The future's automated

Joachim Uhing GmbH & Co. KG and CERATIZIT drive forward progress

It's all go at Uhing – as clearly evidenced by the rolling ring and timing belt drives produced there. Yet it's not just the systems in place that make "downtime" an unknown concept at the company's headquarters in Flintbek: a sophisticated automation solution has allowed Uhing to take a decisive step forwards. The specialists from CERATIZIT have implemented a solution between pallet automation and direct robot loading in the form of the R-C2 workpiece automation system. This has led to a significant reduction in set-up work while drastically increasing flexibility.

The R-C2 combines the benefits of direct workpiece loading and pallet automation, saving time in the process. Equipped with various workpieces, the automation system at Uhing runs for 35 to 40 hours without intervention from operators.

With over 80 years on the market, Joachim Uhing GmbH & Co. KG from Flintbek near Kiel is a company with a long-standing tradition. They don't like to be described as such however, as "tradition" sometimes has the connotation of a lack of flexibility or willingness to innovate. However, the complete opposite is actually the case at Uhing, as the medium-sized company is one of the few of its kind to be known the world over. Managing Director Wolfgang Weber says: "Our speciality is undoubtedly linear movement on a rotating shaft, which can be seen with our rolling ring drives, for example. This makes us somewhat unique, as so few companies do this."

The wire and cable industry is an important market for Uhing; this is where the rolling ring drives with their special properties are used to wind up the material and prepare it for the next production process. Thanks to their excellent sealing properties, Uhing products are also used in medical technology and the pharmaceutical industry. "Since our products have zero backlash, they are also used in measuring machines and tool presetting devices. And that's not just in Germany but worldwide too, which is something we as a company are incredibly proud of," reveals Wolfgang Weber. But the North German company is certainly not resting on its laurels. Instead, it is coming up with new ideas for both products and processes, as well as in production – one example being their latest automation solution.

"Made in Flintbek" quality: The rolling ring drives from Joachim Uhing GmbH & Co. KG are unique worldwide and in demand in many industries.

It all started with an Excel sheet

The first question that was posed was: How do you define the requirements for an automation solution? Sometimes all you need is an Excel table. "The prerequisite for choosing an automation system was our product portfolio. We have defined products in different sizes that we have to produce in predictable quantities every year. This table was a huge help with this," explains Christian Wollenweber, Head of Production at Uhing GmbH & Co. KG.

The aim was to introduce a shift with little to no manpower with the aid of automated production. In addition, this solution needed to produce parts with minimal to no burrs on a five-axis machine. Another requirement was to insert a pre-anodised semi-finished product into the machine without damaging it and then remove it again.

Full speed ahead with no set-up breaks

The R-C2 combines the benefits of direct workpiece loading and pallet automation, saving time in the process.

But how could these requirements be met with standard solutions? There are ultimately different ways to tool a machine: you can do it with a pallet or you can do it by hand. However, as underlined by Thomas Griese from the Technical Field Service at CERATIZIT, it doesn't need to be either/or: "The R-C2 system from our clamping technology partner Gressel has allowed us to combine the benefits of direct workpiece loading and pallet automation. The clamp in the magazine grabs the workpiece and clamps it in place. This is then loaded into the zero-point clamping system in the machine like a pallet."

This hybrid solution was precisely what Marten Tappenbeck, who supported the automation project from the start as part of his bachelor thesis, and Christian Wollenweber were looking for. This is a huge advantage for Uhing, as it can process its entire portfolio of components with fewer jaws and therefore fewer clamps. "The R-C2 module from Gressel enables us to grab the workpieces directly with the vice, which is also our clamping device. The vice acts as a gripping tool in the first step, while in the second it transfers this to the machining centre and then functions as a pallet system during processing. This means we don't need to pack the parts again with a separate gripper, preventing possible damage and sparing us additional set-up work," says Marten Tappenbeck.

Existing capacity increased by two-thirds

The grid system in the loading magazine is key to production with little to no manpower, as it ensures that as many parts as possible can be loaded into the magazine. As multiple parts can be positioned in each field, this also increases flexibility as well as system running time.  "If well equipped, the magazine can store parts for 35 to 40 hours' running time, without one of us having to intervene," reveals Marten Tappenbeck. Automation has allowed Uhing to increase its existing capacity on the other machines by around two-thirds. "This once again clearly shows that automation is no longer solely relevant to mass producers. Smaller companies with smaller batch sizes can also achieve a great deal of productivity with these solutions!" confirms Thomas Griese.

Marten Tappenbeck especially appreciates the following aspect of automation: "I only need to create orders or articles once, then the machine runs completely automatically and works through its orders one after the other. Re-equipping the machine in between isn't necessary, as all the clamping devices and tools in the machine are available at all times and programs are automatically sent by the robot system to the machining centre." While the system runs automatically, Tappenbeck has time to set up other machines or oversee other projects. "What continues to fascinate me about our solution is how the workpieces come out of the machine with such precision and that no manual reworking, such as deburring, is required."

Marten Tappenbeck, Development Engineer at Joachim Uhing GmbH & Co. KG, shows Thomas Griese, Technical Field Services in the CERATIZIT Group and Norbert Stattler, Regional Marketing Coordinator\Cutting Tools at CERATIZIT, one of the numerous Uhing products.

Strong sense of teamwork during the project

Those included in the project were Matsuura with its five-axis CNC machine, PROMOT Automation GmbH, which supplied the robot, and CERATIZIT together with Gressel, who were responsible for the automation systems. "All the companies involved in this project were a great support. We had a good feeling about them the whole time, which was confirmed in the end when the system was fully functioning. From our point of view, everything was very quick, and we felt well looked after throughout!" confirm Wolfgang Weber and Christian Wollenweber.

The automation project was also a great success for Marten Tappenbeck, who is now a Development Engineer at Uhing: "When the first finished parts came out of the machine, completely deburred and within all tolerance ranges, I went straight to my Head of Production, Christian Wollenweber, to present them to him. I spent the rest of the day watching the machine at work and rejoicing in our shared success!"

This packs a punch: The combination of R-C2 automation and robot connection results in the perfect solution for efficient production at Joachim Uhing GmbH & Co. KG.

Delighted with the automation solution (from left): Marten Tappenbeck, Development Engineer at Joachim Uhing GmbH & Co. KG, Christian Wollenweber, Head of Production at Joachim Uhing GmbH & Co. KG and Thomas Griese, Technical Field Services at the CERATIZIT Group.

Equipped with various workpieces, the automation system at Uhing runs for 35 to 40 hours without intervention from operators.

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