General Industry: OLRP Insights

Episode One: Accumetal

Accumetal Manufacturing:
How OLRP Evolved Their Business

In episode one of General Industry: OLRP Insights, Jon House hosts a discussion with Aaron DeJong of Accumetal Manufacturing Inc. Accumetal is a high mix, fabrication, and welded components manufacturer. They manufacture a large number of structural components for the off-road mining industry. After many years of manual welding and manual programming, the volume of work increased and triggered the need to look at more automation.

Lindsay Snider:
Welcome everyone to the webinar and our first episode of General Industry: Offline Robot Programming Insights featuring Accumetal. We're so thrilled to have you here with us today. My name is Lindsay Snider, and I'm the Marketing Manager here at OCTOPUZ. Leading the webinar today is Jon who is our Co-CEO of OCTOPUZ, and then Aaron, who is a Welding Engineering Technologist at Accumetal Manufacturing.

Jon House:
Excellent. Thank you, Lindsay. And Aaron, welcome to the webinar. I have several what I think are good questions for you today and I’m excited to hear your answers. But maybe we can start if you can tell the audience a bit about yourself and how you got into robot automation and welding.

Aaron DeJong:
Yeah, Jon. Thanks for having me on. I think we're going to have a good conversation here today. So, to start, my journey into the welding fabrication & robotic automation industry started when I was in high school, taking the metal shop class, I loved to be able to design and build my own projects. And then when I was looking at a career, I knew I wanted to do something in the welding and fabrication industry and robotics sounded pretty cool. I attended Conestoga College and took the three-year Welding and Manufacturing Engineering Technology course. After graduation, I started working for Accumetal as the welding engineering technologist.

Jon House:
Awesome. You mentioned Conestoga College, and skilled labor and education is such an important topic right now. What can you share about your program at Conestoga and what did that multi-year program look like?

Aaron DeJong:
Conestoga has a fantastic setup for their welding and Manufacturing Engineering Technology courses. For the three-year program that I took, the first year is all hands-on welding so you learn the techniques to put a good weld down. The second and third years are when they really introduced the robotic programming and the welding. I would say it's hands down the best Welding Technology Program in the country. But I might be a little bit biased.

Jon House:
Of course. You talk about hands on welding or manual welding there. I'm not a welder. But in your opinion, do you have to be a skilled manual welder to effectively weld with a robot?

Aaron DeJong:
You do not have to be a skilled welder. However, having the welding knowledge and experience will make for a better programmer. If you don't know what a good manual weld looks like, or how to put a good weld down, how can you program a robot to do the same thing?

Jon House:
You did a program at Conestoga and joined Accumetal. Right around that time is when we met … in the 2017 timeframe. Accumetal then started to look at OCTOPUZ. Why did Accumetal turn to offline robot programming at that time? Were there any specific problems that you were trying to fix?

Aaron DeJong:
Yeah, when we first looked at offline programming, there weren’t any problems we were trying to fix. At the time, when we were introduced to each other, we had a new cell coming in, along with an older cell that was running consistently. However, we knew we wanted to invest in offline programming before we brought more robots into our facility. So that down the road, we could hopefully be more competitive.

Jon House:
Yeah, that's awesome to hear that. We hear a lot of this from our prospective customers saying “Hey OCTOPUZ looks great. However, we will buy it when we land this job, or when this cell hits the floor. That helps justify the OCTOPUZ purchase.” Our rebuttal is usually based on showing the value for your current work, and also your potential work. So why not get started now? Why wait for that potential job that you may potentially win? Accumetal investing in software and technology before the actual cell landed or before you won those won those new jobs is great. With OCTOPUZ, or Offline Programming in general, there's usually three reasons I think why a customer would buy our solution. Sometimes it's just one, or sometimes it's a combination of the three. Those three are 1) reducing robot downtime, 2) reducing programming time, and 3) working across multiple brands of robots. I think all three of those are important for Accumetal. Is there one that is most important?

Aaron DeJong:
For us it is by far being able to work across different brands. We started with two Panasonic cells. But we decided to go with a Yaskawa, Motoman for our latest cell. We wanted a software that could do all brands. We did not want to limit ourselves into buying one type of robot software, because of the one brand that we currently had.

Jon House:
Got it, so it helps reduce the dependency on a specific manufacturer.

Aaron DeJong:
Exactly.

Jon House:
And prior to OCTOPUZ, I believe you were teaching or programming the robot with the teache pendant. Do you still use the teach pendant today? And why?

Aaron DeJong:
We do still use the teach pendant for some jobs. The one example I can give is a couple weeks ago. We had a job that involves a part with six welds, and a quick handmade fixture. For a job like that I would have to model the part and model the fixture and import that into OCTOPUZ and programming. By the time that that is all done, I could have had the robot programmed on the pendant and be running production.

