Working hard to create a secure future
While the lockdown in Italy saw many companies struggle, a traditional foundry in Lombardy used the involuntary break in production to establish a mechanical manufacturing facility. In future, the rough cast parts will no longer need to leave the factory to be finished – instead, they will be finished on-site using two Heckert machining centres. Thanks to intensive support from Starrag, the company was able to take the next step towards becoming a system supplier without any significant delays, despite the pandemic.
A company’s choice of pictures can often tell you something about the company itself – and this is also the case in Bedizzole, not far from Lake Garda. In the conference room of Industria Metalli, there is a picture titled “Obiettivi” (goals). The picture shows a hiker standing on a mountain top, gazing at a far-off mountain range. The caption also sounds exciting: “Look to the future and then look even further ahead.”
While hikers can simply enjoy the view, looking ahead is vital for companies such as Industria Metalli as its customers come from the automotive sector – one of the most demanding industries. The company specialises in vehicle components, from supports and brackets through to all manner of housings. With a high level of vertical integration, each year the factory produces more than five million cast aluminium parts for 160 customers around the world using 8,000 tons of secondary aluminium. The medium-sized company from Lombardy generates 40% of its turnover from the automotive industry, around 30% from commercial vehicle manufacturers and around another 30% from agricultural technology companies.
The first step is the melting process, which heats the secondary aluminium up to the ideal processing temperature of 700° C, ready for the die-casting presses.
Fausto Becchetti, Industria Metalli
“At the same time, we can also achieve top quality”.
Learning from the automotive industry
During the tour of the large factory premises, Mr Fausto Becchetti, Managing Director and co-owner, explains to us that he learned a lot from his previous work on the automotive sector management team at ABB and the process-oriented thinking that this required: The factory is divided into three production cells and follows similar principles. All of the production areas are connected digitally via a manufacturing execution system which controls the entire manufacturing process in real time. Every production step is carried out in accordance with Toyota’s Poka-Yoke principle, which detects and prevents faults. It is supported by a production-oriented and seamless quality assurance system, which is based on the strict requirements of IATF 16949 (International Automotive Task Force).
“Although many components have hard-to-reach areas such as holes or pockets, the processing time has been reduced by several seconds per clamping surface compared to that offered by our service provider, as we can run at significantly higher cutting speeds.”
Fausto Becchetti, Managing Director Industria Metalli
In the factory, the former ABB manager proudly points to one of the four gas-operated furnaces in the first production cell. “The aluminium immediately reaches the ideal processing temperature of 700° C, at which point it becomes fluid”, explains Becchetti. “The next steps are degassing and transport”. In the meantime, the manufacturing execution system fully automatically organises just-in-time transport and assigns a driver via the digital network. The forklift truck is located nearby and features a tablet that informs the driver which furnace to collect the crucible from and which of the 16 robot-assisted high-pressure die-casting presses in the second production cell is waiting for the liquid aluminium.
Outsourcing slows down the flow of materials
Like most firms in the industry, the company has so far relied on outsourcing: After the die casting process, the components have a near-net shape and therefore have to be taken to a nearby workshop to be finished. Outsourcing leads to an increase in logistical considerations and cost, while quality decreases. For example, small air pockets known as blowholes can occur in cast parts, but these are often not detected during X-rays and are only picked up during final machining. The late detection of these blowholes by external companies results in significant delays to the production process and increases the cost enormously: There is no immediate quality check after high-pressure die-casting on the machine tool. The result: The process chain becomes slower and the part has to be melted down and poured again. These bottlenecks were a thorn in the former manager’s side.
Fausto Becchetti, Industria Metalli
“Even at 20,000 revolutions per minute, the diamond doesn’t break when it hits a blowhole.”
The turning point came with the arrival of a new project manager, who had worked as a machining specialist in the automotive industry and who recommended purchasing a five-axis Heckert X40 and a four-axis Heckert H40 to assist the establishment of a mechanical manufacturing facility. “We ordered the two machining centres in autumn 2019”, explains Becchetti. “Despite the lockdown, we decided to go through with setting up a mechanical manufacturing facility as it is an investment in the future – even though there was no market for our products in the spring”.
Support from Chemnitz
Dipl.-Ing. Thomas Kässner was involved in the process right from the start: The Heckert Sales Manager speaks fluent Italian and also helped with commissioning during the lockdown period, which took place almost without any delays thanks to direct contact with the Starrag plant in Chemnitz. The company decided in favour of the two machining centres because of their robust design, greater swarf removal, continuous precision and the technological performance buffer. All the frame assemblies are deliberately rigid, from the machine bed, column and table to the rotary swivelling unit. “I am particularly pleased about the high and consistent machine rigidity as we use diamond tools to finish the die-cast parts”, says the project manager, clearly satisfied with the machining centres. “Even at 20,000 revolutions per minute, the diamond doesn’t break when it hits a blowhole”.
“By establishing a mechanical manufacturing facility and incorporating it into our production system, our opportunities to progress to tier one, to become a system supplier, have increased significantly.”
Fausto Becchetti, Managing Director Industria Metalli
An intelligent partnership: diamond tools and wet machining
Minimal-volume lubrication or dry machining is generally not an option when machining aluminium components. The Italian company uses an electronically controlled coolant supply, which ensures the temperature stabilisation of the workpiece and the tool, amongst much more. “Without effective wet machining, it would be impossible to achieve optimum swarf removal”, adds the project manager. The removal of the swarf is the linchpin of a clean and rapid process, as aluminium swarf will otherwise easily stick to the diamond and scratch or impair the cast component. The machining expert is particularly pleased with the quality and the very fast processing time. “Although many components have hard-to-reach areas such as holes or pockets, the processing time has been reduced by several seconds per clamping surface compared to that offered by our service provider, as we can run at significantly higher cutting speeds”, Becchetti reports. “At the same time, we can also achieve top quality”. The two Heckert machines are able to achieve a surface roughness (Ra) of 20 µm, meaning that no further processing is required.
The effort was worthwhile: Industria Metalli has begun processing simple housings for oil filters. The company is already machining one in ten of its components in its new production cell. “I am optimistic that we will soon be able to finish more products using the Heckert machining centres and that, thanks to the in-house mechanical manufacturing facility, we will also receive orders for completely new components”, states Becchetti optimistically. “Automation is now the next step”. However, the benefits are obvious, even without this integration: Industria Metalli has considerably increased the proportion of value added for its components – and with better margins too.
The boss is already looking to future, but what are his long-term strategic plans? “By establishing a mechanical manufacturing facility and incorporating it into our production system, our opportunities to progress to tier one, to become a system supplier, have increased significantly”, explains the Managing Director. “Our products are now significantly more competitive in comparison to those from many of our competitors, who do not have in-house machining. The two Heckert machining centres represent the first milestone in our journey”.