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Making the Cut with the Next Generation of Robotics

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With the rise of artificial intelligence in recent years, automation has been a constant topic of discussion among business leaders, particularly in the construction industry. As companies scramble to keep up with the rapid pace of technological change, Prodevco Robotic Solutions Inc. has quickly established itself as a leader in robotics and automation, with exciting new product offerings that promise to transform the capabilities of businesses in the construction sector.

Erwin Terwoord, Senior Director of Business Development at Prodevco Robotics, believes that now is the perfect time for businesses to automate. “One thing we keep hearing from our clients is that there’s a skilled labor shortage in our sector. Automation fills that need. It’s the missing piece of the puzzle.” It’s also a way for North American companies to gain an edge in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. “Low-cost labor from overseas is a real challenge for the domestic structural fabrication industry, and I think one of the main ways to lower the cost per ton is through automation and robotics. It’s an inevitable part of the future for our sector.”

A sister company of Burnco Manufacturing, Prodevco Robotic Solutions has offices in Toronto, ON and St George, QC. Having noted the advances in automation around a decade ago, Burnco was looking for the next evolution in robotics. “Our president was interested in automating plasma processing and layout, where a plasma cutter could not only cut cold-process steel but also scribe lines on the steel, for instance, where welds and sub-parts go. We realized that to make the software completely automated and seamless, we needed to develop our own operating system, so we set out on that journey.”

prodevco robotic solutions equipment

Around a year into development, Burnco had the opportunity to buy the required technology from Prodevco Industries, one of the first companies in the industry to offer robotics, having already developed a product called the PCR42. “Technologically, Prodevco Industries had been very successful, but from a marketing perspective, they had room to grow.”

Burnco acquired the company’s assets in 2016 and transformed it into Prodevco Robotic Solutions Inc., a move that has benefitted both parties. “Becoming part of a much larger brand gave us the benefit of scale as well as the experience of establishing dealer networks in the United States and other jurisdictions where we were able to launch this technology successfully.”

Prodevco’s innovative products answered a pressing need for the structural fabrication sector, offering high-definition robotic plasma cutting with unmatched speed and precision. “Almost everyone in our industry is modelling in three dimensions, but when it comes to layout, they still have to print out drawings in 2D, bring them to the shop, and have someone work on the pencil layout with a tape measure, which is kind of counterintuitive. With our products, you have all the information on where welds go in 3D, and then you have a means of scribing that information robotically onto the beam. That’s a huge gain in efficiency and productivity.”

Prodevco’s newest products are the culmination of years of research and innovation that’s led to record sales over the last few years. Its new offerings are also supercharging productivity for small businesses, giving it a platform to compete on a global scale, “What could take hours to do in the shop manually can now be done in 10 minutes robotically. So, for smaller companies, that’s like adding five to 10 people to your shop floor. As a result, we’ve had a lot of smaller companies buying our systems, and that’s allowed them to grow quickly.”

The PCR 42 has been designed with a seven-axis robotic arm for processing structural shapes including the layout. It’s the first system of its kind with the ability to plasma cut standard structured steel profiles as well as round tubes. The more compact PCR41 was designed with structural steel and miscellaneous fabricators in mind. “In the structural fabrication industry, there are a lot of smaller companies that either can’t afford or don’t have the space for a larger system like the PCR 42. We needed to come up with a system that was more cost-effective and smaller in size, so we introduced the PCR 41 which has been a great hit since its introduction in 2019.”

“We have a great team that we’re really proud of, and we’re able to offer remote service that allows us to support our clients every step of the way.”

Both products are backed up by Prodevco’s bespoke operating system. “We’re really proud of our OS,” says Terwoord, “It’s something that took years of development, and it’s something we’re constantly tweaking and iterating on to support the unique needs of our clients.” To meet user expectations and deliver a seamless experience, ease of use was identified as a key priority in the development of the operating system. “It’s intelligent in the sense that there are no macros, no processing, and nothing to do with the files. No need for dry runs, no need for simulations. You load the file and you run the part. It’s that simple. It only takes three or four days of training to get someone up and running.”

Terwoord cites Prodevco’s after-sales support as a key reason that customers keep coming back, “That’s what gives us our edge in the market, and that’s why we have customers who are not just buying one machine, they’re buying two or three. I would say 98% of all technical issues are solved remotely and very quickly. It’s a real resource for our clients who adopt our technology, and it offers real peace of mind when you know that somebody’s there behind you when you need it most.”

prodevco robotic solutions equipment

One of the ways Prodevco is innovating its customer care is by offering remote support for its products. “We have a camera system on our products, so we’re able to remotely dial into the machines. We can even operate them remotely to help with troubleshooting. And because plants can get noisy, we communicate with our customers via Slack chat; that way nothing gets lost in translation. We have a great team that we’re really proud of, and we’re able to offer remote service that allows us to support our clients every step of the way.”

As Prodevco continues to grow as a business, Terwoord and his team are looking to expand the company’s offering beyond its current product line, “We want to address the requirements that our customer base has so that we can provide more comprehensive solutions. We’ve just finalized an agreement with a Korean supplier of structural processing equipment, so we’re going to widen the field and offer more traditional types of equipment to fill in the gaps for our clients.”

Looking ahead, Terwoord is optimistic about automation’s potential to revolutionize the construction business, “The customers who have realized the potential of robotic applications are the ones who are becoming more efficient in their labor rates and reducing their cost per ton.” But beyond that, he also sees Prodevco as a key player in attracting younger workers into the industry, “We believe that if you can operate a smartphone, you can operate this machinery. What we’re finding is that when our customers have technology like this in their plants, they have an easier time bringing in the next generation of talent.”

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