Automation – not a question of size
METAV 2016 to offer new solutions for mid-tier tool and mould manufacturers
Frankfurt am Main, 28 September 2015. – No doubt about it, competition in the manufacturing sector is fierce. This applies particularly to tool and mould manufacturers, who have to contend with competitors from the Far East or the former Eastern bloc countries. But customised automation succeeds not only in large corporations, as two mid-tier companies of almost equal size from Lower Saxony and Thuringia go to show.
“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to get the requisite number of good staff, so you have to automate, and prioritise staff qualifications, if you want to be successful in the future as well,” says Udo Fenske, Managing Director of the machine and mould manufacturer Maschinen- & Formenbau Leinetal MFL GmbH from Neustadt am Rübenberge. So he sees automation as crucial to his company’s survival: a member of the German Engineering Federation’s High-Precision Tools Association, the firm has accordingly for years now also been a regular attender at informational events where firms showcase their automation solutions. Something that particularly impressed him in early 2015 was a visit to Phoenix Contact GmbH & Co. KG in Blomberg. In the firm’s own tool manufacturing network, at facilities in Germany, China, India and Poland more than 300 different injection-moulding tools a year are produced.
Using a powerful robot
During his visit to Blomberg, Udo Fenske proudly noticed that his family firm’s equipment is of comparable modernity to that of the east Westphalian corporation. “Like Phoenix, we opt for interaction between robots and two HSC-5-axis milling machines from Röders and an eroding machine in a single manufacturing cell,” he reports. “We use the manufacturing cell to produce electrodes made of graphite and copper, plus tool inserts.” The Certa Jobmanager system solution from the automation supplier Erowa System Technologien GmbH from Cadolzburg in Franconia operates with a generously dimensioned rotary storage system for approximately 700 slots and a separate storage unit for about 300 HSK milling tools. He finds it particularly useful that the robot is also able to handle relatively large workpieces (up to 160 kilograms). As an affordable beginning, the firm installed a pre-owned robot on a 15-metre rail, which the firm “briefed” during a teach-in routine in a small cell. The concept of interlinking the pre-owned and new components to create a manufacturing cell was handled by a small Belgian firm of consulting engineers with a German partner, who uses the Jobmanager package from Certa for managing the work sequences involved.
Innovation prize for a customer’s order
Automation and upgrading of its manufacturing technology help the firm to respond more rapidly to its customers’ wishes not only in its tool production operations. MFL also uses the manufacturing cell to produce customised orders with the tools created in the plant. The family firm is proud, for example, of an innovation prize awarded for an injection mould with which an MFL customer is manufacturing transmission cross-beams made of plastic. No finishing work is required. “The part used to be made of aluminium,” says Udo Fenske. “The plastic component weighs only half as much.” Automated manufacturing has proved its worth here: a robot places the rubber part and the inserts into the tool, whereupon the part is overmoulded directly with plastic without any vulcanisation.
“We are living proof that even small tool and mould manufacturers can industrialise and automate their operations,” says Udo Fenske. “But you need staying power to implement a concept step by step with the support of a bank.” He has learned the systematology of automation from the sector’s major players, and modified it to suit his own company’s needs. That’s why every year the firm invests around 700,000 euros in new production technology. “Right from the start, you also have to remember to invest in staff training as well, because automation demands a lot from them,” he explains.
Continual advanced training and information play an important role for entrepreneurs like Udo Fenske. He, his brother Axel and his son Christian have learned a lot not only from the VDMA’s informational events, but also from trade fairs. One example he cites is the METAV in Düsseldorf, which as from 2016 will be expanded to include four new areas. The Moulding Area shows how the requirements of tool and mould manufacturers can be met by innovative production technology.
Customers’ wishes are getting progressively more complex and individualised
The typical visitors to the METAV and the Moulding Area also include Christian B. Töpfer, Managing Director of the tool manufacturer Werkzeugbau Ruhla GmbH in Seebach, Thuringia. He goes to the fair mainly in order to familiarise himself with the latest trends in the field of automation, fully aware that it’s essential if his customers’ wishes for injection moulding tools are to be met. “Customers often alter a product’s design until shortly before the tool is delivered,” he explains. “It’s not least our sophisticated automation that enables us to meet these wishes.”
