Flexible automation cut down the setup times in gearbox housing manufacturing
ABM Greiffenberger is the leading manufacturer of sophisticated and powerful drive solutions for machines, plants and mobile devices. Together with Fastems and WEMCO, the company developed a flexible, low-labor production system for gearbox housings – in which the setup times are no longer an issue.
“Electric drive train is our core competence. We are specialists of electric motors, gearbox solutions and converter technologies and develop solutions in the power range from 0.2 kW to 30 kW for our customers. The projects include not only the entire warehouse logistics but also mobile drive technology from forklift trucks to industrial applications, for example, ones with rolling gates. Our other core business is biomass, which is currently experiencing a rapid growth throughout Europe. In our own R&D, we also create industry and customer specific applications with a long lifespan,” tells Managing Director Ralph Treude, summarizing the offering by ABM Greiffenberger Antriebstechnik GmbH, based in Marktredwitz in Upper Franconia, Germany.
Double-digit annual growth rates
The company, part of the Senata group, currently employs around 800 people – of which around 500 in Marktredwitz HQ after the merger with the Plauen site, and 300 in Lublin assembly site.
ABM Greiffenberger is growing rapidly. “We are recording average annual growth rates of around 20 to 25 percent,” Treude says. With the nice growth figures, the company can only keep up their production capacities by continuously developing and automating their production. Bernd Titzmann, Operations Manager of Component Production at ABM Greiffenberger, comments: “Within the past few years, we have investigated the overall automation potential and taken steps towards low-labor production in almost all areas of our production.” The gearbox housing production has been centralized in the Marktredwitz HQ, with investments made in new production halls and equipment. The machining has been concentrated in one building, and an extra hall will be built in 2022 to increase the gearbox housing production capacity.
Complete package from manufacturing specialists
“From the very beginning, it was clear that our new building would be a highly automated production facility of housing components for our own gearboxes. We commissioned WEMCO with the planning and implementation of the project,” says Titzmann.
WEMCO GmbH, based in Overath near Cologne, Germany, covers the entire value chain for the realization of customized, customer-specific production solutions, from machines and automation to system integration.
“From us, customers always receive a complete package that also includes life cycle services. The entire engineering is carried out in-house, right through to CE-certification. This means that our customers always have a single point of contact for all the systems and services,” explains Dieter Jakubik, Sales Manager for Machining Centers at WEMCO.
Flexible automation empowering three machine tools
During WEMCO’s first visit to Marktredwitz, two automation solutions were planned – each with an OKK HM630 horizontal machining center and Fastems Flexible Pallet Container FPC, more precisely an FPC-1500. The decision was no coincidence, as the similar system had been already implemented in ABM Greiffenberger’s Plauen facility back in 2018.
Since the OKK HM630s were in stock, they were delivered quickly to ABM site. WEMCO retrofitted all the selected options for production beforehand, including adapting the machines to Fastems’ automation. This included expanding the tool magazines from the original 60 to a total of 178 tool stations, including the transfer station. The existing OKK rotary pallet changer was retained for a good reason, as Jakubik knows: “This enables the automation system to prepare the next pallet for the machine during machining. Thus, pallet changes take less than 20 seconds.”
Significant time and cost savings
“Before the new automated systems, setting up the machines in ABM Greiffenberger’s gearbox housing production was both a time and cost issue”, reports Titzmann: “Depending on the component, we needed up to 60 minutes for the setup because it took a massive effort: for example, unloading the parts from the fixture, setting up and loading a new pallet with the right fixtures, equipping the machine with the appropriate tools, introducing and test driving the new parts, and so on. Now, we have the workpiece pallets for the core articles of our gearbox housings basically permanently loaded in the FPC. This with the large tool magazines in the machines allows us to produce everything on demand, any time.”
The workpieces for specific gearbox housings are always assigned to specific pallets and fixtures. The fixtures are set up in specific pallets in a way that no re-clamping is necessary. This also guarantees high manufacturing precision – machining accuracy is in the µm range. Due to the complexity of the gearbox housings, the machining times per pallet are up to 50 minutes, which allows for longer unmanned production hours with the help of automation.
High availability even if the unexpected happens
The ERP system of ABM Greiffenberger stores the data on which machines each article is planned to produce. The basic NC program required for this is manually transferred by the operator to Fastems automation control Manufacturing Management Software (MMS), which sends it to the machine before production. After completion, MMS deletes the NC program from the machine control. According to Titzmann, this ensures that the latest version of each NC program is always used for a job even though the drawing would have been changing.
The entire production planning and scheduling for the timely order completion is carried out by automatically fetching the order data from the ERP to Manufacturing Management Software (MMS). MMS determines the sequence for processing each pallets and checks in advance whether the tools required for production are available and have enough lifespan left.
“Sometimes the unexpected happens – for example a tool breaks. In this situation MMS automatically reschedules production in order to get the job done in time with other machines. This means that even in the case of unforeseen events, we don’t lose any valuable production time and can continue to manufacture with low labor,” says Titzmann.
Continuation of a successful partnership
The first two systems were installed and commissioned by WEMCO within 10 weeks at the end of 2021. Finally, the third system, which was previously operated in the Plauen site, was also able to re-start operation.
“It was important for us to obtain a complete solution including CE-certification and moreover, to have a central contact person who we can contact at any time when we have a request or a problem. The shorter setup times and the less labor-intense production have greatly increased our productivity while sustainably reducing costs. We are planning to deploy two more identical systems with WEMCO,”, finishes Treude about the successful cooperation.