Automation From cottage industry to industrial toolmaking

| Author / Editor: Barbara Schulz / Barbara Schulz

Germany – To automate or not to automate? That is the question that SMEs are facing. Many experts, suppliers and users would answer the above question with a resounding "yes" - however, as this two-part feature will show, there is a lot to consider when automating production.

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Germany-based Werkzeugbau Ruhla started to automate its toolmaking processes in 2002.
Germany-based Werkzeugbau Ruhla started to automate its toolmaking processes in 2002.
(Source: Ruhla)

Automation and toolmaking were long considered incompatible, but times have changed. Now, most experts agree that in the long run only tool and mould makers who can successfully automate their processes - in whatever form - will be able to survive. "The market demands high flexibility, components are becoming ever more complex and there is increasing price pressure on tool and mould makers,“ explains Jens Luedtke, process specialist and head of consulting at Tebis. "Additionally, there is a skills shortage and of course consumers demand high-quality of components, but are largely unwilling to pay a higher price."


Therefore, even - or particularly - small and medium-sized enterprises need to address the issue of automation, because contrary to the belief that automated processes are only profitable for large enterprises, small toolmakers can also increase their efficiency and flexibility with customised automated solutions. But the topic is diverse, Ranging from zero-point clamping systems or milling centres with pallet changers to linked fully-automated manufacturing cells. "Every business must individually consider what solution would best fit their specific needs. Multiple clamping is the most basic type of automation. In a next step, parts can for example be provided on a pallet in front of the machine, and the pallets can be either manually or automatically changed. The final step could be to link multiple machines through a handling system or robots,” says Luedtke. "What is essential, however, is that the right components and equipment are available at the right spot at the right time."

Therefore, Luedtke identifies three key areas for successful automation: Material flow organisation, transparent planning and control, as well as inter-divisional standardisation. Standardisation and modularisation potentials must be identified throughout the entire order fulfillment process, from costing to design, programming to production.