Manufacturers around the world are taking a hard look at the entirety of their fabrication operations to find ways to improve workflow. Most often, this includes shortening build cycles and reducing part handling, prep and setup time.
As illustrated by three LVD customers, investing in modern fabrication equipment is part of the story. But surprisingly, new equipment investments typically only provide small gains. That’s because the actual part “touch-time” is a small part of the process. The total time for producing a part – from quotation, order intake, planning, manufacturing preparation, buffering between operations, validation, quality check, pack and ship – can, however, be substantial.
Therefore, the focus should be on the process flow: how to shorten the entire elapsed time. In most cases, considerable time can be gained in “hidden” parts of the process, including preparation, buffers, waiting/searching time in the shop. This involves sharing data between machines and software across the job’s workflow, thereby creating an integrated system that makes larger gains possible.
Eurofours, a French manufacturer of ovens for the baking industry, has purchased a variety of machines from LVD to increase productivity and reduce raw material waste.
Pierre Lancelot, an aeronautical engineer, designed from the ground up a totally new electric ventilated oven for the baking industry. He applied his knowledge and skills in aeraulics – the science and technique of treating and distributing air – to the field of baking. In 1980, his company Eurofours was born. Today, his sons Stéphane and Nicolas Lancelot run the company, which is the benchmark for ventilated ovens for bakeries and pastry shops. New facilities were established in Gommegnies and La Longueville, and busy production lines are driving the company’s expansion. After a series of acquisitions, the company has become well-established in the baking sector with around 150 employees over three production sites.
Ninety percent of the sheet metal used for Eurofours’ baking equipment is thin (1.2 mm to 1.5 mm). The product range includes ventilated rack and deck ovens, low-temperature-controlled fermentation cabinets, chambers and display cases. The company counts many well-known names among its customers, such as Le Nôtre, Ladurée, Paul, Banette, Bridor and Baguépi.
This niche market enables Eurofours to build around 3,000 ovens per year, with 70 percent of sales in France and 30 percent in exports to no less than 100 countries, mainly Canada and Asian countries.
In March 2020, LVD delivered and set up at the Eurofours’ manufacturing facility a Phoenix FL-3015 6-kW fiber laser cutting machine with Compact Tower automation as well as two press brakes: first, a ToolCell 135/40 and later, an Easy-Form 9 80/25. In addition, the company uses LVD’s Cadman software. The machines and software were installed at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, which allowed the company to master the new equipment at its own pace.
Yoan Khinache, sheet metal and methods manager, explains that with the Cadman suite, LVD provided a complete solution.
“The connectivity between the software, our ERP system, the laser and the press brakes has significantly improved our manufacturing capabilities,” Khinache says. “The Phoenix met Eurofours’ requirements in terms of power and cutting capacity in different materials and thicknesses.”
And the results speak for themselves. Michael Rousseau, production and methods directory, says the company reduced its scrap rate by 20 percent.
“The Cadman software allows us to better manage our stock by having a faster reactive production lead-time, which in turn ensures greater profit margins,” he says. “We have also halved the workforce in the sheet metal workshop. These people were moved to the assembly workshops.”
Rousseau says the investment also enabled them to manufacture the insulation panels for their fermentation equipment, which represented a big purchase cost.
“We also brought in-house all subcontracted sheet metal cutting in higher thicknesses,” he concludes.
Making a transformation
In 2008, Peter Vermeulen started a new business at his home in The Netherlands. The company soon became a successful, versatile supplier and in 2013 moved to an industrial estate to facilitate further growth. Customers turn to Vermeulen Metaal for piping, turning, milling and fabricating of sheet metal parts, semi-finished products and complete assemblies.
Vermeulen Metaal selected a Phoenix fiber laser cutting machine, a 220-ton Easy-Form press brake and the full Cadman software suite.
“It was the entire buying experience that convinced us to choose LVD machines,” Vermeulen says. “We prepared extensively for the purchase and discussed everything in detail with LVD. This made us certain that we would receive the right guidance post-purchase as well. Confidence is high.”
Vermeulen says the software played a major role in transforming the company.
“That is where our biggest profit lies,” he explains. “Preparatory work has been reduced to a minimum and our planning is more reliable. In the past, we had to manually check all drawings for feasibility. Now, we can import entire 3-D files and get the calculation and the right bending solution within seconds. The software supports us as if it were thinking along with us about the best way to manufacture our products.”
Vermeulen says providing full service to customers also includes flexibility of scope.
