Precision Turning, Industry 4.0 Dominate German Open House
The Index Group recently showed off its newest turning, mill-turn and multi-spindle machines in Germany, showcasing the company's hands-on manufacturing process.
When I first stepped into the machine tool production facility at the Index Group’s German open house in April, I was surprised at how much of the operation consisted not of automated equipment, but of skilled employees working independently. While the company’s high-end turning machines, including mill-turns and multi-spindles, have the capability to produce complex parts sometimes complete in one set up, its approach to manufacturing these CNC machines is surprisingly hands-on. After machining sizeable components on some truly massive CNC mills, the company conducts assembly by assigning a single skilled worker to each machine who only passes the job on when it is time for a different set of skills. For example, one worker will assemble the entire machine bed or multi-spindle assembly for any of the company’s turning or multi-spindle machines over the course of several days. After the bed is fully assembled, the job of attaching it to the frame falls to another worker, who again operates on the machine for several days. Finally, an electrical engineer will install all of the electrical components.
With each worker entirely responsible for the part of the machine they assemble, every worker is accountable for for their own work, removing the possibility of shifting blame and recriminations. Further, this accountability builds a sense of ownership and pride in one’s work that encourages the workers to pursue excellence as they tackle every machine. According to the company, this approach has improved the quality of both the work environment and the machines it produces.
High Production of Complex Parts
As for the machines it designs and manufactures, the Index Group (represented in the United States as Index Corp. in Nobelsville, Indiana) displayed an impressive selection of mill-turns. The Traub TNA400 and and Index B400, for example, are small-footprint mill-turn machines with 12-station tool turrets capable of working on bar diameters ranging to 82 mm. These machines reflect the company’s push toward enabling its customers to manufacture many complex parts in a single setup. The B400 includes a counterspindle, while the TNA400 has a tailstock, but the machines are otherwise nearly identical. Like all of the machines on display, the company can customize these for the customer’s needs, including adding bar feeders or other automation systems.
Other machines such as the C200 Index, which can include as many as three tool turrets capable of multiple simultaneous operations, further reinforce the single-setup approach to manufacturing large numbers of complex parts. The massive G420 may be the epitome of this design approach, as it has options to include as many as three tool carriers, two tool turrets and a milling spindle with optional tool changer. Its work area can accommodate parts as long as 1,600 mm with diameters as large as 120 mm.
Entering the World of Industry 4.0
One of the major exhibits that the Index Group highlighted at the open house was the iX World platform, a comprehensive approach to Industry 4.0. To start, iX4.0 is a machine monitoring platform with cloud compatibility. In addition to providing easy offsite monitoring, the system enables users to keep track of machine uptime, and the company gives users control over what data gets sent to the cloud. It also offers iXshop, an online store with an intuitive interface for ordering machine parts from a computer or mobile device.
The Index Group also provides iXservice, a machine maintenance portal that enables its offsite service personnel to walk users through repairs and part replacements, eliminating the need to wait for a qualified technician to visit the shop. The platform enables easy part identification, and offsite service personnel can use video to accurately and efficiently assist in repairs.
Check out the slideshow above to get a full picture of my trip.
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