Facteon People: From Rust Removal to Robotics

Warren Collenette tracks his 37-year career at Facteon

Warren Collenette has always loved making things run better, work faster and flow more efficiently. The Senior Design Engineer at smart manufacturing business Facteon looks back over his 37 years creating automated production lines for some of the world’s largest factories.

My father was the foreman at an engineering workshop when I was young, and I’ll never forget being allowed to watch him at work. I think that was the catalyst for my life in engineering. Even at home, Dad was always tinkering with lawn mowers and auto engines. Later I played around with a few mower engines myself, dismantling and reassembling them and repairing any small electronic or mechanical item I could lay my hands on. When we bought an old go-kart with a temperamental Villiers stationary engine on it, I was hooked.

I bought my first car while at high school, long before I could go for my driver’s license. It was far from roadworthy, so I spent months doing mechanical repairs on it. I removed rust and did panel work and welding so that I could learn to drive in it and sit my test.

Facteon was founded in 1981 as the internal engineering division of New Zealand’s largest manufacturer of whiteware, Fisher & Paykel Appliances. My first role in the company was as a 16-year-old apprentice toolmaker in 1985. The company needed flexible manufacturing that would allow a production line to build the entire range within a single product category. As an apprentice, it was exciting to build new machinery from the ground up.

Starting out by hand

Back then, we only had manual machine tools. That’s where I learned most of my manual machining skills, including turning, grinding and large-format milling. But it wasn’t long until we got a CNC (computer numerical control) lathe and a four-axis machining center, allowing far greater precision. Our team worked in collaboration with Fisher & Paykel to develop new processes and machinery inhouse, while retaining the intellectual property. We were also using innovative design to produce international-quality equipment, gaining recognition on the world stage. In the late 1980s we picked up our first international job in North America, making air-conditioner cabinets.

My first major project was manufacturing bowl and wrapper lines for home appliance manufacturer Fisher & Paykel to produce three different-sized products for their ingenious smart drive version of the “Gentle Annie” washing machine. We used some new technology we hadn’t employed before, including laser welding, spin forming, rotary lancing and some large joggle machines. I then went on to help with the tooling design and manufacture of a production line that produced hot water cylinder wrappers/cases.

CAD and new CNC tech changes up everything

The real game-changer came in the 1990s with the introduction of new technology. We added CAD (computer-aided design) to our design resources. The machine shop also saw changes, with the addition of the first of its large CNC double-column machining centers. This kind of timesaving, error-reducing technology has kept us at the forefront of digital transformation and integration with the internet. It’s also when I knew I had found my passion.

In 2003, after many years building and commissioning machinery, often involving travel, I moved into the design office permanently. My first job, designing a small prototype press tool, was quickly followed by remodeling a roll up and weld machine that we had previously only drafted on paper. This was the first of many laser welding machines I have worked on, from minor improvements through to a complete redesign for our latest-generation welder. Automated welding really lifts product performance and appearance and it’s a specialist field of mine.

From production lines to smart factories

In 2012, when Facteon became a member of Haier Group’s Industrial & Automation Division, there was a strong focus on motor manufacture, automated welding and production lines. I was in my element.

Since being acquired by Haier Group, the business has branched out to include a full range of integrated factory solutions and fully commissioned smart factories. These include plant layout, factory simulation, design-for-manufacture consulting, service, and plant and production monitoring and management software, as well as the established production equipment.

I’ve noticed a major change in the industry over the last few years, namely the vast increase in machine/line monitoring systems, production reporting and advanced software, as the world moves into the Industry 4.0 era. For me that’s meant adding considerably more sensors and monitoring devices into my designs. We are now also using far more robots. Obviously, they’re flexible enough to perform multiple tasks, but there is also an enormous range of configurations, sizes and brands now available, to address the various project requirements. Their relative cost to purpose-built solutions is similar, but they can be easily repurposed in the future, which is desirable to our customers.

Although I’ve been at Facteon for more than 37 years now, it’s the opportunity to create something new, and to keep learning, that keeps me here. My son has now joined the company too. We both have an eye to the future.

Find out more

Speak with one of our team to find out if your business will benefit from innovative factory automation solutions for advanced manufacturing, welding applications and assembly.

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Warren  Collenette

Warren Collenette

Senior Design Engineer & Laser Welding Expert

Warren found a passion for laser welding early in his career. In the last 15 years, he’s been involved in the design of Facteon roll-up and weld machines. During this time, he’s visited numerous customer sites to deliver on-site support and training. Warren also works closely with our R&D team, assisting with welder set up and trouble shooting. Having seen the technology develop from the original CO2 welders through to today’s cutting edge fibre welders, Warren is passionate about developing technology that delivers quality laser welds for a range of applications.