The company now has plenty to be proud of in terms of automation. The basic concept was created back in 2008: they used a suspended robot to link two lines for sink erosion to a milling machine. Since then, it has been tasked with handling operations round the clock – not only for batch sizes of one or small series, but also for what are called long-runners. All that’s still being done by hand is the loading of the shelves from which the robot (controlled by a job management program) distributes parts among the machines. In order to support this capability, Ruhla has since 2013, from design to production, been working with programs from Cimatron. “We have closed the process chain between CAD and CAM,” emphasises Christian Töpfer. “This is essential if we are to avoid data loss between the systems.”
Integration of a measuring machine
The most recent investment closes the company’s final automation gap: Ruhla has also integrated a fully automatic Erowa measuring machine in the automated manufacturing cell, tasked with measuring the contours of each electrode. “An electrode is only passed as fit for use if the system has measured its contours and released it,” explains Christian Töpfer. “We now have a fully automated sink erosion process.”
Motivated by the excellent results of the automation implemented so far, Ruhla is currently examining, in view of the acute shortage of skilled workers, whether the milling department can be automated. “I am confident that in tool and mould manufacturing operations everything can be automated except manual final assembly,” comments Christian Töpfer. “I shall accordingly be going to the METAV in Düsseldorf in February 2016, and I’m already looking forward very much to finding out what the new Moulding Area will be offering. I’m particularly curious to see how the sector tackles the subjects of automation and Industry 4.0 – and how it intends to underpin these with practical solutions.”
Author: Nikolaus Fecht, specialist journalist from Gelsenkirchen
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Maschinen- & Formenbau Leinetal MFL GmbH, Neustadt a. Rbge.
At MFL, the focus is on injection moulds and tools, plus machines and equipment for the automotive and electrical engineering industries, for machine tool manufacturing, and for the rubber and plastics sectors. Founded in 1999, the family firm manufactures customised products, and also, for example, handles product development and prototyping for single- or multi-component articles, not least using gas injection technology (GIT). Turnover: approx. 6 million euros, employees: 70
Further information under www.mfk-leinetal.de
Werkzeugbau Ruhla GmbH, Seebach
Dependable high-precision tools, even back in the days before German reunification this was the hallmark of the tool manufacturing operation at VEB Uhrenwerke Ruhla in Seebach. Following reunification, this became an autonomous company, which now under the tradition-steeped name of “Werkzeugbau Ruhla” produces tools for high-precision functional and visible parts with sophisticated surfaces and contours. The company mainly produces injection moulds for the automotive, packaging and medical technology sectors. Employees 54
Further information under www.ruhla-gmbh.de
METAV 2016 in Düsseldorf
The METAV 2016 – the 19th International Exhibition for Metalworking Technologies – will be held in Düsseldorf from 23 to 27 February. It showcases the entire spectrum of production technology. The principal focuses are machine tools, production systems, high-precision tools, automated material flows, computer technology, industrial electronics, and accessories, complemented by the new themes of Moulding, Medical, Additive Manufacturing and Quality, which are now permanently anchored in what are called “areas” with their own nomenclature in the METAV’s exhibition programme. The METAV’s target group for visitors includes all branches of industry that work metal, particularly machinery and plant manufacturers, the automotive industry and its component suppliers, aerospace, the electrical engineering industry, energy and medical technologies, tool and mould-making, plus metalworking and the craft sector
Moulding Area at the METAV 2016
Moulding, together with tool and mould construction, is one of the most demanding application categories in the field of metalworking. High-precision machine tools produce moulds and tools of maximised quality because modern-day customers and consumers expect surfaces with an upmarket design, particularly in the case of plastic products. Besides conventional processes, progressively more numerous new process technologies are being adopted, such as laser-aided manufacturing for finely structured designer surfaces. The Moulding Area is themed around the specific requirements involved, and how they can be met by means of innovative production technology. The partners of the METAV’s organiser VDW are the Tool Manufacturing Department, a specialist group in the German Engineering Federation’s High-Precision Tools Association, the German Industrial Designers’ Association (VDID), the Hanser Verlag publishers and the German-language trade periodical Form + Werkzeug (Moulds and Tools).
Further information under www.metav.de
Your contact persons
VDW (German Machine Tool Builders’ Association)
Press and Public Relations
60325 Frankfurt am Main
Tel. +49 69 756081-33
Maschinen-& Formenbau Leinetal MFL GmbH
Basser Strasse 2a
31535 Neustadt a. Rbge.
Tel. +49 50 32 95 47 50
Werkzeugbau Ruhla GmbH
Tel. +49 36929 7 78-15
Press Agency Dipl.-Ing. Nikolaus Fecht
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You will find texts and pictures on the METAV 2016 on the internet under www.metav.de in Press Service. You can also visit the METAV through our social media channels