AM paves way for digital transformation

Over the past year, industrial giant Schneider Electric has embarked on large-scale Industry 4.0 implementation across its worldwide operations. Named the ‘Smart Factory’ project, the company is strategically deploying cutting-edge technologies and the benefits of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to drive process optimisation. Designed to increase operational efficiency and reduce costs for its customers, the initiative has been rolled out to every factory across the globe, with each plant challenged to embrace innovation and drive digital transformation.

One of the company’s shining lights has been the Puente la Reina plant in Navarra, Spain, which has strategically adopted Stratasys FDM additive manufacturing throughout its production process. The plant is reporting significant efficiencies across its tooling operations in particular, which has led to the management team receiving high-level recognition within Schneider Electric. In fact, the Puente la Reina plant was recently named winner of the internal European-wide ‘Smart Factory’ Schneider Electric competition – recognising the acceleration of the plant’s Industry 4.0 transformation for the vast quantities of 3D printed manufacturing tools produced, the outstanding time and cost savings achieved, and newly optimised supply chain efficiencies.
“In the past year, using Stratasys FDM additive manufacturing we’ve achieved a saving of about €20,000 in the production of assembly-line tooling alone, which has easily paid off our original investment in the F170 3D printer,” says Manuel Otamendi, industrialisation and maintenance manager – global supply chain at Schneider Electric’s Puente la Reina plant. “With this technology we’re able to produce new high-performance production tools in just one day, whereas it would have taken at least one week to outsource the same tools previously. This reduces our dependency on suppliers and gives us much more control over tool production, which has increased the overall flexibility of our manufacturing process and accelerated our time-to-market for many products.”

Purchased through Stratasys’ local partner, Pixel Sistemas, Schneider Electric’s industrial-grade Stratasys F170 3D printer is deployed for a range of tooling applications, including assembly-line tools, jigs, fixtures, robot grippers and other end-of-arm tools – all of which were previously outsourced to third parties and produced using expensive injection moulding or CNC processes. The F170 has become a staple workhorse on the Puente la Reina factory floor, cranking out over a hundred new production tool designs a year.
One such example is the production of grippers for robotic arms on the assembly line. Leveraging its F170 3D printer, Schneider Electric has come up with new application ideas for the grippers to not only improve the performance of the robots, but secure major cost savings.
“It’s not uncommon for aluminium parts of the mould to break when they collide, and when they do, they are very expensive to replace,” explains Otamendi. “To circumvent this issue, we’re now able to replace costly aluminium grippers for robotic arms with 3D-printed alternatives. Not only does the 3D-printed tool offer the same mechanical performances as the traditional tool but, importantly, it ensures protection of more expensive aluminium parts when the moulds collide. Should the 3D-printing tool break, we can quickly 3D print a low-cost replacement within hours.
“To put the cost saving into perspective – outsourcing a machined gripper would previously cost €200 per tool,” he continues. “Now, we can 3D print one on-demand for around €100. The ability to also reduce the complexity of our supply chain is very important to us right now, so having this on-demand production capability in-house is essential.”
Having enjoyed significant cost savings and a more streamlined production workflow since integrating Stratasys FDM additive manufacturing, this has had a positive knock-on effect on the plant’s overall manufacturing efficiencies and reduced time-to-market in key areas.
“Additive manufacturing has transformed the way we work and changed our entire mind-set in terms of the way we think about doing things in the future,” explains Otamendi. “While we will continue to use our F170 to further optimise the tooling process, we’re actively exploring how to leverage other high-performance FDM materials in the Stratasys F123 3D printer series to address final end-use part applications on the production line. The increased application use of this technology will play an important role for us in achieving our digital transformation objectives.”
As a multi-material printer, the F170 is a fully-featured prototyping tool, with the capacity to load two material reels simultaneously. The machine is part of the F123 series, and includes advanced features like Fast Draft mode for truly rapid prototyping, and soluble support to prevent design compromise and hands-on removal.

Yann Rageul, director manufacturing solutions EMEA at Stratasys, says: “As we work our way through the global pandemic, we’ve seen clear indications that additive manufacturing can play a key role in enhancing the traditional supply chain and conventional production lines. With business leaders seeking to re-optimise their operations, we expect to see an increase in companies adopting the technology at a strategic level, such as Schneider Electric, who continue to successfully drive digital transformation across the business.
“Not only does additive manufacturing enable Schneider Electric to increase flexibility within production and reduce dependency on suppliers, it also opens up the ability to make significant operational efficiencies across product development,” he adds. “While this may be a common objective for most businesses, the impact of COVID-19 has amplified its importance even further.”
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Second Kasto storage system ARRIVES AT AMCO

Based in Bremen, AMCO Metall Service stocks large quantities of aluminium, copper, brass and bronze in its 55,000 sq m facility and delivers 25,000 tonnes annually to customers mainly in the plant building, metal processing, construction, transportation and shipbuilding sectors. The German family firm has 270 employees and an annual turnover of around €100m.

