The Swiss company Humbel has been involved in gear production since 1928—specializing in particularly sophisticated types of gears and transmission components, eventually evolving into a full-service supplier. At their facility in Kradorf, approx. 20 kilometers (12 miles) from St. Gallen, they produce both individual parts as well as complete assemblies. The company recently expanded their machine inventory to include a VL 4 vertical turning center by EMAG. — We spoke with Alex Humbel, Managing Director of Humbel Zahnräder AG in Kradolf, on the challenges facing gear producers, the importance of E-mobility, as well as their company strategy.
Mr. Humbel, what’s special about your company’s expertise?
For us, it’s always been about precision—and I mean that in the most extreme sense. At our headquarters in Switzerland, we produce small volumes of highly sophisticated gears and transmission components. These are used in things like motorsports such as Formula 1 or as prototypes in the field of E-mobility. In many cases, customers rely on our speed to cope with the rapid pace of development in many industry sectors. We deliver the desired prototypes within very short time frames.
Could you give us an example of an application?
The developments taking place in the field of E-mobility are particularly impressive. I could point to a whole series of projects we have worked on since 2015. For example, we produce prototypes of E-axles for a large German automotive supplier. They have various gear elements and numerous geometric features. We can manage these and similar jobs efficiently based on our high level of vertical integration. All the relevant processes are available—from turning, gear cutting and grinding, cubic machining and erosion to curing. In addition, we have our own development teams who support the customer right from the concept phase.
Why did you recently opt for a VL 4 from EMAG?
It was the integrated pick-up automation system that clinched it. This system enables us to significantly improve our productivity when manufacturing flange components. This is because the entire machining process is fast and requires little manpower. At the same time, the design of this integrated automation system is relatively straightforward. This was important for us because we wanted to avoid complicated and therefore fault-prone automation systems. In addition, the machining quality is high. We find the polymer concrete MINERALIT® very useful here, since it reduces oscillations during the milling process. Overall, we have been positively surprised by the stability and performance of the machine. Our infeed and feed rates are higher than we expected. Soft machining is performed on a very wide range of flange components in batch sizes of 50 to 200. We rely on having short setup times to ensure efficient and automated production.
And you have since invested in other EMAG machines?
That’s correct. For several months now, we have had a VL 3 DUO and a VL 8 at our Romanian subsidiary and a VL8 at our Czech subsidiary. And we are waiting for a VMC 450 to be delivered to the Czech Republic. There are different fundamental objectives involved here, since we produce larger parts for rail cars in the Czech Republic while we produce parts in larger volumes in Romania. However, we are aiming to standardize our machine inventory across all of our sites in order to streamline certain processes and build up a wide range of expertise.
What are your strategic goals for the coming years?
In Switzerland, we will continue to focus on particularly sophisticated components. For about two years now, we have been strengthening our presence as a system supplier that manufactures complete transmission assemblies—for example in the field of e-mobility. We want to continue in this direction. The inherent flexibility and cost-effectiveness of EMAG technology is opening up all kinds of opportunities for us. However, we will also focus on engineering for our customers. We will therefore continue to rely on these solutions and will work towards building a lasting partnership with EMAG.