ABB Robotics helps upgrade the Caterpillar operator station coating system

Established in 2005, Caterpillar (China) Machinery Components Co. Ltd., located in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, designs and manufactures hydraulic components, operator stations and powertrain components. The operator station plant started to produce operator stations used for excavators, loaders, motor graders and track-type tractors in 2007. As the first plant of Caterpillar worldwide that spans welding, coating and assembly test, its coating quality has reached the automobile industry standard.

Caterpillar used an old high-voltage electrostatic spray gun featuring a 40 percent coating rate for coating of the operator stations for excavators and earthmovers. Caterpillar aims to continue improving product quality and environmental requirements for processes. To deliver better coating rate and quality, Caterpillar decided to upgrade the operator station coating process.

ABB Robotics became a supplier of Caterpillar in 2011. Working together for years, ABB wins Caterpillar’s trust with its comprehensive system upgrading capability, outstanding project management, fast and high-quality service response, and routine maintenance services.

“We invited ABB system service technicians to conduct a site evaluation of our project. They recommended us to deploy the bell-type atomizer and readjust our coating process. As we highly trust ABB’s technical expertise, we decided to award the upgrading project to ABB.” Zhang Jinneng, the process leader of Caterpillar, remarked.

As the coating system upgrading represents the first project of its kind for the engineering machinery industry in China, it posed daunting challenges technologically and psychologically for both Caterpillar and the ABB project team. After winning the order, the ABB project team developed a well-designed plan, and pooled together numerous high-quality resources and manpower to verify the earlier schemes. Finally, the project kicked off during the National Day holiday in 2016.

The paint used for Caterpillar’s operator stations features a high viscosity and the operator station structures are also very complex, which posed daunting challenges for the construction. The ABB project team also encountered many particularly tricky problems, for example, paint build-up in the motor of the bell-type atomizer and high voltage alarms from the robot system. To address these challenges, ABB engineers worked closely with the customer to actively leverage their expertise and business competences, eventually enabling the new system to run smoothly as scheduled in spite of the stressful lead time. “ABB engineers demonstrate their expertise, preciseness, passion and responsibility during their solving these intractable issues, and also ABB’s customer first business value.” Zhang said.

Now, Caterpillar’s new operator station coating system has successfully operated for over three months. The system is armed with two IRB 5400 robots – ABB’s high-performance coating robot that features high acceleration, strong load-carrying capability and wide operating range. Without high voltage requirement, the new atomizer is suitable to waterborne and solvent coatings, which can significantly improve transfer efficiency.

“The new bell-type atomizer coating system provides higher coating rate, reduced paint consumption, more uniform film thickness, and improved coating quality. The coating rate is over 70 percent, sharply lowering our costs while increasing the productivity by 30 percent.” Zhang noted.

About Caterpillar
Located in the Wuxi New District, Jiangsu Province, Caterpillar (China) Machinery Components Co. Ltd. has a footprint of 19 hectares and a manufacturing space of 101,000 m2. With 1,500 employees, it has three independent plants, designing and manufacturing hydraulic components, operator stations and powertrain components respectively.

Caterpillar is the world’s leading manufacturer of earthwork machines, construction and mining equipment, and also a major supplier of diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives. Currently, Caterpillar has about 30 manufacturing plants, 4 R&D centers, and 3 logistics and parts centers, and a total of 13,000 employees in China.