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United Grinding Hosts Worldwide Audience at Grinding Symposium 2019

Bruce Morey
By Bruce Morey Senior Technical Editor, SME Media

The Grinding Symposium 2019 hosted by the United Grinding Group attracted hundreds of journalists, customers, and other stakeholders from around the world. Held near its Studer subsidiary’s plant in Thun, Switzerland, the scenery of the Alps and a warm welcome was combined with a purpose: education. To educated novices on new technology, to educate the world new products and, in a new twist, for attendees to educate United Grinding. Here is a snapshot of some highlights.

The Company

United Grinding comprises eight different brand names. These are names that may be more familiar to users who focus only on specific types of grinding. The Mägerle, Blohm and Jung brands are the surface and profile grinding providers.

United Grinding premiered its surface and profile precision grinder the Mägerle MFP 30 at the event. (All images provided by United Grinding)

Studer, Schaudt and Mikrosa brands are cylindrical grinding. Finally, Walter and Ewag are tool grinding providers. United Grinding is also developing a new brand, United Grinding Digital Solutions, as the world of networks and data advance into Industry 4.0. Digital Solutions is intended to facilitate processes, avoid unplanned machine downtime, and use resources efficiently.

United Grinding Group, by its own account, is doing well in its business operations, reflecting what it says is high demand for products and services. Heinz Poklekowski, CFO, asserted that the company gained market share in the last few years. “2018 was our best in 100 years,” said CEO Stephen Nell. Worldwide, it reports about €700 million in sales. Perhaps reflecting the grinding business in general, about half of its installed base is in Europe, spread over 24 countries.

What is probably more important to any user, current or potential, is the amount of money the company invests in R&D – about €20 million. CEO Nell, said this is constant, whether sales are up or down. Poklekowski also said it invests a constant €15 million per year in capital expenditures, improving quality as well as operations.

The result? New products and enhancements to existing ones.

New Products

United Grinding showcased 15 different products, some new, some tried and true. Three are discussed in detail, one from each group, that United Grinding emphasized in its opening press conference.

In surface and profile grinding, the company premiered its Mägerle MFP 30. A compact five-axis grinding center, it was designed for grinding complex geometries. Like many grinding centers from the company, the emphasis is on productive operations for a specific set of parts that are high value and/or high volume. For the MFP 30, that means primarily smaller aircraft turbine blades.

It is the latest in the MFP series, which stands for Mägerle Flat Profile, joining the already established MFP 50/51 and MFP 100 grinding centers. “The aim was to keep the features of our MFP 50 series but discard those not needed for small aerospace parts, especially engine parts,” said a company spokesman. Other useful features for small, high-value parts manufacturing include large windows to make it easy for operators to see inside and easy manual loading. It also features hydrostatic guideways and preloaded ball screws.

The big news for the Studer S33 cylindrical grinder was its harmonized 400, 650, 1,000 and 1,600 mm distances between centers with both the S31 and the Favorit lines. It also dresses the wheel behind the work head for flexibility.

Like the other MFPs, it is a combination machining center that combines milling and drilling along with a measuring probe for quality or position checks. The company also said that the spindle is driven by enough power to combine grinding operations, such as creep feed grinding or grinding with CBN. As might be expected from a smaller machine, at 7.3 sq m it has a more compact footprint than its larger brethren. “This is the highest performing machine per square foot,” said CEO Nell in a separate briefing.

The small footprint also enables production flow, according to the company. The 30 means that the X-axis travels about 300 mm of X-direction travel. Optional is a two-axis or three-axis NC table. Although it boasts spindle speeds up to 12,000 rpm, the company states that full power and torque are available even at low spindle speeds. Integrated grinding wheel cleaning and the large table dressing unit provides flexibility and a clean grinding wheel for longer periods, according to the company. It can manage up to 1,000 different tools.

In cylindrical grinding, United Grinding showed the newer Studer S31 and S33 universal external cylindrical grinding machines. Both now have an extended X-axis stroke of 370 mm. Customers can choose between the turret wheelhead with continuously variable B-axis or a B-Axis with a 1-degree Hirth coupling. The greater work length enables a larger number of wheelhead variants tailored for specific requirements. One of the key features of the machines is that it now dresses the wheel behind the work head. This provides even more versatility, according to Phillipe Walter, head of key projects for Studer.

Getting to the phenomenal accuracies that grinding can achieve means producing machines that are thermally stable. “Temperature control is important for accuracy,” explained Hans Ueltschi, vice president of the cylindrical division for United Grinding North America Inc., Miamisburg, Ohio, in a separate discussion. He noted that much of the design effort centers on achieving thermally stable machines, components, coolants, and coolant delivery systems, such as mist systems. “These all tie together to make a stable machine,” said Ueltschi. These features are shown in the S31. Studer made the machine’s bed from solid Granitan S103 to provide thermal stability. According to the company, the mineral casting equalizes short-term variations in temperature. It also redesigned the machine base geometry and added additional base temperature controls.

