Our boilers have become more innovative and more technical. Our production line had to reflect these changes. We also wanted to generate high-value tasks for our employees rather than manual and repetitive ones. Our 450 k€ investment has led to the creation of a welding cell that  generates both modern boilers and highly-skilled work » explains Dominique Compte, CEO.

The challenge: to weld an entire boiler in a single cycle

COMPTE.R started looking into production line automation in 2013. After discarding conventional ideas, the concept of welding an entire boiler in a single cycle appeared viable. This required the construction of an oversized prototype welding cell. The robotic integrator Robotique Services were chosen to drive the project. They chose to use a Yaskama cell as a base.

The final product: a 3-axis gantry entirely synch’ed with the welding cell, based on a 12.5 m (41 ft) longitudinal axis, a 6.5 m (21.3 ft) Y axis and a 3.5 m (11.5 ft) Z axis. The cell enables weld  beads to be applied to the inner and outer edges of the boiler, which lies directly on the ground. This configuration should allow the robot to weld at least 80% of the beads after tack welding of the entire boiler.

The programming solution: act/weld software

Off-line programming was the only solution for the unique system, due to its size and the difficulty of accessing the welding zones. Teaching programming would have been too complicated and would have brought the production line to a standstill for too long. Alma’s act/weld software was one of the only software able to define weld beads, simulate the robot’s trajectories and generate the welding programs from an off-line computer. As an added bonus, act/weld comes with a “Duplication” function which enables the quick programming of a high number of weld beads. It is especially relevant in the case of a boiler to which hundreds of pipes must be welded.

A boiler is comprised of hundreds of pipes, whose ends must be tightly sealed to the body of the boiler. act/weld's Duplication function which enables the quick programming of a high number of weld beads is especially relevant in this case.

COMPTE.R’s robotic welding cell presented yet another challenge: how to ensure the absolute tightness of each seal in less-than-ideal configurations (vertical up, vertical down, overhead position, etc.). Alma helped solve the problem by adding new functionnality to the already flexible act/weld. The software now recognizes slot welds. A boiler can hold more than 500 of them, yet the software’s programming time is less than 15 minutes. Bottom line: only 2 to 3 programming days are needed to set up the entire welding program.

Although it is too early to precisely measure COMPTE.R’s new robotic welding cell, test runs have largely proved its potential in terms of productivity and of product quality. Then again, the cell’s most positive recorded impact is its human implication. While automation usually equates to staff reduction, at COMPTE.R two employees have enjoyed a revaluation of their duties and have undergone additional training, in order to program and manage the robotic cell. The groundbreaking tool is now the pride of the company. It also demonstrates dynamism and innovation in French industry. « This project allows us to keep 100 % of our production in France and to strengthen our ties with the local economy », adds a delighted Dominique Compte.


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