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Welding technology for wine tanks

INNOVATIVE welding technology has put a Hawke’s Bay steel fabrication company one jump ahead of competitors and has already won it new contracts for its smooth, high quality stainless steel wine tanks.

Other companies had given up on the challenge of trying to develop a smooth, seamless weld on the tanks because the task was too difficult.

ATI Engineering, with investment support from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, stuck with its research program, which took longer than expected but produced results better than Managing Director Sam Wood imagined.

The company’s efforts are already paying off, with new contracts to supply wine tanks to one of Hawke’s Bay’s largest wineries, Craggy Range. The company’s sights are now set on the export potential to supply smaller, specialised tanks to pharmaceutical companies.

ATI has managed to develop a mechanically robotic orbital welding system, controlled by computer, to create a uniform weld, which lasts longer, makes cleaning easier and meets food grade hygiene standards. ATI’s uniform weld eliminates inconsistencies that occur with manual welding, which can result in weak points when the tank is under pressure, and gives a smooth finish for improved hygiene.

"The biggest challenge was joining the two edges of stainless steel together before welding it perfectly," says Wood. When done by hand, the welder applies the same heat regardless of any inconsistency in the match-up of the steel edges, causing an uneven finish.

ATI had to create its own machinery and processes, designing and building moulds, rotator platforms to support and rotate the large, thin walled tanks that vary in diameter and develop a communication system between the orbital welder and the platform drive for control.

Craggy Range wine maker, Adrian Baker, says the new welding technology produces an even weld and eliminates risk of contamination through bacteria lodging in nooks and crannies caused by slight imperfections in welded joins.

"Yeast and bacteria have a huge impact on our product. We need to control the microbes that ferment our wine, so hygiene is very important and we need to be able to sterilise the tanks perfectly," he says.

"The tanks are so important, particularly when you consider that we could have around half a million dollars worth of wine in one vessel."

Craggy Range is purchasing 23,000 litre and 6,500 litre tanks from ATI for the coming vintage

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