As announced earlier in 2019, both machines now boast four distances between centers of 400, 650,1000 and 1600 mm, sharing the same center distances with the Studer Favorit grinding center as well. “This announcement [of these grinding centers] harmonizes our product line,” explained Phillipe Walter. “Before our customers had to jump from one machine to another. That was not good for them.” The S31 is equipped with a Fanuc 0i-TF and is optionally available with the Fanuc 31i-B for High Speed Machining (HSM).

Finally, in tool grinding, two products were showcased together, the Walter Helitronic Power 400 and its sister machine, the Walter Helitronic Power Diamond 400. Although the Walter Helitronic Power 400 was announced as new at Grindtech in 2018, and a first delivery to a customer was in February 2019, according to Alexander Claus, sales manager for EWAG, it is included here because it shows some of the trends in tool making.

The Walter Helitronic Power 400 tool grinder.

First is the increase in size, with the Power 400 now able to accommodate tools up to 380 mm in length and up to 20 kg in weight while still grinding to 2 µm accuracy. They both feature completely new bodies for higher rigidity and provide slightly higher power of 26 kW each. The company also emphasized that the standard C-axis of both machines now use worm drives.

Walter also noted that both Helitronic machines can be automated with a top loader for up to 500 tools, a robot loader for up to 7,500 tools or the robot loader 25. The robot loader 25, which has a carrying capacity of 25 kg including grippers, was previously only available as an option for Helitronic Vision machines.

As mentioned above, controlling thermal stability is a must. Walter adapted pneumatically driven steady rests and tailstocks from its own Helitronic Vision series. These absorb less heat than oil-driven hydraulics, according to the company. It also said that pneumatics require less maintenance and cleaning.

Just as important was a combined demonstration of creating a tool and then checking its metrology using one of the company’s own measuring devices, the Helichek 3D CNC. Checking high-precision tools is just as important as making them, according to the company. The Helichek features both 2D profile cameras and a 3D laser scanner. The company uses its own software to convert those measurements of the just-made-tool into a CAD a model in just a few minutes. “That speed is important because the manufacturer can determine rather quickly if its process is under control,” said a company spokesman while demonstrating the combined system during the conference.

This emphasis on data collection and measurement ties into another key trend worth mention – United Grinding’s investment in smart factory technology.

Digital Solutions Too

Since 2017, the United Grinding group has been working in the Industry 4.0 arena with its United Grinding Digital Solutions. These services intend to “optimize and facilitate processes, as well as helping to avoid unplanned machine downtime and utilize resources efficiently,” according to the company.

Why is a company known for high-end and high-precision grinding machines getting into digitalization? While there will be no lessening of demand for ever more accurate grinding, other factors are growing in importance. According to Christoph Plüss, chief technology officer for United Grinding, key distinguishing features of modern machine tools will increasingly be more intuitive to operate and handle in the future. Not only will data collection and data processing let a company achieve better products, there is a generational issue to be addressed as well, according to him.

“Realistically, the increasing digitalization in the machine tool sector has little to do with the fourth industrial revolution. Developments in the private social environment as regards interaction with modern devices and systems – such as smartphones – are a clear expectation today,” he said in a speech given during the symposium. “The next generation takes for granted much of what [we] are still debating today.”

While those are goals for the long term, in the short-term United Grinding offers three specific services to help with digital data handling: Remote Service, Production Monitor, and Service Monitor.

Its Remote Service, according to the company, offers a comprehensive solution for optimal support of machines. Secure Internet connections enable expert support with one click. Plüss stressed the importance of the networking of machine, logistics, product and with an end-user’s business systems, such as ERP or SAP. The same language needs to be spoken. United Grinding uses the OPC UA (Open Platform Communication/Unified Architecture) to achieve this.

During its Symposium 2019, United Grinding sought out the opinions of users and stakeholders especially in the development of its Digital Solutions, a product first introduced in 2017.

The Production Monitor module provides a reliable 24/7 monitoring service. Runtimes and auxiliary times, quantities or malfunction times, for example, are shown in real time. End-users access the most important data from each machine directly by an app from their smart phones. In the event of a fault they can report it by service request straightaway to the respective United Grinding employee.

The Service Monitor indicates by way of a clear traffic light system when maintenance is due for all connected machines. End-users see in the Service Monitor when maintenance activities are required. Comprehensive information about each machine and the required tools, spare and wear parts as well as instructions are available, according to the company.

Expect to see more development of United Grinding’s Digital Solutions in the near-term. They, like many others, are catching the digital wave as a means to deliver more and stay competitive.

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