With new machinery, Südstahl has managed not only to increase productivity, but also to convince employees to change their working methods. Two systems from Arku with their operating concept played an important role in this.
The medium-sized family business Südstahl in Mertingen is based on three pillars: Sheet metal blanks up to 300 mm, machined welded assemblies up to 20 t and customized storage systems such as paternosters, cutting machines and conveyor systems (products of the recently acquired traditional company Schwab Förder- und Lagertechnik from Oettingen). Founded in 1946, Südstahl today employs around 120 people at two locations. “As a specialist in steel processing, our top priority is to work together as partners in order to provide our customers with the highest quality and reliability in the long term,” says managing partner Ulrich Käuferle.
Customers ranging from craftsmen’s businesses to automotive groups
In the cut-to-size segment, Südstahl supplies “all sectors across the board”, as Peter Birkner, Head of Sales and Technology, explains. “From automotive groups to one-man craft shops, it’s all here,” he says. According to Birkner, no specific customer segment can be identified, particularly in the heavy plate sector. The variety of parts is correspondingly large; the batch sizes vary greatly.
In order to be able to provide its services, Südstahl has an extensive range of machinery at its disposal. In addition to modern laser cutting machines, we also have a fine-beam plasma system and four NC flame cutting systems. Since deburred sheet metal blanks are the standard today, an Arku EdgeBreaker deburring machine completes the equipment. For its customers, the company also undertakes extensive pre-cutting work.
Südstahl was able to record a particularly large advance in deburring at the beginning of 2018: An EdgeBreaker 4000 moved into the halls. Arku’s machine is specially designed for removing heavy burrs after flame cutting. Core unit is an oscillating deburring roller for grinding off the protruding material. It applies force to the edge by flexibly fitting to the sheet metal part.
In a further aggregate there are transversely running brushes. They can be equipped with different tools for individual processing of the sheet edge. “Here, a single pass is sufficient for the EdgeBreaker 4000 to carefully deburr and round the workpieces from above and below. With automatic wear measurement, the machine can also detect the condition of the deburring tools and compensate for it itself,” explains Christian Nau, Sales at Arku.
Deburring machine EdgeBreaker makes work much easier
“Previously, deburring the flame-cut and plasma parts was a purely manual process using grinding equipment,” Birkner reports. This meant that the result and quality were highly dependent on the individual employee. With the deburring machine, not only the throughput increased, but also the appearance of the products was constantly the same. “We have received feedback from our customers that we are achieving very good quality with the EdgeBreaker,” says the head of technology and sales.
But even before the purchase of the EdgeBreaker 4000, Südstahl had already had good experiences with the machines from Baden-Baden. The old straightening machines had become outdated at some point. Südstahl became aware of Arku at a trade fair, and the first project with the machine manufacturer from Baden-Baden began the following year: A PlateMaster XL straightening machine replaced three old systems in December 2014.
The PlateMaster with straightening gap control and overload protection is specially designed for heavy plates from 4 to 40 millimeters thick. With a maximum passage width of 2000 millimetres, it is ideally suited for medium to large-area sheets. At the same time, it is so resistant that even dirt and rust do not impair the straightening process. It is also quick and easy to clean if necessary.
Components of different sizes on a straightening machine
The components for the PlateMaster XL at Südstahl vary in weight – from one kilogram to two or three tons. Before installing the Arku system, the operators still had to select the right straightening machine for the size of the workpiece. There was also a need to catch up with regard to occupational safety as well as maintenance and repair. “By combining three plants into one, the processes have become simpler – and we have better quality,” explains Birkner.
Last but not least, efficiency in Südstahl’s halls has increased: Whereas previously three or four passes were necessary to achieve the required flatness, with the PlateMaster one is often enough. “The setting values can be entered very precisely, and with higher quantities we have more consistent results than before,” adds Birkner. Overall, he remembers the project fondly: “For me personally, it was already a highlight when we were able to replace three old machines with a single new system.”
The cooperation between Südstahl and Arku began long before the purchase of the machines. “Arku had caught our eye at the show as a supplier of straightening equipment for thin sheet. We then created a profile of what we needed. Arku then used this as a basis to set up the machine for heavy plate as its own development,” explains Birkner. At that time, there were only a few suppliers on the market, and Arku realized the requirements reliably and flexibly with the PlateMaster.
The Baden-Baden-based machine manufacturer has also taken Südstahl’s wishes into account for the EdgeBreaker. “For example, deburring on both sides was very important to us,” says Birkner. Because this not only saves users a run, but also time. For the development of the deburring machines, Arku ordered sample parts of oxyfuel and plasma cuttings in Mertingen. The results of the extensive test series were very important to Südstahl, for example on the service life of the abrasives. “Excellent results were achieved in the process,” praises Birkner.
Ease of use increases acceptance
Another important point for Thomas Bachmann, head of cutting, was the ease of operation of the machines right from the start of the development process. “The employees settled in very quickly. The training for the new machines was completed within two days,” he reports. This is made possible by displaying pictograms and images instead of text in the respective machine control. This also eliminates a possible language barrier between employee and machine, making multilingualism easier.
The satisfaction of Südstahl continues after the conclusion of the deal: According to Bachmann, maintenance and service worked very well. “Even after the purchase, the support is excellent,” he says. Maintenance is carried out once a year. Should a malfunction occur in the meantime, it is quickly and easily remedied. The supply of wear parts also works perfectly.
For the employees at Südstahl, much has changed for the better with the PlateMaster and the EdgeBreaker: The deburring machine is equipped with an extraction system, which reduces noise and dirt enormously compared to manual work with angle grinders. In addition, the handling devices on the machines reduce the physical strain. But Arku has achieved even more with its systems: “The entire concept must be such that it is quick and easy. This is how you get the commitment that the employees deal with the machines,” says Oliver Wetzenbacher Head of Production, also with regard to the ease of operation. “At Südstahl, the acceptance of the Arku technology is very good,” he concludes.
Stéphane Itasse, specialist journalist from Eibelstadt
Facts & Figures
Founded in 1928, the family-owned company Arku Maschinenbau GmbH is the market leader in straightening technology with more than 50 years of experience. Arku offers the world’s largest selection of high performance and precision levelers as well as deburring and rounding machines. In addition, Arku has its own business unit for parts handling around the straightening and deburring machines.
With its headquarters in Baden-Baden, Germany, and ISO-certified subsidiaries in Kunshan (China) and Cincinnati (USA), the company covers markets in around 30 countries. Arku offers contract work in the straightening and deburring centres at the three locations with highly modern and powerful machines.
The product range includes precision part straightening and deburring machines, automated part handling with robots, coil straightening machines, cut-to-length lines, press feed lines and strip preparation lines for profilers. The Arku machines are used in industrial sheet metal processing. From the automotive industry, mechanical engineering and the furniture industry to shipbuilding, steel construction and the railway industry to laser job shops and flame cutting companies: Arku supplies deburring and straightening machines all over the world.