Maschinenfabrik Berthold Hermle AGMaschinenfabrik Berthold Hermle AG

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Flexibility for plastics machining

07.03.2022
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From the left: Gregor Rofner, Maschinenfabrik Berthold Hermle AG Austria, with the team from faigle Industrieplast GmbH: Standing next to one of the operators is Purchasing Manager Peter Ritter, Managing Director Marco Blum and Peter Mayr, Team Leader in CNC Machining.

As one of only a few companies, faigle Industrieplast GmbH specialises exclusively in the machining of plastics. The member of the faigle group of companies always aims to be at the cutting edge of technology in terms of complexity and precision. With the first machining centre from Hermle, the plastics expert entered 5-axis technology and automated production in 2020.

If the high expectations prove to be true based on their own experience, it was probably "all in all a good decision", as Peter Ritter, Purchasing Manager at faigle Industrieplast GmbH, will say at the end of the interview. But this is not the end, but the beginning of a promising story from Lake Constance in Austria.

It's about faigle, a third-generation family-run group of companies with four locations in Europe and Asia. Since it was founded in 1945 by Heinz Faigle, the faigle group has been involved in the field of plastics. Initially in the form of doll heads and Punch and Judy figures, faigle later specialised in thermoplastics. These are particularly wear-resistant and low-abrasion, do not require lubrication and can also dampen vibrations. "Their properties are as diverse as the industries in which our plastics are used," interjects Peter Ritter. These include highly stressed components for escalators, lifts, intralogistics systems, wagon and track construction as well as hand straps for public transport. As a trader of semi-finished products and as a manufacturer of machined finished parts, the company serves the mechanical and plant engineering industry.

Since 1990, faigle Industrieplast GmbH, a member of the faigle group of companies, has focused on the trade in semi-finished technical products. A lot of materials science, little machining – that changed over time. "After our customers increasingly requested prefabrication, the machining area was set up in-house and steadily expanded," recalls Peter Mayr, team leader in CNC machining at faigle Industrieplast GmbH. In 2013, the company officially entered subcontracting and has since been milling gearwheels, seal sets, switch bushings or entire assemblies to order. "With us, the customer gets everything from one source: From expertise, which material is ideal for its application, to the ready-to-install part," says Mayr.

The operator already knew Hermle from his previous employer – accordingly, he quickly got to grips with the C 400 U.

From 3-axis to 5-axis technology

In order to do justice to this expertise in practice and to maintain it, the company questioned the previous machining using only 3-axis machining centres. The machines could not do everything as required. Similarly, there was a lack of automation which would allow ghost shifts and therefore greater capacity with an existing workforce. "With the decision to invest in 5-axis technology, the wish to have a Hermle came up from the machining department," says Mayr. The team leader already knew the milling centres from Maschinenfabrik Berthold Hermle AG based on practical experience – as did the operator. "This was of course a great advantage for commissioning, as we could start machining straight away," comments Mayr. But this fact was not decisive. "It's the overall package, consisting of a precisely operating machine, a fast and competent service and the cooperative business relationship with Hermle," Peter Ritter sums up. Another decisive factor was that the Gosheim-based company was able to offer faigle Industrieplast GmbH an automation solution which met the demands for flexibility and reliability.

"5-axis technology is always a high investment which pays off more quickly thanks to automation and therefore the option for 24/7 production," explains Ritter. The final decision in favour of a system from Gosheim was the RS 2 robot system. "Automation which can handle both pallets and individual components gives us the flexibility we need as a subcontractor. Automation allows us to handle different component sizes and quantities," adds Mayr. At the same time, the faigle group of companies values complete solutions: Machining centre and automation from a single source. "The systems are optimally coordinated and if problems occur, we know who to call," explains Mayr.

Therefore faigle Industrieplast GmbH invested in a C 400 U in March 2020. The RS 2 system followed as planned one year later. "This is not unusual," explains Hermle Sales Manager Gregor Rofner, who, as a trained machine technician and former production manager, can demonstrate more than mere sales know-how. "Especially with the first Hermle, customers can first familiarise themselves with the machine before the automation is adapted." faigle Industrieplast GmbH, on the other hand, did not need much training thanks to the prior knowledge of the specialist staff and started straight away with the 5-axis machine. The robot system followed in the summer of 2021. "Here, of course, we needed training and an introduction to the SOFLEX software. It controls not only when a particular workpiece goes under the spindle, but also schedules tools required for follow-up orders for example and therefore prevents downtimes," explains Mayr.

Thermoplastic materials can be used to manufacture sliding guides which do not require separate lubrication.

A tray for the semiconductor industry is currently the largest component which faigle Industrieplast GmbH manufactures on the C 400 U.

The view into the robot cell shows where a second Hermle machine could be located should faigle Industrieplast GmbH want to expand its capacity.

Challenge: Machining plastics

Components between 10 x 10 x 20 millimetres for vacuum technology and 250 x 250 x 400 millimetres for the semiconductor industry are currently being machined. But the machine can do more: Semi-finished products measuring up to 850 x 700 x 500 millimetres can be accommodated on the swivelling rotary table with worm drive. Depending on the size, faigle Industrieplast GmbH uses fully automatic pallet handling or, for smaller workpieces, parts handling. The number of pieces and machining time also depend on the workpiece dimension: The smaller, the shorter, but as a rule it is the larger number of pieces which have to be produced. "The C 400 works on a component for between five and 45 minutes. Therefore, we usually mill more than 100 pieces of the short-running parts," explains Mayr. The batch size of the 45-minute objects is between 50 and 70.

The challenge is the material itself: Plastic has low thermal conductivity, expands when exposed to moisture and can produce very long chips. The correct milling strategy and sensible chip management are required here so that the heat can be optimally dissipated via the chips. "The bed flushing of the C 400 U is very effective against chip nests which can disrupt operations," confirms Mayr. In addition, the surface plays a very important role – a requirement which the 5-axis machining centre from Hermle fulfils.

"With automation and the precise Hermle machine, we now have the quality and delivery time in our own hands and are no longer dependent on suppliers," Mayr sums up. In addition, faigle Industrieplast GmbH gains the capacity and flexibility it needs as a subcontractor to be able to process various orders reliably and at short notice. This will also benefit from the matrix system for components handling which was introduced at the end of November and extends the autonomous runtime by eleven hours. Therefore, the C 400 U will be in operation for around 20 hours per day.

"We have found Hermle to be very focused and innovative. We also appreciate the physical proximity and are looking forward to the next project," adds Peter Ritter. Because faigle Industrieplast GmbH took the precaution of ordering the RS 2 system so that a second machining centre from Gosheim can be added without any problems. "The investment in 5-axis technology and automation has been a very good decision overall," concludes the Purchasing Manager.

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