100th hot-stamping line sold

In 1993, Schuler delivered the first three hot-stamping lines to automobile manufacturer Ford in the USA. What was a new method at the time has since established itself on the market as a global forming technology for automotive lightweight construction – and the trend continues unabated: Schuler has now sold what is the 100th hot-stamping line to a Chinese automotive supplier.

“Compared with forming aluminium, CFRP and dual-phase steels, this technology is an inexpensive alternative for lightweight automobile construction,” says Daniel Huber, the head of Division Hydraulic at Schuler. Oemer Akyazici, CEO of Schuler China, adds: “Chinese automobile manufacturers and automotive suppliers, such as Shanghai Superior Die Technology and Baowei are increasingly turning to hot stamping.”
For further information www.schulergroup.com

Processes shortened, flexibility increased

Steinel Normalien AG, a specialist manufacturer of cylinders, guides, springs, plates and die sets for the tool-making, stamping and forming industries, imposes the most rigorous precision requirements upon its manufacturing department. When the company introduced a new mill-turn centre, this manufacturer of pneumatic spring and composite systems was intent on streamlining its work-holding processes, so the 150 employee company sought its solution from Hainbuch.

Steinel was aiming to significantly reduce its set-up and throughput times, but the company with 25,000 different stock items and catalogue products recognised that it was not as flexible as desired. The company exerted significant time and effort with changeovers from jaw chucks to other clamping devices, however, thanks to Hainbuch, these times are now gone for good.
The combination of a new mill-turn centre, new clamping devices from Hainbuch and new machining strategies have increased manufacturing flexibility significantly. Now, a wider variety of parts can be machined and many processes eliminated, while three previous machine tools have been replaced with just one. The two men responsible for the project, Michael Tresselt, head of process development and James Hepfer, shift supervisor, recognised that the machining concept needed a rethink.
“With the new turning concept we wanted to achieve higher flexibility and optimise the set-up procedure. In order to quickly change the clamping devices on the new mill-turn centre, quick change-over systems were required. We carefully examined several system suppliers and their clamping solutions.”
Thomas Helfer, a Hainbuch sales representative, made a routine visit to Steinel and both men were very satisfied with the clamping devices and clamping heads from Hainbuch, which were already in use at Steinel. This larger project required a significant investment, and both Tresselt and Hepfer were not 100% convinced by the solutions they had seen previously. Competition was narrowed down to two suppliers, as Tresselt reports: “We then prepared an evaluation matrix of the available quick change-over systems. After a more precise test, Hainbuch’s flexible and highly accurate clamping devices convinced us. In particular, Hainbuch scored high with its insensitivity to contamination and repeatability.”
Hepfer explains the difference between the two leading change-over systems: “With Hainbuch’s competitor, the system works with a pull action. In comparison, the Hainbuch system does require screw turning, but the clamping device is more accurate and rigid. There are only six screws and they only need to be loosened slightly, which is why the procedure takes almost no time. The competing product has problems with its contamination sensitivity. Even if tiny dust particles get in the system, accuracy and rigidity suffer. The Centrotex interface from Hainbuch completely convinced us.”

