Can a small Polish company create advanced devices, the production of which is undertaken only by large Western concerns? Maybe, because in an industry where non-standard ideas matter, companies often turn out to be too inflexible.
If you wanted to describe with just one word all machines designed and built by specialists from Welmasz, it would certainly be a “unique” word. They are produced on special demand and often in one copy only. Although their designs are different each time, the work they perform is usually a combination of precision and repeatability, in a scale and pace that can change the dynamics of development of the companies ordering them.
Do you want to pack 200 buns per minute, glue a wooden frame in two seconds or pack a medicine into an inhaler in a technology that even the largest pharmaceutical company in the world would be proud of? You’ve come to the right place.
THE WAY TO INDEPENDENCE
The history of the innovative company, whose production hall is located today in Piaseczno, began in 2009. Robert Welik, then 32-year-old graduate of mechanics and machine construction at the Białystok University of Technology, had already worked in designing machines in several companies.
“The German company for which I was working at the time started to get into trouble. The main reason for this was the crisis on world markets, which was combined with the serious illness of the owner. The company was collapsing, and I, as its employee, was just starting work on a large installation project that was to complement the production line of a Czech company from the food industry – says Welik. – I came up with the idea to implement this project myself. I thought: thanks to this, the client will not lose the advances he has already made, and I will carry out the first order on my own account and will be able to continue working in the profession ”.
The idea turned out to be a bull’s eye. Velik managed to convince the company’s Czech owners that he would be able to complete the project entrusted to his former German employer on his own.
This is how the first work of the Welmasz company was born, which took its name from the name of the founder. It was a device that folded the sausage into tubes, filled them with vegetable salad and packed two pieces in special boxes.
The company Welik recently worked for was a representative of a German concern specializing in the production of industrial slicers. Projects supplementing the production line constituted its added value. The design and construction of the continuation of the line – tailored to the needs of the manufacturer – was also an interesting market niche to use. “This is how my adventure with my own business began. As I had been operating in the industry for years, more inquiries and orders began to flow in during the implementation of the first project. I have always tried to be independent, but I did not expect that I would quit my job so quickly, ”admits Welik.
MACHINES TAILORED TO YOUR NEEDS
In the initial phase of the company’s development, the founder Welmasz relied on proven contacts that he already had. Tasks that required specialist programming knowledge were outsourced to a company he had previously worked with. He also started looking for the right people for his team who could help in starting the business. The first such opportunity came very quickly. The Thomson company went bankrupt in Piaseczno, and Mirosław Sochacki, a maintenance specialist, worked there for 25 years. Welik invited him to cooperate on his project. Sochacki agreed and took responsibility for the assembly of the machine ordered by the Czech company.
This is how the model in which the newly founded company started its operations was outlined. Welik was preparing the project, Sochacki was responsible for its assembly. Mechanical components and the control system were made by external companies.
The Polish-Czech project turned out to be a success for Polish engineers. A year after the Welmasz company was launched, its first work was put into use.
At that time, Welmasz was already working on another order from the packaging manufacturer – Zeller Plastic Poland from Garwolin. The company ordered from Welik a device for testing the tightness of roll-on bottles. The project proved successful and three more such testers were soon built in Piaseczno.
“At this stage of my company’s development, I needed programming support. That is why I started cooperation with PRO-CONTROL, specializing in industrial automation. They had never dealt with building machines from scratch before, and I needed specialists who were able to write the appropriate software and build the control cabinets controlling the machine. We perfectly complemented each other on the market, ”says Welik.
Thanks to market contacts, PRO-CONTROL gained new orders, in which Welmasz could prove himself as a subcontractor designing the entire process in accordance with the customer’s needs.
This is how another large order appeared from the Oskroba bakery. “Oskroba ordered from us a system for packing filled rolls. Our goal was to create a machine that packs buns into collective boxes at the rate of 200 pieces per minute. Obviously, such enormous performance was the project’s greatest challenge. The line was to be fully automatic, ensuring not only packaging, but also the logistics of empty and full boxes, ”says the head of Welmasz.
The success of this project was brought about by another order from the bakery industry – from the Warsaw Piekarsko-Ciastkarska Cooperative (SPC). It concerned a system operating at the oven, which was to take the baked loaves of bread from the molds and send them to the cooler, while draining the molds in a different direction. 1.5 thousand the molds were to be placed on a special platform, from which – also automatically – they had to be loaded into the next cycle – for filling with dough. The assumption was that the machine was to prepare 16 loaves every 20 seconds, i.e. almost one loaf per second. The machine was built and is already in operation at the SPC plant at ul. Krakowiaków.
