ROLEC optimizes work processes for employees

Housing manufacturer ROLEC creates more space for production by using Sherpa robots

ROLEC has its roots in the 1960s. The founder, Friedhelm Rose, revolutionized the industry by developing the world’s first sealed aluminum enclosures. Since then, the family business has continued to develop and is now one of the leading manufacturers of enclosures, HMI enclosures and support arm systems. Friedhelm Rose’s innovative power lives on today and has led to groundbreaking products such as the profiPLUS support arm system and the aluDOOR enclosure series, which won the German Innovation Award 2023.

All ROLEC housings are manufactured using state-of-the-art machinery. Using precise CNC technology, the finest fits and individual recesses are drilled or milled as required. Even complex product processing requirements are effortlessly met.

Before automation…

The production of customized aluminum housings for the installation of electrical and electronic components was a manpower challenge.

Some of these aluminum housings were machined in a single clamping operation on HAAS machines of the type VF-3SS. The 4-axis machining center was upgraded to a 5-axis machine and was operated with a mechanical four-jaw chuck from HWR. This was necessary to avoid clamping marks in the thin-walled geometry and to guarantee ROLEC’s premium quality promise. The processing machines did not have a media feedthrough on the fourth axis for operating a clamping device.

Although the production processes ran smoothly, the machine operators often took on tasks elsewhere within the production due to the long running times. After the machining program was completed, the spindle of the machining center was therefore regularly idle until the operating personnel registered the end of the machining, cleaned the finished part and reloaded the machine. The production management therefore aimed to use personnel more efficiently and maximize spindle time.

The technological challenge was to automate the proven clamping technology without changing the established clamping process.

The solution…

consisted of a SherpaLoader® M25 with electric spindle drive. First, the tasks were redistributed: The separation and continuous provision of material are now carried out by semi-skilled employees, while the qualified machining mechanics concentrate on production quality and automation.

In the new process, the SpaceBox is loaded with raw material. After the current job has been completed, the machine operator in the robot cell can replace the processed SpaceBox with a new one containing raw parts – using a pallet truck – and continue production immediately. Alternatively, the SpaceBox can remain in place while the processed parts are replaced with blanks. The new job is selected in the dialog control and the robot starts working: It picks up the parts, places them in the stamping station and then in the machine vice. The workpiece is clamped with a torque wrench attached to the robot. Finished parts are automatically cleaned with compressed air and placed back into the SpaceBox by the robot.

The approximately 70 housings in the SpaceBox ensure that the system never stops waiting for the operator. The number of personnel on the automated systems has fallen by more than 50%, which has led to a significant competitive advantage and gives employees more time for other tasks. The fact that the robot cell also runs in “unmanned night shifts” and produces output is a welcome side effect that has reduced the ROI to less than two years.

Matthias Rose, Managing Director:

“Our operating costs are heavily dependent on personnel. That’s why our goal was to increase the productivity of our qualified and experienced specialists. Today, our employees look after two additional production machines. Due to the short payback period, we immediately purchased the second CNC automation from SHERPA. And we plan to automate more machines in the future.”

14 hours more running time per day

Schöbel Hermann CNC-Milling Technology GmbH…

is the preferred choice of many well-known companies in the field of machining technology, especially for prototypes and series of 1 – 10,000 parts. This is even more true since Johannes Seilbeck and Martin Herzog took over the company from its founder. In the course of this takeover, the two recognized the potential to turn a small jewel into an even bigger one through digitalized automation.

Before automation…

Only 5 employees worked in production. Despite their many years of experience and expertise in the fields of medical technology, mechanical engineering and the consumer industry, they were reaching their limits due to capacity. The spindle of the 5-axis machining center MIKRON HEM 500 U was only utilised at 75% capacity and was idle for 18 hours a day. The challenge was to double the spindle hours without hiring additional staff.

The solution…

As part of the takeover, the first robot was deployed – the entry into a technology that the previous owner had not yet considered useful or dared to use.

The existing machine type MIKRON HEM 500 U was not prepared for automation in any way. It had neither an automation interface nor a door drive. In addition, there were no free channels for the media feedthrough on the 4th and 5th axes, which would have been necessary to operate a pneumatic or hydraulic clamping device. Retrofitting by the manufacturer was not an option due to the delivery time and costs. SHERPA convinced with a complete solution from a single source, consisting of a SherpaLoader® M20, equipped with an electric torque screwdriver, and an electric door drive and a robot interface for the processing machine. The existing clamping technology could be seamlessly integrated into the automation and proven processing parameters retained, which made it easy to get started with automation. Automation starts with a batch size of 10 parts. Thanks to the robust operation of the automation, series of up to 50,000 parts per year can now be offered.

Within a year, the effective spindle time was increased from 6 to over 20 hours a day. For example, the automation ran over many weekends without the need for personnel. Schöbel is a perfect example of how even small companies can use robots and thus become significant competitors.

Johannes Seilbeck, Managing Director:

“The automation has more than doubled our turnover at the plant. That is both a success and an incentive. That is why we have just invested in a new processing machine from HERMLE. And in a second SherpaLoader. Now we are ten: eight people and two robots.”

Delivery reliability increased without additional skilled workers

CNC manufacturing technology Liebl…

manufactures precision parts for special machine construction. The company is located in Gebesee, a community of 2,000 people in the Thuringian Basin, where the skills gap is particularly evident: In 2023, 49.5 percent of all vacancies lacked qualified workers, and the forecast for 2035 does not look much better.

The goal of owner Rene Liebl: to secure regional production in Gebesee by decoupling the order flow from personnel and allowing short-term orders to be realized regardless of personnel availability.

Before automation…

and even today, the strongly fluctuating demand is at the heart of day-to-day business. A predictable order intake often does not correspond to reality. Customers expect delivery within a few days or even directly after the weekend – especially for urgent requests. For requests with short delivery times, there were simply no operators available to produce in the late or night shift.

The solution…

consisted of a CNC automation that works even when the operators have already finished work. A vertical MAZAK machining center of the type VCN-530C was to be fed. The processing machine was retrofitted with a robot interface and two pneumatic clamping devices. The clamping device is controlled by the robot control system, which minimized the costs of the conversion. To further increase the autonomous running time, the SherpaLoader® was also equipped with a regripping station, which means that the front and back can be processed in one pass.

A SpaceBox serves as material storage, which can accommodate over 400 raw parts measuring 60 x 100 x 35 mm, enabling an autonomous running time of more than 60 hours.

Without additional shift allowances, a robot now processes rush orders at night or series production at weekends so that the parts are ready for delivery the next working day.

The relief for operators is not only achieved by eliminating night shifts, but also by making order preparation easier. The picking of blank parts is no longer carried out by machine operators, but by warehouse workers. By decoupling logistics and production, material preparation now takes place in the warehouse, rather than in front of the machine tool as it used to be.

The secret behind productivity lies less in speed than in the stability and continuity of the processes. While an operator can only work one shift, a robot can work up to three shifts – without breaks and at a constant speed. With suitable jobs, the robot can be used for more than 100 hours per week.

Rene Liebl, owner:

“Qualified machine operators are rare at the Gebesee site. An increase in delivery reliability can therefore only be achieved with the support of a robot. We simply cannot afford not to automate CNC machines!”