Jon House:
Is there a specific ratio that you would use OCTOPUZ or teach pendant?

Aaron DeJong:
Currently I see we're about a 60/40 split. We try to use OCTOPUZ 60% of the time and 40% of time, we're still on the pendant. We are moving in the direction to change that.

Jon House:
When a shop is buying a new robot, when would you recommend bringing in a OLRP software? Is it before the robot, with the robot or after the robot?

Aaron DeJong:
When a shop is purchasing their first robot, I would recommend bringing in the software after your robot has arrived. That way you've had a bunch of time behind the pendant, and you've had the experience physically programming it. I say this because if you do not know how to program a robot manually, how can you accurately program a robot offline? Having that programming experience is also valuable, because then you know what to angle your welding torch at if you're using a welding application, or you know what parameters you need to use.

Jon House:
If it's not your first robot, if it's your second, third, fourth, fifth, is your answer different?

Aaron DeJong:
I would say that that does depend on the brand. Again, if it's the same brand and controller, you could probably bring in the software, right as you're bringing in that cell, depending on timelines. If it's a different brand, I would go back to that first answer.

Jon House:
I think that's a very, very reasonable take on it. For the listeners, just be mindful of what your expectations are, because when we're talking to prospective customers, sometimes they're bringing in the robot cell. With their expectation that they're completing jobs, two days after the cell lands on the floor. In that case, we would say, “ you should probably buy OCTOPUZ before the cell comes in so that you can be trained and comfortable”. Like Aaron stated, you're going to have to understand the nuances of that code or that pendant etc.. But if there isn't that need to get parts completed immediately after the robot hits the floor, then, you know, you're not particularly rushed, or the timing isn't as significant. Just be mindful of what your expectations are, in terms of getting work done.

Something I wanted to ask you, Aaron, I read a blog post recently, that was written by a job shop. They were talking about their robot and stated they didn't use it enough because of oddball short jobs run that came through. We at OCTOPUZ would call that high mix, low volume production. They looked at offline robot programming, but they had a tough time justifying the cost versus the benefit, because they weren't convinced that they had the resources internally to make it happen. Basically, because they were a small shop, everyone wears a lot of hats and does a lot of jobs. They said, “Hey, if we had a few more people in the technical robot programming department, it would be an easy move because we could dedicate those people to the software.” My question for you and it's a two-part question. 1), does Accumetal have a dedicated programming team or person?

Aaron DeJong:
There's a dedicated programming team or person in the sense that I do a lot of the office programming and a lot of the on the floor programming. We also have our lead hand in the robotics area. He's also one of the main programmers.

Jon House:
The second part of my question was going to be, what else are you responsible for at Accumetal? I'm assuming you're not a full-time OCTOPUZ programmer?

Aaron DeJong:
No, I wear a few hats at Accumetal, I would say that we're on the line of what you could call a small business. I take care of the robots, I do the OCTOPUZ programming. I am also the welding inspector. I'm checking the welds that come from the robot and the welds that the manual guys are doing. I also back up the engineering department if they get busy, or when they have welding related questions.

Jon House:
Based on what you know, and your experience with OCTOPUZ or offline robot programming. Is there a specific amount of time or interaction with the software that you feel you need to keep to be effective in the software? Obviously, if you’re using the software every day, you're a pro. But if you're using it once every three weeks. Or four weeks. Are you still comfortable enough in the software? To the point that when you jump in, you feel like you haven't missed a beat?

Aaron DeJong:
Yeah, I would say for me, like, I try to get in there every few weeks, depending on what our workload is for the robots. Also, depending on what we have coming up. If I'm in it every, three to four weeks, it sometimes does take a little bit to get back in to it. I’ll have to think, how did I adjust that angle? Or how did I make this happen? With a little bit of experimenting, I'm right back to where I started.

Jon House:
That's helpful. Late in the sales cycle, the prospective customer might say, “Hey, Jon, we want to go forward with OCTOPUZ. Who do you recommend I put on the software? Is it my robot operator? Is it the CAD savvy SolidWorks type person that I have? Is it the manual welder?” So how would you answer that question, Aaron?

Aaron DeJong:
In my opinion, the best candidate is probably your best robot programmer, and preferably, that person should be CAD, CAM, or computer savvy. If you try to figure out who your programmer should be, that's a conversation for a different time.

Jon House:
How I would typically answer that question is, it depends. It's, more so having a person that you can put on it. They need to either know the robot or know software. If they don't know either of those, you know, it's going to be tough. Hopefully, they know at least one. We built the software in a way that's easy to use. With OCTOPUZ, you talked about having your Panasonic and your Motoman robots. Do you program all robots the same way? One of our value propositions is, we're brand agnostic. What are critical nuances to be mindful of when you're working across different brands within offline robot programming software?

