Heller German machine tool maker sights in on mould industry

Editor: Eric Culp

Gebr. Heller Maschinenfabrik has long been a leading supplier to the world's mechanical engineering industries. Recently the company decided it wanted to increase sales to mould shops. Managing Director Klaus Winkler discusses the reasons for the interest in the sector.

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Heller's production plant is gearing up for deliveries to tool and mould makers, too.
Heller's production plant is gearing up for deliveries to tool and mould makers, too.
(Source: Heller)

ETMM: Why has your company been increasing its focus on mould makers?

Winkler: In recent years, we have been working on laying the foundations for meeting the requirements of many different branches of industry. One focus was on providing reliable and flexible modular machine concepts as a basis for offering tailor-made individual solutions at competitive prices. The other was on expanding our global presence. The continual expansion of our customer base is a strategic long-term objective aiming to cater to the needs of our existing markets as well as new ones. Since 2010, Heller has diversified into new customer segments such as aerospace and mould and die manufacturing. Recent developments in our product portfolio combined with innovative and efficient technologies, such as gear milling, simultaneous 5-axis machining and machining of titanium, have provided attractive technological manufacturing solutions for many sectors and industries. One industry we are focusing on is mould and die manufacturing, where industrial machining processes are also beginning to play a bigger role due to the high share of individual parts to be machined. Based on our many years of experience, Heller is able to provide convincing solutions for this industry, too.

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ETMM: Who do you serve? What is the sales breakdown?

WInkler: Among our customers are companies from the automotive industry and their suppliers, machine manufacturers, electronics companies, aerospace manufacturers, power engineering companies, subcontractors and many other industries. Two-thirds of our orders come from the car industry, while the other third is generated by customers from other industrial sectors, e.g., the general machine industry and job order production.

ETMM: How does your experience transfer to equipment for mould making?

Winkler: Basically, our formula for success is based on three pillars: Heller machining centres and flexible manufacturing systems, application, and a comprehensive range of services. Our current machine range comprises horizontal 4-axis machining centres for highly productive machining in all disciplines, 5-axis machines for complete machining, through to machining centres for combined milling and turning operations. The application, in combination with the machine or the manufacturing system, is what distinguishes us from the competition. The complete package we provide, e.g. for machining of highly precise machine elements in machine construction, is characterised by flexibility, highest availability and productivity and maximum competitiveness throughout the complete life cycle of the system. After all, we are convinced that sustained high availability and maximum productivity of the Heller machines can only be ensured by providing tailor-made and modular service solutions.

In mould and die manufacturing, in particular, capacity aspects and productivity are becoming increasingly important. Our machines provide the necessary robust build as well as a highly dynamic design for these tasks. In addition, Heller machines enable roughing and finishing operations to be performed in a single setup since the machine geometry provides the appropriate precision and stability. Furthermore our machines provide very low levels of vibration, which has a very positive influence on surface finish. Our machines have demonstrated all this in many different branches of industry and that is why we believe that mould and die manufacturers will also benefit from the qualities they provide.

ETMM: How much of your sales currently come from mould makers? How much would you like it to be?

Winkler: We already received some key orders from mould and die manufacturers, but attracting new customers from new industries is always a long-term process. Our competitors have been in the market for years successfully catering to these customers' needs. We first need to prove to new industries that we are able to provide solutions capable of meeting their requirements in daily production. To achieve this, we need to build trust through consistent work or our sales and project teams.

ETMM: How would you describe some of the specific technologies or aspects of your machines that can make mould makers more competitive versus equipment from other suppliers?

WInkler: It all starts with the machine concept. Which is the better choice–a horizontal or vertical machine? Horizontal machines providing four axes, a robust build and high process quality and dependability–like Heller machining centres–offer unrivalled productivity. In addition, our machines enable performing roughing and finishing operations in a single setup whilst providing the same high level of workpiece quality and surface finish. This aspect is of particular importance in terms of added value for mould and die manufacturers, since it provides increased machine running times whilst reducing cycle times. The same is true for 5-axis machining. With the F series, Heller has developed a range of machining centres providing a higher level of stability than any other machine currently available. The models have been designed to provide highest stability and torque for complete machining at any spatial angle. The performance parameters of the F series and the range of 5-axis machining centres from the MCH-C series, successfully introduced some years ago, are currently extremely promising in this segment.

ETMM: What specific areas of mould making are you currently targeting?

Winkler: In terms of process technology, the machines enable deep-hole drilling operations through to 5-axis complete machining. A renowned manufacturer opted for our machining centre model MCH 460 for high-performance milling of mould structures. What particularly impressed the production managers were the high cutting performance and excellent milling results as well as the stability of the machine and increased tool life it provides. This is an interesting aspect, since often the roughing operation is outsourced. Manufacturing of moulding tools and heat sealing instruments requires more delicate operations at high speeds and high dynamics. For this purpose, our 5-axis machining centre model FP 4000 provided a revolutionary production solution at a globally renowned manufacturer. Another recent trend which can be observed among a growing number of mould and die manufacturers is the increased use of industrial, and thus productive, manufacturing processes. A French mould and die manufacturer is using the Heller machining centre model MCH 350-C for around-the-clock machining of complex individual workpieces such as mould frames. This shows that the fields of application are extremely varied.

ETMM: Are there any other mould making sectors you would like to supply in the future? If so, which ones?

Winkler: There is still potential for development. Currently our customers mainly comprise mould and die manufacturers supplying to the automotive industry. However, in our view, the focus should be less on the type or size of the components to be machined and more on the machine running times and the overall added value. In addition, 5-axis machining holds great potential for process optimisation. When the milling cutter is tilted, for instance, using tools with reduced throat depth becomes possible. As a result, machining times are shorter and the surface finish is improved due to the reduced susceptibility to vibration. From this point of view, we believe that we are also very well-positioned to cater to mould and die manufacturers supplying the packaging industry and the electronics industry as well as the medical engineering and furniture industries.

ETMM: Other than your home market of Germany, what other European countries do you expect to become important markets for your company’s machining centres designed for mould making?

Winkler: Initially, our focus will be on the whole of Europe, concentrating our sales and project activities on this region. For this purpose, we need to demonstrate our competence in terms of machines and processes in a convincing manner in order to strategically expand our customer base. But of course our global presence also enables us to cater to mould and die manufacturers outside of Europe in a very reliable way.