Above: The EasyGrinder uses robots, software and a vision system to autonomously deslag, grind and debur parts

May, 2024- The co-founders and engineers of Teqram B.V., based in Zwolle, the Netherlands, developed a unique niche in metal finishing where they gathered, integrated and redeployed a few key technologies in a way that helps service centers and fabricators surpass the limitations of manual labor. Software, robots, off-the-shelf tools and artificial intelligence combine to create the right recipe for each specific application.

Founded in 2016 by brothers Frans and Roland Tollenaar, Teqram developed the EasyEye, EasyGripper, EasyGrinder and EasyFlipper. In order, these smart robotic tools 1.) “see” and control material in all its dimensions; 2.) move and hold material in place so that it can be worked on; 3) debur, clean and finish edges, including inside holes; and 4) rotate material from one side to the other while also serving as a work table.

Frans Tollenaar, company director, notes that Teqram’s EasyGrinder won the Most Innovative Solution Award for 2023 from ABB, which builds industrial robots, among many other high-tech products.

The award reflects the installation at a German service center of the automated grinding tool. The client uses the EasyGrinder to clean and finish plate products. Teqram purchases (then customizes) robots from ABB.

Tollenaar says Teqram tools can be combined in many different configurations and multiplied across a single facility or scaled up to multiple factories.

Underlying all the functions is the EasyEye, which actuates vision-guided robotic systems. It uses cameras to adjust operations based on what the robots see, he says, adding, “these solutions are very flexible.”

The EasyGrinder is probably the most noteworthy of Teqram’s offerings in terms of efficiency, productivity and worker safety. “Usually, you have a man or a woman with a portable grinding tool working the part.

We can now do the grinding with a robot, and the parts don’t need to be programmed because the robot can see the part.” He explains, “We make the robots intelligent. You give it a recipe: I want my parts chiseled and processed with a horizontal disk or a chamfering tool around the edge.” Previously, says Tollenaar, “that type of work is very labor intensive to program.” But backed by Teqram’s software and the ability to learn through AI, “the robot generates the codes dynamically. So it finds the angle needed to grind the part correctly. The operator for the job just selects what it wants the robot to do. The robot generates its own strategy to make the part.”

Rounded edges after grinding, which help coatings, like paint, adhere to metal parts. 

BACKGROUND

The Tollenaar brothers have decades of experience working in the metals processing industry. They own several industrial companies in the metals space, such as Tosec, Rime GmbH and TME. Roland Tollenaar is an engineer.

“We decided to develop the automated grinding technology because we couldn’t buy it. And we knew there was a market for it if we could develop it,” Frans Tollenaar says. To create the product line, “we buy the robot manipulator. All the other key technology is developed and built in house: the vision system, gripping tools and the application-specific software.”

The German company that installed the system last year, Ancofer, “is one of the biggest distributors in Europe for thick steel plate,” he says. “They use high-quality steel to make parts for heavy equipment and construction, including offshore wind.”

PARTNERSHIP

Teqram has contracted with Automated Fabrication Systems (AFS) in Carson City, Nevada, to develop the North American market for its solutions.

Marten Weidgraaf, technical sales engineer for AFS, says that most robot integrators “understand the robots and the application, but the programing of the robot is always part specific and is very hard to do.

“Because we dynamically program the robot, it’s a huge change. It’s really autonomous. It is the vision system and software that makes all of this possible.”

Many companies, especially if they are not large or don’t have the necessary tech-savvy personnel, will delay adoption of such technology. The leadership will say, “‘we don’t have a person to program that,’” Weidgraaf says. “We need to get that obstacle out of the equation.” With Teqram’s solutions, hiring a programmer “is not required at all.”

He cites one potential metals customer in Iowa that interviewed several robot integrators for an application. Teqram and AFS “showed them the whole part through simulation. We did the part in three minutes compared to 11/2 hours. They said, ‘if we had not seen it, we would not have believed it,’” says Weidgraaf.

