Swarco Dambach, a specialist in road signage and traffic signals, is rejuvenating and strengthening its machinery with a 2D laser including an MSLoad automatic material handling system.
Whether at construction sites, on the highway or at the entrance to a town: Swarco Dambach GmbH’s traffic signs, signs and traffic sign bridges regulate traffic in many places. Everyone knows them.
Whether you’re on foot, by car, bus or train, what comes out of the company based in Gaggenau, Baden, and generally from the entire Austrian Swarco Group, guides our way and gives us direction in everyday life. Because Swarco develops and produces solutions for securing, guiding and regulating road traffic, such as road markings, signage or traffic signals.
Production in Gaggenau on the western edge of the Black Forest relied on the same machinery for many years. With the investment in a modern 2D laser cutting system from MicroStep including a material handling solution, an enormous leap towards more efficiency and flexibility was achieved. An important tool for continuing to set the tone in a closely contested market.
“Swarco is a company that manufactures products under the highest quality standards, is always very close through an extremely good customer relationship and knows what the market needs as well as being able to react very quickly to changes. Our customers are spread all over the world and ultimately all road users are our customers,” says Andreas Flamm, Strategic Buyer at Swarco.
Swarco has many different systems on offer, including developing new types of digital and automated components for even better and faster traffic management. However, the market of standard signage is very competitive. In Germany alone, around 15 manufacturers compete with each other. The sheet metal is specified, as well as the foil coating and also the RAL color. A few factors are decisive in order to get the nod from the federal government, cities or municipalities: “The minimum qualities are clearly defined, delivery times and the cost factor play a decisive role. Efficiency and flexibility in production are correspondingly important,” emphasizes Bernard Frank, plant manager at Swarco Dambach in Gaggenau.
Modern 2D laser replaces ten machines thanks to precision and automation system
In order to increase production speed and process efficiency, the long-established company has recently begun to invest more in the modernization of its technology park, which is clearly getting on in years. The most important new addition here is a fiber laser system from MicroStep’s MSF Pro series, including the MSLoad automatic sheet material handling system. The new solution replaces ten systems in production, formerly consisting of punching-nibbling machines, laser machines and milling machines.
“We are now more flexible, faster, more efficient, produce more cost-effectively and with more quality. We have arrived in the 21st century at the speed of light,” says Andreas Flamm about the 2D laser cutting system with a working area of 4,000 x 2,500 mm installed in spring 2021. The main part of the cutting task is the processing of aluminum in the thin sheet range (2 and 3 mm).
The rework of earlier days is completely eliminated here. Only in a few cases slightly thicker sheets are cut and rarely steel. Just as required by the standards on the roads of this world.
A lot of planning and preparation for the implementation of key technology
In their search for the right solution, Andreas Flamm and Bernard Frank took their time. Finally, a new system had to be defined and a pioneering key technology installed in the company. From the start, it was clear that it had to be a 2D laser cutting machine; 4 x 2 meters of standard sheet metal with the added challenge of no scratches on the material throughout the process. It was only during the evaluation of the market that the idea of a loading system was born, and in the later planning process also an additional unloading technology. “Not all manufacturers have this technology with automation. Some might offer it, but then they would have to develop it. MicroStep had the system and it works. That’s why I’m satisfied. The concept of picking up the sheets without leaving scratches also works,” says Bernard Frank.
The decision-making process was a long one that also demanded a lot from the manufacturers. “We are definitely a demanding customer. We have sent an incredible number of samples through the area, tested and lasered them. Played with different laser strengths, played with different sheet thicknesses. Because this is a huge investment for us, and it has to work exactly the way we need it to. MicroStep spared no effort,” Andreas Flamm looks back.
Contract cutting services also possible
For the two people in charge, intensive planning and many extra rounds were necessary. In the end, there was a solution that covered all wishes. Flamm estimates the return on investment at around two years. Capacities for additional contract cutting operation are available. “If all projects went like this, we’d all be happy,” says the strategic buyer.
MSF Pro 2D laser cutting machine with a processing area of 4,000 x 2,500 mm
Swarco uses the MSF Pro series (formerly MSF series) for cutting flat material. The exclusive high-speed solution for demanding laser cutting sets standards in terms of multifunctionality and process reliability and features a high degree of automation (including shuttle table, cleaning and calibration station, automatic nozzle change). Swarco chose a version with the Extrabeam Pro 2D laser cutting head and a YLS 4000 IPG fiber laser source with 4 kW cutting power. The processing area of the automatic shuttle table system is 4,000 x 2,500 mm. Donaldson extraction technology is used for filtration (DFPRO 8-R Cyclopeel filter system).
Production assistants for maximum efficiency
For even more efficiency and productivity, Swarco invested in an additional automation solution in conjunction with the MSF fiber laser: MSLoad is a modular system used for automatic loading of raw material as well as unloading of cut parts. It can be used with MicroStep laser and plasma cutting systems that have an automatic shuttle table system. The material handling system ensures that the material to be cut is transported from the pick-up station to the shuttle table by means of a vacuum lifting device. From the shuttle table, the flat sheet is automatically moved into the cutting cabin of the fiber laser, processed and then automatically fed out again.
The unloading fork removes the cut components and places them on the unloading station, while the vacuum lifters already place fresh material on the cutting table. Thus, the cutting system can be continuously fed and operated. In order to minimize scratches on the raw sheets that adhere to each other, Swarco has integrated yet another technology: During the loading process, only a single suction plate is initially lifted to separate sheets that are sticking together. In the next step, a sensor measures the material thickness and then – if it matches the parameters from the loaded cutting program – the software gives the go-ahead to move the sheet to the shuttle table.