Chris Koepfer has been involved in metalworking for 30 years. His first 14 were in the machine tool group at Cincinnati Milacron where he honed his technical writing skills in turning, machining and grinding before joining Modern Machine Shop in 1992 as an associate editor. In 2001, he helped found MMS’ sister publication Production Machining, which speaks to the precision machined parts segment of the industry. Chris is graduate of Xavier University in Cincinnati, as are three of his four children, and an XU basketball fan—which can be as daunting as working in metalworking, he says.
Home-grown initiatiatives are popping up to help find skilled workers to replace the aging population already employed.
Well, it’s time to ring out 2011. And barring any last-minute hiccups, according to most information I’m privy to, it’s been a good year for manufacturing.
Shops I talk to are busy and do not see a let-up in the foreseeable future. Even the catastrophe earlier in the year in Japan that lead to critical shortages in many industries seems to be working itself out sooner than was expected.
As we round the corner into 2012, I wanted to mention two bright spots that recently came to my attention. They have to do with home-grown initiatives to help with our industry’s most pressing problem: finding appropriately skilled workers to fill the current demand for jobs and replacing an aging population already employed. Read how two companies are solving this problem.
I just retuned from a delightful and educational week in Sweden as the guest of Sandvik. Every EMO year they put together a pre-show program for the world press. The idea is for us to get a sneak preview of new stuff they will be showing. Twice a year, the company unveils what it calls a “Coropack,” which is made up of some 1,500 to 2,000 new products. Needless to say, there will be many new things at Hall 5 Stand B20.
This was my third trip to Sweden with the Sandvik folks, and each trip has been a perfect blend of work (new innovations, directions and advancements that keep the company at the forefront of technology) and play (doing things Swedish).
This year, we did a Swedish metalworking exercise. Perhaps it was a little tongue in cheek—you know, metalworking editors actually working metal instead of writing about it. I, for one, loved it. With a foundry background, this was not my first time on an anvil.
Our assignment was to make an amulet that is designed to ward off trolls. Apparently they are common in the wood of Sweden. As we were heading into the woods by canoe for a BBQ dinner, I soon realized that the amulet was as important as the life vest. However, the magic only works if you make your own.
This is my amulet, which is worn around my neck to ward off trolls.
We donned coveralls and the smithy had a forge, anvils, hammers and raw material for the group to make the amulet. The real smithy showed us the design and then walked us through the steps to make it. We were then on our own. It was pretty fun to watch this manufacturing process in all of its various permutations. Beating hot metal with a hammer is science; beating it into what you want is the art. Needless to say, in our group we had many scientists and fewer artists. It was fun.
Our smithy showed us how to make our troll protector.
Here is my colleague, Russ Willcutt, working hard on his amulet. Unfortunately, he failed to properly close the curls on the ends to keep in the luck. He was carried off by trolls shortly after this picture was taken.
It is day four, and we arrive at the reason for traveling to Germany: Grooving tool maker P.H. Horn is holding its Technology Days open house and seminar in Tubingen. Last year at this time, I had my airline ticket in-hand, ready to attend the event. The day before I was supposed to leave, the Iceland volcano closed German airspace. I’m here after waiting a year, and the visit has been excellent.
The entrance to P.H.Horn’s Tublingen HQ welcomes its guests to Technology Days.
I have a long history with Horn and admire its dedication to the U.S. market as demonstrated by the company’s manufacturing facility in Franklin, Tennessee. It goes well beyond many other OEMs that want to sell here but not manufacture here. We need the jobs. The visit started early with a bus ride from our hotel to the company HQ. Dave Fabry, who heads up the U.S. operation, took us on a spin through the plant.
Dave Fabry, operations manager at Horn USA, stands in front of some of the new CNC machines that the apprentices (photo below) are learning to use.
One of our first stops was at the incredibly large and well-equipped apprentice area. Most German manufacturers have apprentice programs, but this is special both in its size and the quality of equipment these future manufacturers use. Sure they have bed lathes and mills, but they also use brand new DMG VMCs. (Although, I did notice a wooden cutting tool in one spindle, but heck, the kids are learning on state-of-the-art machine tools. Caution is good practice.)
Some of the apprentices in Horn’s in-house program learn about manufacturing.