APPLICATIONS

Tollenaar says that ideal applications for Teqram’s solutions are Caterpillar and John Deere equipment, Crown forklifts, earthmoving equipment, land-based and offshore structures.

In each case, the material substrate has to be smooth and clean for coating. “If you have a sharp edge, the coating won’t stick,” Tollenaar says. “If you have a round edge, the coating will last for many years.

“The dynamically stressed part, like for bridges or wind turbines, must avoid having cracks and sharp edges.” He says Teqram tool users have served companies that make everything from shovels to ski lift parts, which “need to be ground down precisely. These must be more consistent than a human can achieve.”

HOW-TOS

The EasyGrinder is built to debur parts after laser, plasma or oxy-fuel cutting; to sand parts; to round off edges as preparation for coating; and to remove slag and oxide layers after cutting.

The typical plate coming off a burning or laser cutting machine is about 24 by 48 inches. “There is an enormous amount of slag or burrs. A magnet goes to pick them up and stack them on a pallet until the plates are brought to a manual grinding area. The first thing the operator has to do is flip the parts over to perform the grinding,” Weidgraff says.

Instead of a manual grinding process, with Teqram’s solution, the pallet is brought to an EasyGrinder cell. If the part was processed before, the system recognizes the part and begins work. If not, an operator only has to type in the part’s dimensions, part number and task.

“From that moment on, the system calculates the part’s center of gravity and identifies which grippers are needed. The gripper scans the part. The part is detected, picked up, flipped over, and the robot will then start the grinding operation: rust removal, slag removal, heat affected zone, and put the radius on the part as required,” he says.

When the EasyGrinder is done with the job, the magnetic EasyGripper picks up the part and places it on another pallet.

“We compare this with how an operator does that same work,” Weidgraaf says. Tollenaar adds, “There are thousands of people working with grinding devices. There are sometimes physical injuries; it’s tough to find people to do those jobs.”

ANGLES, SPEEDS

Complex parts may have numerous small nooks and crannies. “Some manual tools are still able to get in and are very flexible,” Tollenaar says. Our robots have 6 axes, and up to 95 percent of common parts can be processed by the EasyGrinder. “We can make sure to have the right angle and the right rotational speed. The speed at which the disk rotates is very important. We control it all digitally,” he says, whereas “a human merely estimates.”

The wear and tear on the grinding disks is less severe, Tollenaar continues. A human grinding tool operator gets tired but “the robot can hold a grinding tool at awkward angles forever because it much stronger. “It is the combination of strength, positional accuracy and digital control that gives you the consistency” required, part after part, he says.

Such consistency becomes more necessary for critical parts used in machines and infrastructure. “A bridge, such as the one in Baltimore, would contain many critical parts for which the consistency and precision of the EasyGrinder is very valuable,” Tollenaar says days after the Francis Scott Key Bridge was destroyed by a drifting container ship.

AUTOMATION

Teqram, and AFS, can install racks that will store up to 11 different grinding tools. The right tool is selected by the robot for each job, it grabs a new tool automatically, says Weidgraaf. “The robot knows how many linear feet can be processed, according to the grinder and disk manufacturers’ recommendations. The robot will notice if the tool is at the end of its life cycle, and will then switch to another tool automatically,” he says. If the robot feels resistance while chiseling, “if it cannot keep the same speed, it knows it is stuck, and will reverse, try again, or go to a different position and angle to remove the dross,” says Weidgraaf.

“It generates its kinematics dynamically, based on what it sees and feels. Grinders are supplied by global hand-tool manufacturers, so replacements are available worldwide. “We have a partnership with them and they fit our robots. We are not trying to sell tools we are in business to sell the solution.” To date, “the EasyGrinder is the only one of its kind in the world,” says Tollenaar. He suggests fabricators and service centers with finishing operations might be able to generate new business by adopting robotassisted grinding and material handling tools. Weidgraaf concurs, “Every big plate distributor or fabricator could probably use a system like this.”

Automated Fabrication Systems, 847/867-6187, http://automatedfabricationsystems.com/

Teqram, (31) 38 750 8699, http://teqram.com/