Barloworld Equipment unveils robot that gives bulldozers new lease on life

The robot has effectively replaced the manually driven and monotonous process of refurbishing the track shoes with an automated, end-to-end mechanism that requires little human involvement.

Barloworld Equipment Southern Africa has unveiled a state-of-the-art robotic system that has modernised the way the refurbishment of track shoes for Caterpillar bulldozers is done.

The robot has effectively replaced the manually driven and monotonous process of refurbishing the track shoes with an automated, end-to-end mechanism that requires little human involvement. The technological advancement in refurbishing track shoes will significantly reduce refurbishment costs for clients, improve product quality, and cut the turnaround time it takes to rebuild track shoes, thereby generating financial benefits for customers through reducing downtime.

“Before the robot was introduced, it took five days for two people to manually refurbish the tracks for a D11 bulldozer. The robot does the same work in 20 hours, with one operator. There are many competitors in the market that provide the same service. It’s very important for us to be faster and more price-competitive than our competitors,” says Sean Walsh, senior general manager at Barloworld Equipment.

People now do 5% of what they used to do manually, reducing exposure to heat and potential injuries, as the robot does the welding and also handles materials (steel bars) used to refurbish bulldozer track shoes. Now the Barloworld Equipment operators can focus on the more complex tasks they are trained for. Currently the robot refurbishes track shoes for D9, D10 and D11 Caterpillar bulldozers. In future, it will have the capacity to refurbish track shoes for D7 and D8 Caterpillar bulldozers.“We can repair track shoes and the track links, enabling our customers to get a second life on their machines. When the machines are parked due to inactivity or breakdowns, our customers lose money. The short turnaround time will reduce downtime for our customers to enable them to make money,” says Burger.

How does the robot work?

The robot, nicknamed “Tokolosie”, has two arms. The first arm (the gripper) specialises in handling materials, cutting worn-out grouser bars from track shoes and placing new grouser bars onto the track shoes. The second arm (the welder) specialises in welding the new grouser bar onto the track shoe. When the “gripper” has completed its task, it hands over the rebuilt track shoe to the “welder” to weld the new grouser bar firmly onto the track shoe.The two arms work in a synchronised mechanical manner and take 14 minutes to complete the whole refurbishing process for a single-track shoe. They then repeat the process in 14-minute cycles.

Previously workers had to use the oxyfuel cutting system to remove worn-out grouser bars from track shoes. A new grouser bar was then manually welded onto the track shoe. However, re-grousing a track shoe is impossible if the wear on the grouser bar is beyond 80%. If the grouser bar is beyond the minimum wear rate, the entire track shoe has to be discarded as refurbishment cannot be done.
“The price of re-grousing was more expensive than the price of competitors’ new track shoes. Now we can re-grouse more cheaply than our competitors,” explains Burger.Tokolosie was developed by ABB Robotics, a leading Zurich-based supplier of industrial robots and robot software. The development of the end-to-end re-grousing system started in October 2014 and the robot was delivered to Barloworld Equipment’s facility in Middelburg, Mpumalanga, in May 2016 for installation and commissioning.

“As Barloworld Equipment, we would like to extend our gratitude to our Middelburg team and ABB for a job well done in designing and commissioning the robot. The commissioning of the robot is in line with our strategy of improving safety for our staff and customers. We aim to achieve zero fatalities and a less than 0,05 Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate by 2020.

Equipment Africa says: The reduction of human involvement in the refurbishment process will go a long way towards helping companies achieve their safety objectives. The end-to-end re-grousing process will reduce human involvement in material handling and reduce the exposure of humans to heat and accidents.

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