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The future of production

Shorter product lifecycles, an increasing number of variants and ever tighter development and time-to-market constraints make time a decisive competitive factor. Speed, flexibility, scalability and efficiency thus become critical prerequisites for production going forward. The production of metal parts demands a consistent, highly standardized overall concept that remains compatible across the various individual fields involved. It is the key that makes it possible to tackle the tasks of the future in a scalable manner. Against this backdrop, Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik showcases the concepts it has lined up for component production – from prototyping, through small, medium and large batch sizes and right up to the production of assemblies.

No matter whether we are talking about smartphones or cars, laptops or TVs, new products are coming onto the market at an increasingly rapid rate while at the same time, product lifecycles are becoming dramatically shorter. Nowadays, it is commonplace for new products such as laptops or desktops to appear after just three or four months thanks to a constant stream of innovations and enhanced performance options. And in the automotive sector, the average product lifecycle for a car in the 1970s was eight years, but by the 1990s this had fallen to a mere three years. Today, a car gets its first facelift after two to three years at the latest, while in the smartphone market the same timeframe sees the launch of completely new models. Reduced product lifecycles have seen an attendant slashing of development times. Shorter lifecycles and development times are driven not only by technical progress and customer demands, but also by competition. After all, there are countless suppliers for any given type of product on the global market, and in saturated markets in particular, manufacturers have to constantly offer new, innovative products in order to stand out from the crowd. In parallel with this trend, the number of variants of a product is increasing significantly. In the 1980s, for example, the Mercedes-Benz model range comprised only five models, whereas today it covers some 30 types. And even within each individual model type, there is an increasing range of options and configurations for the customer to choose from, with well over a thousand variants for the door trim or the headlining of a vehicle on offer for example.

Time: the key to success

Ever shorter product lifecycles, the increasing number of variants and ever tighter development and time-to-market timeframes ultimately mean that time is becoming the crucial parameter that determines success – across the entire value chain. And this of course also applies to the production of metal components. “The time taken for process development from the initial idea to the finished product is increasingly playing a decisive role, and speed will be crucial in the future in order to acquire orders and manufacture successfully,” explains Mathias Bihler. To achieve this speed in developing processes, it is imperative for manufacturers to design their development and value creation processes efficiently and thus be able to respond quickly, flexibly and hence also cost-efficiently to the given customer and market requirements – in other words, ultimately to differentiate themselves from the competition. And in manufacturing, the clock effectively starts running from the initial customer inquiry. Mathias Bihler: “Right from the initial inquiry for a component, the aim is to make judgments about feasibility as quickly and accurately as possible, as well as to quantify the costs for development, the tool, the processes and the component itself, including additional industrial production. Another crucial issue is how quickly the first sample parts can be delivered.” Only those who can considerably reduce the time needed in the run-up to bidding have a chance of winning the contract. And afterwards it is still necessary to keep times to a minimum – for tool development up to the initial component samples just as much as in subsequent production, especially when the component goes into mass production or it evolves into an assembly.

Highly efficient complete solution

Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik offers a consistent, highly standardized and fully intercompatible complete system to meet such demands. It is based on the latest Bihler machine and tool technology in the form of the Bihler LEANTOOL system in combination with the GRM-NC automatic servo stamping and bending machine, the new LM 2000-KT and LM 2000-NC stamping and bending machines, a BZ processing center currently under development and the BIMERIC servo production and assembly system. What makes this solution so special is that the central LEANTOOL tool can be used in a variety of ways on any of the Bihler systems without any need for adaptation. All users can thus produce assemblies as well as stamped and bended parts from strip and wire material extremely quickly and flexibly in practically any required batch size and quality. Mathias Bihler: “It is a flexible, modular and fully intercompatible complete system that represents the future of production and offers perfect coverage of all customer requirements.” “It offers users all the manufacturing potential they desire, both as regards high part volumes and with respect to additional value-added steps.” This scalability, coupled with the extreme speed, flexibility and efficiency of the overall system, is unmatched in the industry and opens up entirely new dimensions for the user in terms of competitiveness and market positioning.

Standardized added value

 At the heart of the production solution of the future lies the standardized modular Bihler LEANTOOL system for developing tools based on radial or progressive principles. The outstanding feature of this system, which also includes the standardized Meusburger cutting frames that will be available shortly, is the wealth of standard parts that can be used to configure corresponding tools. This not only ensures that tools can be produced rapidly, which is of the essence, but also makes tool development particularly cost efficient. Furthermore, the large number of standard parts minimizes risks in up-front costing, as their costs are known precisely. Another major advantage is that the LEANTOOL system makes the development of a tool a far simpler and more transparent job than before because the standard parts and standardization of the machines allow the engineer to concentrate entirely on designing the stamping and bending process. The resulting LEANTOOL tool is compatible with all Bihler machines in the new complete system and can be used for prototype and sample production and then unchanged in subsequent series production and assembly. This eliminates the need for complex and costly custom tools, reduces errors during development and ensures 100-percent reproducibility of the components – all with a very short time to market.

Simple transfer of tools

In practice, users can therefore easily transfer the tools they have developed for a Bihler GRM-NC automatic stamping and bending machine to all servo-controlled and cam-controlled Bihler systems in the complete system. The benefit of this is that all the movement profiles of the tools optimized on the GRM-NC can be used one-to-one to produce cams, and the user can thus migrate a fully developed NC concept directly to cam technology. And if the customer now needs to carry out further work on the component and thus ultimately produce complex assemblies, the user can carry over the tools onto the modular BIMERIC platform, where the corresponding value-added steps such as welding, thread cutting, screw insertion and parts handling can be performed.

Combined performance capabilities

The intercompatibility of the Bihler systems guarantees very fast tool changes and retooling operations, usually in less than an hour. The simple and intuitive Bihler VariControl VC 1 controller forms the central control platform for all Bihler modules used. Importantly, the complete manufacturing solution also includes the many help and support services that Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik offers all users throughout the entire manufacturing process. One highlight in this context is the Bihlerplanning web app. It provides valuable information on component design right at the start of the process, dramatically reducing the time it takes to prepare a quotation. In addition, comprehensive maintenance and service offerings provide valuable support and minimize machine downtime. These include the new Bihler AR Remote Service real-time streaming offering and the VR offerings for training and sales purposes, for example, as well as the tried and tested Bihler spare parts service.

Universal deployment

Another important aspect is that the Bihler LEANTOOL system in particular contains a whole host of help and support services that make it especially easy and attractive for younger employees to get to grips with Bihler technology. Another plus, especially for the younger workforce, is that the completely digitalized Bihler solution offers full networking capability and provides ideal conditions for digital production in line with the principles of Industry 4.0. “The entire manufacturing solution represents a universal standard in terms of both machine and tooling technology. This can be used regardless of location when tools are relocated across the globe by major corporations,” says Mathias Bihler. “This ensures maximum flexibility and scalability, which is ideal for responding to decreasing batch sizes and increasing variant diversity, and all with extremely short setup times, reproducible results and cost efficiency.” The use of NC technology guarantees the necessary quality of the components, which in turn provides the user with additional reliability in production. At the same time, the NC-based data, which is available in large quantities, forms the basis for future optimization and further developments. And Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik is already working flat out on these.

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