Complete machining through technology integration
Machine tool manufacturers will react to user demands at AMB 2012 with hybrid technologies, modular design and automation
Even though key economic data are showing a decline at present, the Association of German Machine Tool Manufacturers (VDW) is reporting "normalisation at a high level". A high order backlog is actually leading to another increase in production in the current year. In order to ensure continuing success for the machine tool industry, a large number of innovations aimed primarily at higher productivity will be presented by exhibitors at AMB, International Exhibition for Metal Working, which will be held at the Stuttgart Trade Fair Centre next door to Stuttgart Airport from 18 to 22 September 2012.
"In the first six months of this year, the number of orders received by the machine tool industry fell by 13 per cent. This was expected due to the high volume in 2011 and indicates a normalisation of order activity", said Dr. Wilfried Schäfer, Managing Director of the VDW. However, production will actually rise again this year on account of the current high order backlog. "We predict an increase of 6 per cent." The order backlog has "largely remained stable". In June it stood at 8.4 months, i.e. only slightly below the figure of 8.7 months in February. The recent dip in the figures for the global economy and the growing uncertainty among investors led to lower forecasts for economic growth in important customer regions. However, economic forecasters again anticipated a rise in gross domestic product and investments in 2013. The turbulences around the Euro have primarily led to a drop in foreign orders, i.e. three times higher than domestic orders. Orders from Asia showed the weakest growth in the first quarter while Europe remained comparatively stable with minus 2 per cent. "Orders from America, especially North and Central America, were very good", stated Dr. Schäfer.
Order situation of AMB exhibitors still good
AMB exhibitors also seem relatively relaxed. Reiner Hammerl, Managing Director of Traub/Index, Esslingen, talks about normalisation: "Although the number of incoming orders is lower compared with the same period in 2011, we do not have any capacity problems and are looking forward to 2013 with cautious optimism." Klaus Winkler, Chairman of the Board of Management of Gebrüder Heller Maschinenfabrik, Pforzheim, also made the following comment: "Stabilisation at a high level.". In his opinion, the great experience of mechanical engineering companies in dealing with the typically high business fluctuations in the industry will make German mechanical engineering companies well-equipped when the economy really starts to go downhill once again. "It is apparent that the extreme demand boom, especially from the Chinese automotive industry, is levelling off at a good level“, said Martin Winterstein, Marketing Manager at MAG-IAS, Göppingen. On the other hand, demand from Russia and India is rising at present. That also applies to the rail traffic and electrical product industries.
Micaela Schönherr, Managing Director of Niles-Simmons Industrieanlagen, Chemnitz, said that her company . has full order books for 2012 and a very large number of orders for next year. "We are recording a high production rate and excellent capacity utilisation at present. This is the reason why we are continuing to expand both our project business and our production plant", said Schönherr. The graduate economist currently has no reason to fear another downturn and is hoping that AMB 2012 will lead to a further rise in the number of incoming orders. Dr. Stefan Hansch, Managing Director of the Emco Group, Hallein, Austria, sees contrary developments however: "Depending on the market segment in which our potential customers operate, we are expecting excellent to very restrained growth."
Energy efficiency included in technical specifications
How are AMB exhibitors reacting to current developments? According to the VDW, the mega-trends from previous years – energy and resource efficiency, higher productivity, life cycle performance, quality assurance and user-friendliness – are still on the agenda. The Blue Competence Initiative of the German Engineering Federation (VDMA) is also going very well. Dr. Schäfer: "28 trade associations have now joined and 241 companies have signed the agreement as an alliance member." CECIMO, the European machine tool association, also assumed overall responsibility for the machine tool industry in Europe at the start of the year. Six national associations have already joined. ‘Blue Competence‘ will be the focal point of the presentation of the VDW at AMB 2012 (Hall 7, Stand 7D51).
