Heller Celebrates 30th Year With New Machines, Technology
By Sarah A. Webster
Editor in Chief
Heller Machine Tools marked its 30th year in the US with an open house at its Troy, MI, plant last week, where it promoted the launch of its MC Series of horizontal machining centers (HMCs) and a new technology for making lightweight auto engines more robust.
The mood was upbeat and celebratory, with customers milling about at bars and talking excitedly about new growth opportunities.
The US unit of Germany-based Heller, which has been based in Metro Detroit since 1995, expects to double sales this year over 2011. Not only will that be a record for the unit, but it represents about a third of the global total for Heller, which specializes in designing and building high-precision flexible production systems for the powertrain operations of automotive and heavy-diesel industries. Major customers are GM, Ford and Chrysler as well as Caterpillar and John Deere.
The rapid growth has President and CEO Robert Pelachyk talking about expanding the 100,000-ft2 (9300-m2) facility in the next few years and increasing exports of its HMCs.
“We have all this land back here to grow,” Pelachyk said, gesturing to a large field at the rear of the existing factory.
More than 60% of the content of the systems produced at Heller’s Troy location are sourced in Michigan, supporting several thousand employees in 50 or more supplier companies.
The essence of the new MC Series HMCs is what Heller is known for: a robust machine design that provides the structural stiffness and high torque required for making the deepest cuts in the toughest material as well as the accuracy to finish machine the part. A specialty of Heller is the machining of compact graphite iron, a very hard material cast into large diesel engine blocks.
“The capacity of the MC Series machines to make roughing cuts all day long yet finish machine the same workpiece in the same fixture makes the line unique in the world of machining centers,” said Vince Trampus, Heller vice president. He also noted those features have a major positive impact on cost of ownership.
There are seven different sized Heller machining centers. The MC Series is equally suited to light-metal machining and heavy-duty machining, which includes many automotive components from suspension components to engine blocks and heads.
Heller put a special emphasis on its new MC20 machining module, which is designed for wet, dry or MQL machining, making the machine well-suited to machining a wide range of material, from aluminum to cast iron and steel. This is an important feature given the light-vehicle industry’s move to more lightweight materials such as aluminum.
One of the more exciting parts of the day involved learning about Heller’s new cylinder bore coating technology that is now being used by Daimler AG under the brand name of NANOSLIDE.
As the industry increases the use of lightweight materials in combustion engines to meet fuel economy standards, the quality of the cylinder surfaces has become an issue. Surface hardness, roughness and texture are determining factors for fuel consumption, as well as the durability and performance characteristics of the engine.
To date, many lightweight engine blocks use cylinder liners. But Heller is working with Daimler AG and other partners to develop this technology that uses a twin-wire arc spraying process to continually melt iron/carbon wires and spray them onto the cylinder surfaces of the aluminum crankcase with the help of a nitrogen gas flow. The technology is said to be extremely cost-effective and technologically superior.
Engines using the NANOSLIDE technology are superior in terms of displacement and torque[I can see how torque might benefit, but I don’t know about displacement], especially when compared to similar aspirated engines incorporating conventional lining technology.
It’s exciting to think of all the new technologies that will be developed as the industry moves toward more lightweight materials and designs – but it’s even more exciting to think about all the new growth these developments will generate.
Contact Sarah A. Webster at firstname.lastname@example.org.