Innovation & welding, a sustainable combination at Smulders


Innovation & welding, a sustainable combination at Smulders

August 25th '23

Welding is one of Smulders’ core activities. It is going on day and night on parts for mega projects. Driven by innovation, we want our people to have access to the best machinery and technology. That's how we can make sure our operations become more sustainable and efficient. It’s a matter of research, testing, implementing and getting results. And we do so together with VSE Technologies.

Welding stations cannot be replaced overnight when you know that currently about 600 of them – including racks – are in use. Welding is one of our main activities, which is why we thoroughly want to think everything through. Theoretical calculations, user feedback, consumption, etc. are used to optimise our approach. The requirements: energy-efficient welding stations that can withstand harsh operating conditions and excel in terms of efficiency, reliability and user-friendliness. Deployable across all our production sites, because uniformity is the future. And so the ball got rolling, one year and a half ago. A conversation with the initiators.

Robustness in view

Benny Loots, Director Iemants & Willems: "A major trigger is the need for uniformity within Smulders, sharing experiences, purchasing together and getting interesting terms, starting a pilot project and rolling it out after a positive evaluation. With VSE Technologies, we already have a serious track record of innovation and technology. They are the right partner to guide us in the search for energy-saving machines with the right functionalities. And that’s exactly what happened. I can still see it standing there when I visited VSE Technologies in Heist-op-den-Berg: welding machine Robust Feed Pro with ESAB Warrior 400i/500i power source. What appealed to me right away was the robustness of the machine, interesting to try out. At Willems we started to design a rack where we could incorporate 2 welding stations. That proved to be a successful move."

Bob Boons, General Manager Supporting Activities at Smulders Projects Belgium in Hoboken: "In the past, each branch had its own preferred brand. We used to focus on user-friendliness and easy maintenance. With the current energy challenges in mind and our goal of being carbon neutral by 2035, the sustainability factor with energy consumption monitoring has become decisive. Because a welding station is a continuous consumer, this will be a structural energy-saving measure."

Engagement & trust

Dieter Weyns, General Director Smulders Projects Poland: "Of course, it all starts on the shop floor, our welders have to like working with it. Change is not always obvious, first see and then believe that the new welding station lives up to its promises. Measuring is knowing. After the first convincing reports from Benny, we jumped on the bandwagon in Poland. And then we gained momentum. In a first phase, we purchased 15 new welding stations, 5 for each Polish site."

Bart Lourdaux, Managing Director VSE Technologies: "We understand the concerns of the welders, and always try to strike the right balance between ease of use, application, reliability and ROI (return on investment). Above all, a welding station should be user-friendly, preferably with as few buttons as possible, yet with all welding process-specific settings. Our multifunctional machines meet this requirement, we closely follow the customer's changing needs and put forward the best solutions, sometimes with part customisation. Given its core business, the welding activities at Smulders are also major energy consumers. The energy crisis brought additional challenges. We did theoretical calculations and took practical measurements in each plant with a view to saving money and choosing the most ecological machine. By involving colleagues from all branches, we created support based on facts & figures. In each site, we came to the same conclusion and results, which motivated us to implement the same type of welding station everywhere. That economy of scale offers advantages at group level."

Top technology

Innovation all the way, you can say that again. VSE Technologies brought in top technology to Smulders. The WarriorTM offers excellent arc performance with the energy savings you would expect from a latest-generation inverter. This along with excellent welding results, intuitive operation, more welding power produced by a lighter, smaller and more portable and protected machine.

Bob Boons: "Innovation and welding don't always seem to go together well, but with VSE Technologies as a systems integrator, we keep challenging each other to become better. Their knowledge helps us to continuously improve our production processes. And our clients can rest assured that their projects are created with first-class material. Only the best is good enough."

Benny Loots: "The results are there. Prior to this investment, we tested extensively and checked the figures. The consumption during standby of the welding stations is 16 times lower than the old machines and during welding they consume about 25% less energy. Sustainability takes precedence – on average about 35% less energy consumption, and that counts. The return on investment is less than 5 years. The life span of such a welding station depends on several factors. For some machines this will be 15 years, for others sometimes up to 30. Means we recover the investment relatively quickly."

1 organisation, 1 vision

The machinery is continuously being optimised, in gradual steps. This year, 99 welding stations were ordered, the first batches of which have been delivered to the various sites. Smulders Projects Belgium has also already ordered 20 more for 2024.

Dieter Weyns: “In the following years, we will continue to do the same. Project-based solutions are what we need. We continue to look for innovative welding techniques. Whereas previously the choice of welding stations was rather person- or location-based, group preference now prevails. People seem to be quite positive in Poland. The welding stations are easy to use and they offer continuity. And that this new material helps us become energy-neutral is absolutely perfect. Great strides have been made in an overarching collaboration – 1 organisation, 1 vision. We want more of that.”