„Benefit from resource use“
Technology helps gain maximum benefit from resource use
Rocketing energy and raw materials prices, supply bottlenecks and the difficulty of ensuring reliable planning are the greatest challenges of the moment and are affecting manufacturing industry particularly acutely. For both today’s and tomorrow’s manufacturers, it is therefore vital to make the best possible use of all the available resources and thus create a decisive competitive advantage.
Manufacturing industry is one of the most important sectors of the German economy and accounts for more than a fifth of the country’s gross value added. However, at present, – like practically every sector of industry – manufacturing is facing enormous challenges. The most pressing of these is the great increase in raw materials and energy prices. For example, steel prices are at least 40 percent higher than they were in 2020. The same applies to aluminum, chromium, copper, nickel and silver. Changes in the price of energy have been even more drastic: Crude oil has increased by a good 50 percent compared to 2020 and the price of gas to end customers has already increased by 160 percent since the beginning of the year. During the last ten years, the price of electricity has increased by approximately 30 percent. Many companies are attempting to put an end to their dependence on these trends and generate their own energy, for example by installing photovoltaic systems. The efficiency of these systems has almost doubled in recent years and the world’s highest-performance solar cell generation solutions, recently developed by the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE), achieve efficiency of over 47 percent. Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik also has its own in-house photovoltaic installation in Füssen, which covers approximately 75 percent of the plant’s electricity requirements. The installation which will soon come on stream at the factory in Halblech is on a similar scale.
Bottlenecks and uncertainties
A survey recently undertaken by the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce (DIHK) shows that the surge in the price of raw materials and energy represents the greatest burden for three quarters of companies. Depending on the total value of the quantities involved, these factors ultimately have a direct impact on company profits. One aggravating factor is that many businesses also have to struggle with supply bottlenecks and a lack of all types of primary and intermediate products. A recent study by Deloitte suggests that global supply chains will not fully recover until some time during 2024. Companies are also facing a labor shortage. Many businesses are directly impacted by the lack of skilled workers and are urgently – albeit often unsuccessfully – searching for qualified personnel. In addition to all this, there is also the conflict in Ukraine. This constitutes a significant risk and factor of uncertainty for businesses, in particular given that the effects of the measures taken during the Covid-19 pandemic are still very present.
Great potential for efficiency improvements
So what can companies, and in particular those in the manufacturing sector, do in order to successfully face up to the current range of challenges? The most promising strategy is to make the best possible use of the available resources and use them in ways that maximize their contribution to value added. And the potentials that exist are considerable. For example, a study conducted for the metalworking industry by the VDI Competence Center for Resource Efficiency shows that it is possible to achieve between two and six percent materials savings per year, while the potential for energy savings rises to as much as 14 percent. A study conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute for System and Innovation Research (ISI) comes to a similar conclusion, pointing to an average energy savings potential of 15 percent.
People play a pivotal role
In general terms, it is possible to identify four broad types of resource whose use has to be optimized: raw materials, energy, technology and personnel. The human workforce plays the pivotal role here: It is the firm conviction of Mathias Bihler that “people are and will always be the vital factor for success. They form the basis that allows us and our customers to thrive in competitive global markets.” That is why Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik has, for decades, been committed to the ongoing training and qualification of its workforce. This includes, on the one hand, the dozens of apprentices who come to Bihler every year to take advantage of its well-known training opportunities and who often stay with the company at the end of their apprenticeships. On the other, Bihler has many experienced employees boasting outstanding expertise, some of whom have been working with the company for decades. All of this taken together reflects a very high level of skill, knowledge and innovative strength. These strengths and skills form the basis for all the company’s developments and innovations and they have enabled Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik to become the world’s leading system supplier of stamping and forming, welding and assembly technology.
Benefiting from Bihler’s expertise
Bihler also makes the outstanding expertise and innovative strengths of its own employees available to its customers in order to work with them to develop solutions for optimized resource utilization. Bihler provides support throughout the entire value-added chain in the form of technical consulting, testing, the production of sample parts and process verifications. These activities are followed by project implementation and industrial production, for which Bihler also acts as a full-range supplier for all the required equipment. The next step is to train the customers' personnel and Customer Support can then subsequently introduce further optimization measures if required. In addition, Bihler also offers its proven 24h telephone hotline service as well as its highly-appreciated virtual system training solutions. And last but not least, customers can also benefit from new tools and features, such as virtual commissioning or the Bihler Analysis Tool, which gives users an overview of all production activities on their Bihler systems whenever they want it and independently of their location. These outstanding, all-round consulting and service skills are unique and make Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik the ideal partner for optimizations and efficiency enhancements.
Highly efficient new equipment
Bihler naturally also uses its exceptional skills and qualifications to develop and implement new, innovative equipment and process technologies. These are designed from the outset to ensure maximum efficiency and guarantee that all users benefit from the greatest possible process quality and cost-effectiveness. One example is the Bihler LEANTOOL system, which cuts tool manufacturing costs by more than 50 percent. The efficiency in material utilization offered by the new fully-featured Bihler equipment solutions is of a similar scale. For example, innovative Bihler Technology has helped Schürholz Stanztechnik (for a portrait, see the following best-practice article) in Plettenberg achieve materials savings of approximately 30 percent during the manufacture of housings, while Freudenberg Stanz- und Umformtechnik in Weinheim has been able to reduce material utilization for the production of sealing rings by up to 85 percent using Bihler technology. All new Bihler equipment has been designed not only for minimized raw materials consumption but also for energy-efficient workflows. This includes, for example, factors such as low power consumption, low lubricant and oil requirements, a long service life coupled with low maintenance requirements, as well as a small CO2 footprint. Another important advantage of the new Bihler systems lies in the fact that they can be fully automated. Many enterprises are now making use of the resulting cost-related and competitive advantages to relocate their production operations back into their own countries, for example by moving out of Asia. For many customers, fully-automated production systems are also a way of responding to the labor shortage. At the same time, such systems help make companies more attractive, in particular for younger employees.
Optimizing existing processes
Last but not least, by helping customers optimize their existing structures and processes, Bihler enables them to save resources and enjoy the advantages of greater efficiency. One example of this is the Bihler BC R upgrade and retrofit package. This is a fast and easy way to modernize older Bihler machines in order to achieve greater productivity and benefit from a guaranteed spare parts supply coupled with relatively low energy and resource consumption levels. Further advantages come from the use of modified, individually adaptable tools. This not only makes it possible to more than double system throughput and save energy but also to reduce material consumption. The reduction in setup times resulting from the use of Bihler NC technology also brings considerable potential for efficiency enhancements: It takes an average of one hour to completely retool a Bihler GRM-NC compared to the eight hours needed for a mechanically controlled system.
Whether for a new system or the optimization of existing processes: Whatever the application, Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik can provide the perfect solution to allow businesses to exploit resource and savings potentials. It not only provides the necessary technology but also supports its customers in achieving their goals. “In this way, our customers are able to make themselves outstandingly competitive and differentiate themselves successfully in the market,” says Mathias Bihler. “They are therefore equipped to meet the challenges of today and the future.”