Next, we meander through the massive grinding hall. Horn uses high-precision VMCs, all DMG, to grind the insert blanks. It also presses, sinters and PVD coats to the tune of 20,000+ inserts a day. After the tour, we sat in on a seminar, which was thankfully in English. Duane Drape, Horn’s U.S. sales manager and a long-time friend of mine, did a presentation on coating technology and manufacturing that I thought was perfect in its level of detail. That stuff can get technically deep. I hope to convert his presentation into an article so you can experience it too.
Duane Drape, U.S. sales manager, imparts knowledge in his coatings seminar.
Horn is a class act, and it’s not just me saying that—more then 2,000 customers and distributors from around the world showed up at this event. We Americans were well represented by almost 50 people who flew over the pond to participate. The take-away from the seminars was they were designed to push process rather than product. Horn gets a lot of tough jobs thrown its way, and it responds creatively and competently to these challenges. It was a day well spent and a trip well worth it.
Our trip across southern Germany continues. Our first visit this morning needs no introduction for most of you. Located in beautiful and ancient Esslingen, Germany, Index Werke has been turning out machines (pun intended) since 1914. Our host was my long-time friend, Senior Technical Manager Guenter Schade. He pulled together a nice room full of brass for us, including Dr. Bernd Walker, manager technical director, and Reiner Hammerl, managing director of sales and marketing. So, what did they have to say? Basically, Index continues to do as it has always done—build very good, high-technology, single- and multi-spindle machine tools. That said, my advice is stay tuned to Modern Machine Shop and Production Machining for details about what these clever Germans are up to (hint: grinding).
My friend and host, Guenter Schad, at Index’s multi-spindle facility.
Next up was a drive down the road to Emag in Salach, Germany. Head of Marketing Oliver Hagenlocher was in China, so he arranged for us to meet with Michael Sauter, head of Emag Academy, and Hans-Georg Hommel, senior project engineer. The group that is Emag represents 10 different and discrete machine tool builders. The idea is to offer a complete manufacturing process solution regardless of the operations needed. As an aside, Hans has spent time in the USA—in 1992 he set up the company’s operations in Troy, Michigan. In 1994, the company moved to Farmington Hills, Michigan, where Bob Cramer and later, Markus Heßbrueggen, set up and ran the company. To get your head around what 10 machine tools companies are doing together as a group, visit Emag's website.
Well, the early morning broke clear and cool. Of course, air conditioning is still a relative novelty here in Germany. One sleeps with the two-way windows leaning in for air with hopes the temperature doesn’t drop to cold. So far, so good.
Our first visit this day is the VMC builder Hermle in Gosheim, Germany. We meet with their marketing manager Udo Hipp. A nice and knowledgeable young man, he tells us about the Hermle line of three-, four- and five-axis machining centers. Their focus seems to be on the mold and die industry; however, they’re active in product development to address other metalworking segments.
Udo Hipp has a wealth of knowledge about Hermle's three-, four- and five-axis machining centers.
The company’s trademark trunnion with rotary table under a three-axis spindle lends itself to a wide variety of materials and applications. They use an epoxy granite base for all but the largest machine to provide a solid machining foundation. Check out their website, but be sure to hit the English button.
Call #2 in Wehingen, Germany is with Swiss-type machine builder, Maier. I was expecting to meet with the owner, Michael Maier, but found out that we passed each other somewhere over the Atlantic as he made his way to U.S. HQ in Webster, MA. However, he’s attending the Eastec show and so am I. I’ll catch him there.
In the meantime, Michael Blessing hosted us Americans, along with a very able intern named Martin. One of the newer developments from Maier is called the Hybrid. It can machine diameters ranging from 3 to 36 mm. It gives shops the ability to change the machine from a Swiss-type (with a guide bushing) to sliding-headstock lathe (without a guide bushing) in about 20 minutes. Now Maier customers have a choice, and from what Michael told me, its working. Business is good! Visit Maier, and don’t forget the English button.
I snapped this photo from the assembly floor at Maier.
Last but not least on this busy day is a delightful visit with Clemens Guenert, president of form tool maker Schwanog. He’s a third-generation ball of fire. Probably our best take-away from this visit is an understanding of how he has applied lean and automation to his low-volume/high-mix product production. It enables his company to compete successfully against the big boys. He also has branched out manufacturing to Elgin, Illinois and France to be close to the customer—a strategy he’s continuing to evolve.
His lot sizes average 10.8 pieces, and the variety of jobs runs into the thousands, yet they are thriving and manufacturing in Germany where it’s not cheap. I think there is a lesson in this somewhere.
Here is an example of components that Schwanog produces on its bar-fed machining centers.