Selective soldering
Wave soldering


Ersa & Kurtz Ersa Automation: One-stop shopping

Kolb Fertigungstechnik invests in a highly flexible inline THT manufacturing system

To celebrate its 30-year anniversary in 2019, Kolb Fertigungstechnik GmbH based in Willich in North Rhine-Westfalia, gave itself a special present: the production hall, that was only commissioned in 2014, was expanded once again, almost doubling its floor space. In the course of this, the manufacturing service provider invested in an automated and flexible THT line and is counting on Ersa’s 100 years of experience in soldering technology combined with the innovative automation solution of Kurtz Ersa Automation.

It took just four and a half years for the previous production site to no longer meet the need for usable space. As a manufacturing service provider, Kolb produces complex gate control systems for industrial companies and communication devices for broadcasting companies, Formula 1 and Olympic centres among other things. In addition, the company offers its customers, who are broadly positioned in terms of industries, a wide-ranging spectrum of complete solutions. These include material procurement and storage, replacement assembly production, cable assembly, optical testing, electrical testing as well as the varnishing and potting of assemblies and final assembly up to printed packaging, including the entire shipping logistics.

In 2018, the decision was made to have an extension built next to the existing location due to the steadily growing turnover. The production area was thus almost doubled from 1,700 m² to approx. 3,300 m² and production commenced in April 2019.

Joint growth with existing customers

Udo Speck, Managing Director for Production and Purchasing, sees the reason for the enormous increase in turnover by 100 percent within six years primarily due to the fact that Kolb focuses on joint growth with existing customers. Since the national and international clientele has grown in recent years, this has also had a direct positive influence on Kolb’s order situation. In order to be able to satisfy the increased demand, the previous soldering system has been replaced by a highly flexible inline THT manufacturing line from Ersa.

Key data Kolb Fertigungstechnik GmbH:

  • Founded in 1989
  • 43 million euros turnover in 2019
  • 186 million mechanically equipped electronic components in 2019
  • 4 automatic production lines
  • 3300 m² production area

How the new line works

This has been in operation at Kolb since 2019 and is made up of two workstation groups (one with three and one with four equipping stations), the Ersa POWERFLOW PRO wave soldering system and the conveyor system optimally matched requirements.

This means that one or two different products can always be produced at the same time.

If all seven equipping workstations are combined, the line can be used as a conventional circulating system. In this case, the product carriers with the assemblies on them are first equipped at the 3-station group, then forwarded to the 4-station group and processed further there. This is usually necessary with complex equipping tasks or especially large assemblies.
The bypass section opposite the 4-workstation group also makes it possible to manufacture two products independently of one another. The equipped product carriers from the 3-station group run past the 4-station group via the bypass section and guarantee optimum production flow. Upstream of the soldering machine, the two strands come together again and are supplied to the soldering machine.

The Ersa POWERFLOW PRO meets the criteria required by Kolb for a high-throughput wave soldering system and optimally combines technical and economic requirements.
The return transport after the soldering process takes place on the lower conveyor level. After the inclined discharge of the POWERFLOW, the product carriers are transported to the level below by means of a lifter. Underneath the soldering system there is a cooling tunnel that cools product carriers from about 90°C to about 40°C, so that they can be removed manually at the end of the process.
This is not a controlled process, since external factors such as conveyor speed, ambient temperature or the mass of the product carrier are difficult to calculate. Nevertheless, optimum use is made of the time and distance of the return transport, and the temperature of the product carrier is significantly reduced.
Information about the routes of the product carriers is transmitted using RFID technology (Radio-Frequency Identification). The transponder attached to the product carriers is automatically read at a total of three readers and forwarded according to route information.

Depending on the transponder information and prior planning, the product carriers are removed from the process at one of the equipping workstations.

Decision in favour of wave soldering

Kolb currently uses the system for different products that nevertheless have two things in common: the assemblies have a very high proportion of THT components and are produced in large quantities. According to Ersa Sales and Key Account Manager Stefan Wurster, the ideal conditions for wave soldering technology were therefore met. “Although there will be less focus on wave soldering in the future compared to selective soldering, manufacturing service providers in particular are well positioned if they have and master both processes in-house. This machine provides Kolb with an efficient process through fast and economical soldering.”

The group of four equipping workstations is usually fully utilised with one product family consisting of eight different variants. The group of three is used for the production of individual products and is occupied depending on the equipping workload.
“Our customers come from very different industries, and accordingly have different products and requirements. The fact that we can react to this so flexibly and thus utilise the soldering machine to the best possible capacity is an enormous advantage for us,” says Kolb Managing Director Udo Speck.

Two specialists within the Kurtz Ersa Group

Udo Speck sees another advantage in the concentrated expertise in soldering technology and automation under the umbrella of the Kurtz Ersa Group: “We have learned in the past how important it is to work closely with customers and suppliers. Kurtz Ersa’s transparent and professional offer had us convinced.”
His main contact from the very beginning was Ersa Key-Account Manager, Stefan Wurster; the respective experts from the fields of automation and application technology were consulted for the conception.
Close internal coordination and communication channels between Ersa GmbH and Kurtz Ersa Automation GmbH ensured a smooth production process and punctual delivery. Less than 12 weeks passed between the receipt of the order and the installation at the plant in Willich.

Kolb also relies on the Ersa brand in other areas of electronic production. Since 2018, a VERSAFLOW 4/55 with three upstream equipping workstations has been in use in the selective soldering area. The ERSASCOPE inspection system can also be used to inspect complex soldered components such as BGA or QFN chips. An IR 550 rework system is available for rework or small series.

More ergonomics at the equipping stations

Ergonomics at the workplace is a particularly high priority at Kolb.
“Feeling safe and comfortable at work is the basic prerequisite for doing a good job,” says Udo Speck. For this reason, the employees were involved in the very first planning stages for the construction of the new hall. Concepts for walkways or working heights were discussed and agreed upon.
For the new THT line, too, many ideas were implemented that make everyday life easier for the people who work on the machine every day.
One special feature in this context is the return transport, which does not run underneath the equipping belt as usual, but rather parallel to it under the bypass section. This results in a large amount of legroom for the employees at the workstations.
Kolb’s existing concepts were taken up with regard to material supply and lighting. The equipping workplaces are designed in such a way that the material supply trolleys can be moved to the workstation in such a way that the gripping paths are as short and uncomplicated as possible.
According to Udo Speck, these measures also have positive effects on the economic results. Errors can be avoided and throughput increased as a result.

Kurtz Ersa Automation GmbH:

Today’s Kurtz Ersa Automation was founded in 1996 as Metallbearbeitung Wertheim GmbH. Over the years, the need for efficient automation solutions was taken into account at Kurtz Ersa with a reorientation of the company, which has been operating under the name Kurtz Ersa Automation GmbH since the beginning of 2020. Consequently, the focus is now fully on automation technology. Whether with or without robotics – the Kurtz Ersa Automation team develops intelligent solutions that are successfully used in a wide variety of industrial automation projects.

In addition to realising automation concepts with the in-house brands “Ersa” in the field of electronics manufacturing and “Kurtz” in the field of automotive and protective solutions, sound know-how also is provided for external customers in various industries.

Article Author

Dominik Farrenkopf Applications Engineer, Ersa GmbH

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