“We work on a project basis but often receive urgent requests that require a quick response,” says Ruud van den Boom, Vermeulen Metaal’s operation manager. “The system gives us the flexibility to quickly schedule urgent requests.”
Vermeulen Metaal replaced its CO2 laser cutter with a Phoenix fiber laser cutting machine.
“We mainly cut steel, stainless steel and aluminum up to 25 mm thick,” Vermeulen says. “We are now able to cut 60 to 70 percent more products per hour with about 25 to 30 percent of the former electricity consumption per item. The increased cutting speed also results in a decrease in gas consumption.”
As for future plans, Vermeulen says the next step is to connect Cadman-Job software to the ERP system.
“Feeding prices and actual working hours spent back to the ERP system allows us to make accurate post-calculations,” he says. “The aim is to automate this process.”
Vermeulen adds that the machines have improved the entire production process. The company has a lower cost price and better sales rates and hardly any rejected products.
“We have more control over planning, meaning much higher reliability in delivery,” he says. “The conclusion is that purchasing machines from LVD has pushed our costs down, enabling us to remain competitive for at least five years.”
The right mix
Meurer Packaging Systems GmbH specializes in end-of-line packaging machinery for foods such as dairy products, tea, coffee and wine. Since 2015, the German company is part of U.S.-headquartered ITW, a global manufacturing specialist with 85 divisions and $12 billion turnover.
“Our whole philosophy is to deliver a solution that is fully integrated and tailored to the customer’s needs,” says Matthias Look, Meurer’s strategic marketing director. “For our customers, the critical component is the availability of the machinery. Supermarkets have very specific requirements on when they want products to be supplied. If the product isn’t supplied on time, there will be empty shelves in the store and the supplier will be fined.”
A particular focus is on manufacturing processes, with companies given a toolbox of resources to integrate processes and streamline operations.
“We make around 50,000 to 60,000 distinct parts a year with just 8,000 repeating parts,” Look says. “So, it is important to get the right mix on the manufacturing plan to minimize setup times.”
Hermann Brand, head of operations, says the starting point for the company is addressing the productivity and flexibility of the production machines.
“We need to be able to integrate fast-track jobs in the production flow,” he says.
Meurer already owned two Easy-Form press brakes and this year acquired a Phoenix 6-kW fiber laser cutting machine, which replaced a Sirius CO2 laser cutter. The press brakes and new laser are all networked.
Both press brakes have been retrofitted with the latest networkable controls, so that they are ready for the changeover to the new Cadman software suite. In parallel with this, the new fiber laser was installed.
Because LVD allows existing machines to be integrated into a suite, later-model machines (less than seven years old) are easily compatible. For older machines, there are various options. For example, a 10-year-old machine was updated with a new PC in the controller. For even older machines, however, LVD offers a next-gen solution through a complete machine retrofit to transform the equipment for more modern capabilities.
“We constantly look at the flow of work through the department so we can understand and optimize it,” Look says. “We saw that we could do more, but our old 4-kW CO2 laser was a bottleneck. It was no longer energy-efficient, and our production possibilities were constricted by the laser power.”
Brand adds that the advantages of the fiber laser are clear.
“On the basis of our trials,” he says, “it is around three and a half times faster with a very good cut. We have a very big engineering department and although we standardize our machinery, there are always new parts.”
Brand says the complete LVD software integration process was introduced, which differs from the 2-D system they had in the past.
“Contours were taken from individual drawings and prepared for the laser and nested on the sheet,” he says of the old system. “Now, 3-D parts are seamlessly transferred from engineering onto a server. The software imports the data, automatically generates the cutting and bending programs, and sends them to the machines.”
The software suite includes the latest Cadman-B bending software, Cadman-L laser cutting software, Cadman-SDI smart drawing importer and Cadman-Job software.
Cadman-Job manages the interactions between the engineering department, the ERP system, the CAM system and the workshop in order to optimize manufacturing resources and production time.
“Cadman-Job provides us real-time visibility on the status of individual components,” Brand says, “telling us which part is on which machine, what has been completed, what is ready for dispatch. So, we get 100 percent oversight of the whole operation and a continuous data flow from A to Z.”
The aim is to use Cadman-Job to optimize the workload on the machines, improve production planning and have a better oversight of the complete process. And the Touch-i4 industrial tablet computer, which collects real-time machine data that can be viewed and managed wirelessly from an intuitive touch interface, will allow the team leader to organize and monitor parts on the shop floor – tracking which parts on which sheet go with which assembly, even when they have moved on to secondary operations such as deburring and thread cutting.