Large-scale potential

Berhalter invests in a five-axis large-scale machining center to expand its range of services

Based in Rheintal, Switzerland, Berhalter AG is an innovative company in every sense of the word. Not only is it the global market leader in flatbed punching machine technology, it has also seen great success as a manufacturing service provider. And with the investment in a Starrag STC 1250, this business segment is hoping for larger orders – literally.

Berhalter flatbed punching machines, which are used in numerous stamping plants, printing shops and food manufacturers, are known and loved far beyond the Swiss borders. They are used to produce lids, films and labels for bottles and beverage containers, pharmaceutical products, detergents and animal food in billions of units per year.

“This investment was the right step to achieve the goal we set and add value for us and our customers.” Patrick Berhalter, CEO

CEO Patrick Berhalter is proud of his employees, who have provided innovative ideas and demonstrated a huge commitment to ensuring the company remains a global market leader for its punching machines: “Stamping technology has played an important role in our company for more than 45 years. We have continuously developed our machines and increased the benefits for our customers.” Berhalter machines are the fastest on the market – in particular, the new Swiss Die-Cutter™ B6, which handles up to 500 strokes per minute to ensure an output of up to 390,000 lids per hour with a 16-up tool, all completely automated in 24-hour operation. Patrick Berhalter describes: “We can punch, deep-draw, emboss, deboss, score and laser on a single machine – none of our competitors can do that. Plus, we guarantee top quality of the products produced.”

“tec-spiration” – the second pillar

Berhalter reached a milestone in 2014, when management decided to restructure the company. Less successful areas such as injection moulding were closed, and today the company's focus is on the die-cutting business and the newly created “tec-spiration” business segment. Tec-spiration stands for the combination of technology and inspiration, as business unit manager Fredi Hasler explains: “We are a manufacturing service provider that goes beyond simply processing orders according to the drawings. We work in partnership with our customers, incorporating our own ideas into the process.” Anton Bischofberger, Head of Sales tec-spiration, added: “It is our 50 years of manufacturing expertise, our modern machine pool and our innovative strength that wins customers over. These strengths help us in our constant pursuit to create decisive added value for the customer.”

Over the past six years, tec-spiration sales have grown continuously, mainly due to the increase in new customers. In the meantime, only 25% of the capacity is used for internal tasks – e.g. for the production of punching machine components. Three-quarters of all orders come from external customers from the aerospace, automotive, power generation and mechanical engineering industries.

Patrick Berhalter, CEO

“We can punch, deep-draw, emboss, deboss, score and laser on a single machine – none of our competitors can do that. Plus, we guarantee top quality of the products produced.”

The aerospace industry in particular was driving growth until the beginning of 2020. “We have been certified for aviation since 2017, which has opened the doors for some well-known companies and led to interesting, demanding orders,” says Fredi Hasler. And then the coronavirus pandemic hit. But according to Bischofberger, the crisis did not hit Berhalter AG quite as hard as others. “We have even continued to receive orders from the aerospace sector during this period. This is probably because we don't tend to supply conventional aerospace companies, and instead manufacture rocket and satellite parts, as well as components for helicopters and drones.”

Five-axis large-scale machining center opens new doors

The head of the Hasler business unit is confident that tec-spiration will continue to grow thanks to a number of recent changes, including the investment in a Starrag STC 1250. The large parts machining center outperformed several competitors and Starrag was able to make an unbeatable offer with a refurbished machine that had been brought up to the standard of a new machine. 

Patrick Berhalter (left), CEO of Berhalter AG, Fredi Hasler (center), Managing Director tec-spiration, and Head of Sales Anton Bischofberger all agree that “the Starrag STC 1250 is not only ideal for aviation parts. We also like to use them for complex mechanical engineering and pump parts made of stainless steel.”

Berhalter finally put the refurbished STC 1250 into operation in May 2020. Hasler argues: “This five-axis machine greatly expands our capabilities, since it is designed for the processing of steel, titanium, corrosion-resistant steels 
and special materials such as Hastelloy and Inconel etc. With its travel paths of 87 × 63 × 83 in. (2,200 × 1,600 × 2,100 mm) in X, Y and Z, it opens up a range of components that, to my knowledge, no other service provider can offer in our region.” Starrag developed the STC series for the economical processing of demanding structural components, multiblades and casings with long cycle times. Their excellent static and dynamic properties as well as the tried-and-tested swivel head set the benchmark for simultaneous five-axis heavy-duty cutting, which is not just a necessity for the aviation and energy production industries. “Of course, it was our range of parts from the aviation sector that led us to the STC 1250,” says Fredi Hasler. “But we also use them for challenging machine and pump parts made of stainless steel, for example, which require high stability for cutting large holes. And we love that we have the option of multiple clamping for small parts.”

“We always need position accuracy to one hundredth of a millimeter – and we can achieve this within the full travel range on the STC.” Patrick Berhalter, CEO

Impressive performance

The tec-spiration team was particularly concerned about the quality of the machining center, which has a robust machine design and thus offers stable, low-vibration machining processes, precise machining and high productivity. “Starrag has an excellent reputation for this, which our work results can attest to,” says Head of Sales Bischofberger. And he is a good judge of that. After all, like Fredi Hasler, he has years of experience in machine tools and worked as a production manager earlier in his career. Bischofberger gives an example: “We always need position accuracy to one hundredth of a millimeter – and we can achieve this within the full travel range on the STC.”

The improved five-axis capability of the Starrag STC 1250 also puts it ahead of the large machining center previously installed at Berhalter. In addition to the three dynamic linear axes, the CNC rotary table acts as the fourth simultaneous axis. It has a high-torque, a high-damping drive and can be clamped hydraulically. The swivel head is the simultaneously controlled fifth CNC axis. Thanks to the robust screw drive and the stable roller bearing on both sides, it is particularly suitable for heavy-duty cutting. Another advantage over the previous machine is the two-pallet changeover contact, which enables set-up during the machining time – something that was previously not possible. “This is a crucial feature,” says Fredi Hasler, “as it allows us to keep the machine running permanently and also feed it with long-running five-axis parts or use multiple clamping during slim-manned shifts. The higher capacity utilization allows us to reduce machine costs significantly.” In order to meet the increased tool requirements, the STC 1250 installed at Berhalter is equipped with a tower magazine with 240 places. All in all, Hasler and Bischofberger are certain that the Starrag STC 1250 will be a long-term success. “This investment was the right step to achieve the goal we set and add value for us and our customers.” 

TecTalk Episode 1

Berhalter AG - We connect ideas with humans

The family-owned company in the mechanical engineering and toolmaking sector recently invested in a Starrag STC 1250, a state-of-the-art 5-axis horizontal machining center. Patrick Berhalter, CEO of the company, will take you on an exciting tour of the company.