The manufacture of HGV components: great quality, maximum flexibility
21/05/2013 - Oliver Hagenlocher
Demand for HGVs will massively increase over the next few years – and that increase will be worldwide. Management consultants McKinsey, for instance, are estimating that the market will grow from a present turnover of € 125 billion to € 190 billion in 2020. Especially emerging economies, such as China and India, will need noticeably greater numbers of HGVs for the development of their infrastructure. That this kind of global dynamic also offers opportunities for the smaller company is illustrated by the example of LASO. The specialists in Olpe have been manufacturing spare parts for HGVs and buses for over 40 years, with the main focus on demanding motorised assemblies, such as oil and water pumps, and on steering elements. The company’s shelves are filled with almost 5,000 different products. To enable them to manufacture such a variety of different components efficiently, they are putting their faith in automated machining concepts. For the machining of cast iron components, for instance, they employ a total of three vertical turning machines from EMAG – turning centres that produce even the smallest batch size at the highest quality.
„Flexibility” is a word frequently used in the automotive industry. At LASO, however, the word is of particular importance, as the manufacture of HGV spares is an extraordinarily wide field to tackle for a small, medium-sized company of around 70 staff. But these specialists do not only produce a large variety of engine components, such as oil pumps, valve seats, injection system components and water pumps. Their catalogue also includes components for all the well-known HGV brands. The result is an enormous spread of LASO products. Add to this the fact that where “spare parts” in particular are concerned component quality is of the utmost importance, as Operations Manager Werner Steuber emphasises: “Our customers must be confident that each HGV spare part assembly is of the same efficiency and stability as the original was before it got damaged. As we gladly give this guarantee for the most varied components, we simply cannot afford to make mistakes or be inaccurate in the production of our components.”
Many different components produced in a variety of batch sizes
That these demands are met with tailor-made manufacturing solutions is indicated by the post-processing of complex cast iron components. For instance, two EMAG VL 5 Turning Centres – linked by a component transfer and turning unit – are used in the machining of small impellers or water pumps. Plain production data alone illustrates the high demands put on those machines – they produce about 25 different components, with batch sizes ranging from as few as 200 up to 3,000 components. The typical EMAG design of the machines forms the cornerstone for the extremely fast, interlinked production process at LASO. The VL 5 machines feature a pick-up spindle that collects the raw-part from a recirculating conveyor and transports it into the machining area, where one side is turned before the workpiece is returned to the conveyor. At LASO, the parts are then conveyed to a transfer and turning unit, to be turned over and then transported to the second turning centre. The second VL 5 also has a pick-up spindle that takes the component to the workstation where its other side is machined. The two VLs can also carry out drilling and other machining operations on these components.
For years – a stable process
„The whole process is highly effective”, explains Axel Fiedler, Regional Sales Executive for EMAG. „For instance, the cycle time for the complete-machining of an impeller is just 48 seconds. Vertical machining also ensures process integrity, as the unhindered chip flow guarantees there is no chip nesting – a very important factor when it comes to a fully automated and lightly-manned operation.” This judgement is confirmed by LASO Operations Manager Steuber: “The machines run a two-shift cycle of around 80 hours a week and have been in use for approximately five years now. During this time we had practically no problems where performance and component quality were concerned. The whole process is a very stable one.”
Similarly important for the spare parts specialists is that the machines are so easy to set up, as Herr Steuber explains. The VL can be set for the machining of a new component in next to no time, making the influence of many EMAG design features more obvious. For instance, the VL 5 machines at LASO feature a turret that accommodates up to 10 different tools, which ensures that it can be optimally equipped to execute complex machining cycles. It is also easy for the operator to access the machines known for their short travels, thus allowing for a fast and easy exchange of tools. “Another factor of great importance to us is that new operators only require a short break-in period and that they can quickly familiarise themselves with the control system. This is decisive in assessing the economic viability of the production process on machines that need to be frequently reset”, elucidates Herr Steuber. Exactly how efficient the actual solution is, is shown by a quick look at the past: the VL 5 twin-machine solution replaced three machines, which only carried out part of the operations each and which had to be loaded manually – all together a much slower, less safe and, last but by no means least, more expensive process.
Turning machine VL 7 as a manufacturing solution for larger components
For the manufacture of larger pump housings and other large cast iron components the specialists in Olpe also rely on an EMAG machine – this time a stand-alone: the VL 7 Turning Centre. It is equipped with a larger workpiece chuck (max. dia. 400 mm) and the maximum travel ratings are also higher. “We did not want to have to do without the advantages of vertical machining and the pick-up principle in the machining of our larger components either”, confirms Herr Steuber. By the by, the small footprint of the EMAG machines also played an important role in LASO’s investment decision: with the EMAG machines the HGV components specialist can machine a large range of complex components on just 20 m² - and that dimension includes the automation equipment. “For us, that was an important argument in favour of EMAG, as we did not want to be forced to expand our production area to accommodate the new machine.”
With manufacturing solutions like these, the specialists in HGV spares find themselves well set up for the future. “The market for HGV spares is growing. But in the rapidly emerging markets in particular, new competitors are very much in evidence. We defend our position in this field by offering a component quality that is a cut above the norm. And here is where the EMAG manufacturing solutions play an important role too”, concludes Herr Steuber.