Time for strategic decisions

07.11.2019 - 01:00

Survey of AMB exhibitors on the orders situation in metal processing and mechanical engineering/new projects in mechanical engineering and special toolmaking

According to consulting firm PwC, the atmosphere in the German mechanical engineering industry is on a downward trend. PwC refers to the results of a study according to which an increasing number of entrepreneurs expect a negative development of the global economy. For the first time in over three years, analysts are predicting a negative growth for mechanical engineering companies. At the same time, a glance at the German Mechanical Engineering Industry Association (VDMA) industry data seems to support these statements: The association lowered its forecast for 2019. "Given the current order situation and the low level of real production, we expect production to fall by 2% in real terms in 2019," explained VDMA President Carl Martin Welcker.

 

18% of AMB visitors in 2018 were working in the automotive industry and vehicle construction. It's an industry that is currently facing additional major challenges. Markus Heseding, Managing Director of the VDMA Precision Tools Association, puts the current market share of hybrid and electric vehicles in Germany at just over 1%. Since politicians demand emission-free vehicles, the automotive industry is particularly investing in powertrain electrification. However, Heseding is convinced that vehicles with combustion engines will continue to play an important role in mobility in the future. The number of vehicles produced worldwide will rise from 93 million at present to 120 million in 2030, with the level of combustion engines remaining roughly the same while the proportion of electric cars continues to increase. It is only after this that the number of combustion engines and the associated demand for machinable components in cars could decrease. The economical production of CO2 neutral e-fuels can become a "game changer" here. "That's why we want a technology-open funding policy," says Heseding.

Innovation and design

According to Dr Jochen Kress, Managing Partner of MAPAL Group, the current challenges as a tool manufacturer are following the constant changes in technology and society or, better still, spearheading them. He also cites electromobility as an example. Many tools from the Aalen-based company process components in the powertrain of vehicles with combustion engines. "First and foremost, we do not see risks in development from a combustion engine to an electric drive, but rather new opportunities. The electric motor housings require very complex and demanding tools." Due to an electric motor's high speeds, the highest demands are placed on the machining operation's precision. "Take the main bore for the rotor. It must be machined to an accuracy of a few micrometres. MAPAL has developed tool solutions to implement this fine machining economically and to meet the requirements for accuracy and cycle time," says Kress. As a manufacturer of special tools, MAPAL contributes its expertise to this precision machining.

In phases when capacity utilisation is falling and replacement or new investments are being postponed, it is particularly important to be able to gain a foothold in the global market. "Even the best economic boom is of little use to us if we cannot differentiate ourselves with our products. For example, industrial and product design have so far played a rather subordinate role in the development of our chucks. The main focus was on process reliability. In the past, our developers gradually built up a broad portfolio. However, it was not uniform in appearance. We wanted to change that and so we got industrial design experts on board. The first design studies are available and I am confident that we will present a new range by next year's AMB," says Kress. Not only should the optics and recognition be increased with the chucks' new look, but economic and ecological goals should also be reached. For example, the polished surface should ensure that the chucks are more corrosion-resistant than before.

Hybrid presses complement the product portfolio

Innovation is the answer to a possible decline in sales at the machinery company Mazak in the German town of Göppingen. "We go into every conversation with positivity and see how we can help our customers with our portfolio. Thanks to our broad positioning, we have a fairly good overview of various industries. We are currently seeing the sharpest decline in the

automotive industry," says CEO of Mazak DACH Region, Martin Engels, commenting on the current situation. A certain cost pressure is a permanent condition for many mechanical engineers, especially from this industry. In response, Mazak has now developed a new five-axis machine. "From our point of view, it is important to provide our customers with new technical solutions to increase their productivity, regardless of the economic situation. A lot is happening in the high-tech sector, particularly with regard to hybrid machines. Furthermore, in our new machine models, all processes from machining operation to additive 3D production are accommodated in just one machine. Thus, it effectively reduces lead times. Such a machine is particularly suitable for customers who want to use a phase of underutilisation for necessary or early repairs or modifications," says Engels, explaining the strategy.

Engels confirms how particularly important the European market is, regardless of the economic situation: "Mazak is well-positioned on every continent and recently we have strengthened our position in Europe once again and opened a new branch in Austria." First and foremost, this investment is intended to strengthen direct sales in the Alpine republic. Looking ahead to the coming year, Engels underlines Stuttgart's importance as a trade fair location: "A trade fair like AMB offers us not just a platform for presenting new innovations, but also a good opportunity to strengthen our regional network. Next year, our entire German engineering team will certainly be discussing very specific automation solutions with customers at the trade fair again. This customer orientation is also the future for us from a strategic point of view. Therefore by AMB 2020, I assume that our engineering team will have grown once again. This is right at the top of our agenda," emphasises Engels.

Real net output ratio secures order backlog

Like any other industrial company, August Steinmeyer's sales department is the first to feel the effects of economic downturns. The company manufactures drive technology components for various industries such as machine tool construction, robotics, medical technology and the semiconductor industry. This broad positioning is one of the reasons why management and sales assess the current economic situation as good. Sales manager Jens-Uwe Gühring gives an insight into the order books: Although the orders situation in the mechanical engineering division is even weaker currently, aerospace and medical technology are performing well to very well.