To meet customer demands, AMCO Metall Service has a particularly wide range of material in stock – over 7000 tonnes, in fact – guaranteeing excellent availability of goods. The company supplies all parts tailored to needs and flexibly adjusts to suit batch sizes.
Increasing demand for cut-to-size material meant that AMCO’s service centre for semi-finished materials was running out of space. So, to streamline efficiency for holding and picking material, including billets and plate, the company installed a Unigrip 3.0 automated, honeycomb-type cassette storage system. The Unigrip 3.0 system was built by Kasto, located some 600 km further south in Achern. Since then, AMCO has enjoyed fast access to its materials, machined parts and remnants, and has consequently increased its pre-machining and order picking productivity.
Jan Hendrik Schmidt, managing director of AMCO says: “Growth in this area of our business presented us with a challenge. We needed additional storage space to expand, and wanted to renew our conventional racking system.

“The new solution had to ensure high availability of metals and make efficient use of the available space,” he adds. “Sawing to length, three- to five-axis prismatic machining and picking also had to be interlinked with the system. To increase profitability, we were keen to avoid damage to material caused by handling and storage, and we also wanted to reduce order picking costs.”
kasto was already a supplier to AMCO, having manufactured and delivered in 2013 a Unicompact 3.0 long-goods storage system that has proved successful in operation.
Schmidt says: “Kasto had particular advantages, notably the impressive degree of added value they offered compared with competitors, ranging from software development to the supply of spares. Existing, proven interfaces ensured simple integration into our ERP system, and Kasto’s employees gave us competent advice before we placed the order.”
The Unigrip 3.0 industrial store in Bremen has 1365 storage locations and is 68 m long, over 21 m wide and 6.7 m in height. Five types of cassette, from 6.5 to 6.7 m long and 1.6 m wide, hold the stockholder’s materials; the maximum load per cassette being three tonnes. The storage and retrieval machine (SRM) travels longitudinally at up to 120 m/min to ensure efficient material movement. Laser measuring delivers precise positioning and contour controls monitor that goods do not overhang and hinder their transfer.

Via a standard Profibus DP fieldbus, the proprietary KASTOlogic control orchestrates all functions, including drive controllers, manual control units and weighing electronics. AMCO can create or change data quickly and receives reliable information on inventories and cassette availability. Storage zones can be managed to optimise the SRM’s travel, while incoming orders are automatically assigned to the relevant processing stations. The Unigrip then provides stock and remnants to the machine tools and subsequently stores pre-machined parts and remnants.
To speed fault diagnosis and help with operational problems, Kasto’s service centre in Achern can access the storage system in Bremen remotely and control all functions of the KASTOlogic. Changes to the program or parameters can be carried out cost-effectively, without the need for Kasto staff to visit the site.
Schmidt explains: “Our investment in the Kasto solution has paid off handsomely and our goals and expectations have been fully met. The storage facility perfectly fulfils its intended functions of storing material and acting as a buffer for holding
pre-cut and machined parts, which are logically stored and accessed quickly and reliably.”
He is also pleased with other process advantages. Damage to material during transportation and handling has been virtually eliminated and AMCO has been able to reduce significantly its fleet of forklift trucks, as the storage system delivers the required materials to where they are needed.
“Co-operation between our staff and Kasto’s employees is very positive,” concludes Schmidt. “Technical optimisations during the running-in phase were quickly and fully completed, while ongoing adjustments take place continuously and are efficiently supported by the supplier.”
AMCO says its customers can count on state-of-the- art machinery and well-founded know-how of the sector. In short: as a reliable all-round supplier and partner, the company will make procurement – as well as the processing of non-ferrous metals (aluminium, copper, brass and bronze) – as easy as possible.
With its new corporate motto “When metal and service shine”, AMCO is setting its own bar for quality and first-class customer orientation. In doing so, the specialist knowledge of the company’s employees provide the finishing touch. Many market leaders and medium-sized companies from a multitude of sectors already place their trust in AMCO.
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Customised production with Stratasys 3D printing

Marchesini Group S.p.A. is an Italian manufacturer of automated packaging machinery and an established supplier to some of the biggest names in the pharmaceutical, cosmetic and food industries. As one of Stratasys’ largest customers in Europe, the company has revealed how it has embraced an entirely customised production business model to meet the needs of the international packaging sector – with its arsenal of industrial-grade Stratasys 3D printers at the heart of its manufacturing operation.