Tresselt adds: “For change-over accuracy, Hainbuch provides 2 µm precision, while the competition specifies 0.01 mm. This difference is of absolute importance as our workpieces have strict parameters that we must keep. Moreover, with Hainbuch we get everything from a single source. With the Centrotex quick change-over system on the main and sub-spindle, we use a hexagonal Toplus chuck size 100 and a size 260 jaw chuck. This makes us extremely flexible and everything is interchangeable.”
With Hainbuch, Villingen-Schwenningen-based Steinel has certainly adopted the right clamping devices and impeccable level of accuracy for the high-precision manufacture of its guides and pneumatic springs. In addition, cube cast parts that require interrupted machining can also be machined on the new turn-mill centre. These parts were previously manufactured on two other machines using a time-consuming jaw-chuck process. Hepfer recalls: “The parts were turned and then milled, which obviously required two set-ups. Hainbuch recommended a mandrel for this clamping situation and we gave them a sample part for a turning trial.”
Tresselt adds: “We were not sure whether with the Mando mandrel would deliver on what Hainbuch promised. But we were surprised at how tightly, rigidly and accurately the mandrel performed. We now save one operation, as well as the change-over time. This significantly shortens throughput times, while parts can also be machined very easily thanks to the minimal interference contour of the mandrel. We like the Mando system a lot and now we are even considering what other workpieces we can clamp with the mandrel.”
Steinel places a high priority on flexibility because batch sizes for the standard cast parts and pneumatic springs are small. However, with the new concept, Steinel wants to further reduce batch sizes in order to respond more effectively and with greater flexibility to customer requests.
Tresselt says: “When the new programs run at their optimal level on the machine, we will further reduce the batch sizes. Now, with the new clamping devices, we are saving over 60 minutes every day. There is still space to improve. For our employees, the handling with the new clamping devices works perfectly. We have also purchased the compatible Monteq changing fixture and two storage containers. This ensures everything is cleaned-up and on hand for our employees.”

Service is the highest priority for Tresselt and regarding the support from Helfer, Tresselt concludes: “If we have a problem, we can count on Hainbuch. Moreover, Hainbuch provides us with free parts to run our trials. This cannot be taken for granted. Before we make a decision and place an order, we like to check and test everything. Now, we are re-ordering the same Hainbuch clamping devices for two other machines with bar loaders and Hainbuch is certainly our first port of call in the future.”
For further information www.hainbuch.com

VISI ‘connects’ Alpha’s mouldmaking team

An injection mould manufacturer has seen a recent resurgence of tool making in its native Irish Republic, and says CAM software helped it through the recession by giving the company a competitive edge to work in high-end markets.

Alpha Precision, based in Tubbercurry, County Sligo, operates an almost full suite of VISI modules, which director Brendan Feely describes as a seamless communication tool.
“Several years ago Ireland experienced an exodus of tool-making contracts as work went overseas, particularly to China. At the same time, VISI CADCAM software for the mould and die industry was rapidly developing and adding new features. Even companies which weren’t computer literate were investing in the technology to survive. The software had a huge effect on the tool-making industry, giving us a competitive advantage to weather the storm.”
He says it’s now “high end all the way” for Alpha Precision – high-end staff building high-end mould tools with high-end software. “The technology promotes a more automated process, and means our staff need a different skillset nowadays, to use VISI to its full potential.”
To explain fully how he feels VISI is the seamless communication tool that acts as the glue in the complete tool-making environment, he likens his tool room to a football team. “We need our goalkeeper, defenders, midfielders and strikers. We have a variety of different machines doing different jobs, so our operators have different skills. The software is applied on the back of the machining, and because there are several disciplines, such as design, milling, wire and spark eroding, the software fits naturally into its given area. The operator in that area is just trained on the one particular VISI module.”
Continuing the “team” analogy, Feely says the tool room is like a group of people from different countries with none of them speaking a language other than their own. “One language is design, with others including flow analysis, milling, wire EDM and spark erosion. VISI is the common language that unites all processes, ensuring everything moves fluently through the tool room from one discipline to another.”

