Machining in tool and mould making Portal milling machines reduce price and competitive pressure

Editor: Alexander Stark

Switzerland — Many tool and mould makers are also located in Asia, and they are giving the European industry a hard time. A Swiss mould maker shows how to arm oneself against this with its well-selected milling machine park.

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The Swiss mold manufacturer Formbar AG relies on milling machines from F. Zimmermann for their production. A brand new addition is this 5-axis portal milling machine type FZU. Its special feature is its thermosymmetrical design, which ensures high precision, the company says. At a relatively attractive price, flexible in use and requiring no special foundation, it now raises Formbar's productivity.
The Swiss mold manufacturer Formbar AG relies on milling machines from F. Zimmermann for their production. A brand new addition is this 5-axis portal milling machine type FZU. Its special feature is its thermosymmetrical design, which ensures high precision, the company says. At a relatively attractive price, flexible in use and requiring no special foundation, it now raises Formbar's productivity.
(Source: Marcus Lengerer)

Formbar AG from Kirchdorf, Switzerland, is successfully facing the competition from the East with the help of the experience of its employees and an extensive machine park consisting of various portal milling machines from Zimmermann. The Zimmermann FZU machine is a new addition. This 5-axis portal milling machine is relatively compact and, thanks to its thermo-symmetrical design, precise during machining. What it makes so attractive is that it only requires a fairly small investment and still ensures high productivity and machine availability, says the manufacturer. This includes features that allow the finished machined parts to be removed without further rework.

successful mould makers rely on machines and employee know-how

“In order to remain competitive, we have no choice but to be vigilant, both with respect to entrepreneurial and technical aspects,” notes Kaspar Hürlimann, Formbar's managing director, with a wink. With his currently 13 employees, he mainly manufactures moulds made of wood, aluminium or various plastics in all conceivable sizes. The main customers are in the automotive industry, the aircraft industry and the racing sector, Hürlimann explains. In principle, however, Formbar's expertise is of interest to most industries. The company not only develops and manufactures the products, but also finishes them, he adds.

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Hürlimann, who has been in charge of the company since 2012, says: “When I started, we generated around 80 % of our turnover by building large foundry models. Today it's only 15 % because the orders go to China and Eastern Europe.” Other challenges are posed, for example, by the automotive industry with its ever higher quality requirements regarding the surfaces and precision of the moulds. And last but not least, everything has to be done faster and faster, Hürlimann emphasises. So one has to stay on the ball, both in terms of the know-how of the employees and the quality of the machines needed for mould making. The latter is particularly important because their core business is milling.

Precise portal milling machine creates excellent aluminium surfaces

For about 20 years, Formbar has also used milling machines from F. Zimmermann in their production hall. The components are completely roughened and finished on the machines, says Hürlimann. The good machining quality saves time and money.

In an air-conditioned production hall, a portal milling machine of the F.Zimmermann series FZ33 compact has been doing its precision work for several years. The latter is ensured by an inherently rigid cast-iron base body with an integrated table top. Attached side walls filled with special concrete and a particularly rigid portal complete the picture in terms of passive precision guarantors. As far as machining options are concerned, the FZ33 compact can move in X, Y and Z up to 2500 mm, 4000 mm and 1500 mm respectively. Moreover, the machine does not need a foundation, but simply stands on solid industrial flooring, Zimmermann notes.

Besides the aforementioned materials, the machine can also mill steel and cast iron as well as composite materials. However, Formbar mainly uses it for wet aluminium machining. Because the FZ33 compact achieves a maximum feed rate of 60 m/min and an axis acceleration of 5 m/s2, it can achieve perfect surfaces in this material, explains Hürlimann.

Hermosymmetrically designed FZU newcomer with 5-metre reach

In order for Formbar to be able to react flexibly to the different, especially larger, components, the company has now supplemented its older FZ30 with an FZU from Zimmermann, Hürlimann informs us. He is pleased that the machine manufacturer from near Stuttgart made a fair trade-in offer that he simply could not refuse. This and all other Zimmermann machines are controlled by Heidenhain CNCs. The programming software comes from Tebis.

The FZU is a 5-axis portal milling machine whose thermosymmetrical design increases precision immensely. The machines are predestined for machining aluminium, the polyurethane Ureol, which is very common in tool and mould making, and various other plastics. In terms of travel, the FZU allows 3000 mm in the X-direction, 4000 mm in the Y-direction and 5000 mm in the Z-direction, as can be seen from the data sheet. A continuous U-construction provides the base frame. The thermo-symmetrical portal with milling spindle and guides as well as other components responsible for precision are located above it, the manufacturer describes. The cross-section of the centrally running Z-slide was chosen to be octagonal for reasons of stability. Standardised components nevertheless led to an acceptable price for the system, which can be used for individual applications. Hürlimann sums up his initial experience: “With the FZU we can now produce more parts with the same workforce and react more quickly to special requests.” Prototypes and customised products for the automotive and aircraft industries are currently among FZU's main tasks.

Another plus point is the design as a so-called hook machine, Zimmermann points out, explaining that the FZU is built in such a way that it can simply be brought to the user, fully assembled, on a truck, where it then arrives largely ready for use. “Nevertheless, we had to enlarge our entrance portal to 3.5 m,” Hürlimann smiles.

Nothing works without good customer service

Zimmermann's comprehensive service includes a hotline where users can reach a competent contact person even outside normal working hours, as well as various remote diagnosis systems that enable short response times in case of emergency, they say. If mechanical components are defective, the machine manufacturer usually guarantees delivery in Germany within 24 hours. The application engineers also optimise the interaction of head, spindle, tool and clamping device individually with the customer, Zimmermann emphasises.

In conclusion, Hürlimann says he can manufacture twice as productively today as he could seven years ago, at the beginning of his Formbar career as managing director. The modernly equipped machinery and well-trained employees have made it possible, affirms the Swiss.

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