"This Initiative has clearly shown that the German machine tool industry is a pioneer in the area of energy efficiency“, praised Prof. Dr.-Ing. Eberhard Abele, Head of the Institute for Production Management, Technology and Machine Tools (PTW) at Darmstadt Technical University, which will itself be represented at AMB 2012 (Hall 5, Stand 5d32) by the ‘Metal Working Innovation Tour’. Abele:"The Initiative has also ensured that many customers now think far more about energy-efficient machine tools than they did in the past." Numerous customers, especially in the automotive industry, have included energy efficiency in their technical specifications. One typical example is Niles Simmons Industrieanlagen. Micaela Schönherr: In the new N30 size of our CNC inclined bed turning lathes in the N Series, which we will present at AMB 2012 (Hall 5, Stand 5C76),
we achieve significant energy savings thanks to lightweight materials, specific energy input and a customised machine design."
Machining of composite materials increasing
According to Prof. Abele, the main technological challenges are found in the area of cost-effective and reliable machining of new materials and products. "The next few years in aerospace will be characterised by composite materials, but also by the increased use of titanium materials. Machining of these materials calls for new tool technologies, especially also new machine tool configurations, which have been optimised to machine these materials." Another important trend is the integration of different production processes. Abele believes that this provides several possibilities for improvement: "Retooling and set-up time is reduced, production times are shortened and potential defects are reduced; this helps substantially to lower unit costs." This is also reflected in the questions with which the industry continually turns to the PTW: "Ultimately, it’s always a question of the productivity and quality of a metal cutting process, firstly production technology aspects such as the design of tools and production processes, and secondly new spindle developments and the use of industrial robots for simpler machining tasks."
Solutions for complete and hard machining
The estimation by scientists is confirmed by comments by exhibitors. The focal points of Emco’s presentation on Stand 5B34 in Hall 5 will, include, for example, the Hyperturn machine series for complete machining of complex workpieces and a revamped version of the Linearmill 600 5-axis machining centre. Technology integration will also be one of the key aspects of the exhibition programme of MAG-IAS on Stand 5A11 in Hall 5. Martin Winterstein: "Thanks to the combination of complementary machining technologies on one machine platform, we are creating value-added for our customers." Winterstein mentions examples such as honing on milling centres or chamfering, deburring and drilling on hobbing machines parallel to machining time. Competence as a solution provider, including highly developed technologies and process and system know-how, will also be emphasised.
"Multitasking“, i.e. the combination of many different machining technologies and processes based on standard machines, is also the magic formula according to Heller. Klaus Winkler, Managing Director of Winkler: "We are currently seeing the trend towards so-called multitasking machines and systems where the use of flexible standard products permits inexpensive solutions." Heller will show one current example at AMB 2012 (Stand 5B55, Hall 5), i.e. the new CP 8000 from the C Series for milling and lathe turning, which has a workspace of 1250 x 1200 x 1400 mm. Röders, a specialist for high-speed cutting (HSC) in Soltau; concentrates on tool construction and mouldmaking. The company will therefore focus on hard machining at AMB 2012 (Hall 9, Stand 9C58). "We will also present the manufacture of gearwheels in small series, as well as individual pieces and automation solutions for the increasingly important aspect of cost-effectiveness, which can be individually matched to the needs of our customers", said Dr.-Ing. Oliver Gossel, Sales Manager.
Just like machine tool manufacturers, the trend towards high-strength materials is also posing similar challenges for manufacturers of sawing machines. Behringer is reacting, for example, with "high-performance sawing technology. As far as we are concerned, this means not only being able to separate hard-to-machine materials, but also cut them at high speed“, said Christian Behringer, Managing Director. For example, the high-performance HBM540A can be upgraded with the Speed Cutting Kit (SC Kit). Behringer: "The results are higher cutting performances, cycle times reduced by up to seven times, constantly high material removal, clean cutting surfaces and short oddments.“ The subsidiary Eisele will also present the HCS 160 at AMB 2012 on Behringer’s stand (6B32) in Hall 6. The HCS 160 is used especially for cutting high-alloy, heat-resistant steels with more than 1200 N/mm2.r. "It forms the ideal mixture of well-proven sawing technology with a high degree of variability and adaptability."
