Demand for increasingly small and complex products has increased the need for specialised machines all along the production chain. This resulted in an expansion of the market, according to the European association of the machine tool industries, sales in 2013 amounted to some €22,3 billion – over €5 billion more than in 2010.
This growing complexity in the production process has also made it more difficult for smaller businesses to compete. Clients now expect machines capable of achieving unique surface modifications at microscopic level – something that has, up until now, required several different machines, driving up production costs.
“If you use an additional micro-machining facility for each stage, then the process can become uneconomic,” says Udo Eckert, coordinator of the PHSM research project. “This is because of high investment costs, and the time it takes to change machines resulting in lower efficiency.” In aeronautics, it is common practice to transport heavy metal components from one department of the factory to another to use different types of machines in order to meet the specifications of a client.
CUTTING COSTS/CREATING JOBS
The PHSM project brought small businesses Colibri Spindles from Israel and German-based METROM together with world famous research institute Fraunhofer. Instead of developing new machinery from scratch they sought to modify existing machine tools. With a quick addition, a heavy duty metal cutting machine is able to carry out a wide range of finishing applications: engraving, drilling, thread-milling, and more. The main device the partners in the PHSM research project have developed is a new ‘fluid-driven’ spindle, the rotating axis of a machine.
“Users are already having the chance to implement the system on their machine tools and production lines.”
Thanks to this technology, manufacturers can now carry out complex finishings without having to stop production and replace machines. But while less machines means more adaptable factories and reduced costs, it also means more jobs on the factory floor. “More employees will be required to use the machine tools,” says Mr. Eckert.
The system has been presented at a number of international conferences, and is beginning to be sold globally. “We have had positive feedback from the industry. Users are already having the chance to implement it on their machine tools and production lines,” says Mr Eckert. “Major machine tool producers and users have shown a keen interest in the system, and arranged for a presentation of the concept at their facilities.”
Participating in this EUREKA project has opened new doors for the partners. “The idea was developed from the start among the partners, and was based on us sharing our special competencies, Furthermore, cooperation with companies outside Germany also gave us the possibility of launching in new markets, and improving our market share,” explains Mr Eckert. Colibri Spindles Chairman Oren Harpaz is equally pleased. The results have helped to bolster the product portfolio of his company, which owns the product patents in Israel.