Another customer turned out to be very important for the company’s development – the Padma Art company from Suwałki, which produces, among others one of the most popular picture frames sold by IKEA
“The company was going to switch to a new technology for joining the four slats that make up the frame. Instead of stapling, they wanted to glue them with super-strong glue. Our task was to design and build a high-performance device that would glue the next frame every two seconds, that is about 30 frames per minute, while maintaining high-quality connections ”- says Welik.
PRO-CONTROL was the project partner. IKEA accepted the device constructed by Welmasz, which still produces frames in Suwałki. The designers managed to achieve a speed of 1.8 frames per second.
The device with a dizzying pace of gluing frames for IKEA was a great success of a small but ambitious company from Piaseczno. Welmasz could proudly present his solution during talks with other potential clients.
Another challenge followed shortly after. Celon Pharma ordered a complicated device from Welmasz, which nobody else in Poland wanted to undertake. It was a machine that would roll a narrow blister with tablets in a certain way, position it in relation to the tablets and apply it to the inhaler. Until now, only one German company had such a machine, which kept its technology as an eye in the head. The Polish manufacturer of drugs has undertaken the production of this inhaler for asthmatics because the patent for the solution, which so far was held by one of the largest Western pharmaceutical companies, has expired.
“The biggest challenge in this project was the proper placement of the tablet blister and the efficiency. During the process, each blister is slit, the pieces are cut to the upper floor, one end is folded and the other end is split and stacked accordingly. Only in this shape does it go to the inhaler. The client wanted the device to be filled by seventeen inhalers in one minute, ”says Welik.
A complicated mechanism was created, built on the basis of over 20 servo drives, i.e. motors that control the feeding. Let us add that the machine performs a process so complicated that it cannot be done manually. Soon after the first device was put into use, the customer ordered another one.
THREE HEADS ARE BETTER THAN ONE
“We’ve got on well with Mirek Sochacki from the very beginning. If I could, I would clone it, ”Welik laughs. When another order for machines for filling inhalers appeared, this time from Polfarmex, Welik decided to resign from PRO-CONTROL and create its own programming department. Out of the two programmers employed at the time, the 28-year-old Maciej Całczyński, who moved from Poznań for a new job, became a permanent member.
“A virtuoso of programming” – says Welik. This is how the core of the Welmasz company was created, which has been operating as a well-designed machine for two years. “I create a project of the ordered machine, we order the necessary elements from other manufacturers and subcontractors, the control cabinet and software are created according to Maciek’s design, and Mirek assembles and checks the mechanical elements. We constantly cooperate with the company PG System by Piotr Gierda, which assembles cabinets and wiring machines for us – says Welik and explains the philosophy of his company: – Our uniqueness lies in the fact that among small enterprises we are certainly one of the ones with the best ideas . This is our greatest asset. Instead of offering the client a ready-made robot, which is often too advanced and expensive for the task it is to perform, we propose a dedicated and optimal solution that is sufficient for the client’s needs, but also not redrawn “- explains Welik.
He adds that Welmasz does not want to expand, but intends to remain in its market niche. That is why it builds several devices per year, which, however, require very large budgets (often over two million zlotys), and this is quite enough for the smooth functioning of the entire company.
“Due to the fact that we do not work on the quantity, we can carefully consider each project, select and apply technologies that will be cheap for the client as a result. We make sure that our client does not over-invest, that the introduction of a given machine to his production line is calculated and the cost of its construction pays off within a predetermined time, ”says Welik.
Welmasz devices are products ideally suited to the needs of the customer. An example would be a machine for a confectionery company. There are simple devices on the market that produce aluminum praline curlers. However, there is no machine that could change hair curlers or cones depending on the demand at a given moment. Such a machine is currently being designed by Welmasz.
“Often our role is not limited to building a specific device. If there is such a need, we also advise on how to organize the production stream so as to optimize it. It is not profitable for large companies to adapt their machines to one customer, because it is always associated with a risk, and we take that risk ”- summarizes Welik.
This philosophy bears fruit – customers come back with new orders. Although, as Welmasz founder admits, it happens that customers initially disbelieve that three specialists in a small hall in Piaseczno are able to build such advanced machines, which are usually manufactured in the assembly plants of powerful Western companies.
“Sometimes it is a barrier. The client does not see our back office, so he / she wonders whether to trust us and spend several hundred thousand zlotys on the project. Certainly, our biggest argument is what we have managed to create so far, ”says Welik.