For the last few years, process efficiency has been one of the hottest industrial topics, as well as one of the pillars of the Industry 4.0 paradigm. Article by Gianfranco Gotter, Salvagnini Group.
When talking of combined sheet metal machining technologies, we tend to assess productivity only in terms of the production cycle time. But the industry has changed: flexibility and efficiency, of both individual machining stations and within the production process, are fundamental requirements for managing increasingly small batches and high code rotation indexes. Not by chance, for the last few years, process efficiency has been one of the hottest industrial topics, as well as one of the pillars of the Industry 4.0 paradigm.
Processing speed and flexibility are the factors leading to the choice of a combined system. But we have to consider at least four other decisive factors: the quality expected, the geometries of the parts being machined, the possibility of complying with lean production principles, and the automation options available.
While quality is an intuitive concept, to assess part geometries, lean production and system automation options, we have to look more closely at their meanings.
Rather than talking of traditional and new fields of application, it is perhaps more correct to divide the combined market into two macro-groups according to customers’ final product features, and the geometries of the parts to be produced. In the first group, we find companies that manufacture not particularly complex but highly configurable geometries.
In this context, the combined technology is interesting, because it allows two activities to be condensed into a single process. In a traditional production context, these would be two separate and consecutive activities—and here, a number of inefficiencies may occur: availability of the subsequent machining station and the operator, handling of semi-finished parts, process errors, waiting times linked to tool changes, and so on. In this sense, the combined system demonstrates all its flexibility.
The second group, on the other hand, includes companies that manufacture products consisting of parts which, due to their design and functional characteristics, require machining that cannot be done on a conventional punching machine but require technology that overcomes the limits of the laser to obtain, for example, forming operations.
In this case, too, the winning feature is the combination, the sum of the two punching and laser cutting activities. Not so much with a view to flexibility as to process optimisation and the availability of two different technologies in a single system. This group generally includes younger customers who machine parts for the IT, electronics, gaming, telecommunications, medical, automotive and aerospace sectors.
Compliance with Lean Production Principles
When it comes to lean production, I think above all of the possibility to reduce stocks, waiting times and activities with low added value. As an example, the hidden costs of intermediate, often superfluous handling can reach surprising levels. But I also think of activities like separating parts from the skeleton, or moving parts from one work station to the next: these low-added-value activities require time and labor. They are manual operations which also imply risks: for example, in contexts with a medium-high production mix and medium-large batches, damaged or lost parts are not rare.
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