Technology | When the robot arrives at the factory

The all-new, fully automated welding line that the ADF Group has just erected in Terrebonne was inaugurated with great fanfare on Tuesday morning, while around 200 company employees stopped their activities to gather around this industrial behemoth to demonstrate all its functions to study and all its manufacturing skills.

Posted at 6:30am

Imagine a structure that is 275 feet long, 50 feet wide and 19 feet high, equipped with a handling robot at the end, two giant articulated weld heads on each side, coupled to system lathes on the floor that can turn steel parts weighing 6000 kg .

These turning systems replace overhead cranes that traditionally transport heavy parts with chains suspended from the ceiling.

This is what the robotic welding chain just manufactured by the Austrian company Zeman for the ADF Group looks like, state-of-the-art custom-made and the largest ever designed by the Austrian group, the largest robotic welding chain in the world.

The ADF Group specializes in the design, manufacture and assembly of steel superstructures of high architectural complexity. Two years ago, the company made the strategic decision to automate part of its production in order to optimize its production capacities.

ADF Group notably fabricated and installed the 450-foot antenna of the One World Trade Center tower in New York and the steel structure of the Videotron Center in Quebec.

“It’s not just the labor shortage that made us invest in building this robotic welding line. We are doing this to increase our production capacity, to pursue other business and to increase our order book,” summarizes James Paschini, General Manager of Production for the ADF Group.


Inauguration of the robot production line at the ADF Group in Terrebonne

James is the son of Jean Paschini, President and Chief Executive Officer of Groupe ADF, and himself the son of founder Giacomo Paschini, who founded Au Dragon Forgé (ADF) in Laval in 1956. Nine members of the second and third generation of the Paschini family work in the factory, which employs almost 400 people.

Evidence that the new line of robots won’t solve all of the company’s labor problems is a large banner with the traditional words “We’re Hiring” that still hangs at the front of the factory.

We expect to hire 100 new employees this year.

Jean Paschini, CEO of the ADF Group

“But our robotic line will allow us to produce simple parts in six times less time than a team, freeing up those workers to produce more complex, value-added parts,” specifies James Paschini.

Invest in the future

The ADF Group has invested 31.5 million to automate part of its production and to optimize the digitization of its activities. The company received a $12.3 million loan from Investissement Québec and another $7.7 million loan with interest relief from the Economic Development Fund.

In addition to the robotic welding line, ADF has acquired four mobile COHO robots to perform high-volume welding work, which can move around the 600,000-square-foot factory instead of moving the multi-ton steel parts.

Jules Beauséjour, director of robotization at the ADF group, explains that these robots will also perform repetitive tasks, freeing up the factory’s skilled workers to carry out more complex operations.

It was two years of planning work that mobilized all the teams at the plant, even our office workers. We don’t stop training. Every year we train fifteen people internally with two experienced employees to do just that.

James Paschini, General Manager of Production of the ADF Group

The new robot chain has completed its run-in phase and started production, but will be fully operational within three to four months, ADF executives estimate.

The chain manufactured parts for the new Los Angeles Airport terminal and other components for a project that the ADF Group is completing in New York. The ADF Group has a healthy order book, including contracts for two new electric vehicle battery plants to be built in Michigan.

“We are considering installing the same machines at our plant in Montana at some point, where we also want to increase our production capacities there,” sums up CEO Jean Paschini.

Pierre Fitzgibbon, Minister for the Economy and Innovation, who attended the inauguration of the new robotic welding line at his Terrebonne riding arena on Tuesday morning, was clearly pleased with this structuring investment.

“In 2019, Quebec companies invested 44% less in new equipment per employee than Ontario companies. We’ve been picking up the pace for the past two years, but we need to continue on this path to close our productivity gaps,” he pounded out again.

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