EMAG: Innovation provides a head start

02/08/2009 - Oliver Hagenlocher

The rate of increase in productivity in the automotive industry since 2006 has been put at an average of 20%. This has been a necessary development as a weak dollar, the strengthening competition from Asian markets and the present slump in sales undoubtedly demand greater productivity and efficiency. As their trading partner, EMAG has – for years – successfully supported the automotive industry with manufacturing systems that were of a standard design but at the same time easily adapted to individual requirements.

Actions speak louder than words
This statement, made by Rupert Stadler, Chairman of Audi AG, says it all.  A great number of announcements have been made regarding the availability of new drive concepts, but this makes it no easier to gain a foothold in the European market. Latest studies reveal, however, that within just a few more years approximately 25 percent of the world’s commercial vehicles will be of a full-hybrid or electrically powered design, and that conventional drives – like Otto and diesel engines – will have been developed beyond recognition. These are all elements that have a direct bearing on power train components and their manufacture. Latest developments in the automotive industry tend to be accompanied by an increase in the complexity of the components. Obvious examples of this are lightweight construction, the use of high-tensile steels and a higher functional density. All these are factors that make ever greater demands for precision, productivity and absolute process integrity on the manufacturers of metal-cutting production systems. In this sector EMAG has been highly successful with its vertical machine concept, particularly in medium and large batch production. With ever shorter innovation cycles and small lot sizes the men in Salach have made good use of their accumulated know-how by incorporating their ideas into its VTC 250 L Vertical Shaft-Turning Machine. This is one of their series of Lean machines designed for use as a stand-alone or part of a manufacturing system based on the chaku-chaku principle. (Photo 2823.jpg) “Chaku-chaku” stands for “Loading, loading” and means nothing more than that the various steps in the process chain have been spatially brought together as close as possible, thus allowing for the implementation of the flow production principle. This production method gains enormously from the vertical machine concept. While the VTC 250 L benefits from taking up approximately half the space of a horizontal machine, it also convinces with its excellent chip flow, which is even more apparent where high volumes of chips are generated by soft machining operations.
But chaku-chaku also means that operator and machine can work to a large extent self-sufficiently. To ensure that this is the case, the VTC 250 Ls have been equipped with automatic workhandling systems: (Photo 2458.jpg) a gripper in the turret takes the workpiece into the machining area and positions it. Once the workpiece is machined it is removed the same way. All stations work independently. The worker then transfers the component from machine to machine. The VTC 250 also features workpiece storage areas, adding flexibility to production process changes.
Unlike classical horizontal machines the VTC 250 L is a fully-fledged turning center with integral automation. It is much easier to reset than a horizontal lathe and enjoys the advantage that it loads and unloads itself. This method makes it possible to achieve zero-defect production: Immediately after the last operation has been carried out on the component, it is subjected to a visual inspection and then checked again at a measuring station. (Photos 2415.jpg + 2417.jpg) However, the core of its precision can be found in the machine itself. Robust, and mounted on a rigid polymer base, the vibration damping effect is, for instance, eight times that of a machine with a cast iron base. This is particularly important where vibratory and impact effects of hard machining (hard turning) operations have to be absorbed. The result is a much improved surface finish and a better tool life. The high power ratings (38/29 kW, 40/100% duty cycle), speeds of up to 1,400 rpm and the exceptionally robust EMAG turrets with 40 mm tool receptors make the VTC 250 L a highly efficient turning center for the two-axis machining of shaft-type components.

New developments should only be implemented once the corresponding manufacturing concepts are in place
What applies to the production technologies in the automotive industry also applies to the metal-cutting industry: both must consistently follow the path of innovation. As a result, important changes in technologies are being forecast for the coming decade. With over 200 noteworthy patents annually, the EMAG Group is pretty well equipped to take an active part in these developments. For some considerable time now the Group has concentrated on process integration. And the reason? Where different machining processes, such as turning and grinding for instance, can be integrated on a single machine, the result is palpable: a reduction in both capital outlay and component costs. (Photo 6194.jpg) These are savings that owe much to faster throughput times, greater process integrity, improved component quality and a smaller footprint. And they are savings that apply to standardised stand-alone machine and tailor-made manufacturing solution alike.

Truly innovative manufacturing solutions are geared to the task in hand
Developments in the automotive industry often orientate themselves on functional density and thus on the detail of things. This leads to an increase in the complexity of components, which – in turn – compounds the demands made on the manufacturers of machine tools. And it also includes the cost-effectiveness of production. The classic turned parts of today call for additional drilling operations, for keyway milling and gear cutting work, etc. In addition, many workpieces are hardened and have to be machined to tighter tolerances. In the past, this was frequently done on special purpose machines, of which some of the best known were turning+grinding and turning+gear-cutting centers, i.e. the type of machine that EMAG has standardised – whereby “standard” should not be equated with “simple”. (Photos 6220-1.jpg + 5103.jpg) With very little engineering effort manufacturing systems are here adapted to suit individual requirements. This ensures that process integrity is increased and capital outlay reduced.

Automation must be geared to individual requirements
For the next two years the automotive industry has set itself a target for a productivity increase of 10 to 15%.  Over the last 15 years or so this has stood at 6 percent for just its assembly lines. The target they have set themselves cannot be reached without automation. In the metal-cutting industry the multitude of component variants and smaller batch sizes have ensured that special purpose machines no longer represent the primary solution. They have been replaced by smaller manufacturing cells with simplified automation, which adjust more easily and with greater flexibility to the small and medium batch production of a variety of components. Even more efficient for these tasks are, of course, the kind of self-loading machines that EMAG has been building for many years. For instance, their VL vertical turning machines are frequently used for classic turning work. (Photos 2203.jpg + : 1470A.jpg) There is no longer any need for time-consuming, cost-intensive resetting of the automation equipment. And on the VTC 250 L it is the turret that reduces the cost of automation and peripherals. Raw-part and finish-machined component storage areas form an integral part of the machine. Already short setup times are further reduced by exceptional accessibility, operator-friendliness and the possibility to traverse tailstock and steadies under the power of CNC.

A global presence in the markets, a local one for the customer
Most of the groundbreaking innovations originate from the German automotive industry; and it is most gratifying to know that their domestic tier-1 suppliers are world champions among the OEM’s innovators. However, according to Dr Jan Dannenberg, Director at Oliver Wyman’s, there will soon be only a few able to afford to invest in these innovative ideas, if their cost is not reduced considerably. The results of the study „Car Innovation 2015“ suggest that approximately 4.3 million low-cost vehicles will be sold in Europe, India and China in 2015. This represents about ten percent of all new vehicles. The survey asked over 50 R&D bosses and business managers worldwide where they see the focal point of innovations – and 95% of them came up with “costs” as their answer. This and similar studies, plus analyses and strategic assessments by the automotive industry lead us to assume that there will be an increase in the demand for mobility, especially in the growth markets, such as India, China and Russia. It is the reason why, since 2005, EMAG has accelerated its investment in subsidiaries and market companies in these regions. This ensures the Group can react to customer demands on the spot. After all, nowadays export markets expect the same level of advice and service as the home market enjoys. Although insiders claim that production technologies develop from innovations – and that we should not expect a full-blown revolution but be satisfied with evolution – vehicle manufacturers are clamouring for further improvements in all sectors, from productivity and the cost of raw materials to component quality. The EMAG Group with its innovative manufacturing technologies will be there to partner them in their efforts.


Oliver Hagenlocher

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