Whereas the requirements are increasing continuously, something which is extremely beneficial to German and European manufacturers of high-tech machines, the markets with currently the highest growth rates are demanding affordable series machines. However, Dr. Gossel has doubts over the thesis that, in particular, the up-and-coming BRIC states are demanding simpler and, thus, cheaper machines. The Sales Manager from Röders has determined that in China, for example, "there is a very clear strategy to use the optimum technology rather than primarily the cheapest machines". The saw manufacturer Behringer has observed both tendencies: "Both variants actually exist in newly industrialising countries. First of all, the motto is less automation, less complexity and easy-to-learn handling. Secondly, however, these countries also require high-tech machines for difficult or complex tasks.“ MAG-IAS takes a similar view in this respect . "For years our strategy has been based on different requirements relating to machine tools on various markets", said Martin Winterstein from MAG. "Firstly, we bridge the gap through modular machine concepts which can be flexibly scaled. Secondly, we also rely, where practical, on local production on target markets." In Changchun, for example, the company manufactures machines which "are ideally tailored to the needs on growth markets such as China, India and Russia". Micaela Schönherr from Niles Simmons is also relying on a modular kit principle:"So that we manage to configure both tailor-made machines for specific, highly innovative machining operations such as complete and titanium machining, and produce series-related machines." Visitors to Index/Traub at AMB 2012 (Hall 3, Stand 3C52) will actually see the market for an in-house developed universal lathe. Reiner Hammerl: "The new IT600, which we will offer from 2013 onwards, will be used for less complex applications."
Services catching on with customers
Just like in sport, the leading companies in the mechanical engineering industry are coming ever closer together. Nowadays, absolute quality is a prerequisite for a machine. How can companies therefore stand out against their competitors? Machine services harbour potential. Provided the customer is prepared to pay for them. "It tends to be larger companies who are prepared to invest in maintenance and, thus, in production reliability. The majority of smaller production companies must still develop this awareness", concluded Dr. Hansch from Emco. "To an increasing extent customers are not only prepared to pay for services, but also demand them", says Micaela Schönherr from Niles Simmons. According to Schönherr, the expectations regarding high-quality and value-adding services will increase still further and will also contribute more and more to turnover. Schönherr: "Services have become an important element and will be a decisive competitive factor in future with the emphasis on a service package comprising integrated material and general services." MAG-IAS actually outsourced all offers under the keyword "process optimisation" to an independent group three years ago. Martin Winterstein explained why: "In particular, topics such as maintenance management, system and cycle time optimisations, as well as conversions and retrofits represent stable growth based on worldwide demand."
"Our customers are very willing to also pay for high-quality services", confirmed Dr. Gossel. However, this is not a new development at Röder, which is why "the services share in turnover will roughly remain constant". Röders offers its own machine control unit and uses six different CAD/CAM systems. The company also cultivates good relations with a large number of manufacturers of milling tools and clamping fixtures. The company is pleased to pass on this know-how, which is also in great demand among customers. Index/Traub regards the topic of service as so important that it extended its range of services even during the economic crisis. Reiner Hammerl: "Our objective is to expand our services even more in future." As fas as Heller is concerned, service is an important part of integrated complete solutions. "Our offer extends from rather traditional services such as repairs and spare parts sales and reasonably priced retrofitting services through to state-of-the-art teleservice options or increased energy efficiency", said Klaus Winkler describing the company’s range of services. In particular, teleservice products for fast fault diagnosis and for state-oriented repairs will become even more important.
Around 1,350 exhibitors will show the complete range of metal-cutting technology during AMB 2012 at the booked-up Stuttgart Trade Fair Centre. The exhibition is expected to attract around 90,000 visitors.