INTRODUCTION: The list of countries feeding the global demand for machine tools is growing and changing. The next machine you purchase may well have been built in a country you don't immediately associate with manufacturing technology. Modern Machine Shop editors recently visited two such countries, the Czech Republic and Spain. In both nations, machine tool builders are positioning themselves to win a larger share of not just the world market, but the U.S. market in particular.
Spain: Accelerating To Higher Speeds
At this year's biennial gathering of the Spanish machine tool industry, the atmosphere is upbeat and optimistic. Here's a report on what we saw in Bilbao. You can see many of the machines mentioned here at IMTS in September.
The Spanish machine tool industry, under sponsorship of its two major metalworking trade organizations, gathers every other year in the northern city of Bilbao, in the Basque region. The Spanish national machine tool show, though strong on home-grown builders, includes strong participation from the international community.
For an American attending this show, some of the customs and amenities are different than shows in the United States. Almost every booth has a stocked bar, for example. While bars and in-booth cafes are common in most European expositions, the Spanish add the delightful touch of putting out tapas food to munch on as business discussions are conducted.
The multi-hour lunch period is another rhythm that takes a little getting used to. The exposition hall doesn't officially close from 1:00 to 3:00 in the afternoon, but most of the aisles are virtually empty during this time as exhibitors and attendees huddle over a hearty lunch and conduct discussions.
But don't get the impression that this industry is totally laid back and casual. When it comes to manufacturing and machine tool building, the Spanish are all business. They are definitely taking advantage of the excellent business climate to research and develop new products. Many of these products are earmarked for the American market.
Who Are These Guys?
The Spanish machine tool industry mainly comprises small, family owned companies. Most (75 percent) cluster in the Basque region.
According to their machine tool association (AFM), Spain ranks 5th in Europe and 11th worldwide in machine tool production. A majority of Spain's machine tool capacity, over 60 percent, is built for export. Germany, the United States, and Great Britain are the biggest export markets with 16, 10, and 9 percent respectively.
Two major trade associations represent the Spanish machine tool industry. AFM represents 94 machine tool builders. Its companion association, AMT (not to be confused with the Association of Manufacturing Technology, sponsor of IMTS) represents tooling and accessories manufacturers.
Most of the individual companies that constitute the Spanish machine tool industry are small. To make a bigger dent in the export market, many of the builders band together in groups to share resources and defray costs. Group Danobat is the outstanding example of this strategy. It is composed of five smaller builders, Soraluce, Estarta, Goiti, and Lealde as well as the Danobat line. Together they manufacture and market grinders, machining centers, turning centers, and special machines.
The group shares foundry capacity, machining capacity and cooperatively runs a very modern research facility under the name Ideko. Design and engineering functions for the group are consolidated in this center.
Other Spanish builders approach the market as private labelers for other better known names. Kondia (see box) is an example. In the United States, Clausing (Kallamazoo, Michigan) represents them.
Other builders, including Anayak, Nicolas Correa, Ibarmia, Juarisiti, and Zayar work through U.S. distribution. Several Spanish builders have established direct U.S. presence including Ona America, Fagor, and Republic Lagun.
High speed machining seemed to hold the technological edge at the show. Developments coming from the technical centers dotted throughout the machine tool building region of Spain are producing real world results in the high speed machining arena.
We visited one such center called Tekniker. They work cooperatively with a machine tool group called Fatronik, which represents more than ten different machine tool builders.
On display at the show was a high speed vertical machining center developed and built by Tekniker. Called Bizkor, it featured a 42,0000-rpm spindle with rapid rates of 100 m/min and an acceleration/deceleration curve of 20m/sec2.
Danobat also showed a high speed machining center with linear motors on all three axes. The MML 500 has an X-Y-Z envelope of 630 mm by 500 mm by 500 mm. Spindle speeds are 24,000 rpm driven by a 23kW motor. Acceleration/deceleration is 20m/sec2 with a rapid traverse rate of 120m/min.
Keeping to the fast lane, Fatronik showed a unique modular construction concept for application on high speed machine tool components. The display illustrated a tubular framework built into the shape of a machining center column. Triangulation of individual pieces of the frame provides a very stiff structure with a minimum of mass.
It appears to be a very good construct for high speed movement of machine tool components. If necessary, the hollow tubes can be filled to provide damping to the structure. It looks like a promising construction technique for pushing high speed machining even further.
These examples are at the edge of the technology envelope. Most of the machine tool companies, however, touted relatively higher speeds and feeds as salient features of their display machines, even in conventional product lines. High speed machining was definitely a theme at this edition of the Spanish machine tool show.
Most of the companies mentioned in this article are members of AFM, the Spanish machine tool builders' association. The association can be reached online at http://www.afm.es or by phone at (9)43 30 90 09, or fax at (9)43-30-91-91. To reach a U.S. representative for any of these builders, contact the Spanish Commercial Office in Chicago at (312) 644-1154.