Operating with 12 employees, the company produces an average of around 40 tools a year, ranging in size from 100 x 100 mm, up to 600 x 1000 mm, mainly for the automotive, medical, packaging and electronics sectors.
Two of the company’s current projects are: producing a number of high cavitation tools for one of its many medical customers; and a contract for two-shot plastic injection tools, which involves an over mould. “Although two-shot production adds another element by involving a second material and process, VISI keeps it simple and efficient.”
With VISI programs running the company’s high-speed milling on Röder and Makino machining centres, the challenges posed by the medical industry’s requirement for very fine micro levels, are readily overcome. “We use a 42,000 rpm spindle speed for very small detail finishing, and cut our electrodes on a Makino F3, with high definition being done on an F5. And we can also machine a cavity in just one night, which would otherwise take a week. Using VISI Machining we can quickly produce a highly polished medical part with fine detail, a milled finish and a split line, within micron accuracy.”
VISI also powers Alpha Precision’s Charmilles EDM machines for spark eroding and Mitsubishi wire eroders. He says parts of the tool will have been cut on each of the machines, and when it’s ready for shipping it is a very fine micron, accurately finished tool for, typically, the medical or automotive industry.
Having invested in many VISI modules including Modelling, Analysis, Flow, Mould and Progress, wire cutting and electrode systems, along with 2D Milling, 3D Milling and High Speed Milling, the software is used at every stage of the company’s process, beginning with providing an accurate quotation for the customer. “We use VISI’s analytical tools to check the drafts and all the different features we’ll need to build into the mould, such as the core and side pieces.
“When the order’s been placed, we work closely with our customers’ moulders on the design concept, including flow analysis and tool layout. Once the 2D design is broken down and we have the tooling in full 3D, we really begin to see the huge power of VISI, which controls everything from design, through milling to wiring in one environment. As we’re not going across translators there’s a perfect understanding within the technology, taking it right through every stage.”

Combining VISI’s Compass technology with its 2D and 3D milling capability, all milling for hard prepping and high-speed finishing is handled quickly and accurately, which Feely says is vital to the company’s operation. “We make a lot of one-off components for each mould, meaning we only run a program once. As pattern cutters we need to be very good at generating CNC code time after time, and VISI is exceptional at doing that job for us.”
Although injection mould tools form Alpha Precision’s core business, the company also provides a blow-moulding and forming-tool service, and has experience in specialised press tooling. However, Feely concludes by saying that the business is currently embarking on an exciting new journey, working closely with a major customer on injection rubber.
For further information www.visicadcam.com

Aerospace gear specialist brings EDM in-house

Aldershot-based FT Gearing supplies the global defence and aerospace sectors with gears, miniature gearboxes and safety-critical components for wing-surface actuators, engine controls, instrumentation and fuel pumps. Many years ago, the manufacturer tried broaching the bore profiles in steel worm shafts to transmit the drive to thrust reversers, but the length-to-diameter ratios were too high and the tools broke frequently.

So the company put the work out to a wire EDM subcontractor in the Midlands. The service was expensive, partly because the firm needed to have Nadcap (National Aerospace and Defence Contractors Accreditation Program) approval, which is a requirement of primes such as Boeing and Airbus, as well as tier-one aerospace companies, all of which FT Gearing supplies.
Today, the situation has been turned on its head following the arrival over an 18-month period of three Makino wire EDM machines at an FT Gearing satellite facility close to the company’s main facility. The machines were supplied by NCMT, UK agent for the Japanese machine builder. Within six months of the first arriving, the gear specialist had gained Nadcap approval, while the latest EDM machine installed mid-2017 provides capacity for internal development projects and a subcontract wire-EDM service.
Managing director Graham Fitzgerald, who started the business with his father Des in 1978, says: “We chose U3 wire eroders from Makino after we employed a skilled EDM machinist that has a lot of experience operating machines of the same make and rates them highly. He says that ISO programming on the Fanuc-based control is far easier than on some other EDM machines that employ two languages; the macros are simpler to create and operations like rotation and mirror imaging are straightforward.”
For further information www.ncmt.co.uk

Trumpf buys ultrashort pulsed laser specialist

Trumpf reports that it has acquired the laser manufacturer Amphos, which was founded in 2010 as a spin-out from RWTH Aachen and the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT.

Amphos develops and produces ultrashort pulsed lasers with high output power for manufacturing and research applications. The key to Amphos lasers is InnoSlab technology, which was co-developed by the company’s founders while still a part of ILT. InnoSlab will allow Trumpf to open up an entirely new range of parameters for its ultrashort pulsed lasers.
Amphos develops ultrashort pulsed lasers that feature output power between 200 and 400 W. The company also offers high-power lasers for research applications that have an output as high as 1.5 kW. Headquartered at the Herzogenrath technology centre in Aachen, Amphos and Trumpf agreed to not disclose the purchase price.
For further information www.trumpf.com