Headquartered in Pianoro, Marchesini Group has a dedicated 3D printing facility featuring 10 Stratasys production-grade FDM 3D printers – a large-scale Fortus 900mc, four Fortus 450mc and five F270 systems – as well as two PolyJet multi-material 3D printers. The technology is used throughout the design, development and manufacture of the company’s flagship cartoning machines, as well as several other packaging lines. Every machine produced is tailored to a specific industry or customer’s production process, which is critical in ensuring optimum performance and efficiency when deployed in the field.
“At Marchesini Group we say that ‘extra-ordinary is our ordinary’, meaning that we are faced with challenging, entirely customised projects on an almost daily basis,” says Mirko Fortunati, who is responsible for co-ordinating the mechanical workshops at Marchesini Group. “However, producing complex, bespoke parts with traditional manufacturing methods has proved extremely costly and
time consuming, which is no longer suited to the growing demands of today’s packaging manufacturing industry.
“Importantly for our business, Stratasys additive manufacturing has enabled us to overcome these issues and adopt a customised production model,” he continues. “Integrating industrial-grade FDM 3D printers into our production process has drastically reduced our part lead times from several weeks to a few days. Added to that, we can cost-effectively produce the exact quantity of parts we need, without requiring expensive tooling or machining. Having this on-demand production capability enables our engineers to take advantage of the greater design freedom enabled by 3D printing, which has empowered Marchesini Group to achieve higher-quality results for our customers.”

Importantly, this on-demand production capability also extends to maintenance and repair. With its packaging machines installed at customer locations throughout the world, the company is now able to quickly and cost-effectively 3D print customised replacement parts on-demand with no minimum order requirement. Not only does this allow Marchesini Group to deliver spare parts to customers in record time, it eradicates the need for costly storage facilities of spare inventory.
The team at Marchesini has 3D printed thousands of functional parts and components for its packaging machines, including protective cases, cable support systems and junction boxes, to name but a few. These applications are particularly important for the company’s robotic packaging systems, where every single component matters in order to ensure the robot’s agility, precision and speed of movement. This is an area where high-performance 3D printing materials have made a big impact.
“Using tough thermoplastics such as Stratasys’ FDM Nylon 12CF filament or ULTEM 9085 resin in place of traditionally machined metal components, has enabled us to reduce the weight of some parts by at least 30%,” explains Fortunati. “This not only increases the speed of movement and productivity of the robot for our customers, but it lessens the rate of degradation. In addition, these 3D printing materials comply with specific industry regulations, which importantly enables us to expand this technology into even more production applications – helping us to further innovate our products for customers.”
Marchesini Group is also using Stratasys PolyJet technology to produce components for applications requiring the combination of two or more materials.
“One great example of this technology is for the production of grasping pincers, which are designed to handle light items such as package leaflets or smaller jars,” explains Fortunati. “With the advanced multi-material 3D printing capability, we can produce complex designs that combine hard and rubber-like materials in a single print – something that would typically take multiple processes to create, costing us time and money.”

The battery of Stratasys 3D printers within Marchesini Group’s additive manufacturing department is currently running round the clock.
Fortunati concludes: “It’s fair to say that additive manufacturing is an integral part of Marchesini Group production. In 2019 alone, we recorded a total of 22,480 hours of operation for our FDM 3D printing equipment – equating to almost 15 hours a day. And for our two PolyJet 3D printers, a total of 1700 hours of operation, the equivalent of about 8 hours a day. As we continue to expand these technologies across our design and production process, we can expect these figures to be even higher in the future.”
Established in 1974 by virtue of the shrewd intuition of Massimo Marchesini, over the years the company has grown from a small, local business into a major industrial enterprise, thanks to a continuous process of mergers and acquisitions of complementary companies. Despite its present-day multinational dimension, the group has never betrayed the human spirit and artisan production that characterised its early days, and these traits still exist today alongside the latest innovations in robotics and digitalisation.
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Fourth Vista CNC grinder arrives at HB Bearings

Adding further capacity, coupled with the benefits of CNC precision and programming flexibility, has resulted in Huddersfield-based HB Bearings acquiring a further Kellenberger Vista universal grinding machine supplied by Jones & Shipman Hardinge.

