Innovation and precision are key to success
Precision tool manufacturers meet increasing economic and technological challenges with numerous new products at AMB 2012
Despite the recent slight decline in figures in the machine tool industry, the manufacturers of precision tools are riding the wave of success. With constantly new innovations they are defying the global competition. They are showcasing their latest responses to trends such as energy efficiency and new materials, as well as everything on the topic of service, at AMB, the international exhibition for metal-working, which takes place from 18 – 22 September at the trade fair grounds in Stuttgart beside the airport.
"This year overall we are once again expecting a noticeable increase in production", announced Lothar Horn, President of the Precision Tools Association of the German Engineering Federation (VDMA) and Managing Director of Paul Horn GmbH, at the start of the year. He turned out to be right, as association spokesperson Alfred Graf Zedtwitz confirmed: "The figures up to April are positive, even though the growth is smaller." This is confirmed by the Federal Ministry of Economics: The producers of machines, devices and other capital goods manufactured 1.7 percent more in June than in the previous month – well above expectations. Indeed Graf Zedtwitz is "not expecting an extremely strong second half of the year, but we should be able to maintain the level of turnover of the previous year." And the turnover of the previous year was impressive: 2011 was a record year registering a plus of 21 percent to 10.2 billion Euro in turnover. The metal-cutting tools sector actually increased by 29 percent, which was well above average.
The optimism of the VDMA’s Precision Tools Association, who is also a professional and conceptual sponsor of AMB, is justified with the continued good prospects in the main consumer industries, the automotive industry and mechanical engineering. Even though the big boom in these sectors is also drawing to a close, there are positive effects for the tool manufacturers from the ever faster change in models. Lothar Horn: "We benefit from the new model and engine generations with the corresponding retrofitting projects in the automotive industry, whereby the downsizing of engines and turbochargers, and also the means of production, presents highly technological challenges."
But what are the technological trends of this exemplary industry? The Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT and the machine tool laboratory WZL of RWTH Aachen looked for an answer for the machining process drilling, turning and milling. In their study the two Aachen-based research institutes surveyed approximately 150 companies, the majority of whom were users of metal-cutting technologies, tool manufacturers and coaters, as well as manufacturers of machine tools, materials and special systems for actuator and sensor technology and chucking systems. "The growing competitive pressure on national and primarily international markets means users of metal-cutting technologies are being confronted with the demand for ever shorter processing times – with simultaneous lower production costs and consistent or even higher quality", is how Marc Busch, research assistant and Group Leader of High-performance Machining at IPT, summarises the core challenges. He led the ‘2012 Tool Study – Trends in Tool Technology’.
In particular there are high demands for new materials that are difficult to machine, which are being used more frequently for product innovations. The metal-cutting tools when machining materials with a high heat-resistance and high degree of hardness such as nickel-based and titanium alloys, titanium aluminides or materials produced through powder metallurgy are exposed to high thermal and mechanical loads. Busch: "These are the reasons for the low service life of tools, long processing times and inferior quality of component surfaces."
The selection of the correct tool is already of central importance. Although the development is heading in the direction of adapted tool geometry and coating, as well as innovative cutting materials, the majority of companies surveyed admitted they were adopting "a rather unsystematic approach; this can delay the process design and lead to high costs". According to Busch, approximately 80 percent of those surveyed see in the future a need for a standard procedure for process and tool design, as well as information on optimised tool geometries and coatings.
The development of new cooling lubricant strategies was mentioned by almost all the companies surveyed as one of the most important tasks. Marc Busch: "Only if strategies such as minimum lubrication, high-pressure and cryogenic cooling are optimally coordinated to the metal-cutting tools used can these show their true effect and make processes even more efficient and economical." In the case of systems used for process monitoring around two thirds of those surveyed said it primarily came down to robustness, user friendliness and flexibility. The Aachen-based researchers were surprised however, that at least half of the companies surveyed could not imagine how modern process monitoring systems could help them check the purity grade of the cooling lubricant or assess different tribosystems with regard to the cooling lubricant strategy or coating technology. "Such functions are always useful if new and difficult to process materials such as steels with a high degree of hardness or iron-, nickel- or titanium-based alloys which are highly resistant to heat are used", states Marc Busch.
The AMB exhibitor Komet GmbH, Besigheim wants to excel in terms of process reliability. This is why in March it acquired Brinkhaus GmbH, a specialist in monitoring and control systems for machine tools. "The core product of Komet-Brinkhaus is the ToolScope system which is based on a new type of technology in the area of process and machine monitoring", explains Marten Veenendaal, Marketing Manager of the Komet Group. With a special, patented procedure for statistical process control it is not only possible to monitor for tool failure, but also for significantly fewer manufacturing deviations. Veenendaal: "The system thus offers for the first time the possibility for quality control in the process, in addition to the usual procedure of process control."