"Our company produces high-precision ball screws, where factors such as materials, manufacturing processes and assembly as well as measuring and testing equipment play a decisive role. However, skilled workers' level of training and qualifications also have a significant influence on our products' quality," adds CEO Dr.-Ing. Manfred Münch. The company is currently investing in a new plant structure and is converting manufacturing into conveyor belt production. "We invest in the latest production technologies and in further training of our specialists. This ensures maximum process stability, product quality and high flexibility. Our customers benefited from shorter delivery times, maximum flexibility and higher quality." Measures that also pay off in the public eye: The AMB exhibitor with 172 other companies was given an award from the magazine "stern" for its location security in Germany. The honour is the result of a study conducted by "stern", the Hamburg Institute of International Economics and the Institute for Management and Economic Research on the German companies' production sites.

"It is important to us to offer our customers the best possible advice with short delivery times. With our company restructuring, we can offer our customers simplified custom solutions and processes with short lead times. We can implement individual solutions even better and faster and thus deepen our customer relationships," says Jens-Uwe Gühring, reflecting the sales perspective.

Future security through digitalisation

One of the pioneers in the field of digitalisation is AMB exhibitor Siemens.

The company integrates its new digitalisation-aligned machine tool control, edge and cloud computing, artificial intelligence and additive manufacturing into its portfolio for the machine tool world. "With our range of automation and digitalisation solutions, we are shaping the future of the machine tool industry and helping our customers, manufacturers and machine tool users to use the rapidly growing data volumes in a new and far more comprehensive way to increase their productivity, quality and competitiveness," explains Dr. Wolfgang Heuring, CEO of Business Unit Motion Control.

For Heuring, the great advantage is that these innovative technologies make data available that can be used to create end-to-end digital twins of products, manufacturing and production output. In this way, all industrial production steps could be mapped and linked in virtual space. "The decisive lever is to use this data in an innovative way and transform it into valuable knowledge – for higher performance and flexibility," Heuring continues.

Although it is still too early to talk about concrete solutions for AMB 2020, it is already clear that Siemens will continue on the path towards advancing the machine tool's digital transformation. This enables machine manufacturers to fully virtualise their development, commissioning and machine processes. This allows them to significantly accelerate their processes and considerably reduce times to market while maintaining quality. On the other hand, machine users benefit from considerably faster commissioning times thanks to the digital twin. They can also set up faster, retract parts virtually and produce much more efficiently. Training can be carried out away from the machine.

In addition, the company's industrial edge offering helps machine tool users improve workpiece and process quality, increase machine availability and further optimise machine processes. With edge computing, large amounts of data can be processed locally on the machine tool. In addition, storage and transmission costs are reduced for users because large amounts of data can be pre-processed and only relevant data is subsequently transmitted to a cloud or IT infrastructure.

Encouragement to think more digitally

Despite such offers, PwC analysts see the German mechanical engineers as not yet determined enough with regard to digital transformation as a whole. There is a considerable backlog demand, especially in the heart of the industry: Only a good third of the companies consider themselves to be highly digitalised in the areas of manufacturing, service, transport and logistics. However, the market researchers report positive news that awareness exists: Many entrepreneurs are focusing on the topics of robotics (50%) and "big data" (42%). Artificial intelligence (37%) and the Internet of Things (36%) follow as other important technologies. It is already clear today that digitalisation in all its facets will play a prominent role at AMB 2020. New solutions can be found not only at the respective exhibitors' stands, but also in the trend lounge or a smart factory.

About AMB

Around 90,000 international trade visitors and 1500 exhibitors are expected at the 20th AMB, which will be held at the Stuttgart Trade Fair Centre from 15–19th September 2020. On an exhibition area of more than 120,000 gross square metres, the focus will then be on innovations and further developments for metal-cutting machine tools, metal-removing process machine tools, precision tools, measuring systems and quality assurance, robots, workpiece and tool handling technology, industrial software & engineering, components, assemblies and accessories. AMB 2020 will be backed by ideal promotional supporters, i.e. the VDMA Precision Tools Association, the VDMA Software and Digitalisation Association and the German Machine Tool Builders' Association (VDW).

The text file, photos from the last AMB and exhibition logos can be downloaded online at www.amb-expo.de/press

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Photo captions:

AMB20_PM03_Time_for_strategic_decisions_1: Trade fairs such as AMB – from 15–19th September 2020 – offer the ideal platform to help businesses position themselves well for the future, especially in economically weaker times.

AMB20_PM03_Time_for_strategic_decisions_2: The exhibitors at AMB will show which innovations and further developments can support the metalworking and processing industry in upcoming strategic decisions.

AMB20_PM03_Time_for_strategic_decisions_3: Around 90,000 international trade visitors and 1500 exhibitors are expected to attend AMB 2020 at the Stuttgart Trade Fair Centre.

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