One of the UK’s foremost bearing designers and manufacturers, HB Bearings is a specialist manufacturer concentrating on high-precision, low-volume production, but in highly targeted end-user industries.
Back in 1972, company chairman Norman Hirst had the initiative to manufacture and modify bearings in low volume. The timing was perfect as major manufacturers continued to reduce and amalgamate their product ranges, and sadly some went out of business altogether. It became difficult to obtain many types of bearing. There is still today a lot of specialised machinery in use which requires a source for these types of bearings. HB Bearings stocks many types of ‘difficult to source’ metric and imperial bearings of its own manufacture. The company’s principal manufacturing categories are specials, new designs, obsolete designs and motorsport bearings.
Today, the company has a global customer base and an archive of bearing design specifications, drawings and data that it says is probably unsurpassed in Europe.
“A highly skilled workforce and a commitment to quality are obviously vital, but we have always been prepared to invest in state-of-the-art machine tools and this latest Kellenberger investment – our 4th CNC grinder – is testimony to that,” explains HB’s managing director Graham Hirst.
And, as Hirst adds, more investment is imminent.

“HB has recently acquired Gamet Bearings, which is a renowned manufacturer of super precision taper roller bearings,” he explains. “We have relocated the Gamet operations from Colchester to our Huddersfield site and further investment in high-precision grinding capacity will be necessary. As we are working to 1.5 µm running accuracy tolerances on Gamet products, we will be looking to invest in additional Vista CNC machines, such is our confidence in them.”
The production of Gamet bearings has now recommenced, with additional staff employed to assist in the smooth running of this new addition to HB Bearings. The first Gamet Bearings manufactured by HB in the UK have now shipped, with many more to follow soon.
At its Huddersfield production facility, HB has three Vista UR 75/1000 CNC machines now joined by the latest Vista SE –
all of which have been supplied by Jones & Shipman Hardinge Ltd, the UK subsidiary of Hardinge Inc.
Built on the footprint of the UR/75 but with enhancements to guarding and the control package, the Vista SE machine features a UR wheel head for external, internal and face grinding. The swivelling wheel head features pre-stressed, high-precision spindle bearings to ensure the quality of surface finish and long operational life. A further example of the machine’s progressive design is its suitability for both grinding between dead centres and for chucked work. HB has also specified a HF-dresser on the upper (X axis) table.
Designed to be a cost-effective CNC alternative to hydraulically controlled cylindrical grinders, Vista machines have simplified the programming sequence thanks to the Kellenberger Kel-Easy and Kel-Iso menu-based system delivered via a Fanuc 0i control. Key features include the ability to micro-adjust the tailstock in the range of ±60 µm, linear guides on the X axis, a classical slide arrangement in the Z axis and the ability to accommodate a workpiece up to 100 kg in weight. As the designation implies, the distance between centres on the machines supplied to HB is 1000 mm, as is the grinding length.
The compact design features a coolant tray which is separated from the machine base, an integrated transport system and swivelling upper table. In addition, the thermally-optimised bearings are said to guarantee the highest roundness and dimensional accuracy.

“We purchased the Vista SE to accommodate increased work load and, given our previous positive operating experience with Vista machines, it made for an easy choice,” explains Hirst. “They are highly durable machines, but importantly offer the sustained accuracy essential in our business. Around 5 µm is the normal tolerance we work to, but we can meet demands down to 2 µm if needed. Moreover, as with all Vista machines, having the capability to grind highly complex, high-precision profiles, while maintaining tolerances and very high concentricity levels, is vital.”
Bearing types manufactured include precision radial, deep groove ball, cylindrical roller, angular contact, duplex and many other types. Special bearings are manufactured to customer specifications or, the company’s in-house design department can work with customers to develop unique bearing designs. The type of bearing design could incorporate special features which might reduce component cost and assembly time. Maximum manufacturing capacity at HB Bearings is 1.5 m outside diameter.
Materials are usually based on SAE 52100. However, certain motorsport applications may require more specialised bearing steel, such as AMS6444 (52100 VIM-VAR), which is a super clean steel. Occasionally, a material such as Cronidur is used, which has a value that exceeds 52100 by a factor of between 8 and 10.
“The common denominator is that they are all difficult to machine,” says Hirst. “However, with the micron tolerances we have to achieve with exact repeatability, the Kellenberger machines are more than up to the challenge. They have been an excellent investment.”
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Two-day program cut to two hours

“The accuracy of programming is essential for us; if our CNC programs aren’t accurate, it would be catastrophic.” Those are the words of Stéphane Haoui, machining manager at Loiretech, a company specialising in large, complex tools for the commercial aerospace, automotive, defence and energy industries.

