Bernt Inge Øhrn (center) has been part of numerous projects at Mechatronics Innovation Lab. Left: Finn Oscar Karlsen (CEO, Pioneer Robotics). Right: Erlend Knutsen (CEO, Applica Robot Integration).

An autonomous robot welding system for on-site collaboration on Söderberg electrodes has been developed by two GCE NODE companies and Momek Group.

The initial development and technology qualifications was executed in Mechatronics Innovation Lab in Grimstad, supported by Stiftelsen Teknologiformidling.

The Weldermate will be introduced to the market at a ceremony in Mo i Rana later this week. It has the potential to dramatically improve working conditions for welders in smelters around the world.

“We are very excited to present our new robot system, especially designed for welding Söderberg electrodes. The market potential is global,” say Finn Oscar Karlsen, CEO of Pioneer Robotics in Kristiansand, and Erlend Knutsen, CEO of Applica Robot Integration in Mandal.

The two companies were approached by Mechatronics Innovation Lab (MIL) in Grimstad more than a year ago, to solve a problem presented by a client of MIL’s. Momek Group, a construction engineering company, based in Mo i Rana, is a provider of industrial products and services, and has showed a particular interest in improving working conditions for welders who work on the Söderberg electrodes in smelters world-wide.

Söderberg electrodes, originally developed at Fiskaa in Kristiansand in 1919, are used at an estimated 75 per cent of all the world’s electric smelters. Welders are required to regularly extend the casing, which is slowly consumed as it is submerged into the baking zone.

“Welding must be done with high precision to avoid leakage of liquids. It takes trained welders to perform this task rapidly. Due to extreme working conditions, welding is limited by a short time window defined by HSE regulations,” explains Karlsen and Knutsen.

Robotics competence from Pioneer Robotics combined with robot vision and software from Applica Robot Integration, has resulted in a robot welding system, initiated and technology-qualified at MIL, that can collaborate with welders and do most of the work, reducing human input to a minimum.

“We are thrilled to be facilitating an industrial development project that will have an impact on Norwegian value creation. This is a product that could go global,” says Bernt Inge Øhrn, CEO of Mechatronics Innovation Lab.

Exactly 100 years after the Söderberg electrode was developed in Kristiansand, companies from the city and neighboring cities Grimstad and Mandal, play an instrumental role in modernizing the work processes connected to the electrode.

“This is an excellent example of collaboration in a quite mature ecosystem for innovation in the Agder region. GCE NODE was the catalyst for the initial contact between MIL and Mo Industry Park, which eventually evolved into a development project between MIL and Momek Group, with Pioneer Robotics and Applica Robot Integration providing the necessary competence and technology. We are impressed by the result,” says Bjørn Saltermark, Project Manager at GCE NODE.

The new welding system is especially designed to automate the welding of Söderberg electrodes.