Aaron DeJong:
Yes, for us, specifically, we need to watch the different code types and how the programs are generated. We might have to convert the code before we load them onto the robot controller. So currently, in our facility, we have one Motoman cell and two Panasonic cells. So, our Motoman programs, we can use generate them and bring them into the robot. Whereas with our Panasonic, we have to convert them before we can bring them down.

Jon House:
So that's all the posted code type of activity. Would you say all the software activity remains basically the same, regardless of what brand you're using?

Aaron DeJong:
Yes, it does.

Jon House:
That's good to hear! You’ve done a lot of reference calls for OCTOPUZ, which, we're thankful for. I haven't really asked you this question. What are the questions that you hear that you're getting from customers who are taking a look at OCTOPUZ?

Aaron DeJong:
The most common questions I get is 1) what do you think of the experience? 2) is OCTOPUZ easy to use? 3) What do you use it for? 4) How is the support after the purchase? 5) And was it worth the investment? You guys at OCTOPUZ you make the programming experience very easy, and are always looking to make it better than before. I will say that there are learning curves for each update, but once you're familiar with it, it's usually smooth sailing. You stand behind your product. If you have any issues. You submit requests through the website, and a support person reaches out as soon as they can. I find that with you guys, support is always excellent. To finish up on this one, I would say for us, it was worth the investment. We use it more for simulation than programming at this point. At the same time, we're always looking to see what we can program and what we can add. Also, it helps us identify what we can do, and also identifies what we might have to watch out for.

Jon House:
Awesome. Something we haven't also talked about. I've been hearing a lot lately. “Hey, OCTOPUZ looks great. I believe you that it works. Your customer told me it works. But we've been burned before with software, buying it, and it not operating the machinery correctly.” So, is that a question that you also get Aaron where they ask, “Hey, does this actually work? I'm concerned. My setup is going to be different than yours. Would you have any level of guarantee or confidence that you can provide me that OCTOPUZ is going to work on my cell or my robot?”

Aaron DeJong:
From my experience, what I can see is that you guys come in with your application engineers and marry a virtual cell that you design to the physical cell. So that being said, it should work. It's worked for us. Again, I've heard from other customers use that it works really well to

Jon House:
Glad to hear it. What advice do you give? Or would you give to manufacturers who are considering offline robot programming.

Aaron DeJong:
So, first thing is you need to look at your process. You need to see if offline programming software is good fit for your company. For a contract job shop like Accumetal, it's worth it because you do not know what you might have to weld with the robot. Offline software can be an asset for things that we've previously talked about. You also need to consider who's programming your robots. If you don't have someone who's familiar with a computer, programming software or welding, it might be a challenge. Then the last recommendation and Jon you mentioned it earlier is you need to be patient when integrating offline programming. When you take things from a very perfect virtual world, to this nowhere near perfect real world, there will be some challenges that need to be overcome.

Jon House:
What do you have in terms of touch sensing, seam tracking, vision? Do you have some of those? Some of those? And how critical is it to working with offline robot programming?

Aaron DeJong:
It may even come down to your timeline. Like you mentioned earlier, if you're expecting to make parts within 24 hours, we might have to, again, be realistic about your expectations.

Jon House:
The demo as we would call it, probably in the sales process is the most critical meeting between the vendor and the prospective customer. We'll do two or three, through the life of an evaluation. So, it was a few years ago now that you were getting demos of OCTOPUZ and DTPS. What should you be looking for specifically, in a demo? What questions should you be asking?

Aaron DeJong:
When I'm getting a demo on anything, not just OCTOPUZ here, the few key things that I'm looking for, what are the clear advantages over the other options? How easy is it to use this product? I’m honestly looking to see how the demo goes. If a salesperson doesn't know their product inside and out, can I trust them giving a full and true demo of the product? Some other questions that I got to look at is compatibility with my equipment, which again, we sort of touched on previously. Is there any additional information I need to know? Will I need a third-party converter? Are there additional options? What are training options?

Jon House:
Definitely, that’s helpful. For all the viewers, I did write a blog post a few weeks ago that touched on the demo, going over questions to ask, what to look out for, what the red flags are. So definitely take a look at that on our website if you are about to enter a demo stage with OCTOPUZ and then the other company. Aaron, I do have my final question. Looking back on bringing in offline robot programming or bringing in the new weld cell into Accumetal. What if anything, would you have done differently knowing what you now know?

Aaron DeJong:
When we first brought you guys in for implementation, I was taking the training course for that new robot cell. I would have liked to be on site during that time. So, I could have learned more from the application engineers. From our last install, I also would have made sure I’m ready to be operational before bringing you guys in. I mean for us that was just making sure that the fixturing table was in place and that was a I was 100% ready for you guys to come in.

Jon House:
That is helpful, Aaron thank you for your time and your insightful answers and attendees. Thank you for attending. We hope you found this to be valuable. Certainly, reach out to us through our website and other contact methods if you have questions.

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