Loiretech’s design, manufacturing and production control processes face many issues – which are resolved by seamlessly merging three products – WorkNC, WorkPlan and WorkXplore from Hexagon’s production software portfolio – to create one integrated solution that connects all of its business silos together.
Based at Bouguenais in France, Loiretech Ingénierie produces a range of composite and metal tools for forming, thermoforming, moulding and part inspection. The company designs and manufactures, among other things, moulds for the production of reactors, fuselages and structural parts. In addition, the space market is well catered for, in particular through the production of tools for satellite reflectors and rocket fuselage reflectors. Loiretech supplies the automotive industry with control and automation tools for cutting out entire dashboards.
As well as tooling production, the company directly manufactures blades and propellers for the naval industry. Nine machine tools, which include Zayer, FPT, Forest Liné and Rambaudi, are programmed by Hexagon’s WorkNC CAM software, which Haoui says is vital to its operation: “The shop floor couldn’t function without WorkNC as it’s fully integrated into all stages of manufacturing: analysis, comparison, simulation, verification and machining.”
He says that Loiretech uses materials which can deform on the CNC machines, and their tools must generally be accurate to six or seven hundredths per metre; sometimes even to five hundredths.
“However, WorkNC’s reliability gives us the power and accuracy we need to ensure those tolerances are met every time,” says Haoui. “We begin by creating the WorkNC range, and prepare for manufacturing by extending the surfaces to accommodate the volume and define the part layout.”


After that, the company defines the raw material, the machine to be used, and the work holding. Then, the tool paths are programmed using WorkNC’s roughing, re-roughing, semi-finishing, finishing and cornering functions. The software automatically displays the stock in real time as the workpiece moves forward through the machining process, ensuring high accuracy.
“In order to secure the whole process before starting manufacturing, we simulate the tool paths to check there are no collisions between the machine, the part, the cutting tool and the tool holder,” says Haoui. “And to finalise the part we use WorkNC’s five-axis capability to mark it for routing and drilling. It used to take two days to program a part with 300 holes, but now it takes less than two hours.”
Loiretech Ingénierie also has a research and innovation department working on European aerospace and energy projects which can run over several years, in collaboration with universities and research centres.
WorkPlan keeps track of all the company’s business. As an example, the research and innovations department uses the ERP functionality to have a precise follow-up of costs and correlate them with the budgets allocated by the various financing.
The company installed the software in 2016, and has kept up to date with each new release. Most departments now use it. New functionalities requested, and now available, have been integrated into the company’s workflow, and allow the optimisation of work capacities. This capability means the CMMS module is responsible for managing requests and the follow-up of maintenance interventions within the company. The workshop is also equipped with WorkPlan and has numerous touchscreens for employee management, such as staff input/output, business clocking in/out or incident reporting via CMMS.
IT manager Sébastien Fraquet says: “WorkPlan is the backbone that allows us to structure our services. It can be found at every level of the company. We manage everything with it, from quotation to final invoicing, including purchasing management, non-conformity management and personnel management.”

By using all the modules, different departments can know the costs being generated and react quickly to preserve and increase the company’s profitability.
“Thanks to the real-time stock availability and the calculation of net requirements, the orders placed are extremely accurate,” says Fraquet. “Another important feature, the ‘Order Status’ module, is essential for determining that the production work in progress is sent quarterly to administrative and financial management. We need to know how much we’re getting back for everything we have on the shop floor, both in terms of hours spent on the job, and volume of purchases. This allows us to know the value of the company.”
The software permits Loiretech to issue constant balance sheets and develop new business using existing information in its database.
“We can use old estimates as a knowledge base, and adapt them to make similar projects profitable, time after time,” says Fraquet.
The third Hexagon solution contributing to Loiretech Ingénierie’s Industry 4.0 philosophy, is the high-speed CAD viewer, WorkXplore, which allows the company to open all types and sizes of CAD files in use, and import and analyse them at high speed.
“The sales and projects departments open CATIA and other CAD files with WorkXplore in order to analyse and cost projects. In addition, the workshop uses it for assembly and measurements. Some vital information isn’t visible on 2D plans, but thanks to the workshop having the full 3D file, we avoid additional costs caused by assembly non-conformities. The subcontracting department also uses WorkXplore as some parts of their tooling are machined elsewhere – they send 3D files by email, add annotations to the files and make quick dimensional drawings to ensure the subcontractor has all the necessary information.”
Loiretech’s use of three Hexagon products to integrate its former individual business silos is a good example of how the Industry 4.0 philosophy creates data-driven smart factories, giving a new level of insight and solutions which improve efficiency and quality, while reducing costs.
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