Success through machine clones

C 650 | Precupa | Tool technology

Precupa combines high-precision tool making with plastic injection moulding and develops injection moulding solutions for the world of tomorrow at its technical centre. One of the core competences in production is milling. This is where the precision tool maker relies on HERMLE, making full use of its entire Performance-Line.

Thomas März decided to take the plunge when Precupa, his employer at the time, was looking for a buyer for the company in 2014 due to a lack of successor. “I’d thought long and hard about what needed to be done to make the whole thing even better,” recalls the current owner and managing director. His career began as an apprentice at the manufacturer of precision tools in the village of Gaißach in southern Germany. He went on to pass the master craftsman examination and took charge of production in 2001. His business plan was convincing: The business officially changed hands in 2015. März immediately went out and bought a 5-axis machining centre – a HERMLE C 400 U – and then restructured and optimised the production spaces to ensure enhanced efficiency and usability.

The core business has basically remained the same: Manufacturing precise injection moulds for the consumer goods and furniture industry, medical technology and the electronics sector. In contrast, the business volume has grown significantly. “We block fixed machine hours for our customers. This provided us with sufficient stability from the start to facilitate boosting up and expanding the business,” explains März. This worked out so well that just two years after the acquisition, he was faced with the question of how to manage the surge in orders. His answer: “Entry into the world of automation would have been too expensive, too time intensive due to extended lead times and impractical given the nature of individual part production. That is why I decided to duplicate the machines: Die sinking and wire eroding machine and an HSC electrode milling centre times two.”

  • Maschinenpark der Firma Precupa
    Attractive machinery in a bright, tidy and air-conditioned environment: Thomas März realises what is good for the staff is also good for the business.
  • Fräsprozess auf dem HERMLE Bearbeitungszentrum C 650 bei der Firma Precupa
    Precupa manufactures precise injection moulds for thermoplastic, thermosetting plastic and silicone moulded parts.
  • Andreas Wimmer, Feinwerkmechanikermeister, und Thomas März Precupa-Geschäftsführer und -Inhaber.
    Andreas Wimmer, master precision engineer, and Thomas März (right), Precupa managing director and owner.
  • Entstehung einer Kernhalteplatte vom Rohmaterial bis zum fertigen Bauteil
    Generation of a core retainer plate, from raw material to finished component – with five-sided machining in one clamping setup.

A new one every two years

In the course of these developments, he also acquired a second C 400 U, which went into operation at Precupa in 2018. The only difference: The second machining centre was preconfigured with an internal cooling lubricant supply (ICS). “We were not familiar with the system beforehand. However, we were so impressed by it that we had the ICS retrofitted directly to the first HERMLE machine,” says März enthusiastically. Seeing as the supplied coolant is ejected directly from the tool tip under high pressure, it effortlessly flushes away chips resulting from the cutting action – even from deeper holes. This ensures that the milling process at Precupa is not only faster but also safer and more precise.

The purchase of identical machines was the perfect solution for him – for the time being anyway. Since the third HERMLE machine already joined the company in 2020: März responded to new market demands with the acquisition of a C 250 U. “We were receiving lots of orders for smaller injection moulding tool components. The C 250 U is slightly more compact – that makes us faster.” When Precupa also received orders for larger spin-off and stack moulds, a machine with a larger working area was needed. “The required plates were too large to be machined completely on the C 400 U,” explains März, who ordered a C 650 U from Gosheim in 2022. “We came to a quick agreement, and I placed the order without delay,” März says, highlighting one of the advantages of being the sole owner.

Bioplastic for the world of tomorrow

Another advantage is being able to dictate the pace of technological progress. Since acquiring the business, März has not only enhanced its milling expertise but also expanded the production of plastic parts. The company specialises in thermoplastics, thermosetting plastics and silicone. And the next future-oriented topic is also being addressed at its new technical centre: The injection of fully degradable biomaterials. “The products manufactured from this material aim to replace conventional disposable plastics. They must offer short-term stability and extensive safety but then dissolve quickly, without leaving any residual traces,” explains März.

The material is based on eucalyptus and cannot be compared to conventional plastics in terms of moulding behaviour. “The initial tests almost drove our process engineer crazy,” recalls März. At present, Precupa efficiently manages machinery and tool technology, manufacturing prototypes of ice cream spoons and cups using in-house developed multi-cavity tools. Only the formula still needs to be fine-tuned. He prefers not to divulge too many details about the visionary project he is working on with another business owner. März is confident that the wealth of expertise invested in the project will yield excellent returns in the future.

Maschineninnenraum der C 650
Precupa also utilises the larger installation space of the C 650 U to machine four smaller components in one pass.

Nothing works without data

Another area in which Precupa is a leading technological innovator is the digitalisation of components for measurements and data generation. “Tool making demands a lot of data. And we need this data to be able to reconstruct, program and simulate components,” explains März while proudly demonstrating his 3D strip light scanner and accessories. It generates a pattern of fine lines that are beamed onto the surface of an object and captures it with the aid of two cameras. Surface reconstruction makes it possible to obtain 3D data from an old component and to check the precision of newly manufactured tools or individual parts. Precupa is significantly broadening its range of applications thanks to an advanced next-generation hand-held 3D laser scanner. März believes this is the future. “We are able to find errors faster and can provide documentation for injection moulding tools upon request,” explains the managing director when emphasising the benefits of consistently data-driven processes: “Very rarely do we need to adjust anything manually, and we invest quite a lot in precise production techniques. This ultimately reduces assembly time and enhances the quality of our moulding tools.” And if inaccuracies arise, they can be attributed to factors such as programming errors or tool wear.

“We can always rely on HERMLE machining centres,” concludes März. This also extends to the excellent service, a crucial element that helps foster loyalty to the Gosheim-based machine manufacturer. “If my company only has one 5-axis milling machine, I have to be certain that it will not break down,” says the managing director, recalling a situation from his early days in business. März is still totally satisfied: “My HERMLE contact knows where we are headed. And if we require assistance or encounter any problems, we voice our concerns, and they are promptly addressed.”

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