With so much diversity of topics, in the end "everyone pursues the one objective of increasing productivity and at the same time lowering production costs", explains Kurt Brenner, Technology Manager at Iscar Germany GmbH, Ettlingen. In general it is also then the topics extracted in the IPT study which Iscar will focus on at AMB: cooling lubricant strategies, new materials, customer-specific individualisation of tools, energy efficiency and resource protection, as well as services. Whereas a few years ago the trend was towards dry cutting, according to Brenner disillusionment has now set in: "Today one has to identify that the implementation is far below expectations." Except in mass production flood cooling continues to dominate. However, it can also be optimised through the use of tools which have actually been developed for high-pressure processing.
For materials that are difficult to machine such as titanium, titanium alloys or nickel-based alloys, high-pressure cooling between 80 and 150 bar, in individual cases up to 400 bar, is no longer inconceivable. The special feature: The cooling lubricants are guided directly to the cutting zone using the tool and cannot only dissipate the heat, but also break the chip. Brenner: "Tools, cutting geometry and cutting materials must be adapted to the process, which is why we have developed a complete tool programme for such applications in turning, recess turning and milling." But we are also working intensively in many research projects on the latest development in terms of KSS, cryo machining.
A mix of old and new states Prof. Dr.-Ing. Diethard Thomas, Head of the LMT Group Academy in LMT Tool Systems GmbH, Oberkochen: "The trends in precision tools are on the one hand old acquaintances such as increasing productivity, precision and multifunctionality. On the other hand the innovations are also focussing on new trends, which can be transcribed with lightweight design, ecology or careful handling of raw materials (Blue Competence) and communication." LMT will showcase numerous new products at AMB, from which the user industries automotive, aerospace engineering, energy technology, die and moulding construction, as well as general mechanical engineering in particular, can benefit. Prof. Thomas: "The focus will be on increasing performance when processing cast and high-strength steels, as well as new lightweight materials, for example composites and plastics."
At Kelch GmbH one is mainly committed to the ideas of ‘Blue Competence’. "The Blue Competence initiative of the VDMA has our full support", states Uwe Rein, Authorised Representative and Sales and Marketing Manager of the Weinstädt-based company. "We have therefore coordinated our new device technology to ‘Blue Competence’." New components have been installed which not only make work easier but also more efficient. "This ensures enhanced performance, improved processes and thus fewer rejects or reworking on the metal-cutting machine." In addition to the new ergonomic design of the devices, the software was also upgraded and now uses Windows 7, which can be seen at AMB.
"Increasing efficiency" is also the topic of Wohlhaupter GmbH, Frickenhausen. The specialist for modular tooling systems traditionally addresses improving efficiency in boring and will show this at AMB. "This happens either by saving complete settings by means of customer-specific tool designs or savings in the area of tooling or secondary processing by quicker and mainly more precise setting of the tools", explains Managing Director Frank-M. Wohlhaupter. The new trend towards digital tools for boring has developed from this. Wohlhaupter: "With help of state-of-the-art opto-electronic adjustment track measurement, installed in precision tools for finishing of bore holes, we are reducing the tooling and secondary processing times specifically." He mentions the µ-precise diameter setting of the tools directly in the machine, the simple readability, as well as the high precision, as advantages. The quality of the bore holes is improved, and at the same time the reject rate is reduced drastically.
For Paul Horn GmbH the processing of composites "plays a challenging role not only in terms of AMB", states Christian Thiele, spokesman for Paul Horn GmbH. The possibilities of reasonably processing these materials from a technological and economical perspective are limited. Thiele: "There are indeed many reports on this topic and tests conducted in this area, but these often only have a theoretical character." The practical experience and readiness for start of production are in general lacking. At Paul Horn the focus is primarily on CVD-D tools for turning and milling operations. "Here the abrasive material is cut with sharp cutting edges and not broken. We can already draw on positive practical experiences and provide solutions that are ready to start production, also under economical aspects." For this reason his company will present the project "Competence with Composites" as a topic at AMB.
The topic of services will also be a major issue at AMB. "In view of globalised markets and increasing competitive pressure industry companies are expecting more and more integrated solutions, with which they remain competitive over the medium and long term", explains Dr. Klaus Christoffel from the Coromant Business Unit of Sandvik Tooling Deutschland GmbH in Düsseldorf. The increasing shortage of skilled workers is also contributing to the fact that the industry is no longer looking for just product suppliers, but "support in finding universal solutions for reducing costs". Sandvik Coromant therefore offers comprehensive consultancy services for customer-specific manufacturing processes. Maximum productivity and efficiency, as well as a significant reduction in costs, are no longer solely possible through the use of very precise metal-cutting tools. "This is why we are developing specific solutions to be able to exhaust the optimisation potential of all production sub-processes for the customer." This service is called the ‘Value Chain Offer’, in whose framework customers receive answers to all questions along the value chain – from research and development to procurement, production planning, production, logistics, as well as employee qualifications.