DIALOGUE WITH Henniges Automotive
HENNIGES, based in Rehburg-Loccum, is a leading global supplier of highly engineered automotive sealing and anti-vibration solutions.
MR ATAR, HOW LONG HAS THE TOPIC OF AUTOMATION PLAYED A ROLE AT HENNIGES AND WHAT ARE THE REASONS FOR THIS?
At Henniges, we have been involved with the topic of automation for more than 30 years. The trigger was CIP, the continuous improvement process, which was started in the automotive industry in Germany in the 1990s. At that point in time, I was part of a CIP team, serving as head of the department, and I was fascinated by the impact small, even tiny, improvements had on productivity and yield. The top objective of automation at Henniges is site and job security. From a business perspective, we are supported by the consideration and analysis of what the production costs are to produce the corresponding components. Of course, we also automate for reasons of ergonomics, but since we’re often in competition with low-wage countries, the focus is on cost-efficient production with unchanged levels of quality and higher output. Fully automated production secures our site. It makes it possible for us to fill high-volume orders for our customers.
HOW SHOULD I PICTURE THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS FOR FINDING THE RIGHT PARTNER FOR THIS SCALE OF AUTOMATION PLANNING?
My core business includes relaunches and process engineering, from costing and project engineering all the way to the start of series production. In these stages I develop various ideas which are sometimes quite extraordinary and from case to case may appear to be especially difficult. And because connecting automation, tool, cold runner and machine in a way that is harmonious and reliable is a great challenge in and of itself, we look for ONE solution provider that can present a logical overall concept. Carrying out projects of this kind with different manufacturers and/or contact partners is not an option for us.
WHAT PREVENTS YOU FROM ATTEMPTING AN AUTOMATION SOLUTION WITH SEVERAL PERSONS RESPONSIBLE?
The difficulty often lies in finding the person who will take charge and feel accountable when a problem arises. The tool maker will say it’s the cold runner supplier’s problem, who in turn blames the machine controller, and on it goes. Way too much time is lost before the actual problem gets solved. But the real problems don’t start until you begin series production. During the acceptance, everything works without any trouble for maybe 2 – 3 hours, but then you start operating in entire shifts and things really get down to the nitty-gritty. When you have several partners in a running operation, you first have to get them all to the table. That itself is hard enough in terms of scheduling. And then passing the buck back and forth starts all over again. Our quality management therefore decided at a very early stage to rely on one partner – and we’ve found such a one in DESMA.
HOW DO YOU ARRIVE AT AN AUTOMATION SOLUTION?
The steps to this end always follow a very similar course. First, naturally, we receive the corresponding request from the customer. This is discussed within our core team, which consists of one staff member each from Equipment Design, Tool Design and Process Engineering. Our experiences and the findings of a completed feasibility study are used to make the so-called rough quote. If the customer accepts this, the customer then proposes us for the trial order. With this proposal, which by the way is a strong indication that we will also get the series order, we request the final quotation from our partner and make the trial tool. This has the same geometry as the series tool, but only has one cavity. This allows us to consolidate experiences, which then flow into the final development of the series tool. For this, we conduct design meetings, etc. in Fridingen, discuss the specifications and keep our customer continuously updated as to how the project is progressing. When the trial part is accepted, we can begin series production. The costs for producing the tools are borne by the customer. We take care of the automation costs.
WHAT MAKES THESE AUTOMATION SOLUTIONS SPECIAL?
When it comes to automation, Henniges has always been quite far ahead of things. With these solutions, however, we’ve ushered in a new era and set a truly major milestone!
Together with DESMA, we’ve succeeded in producing articles on the systems in a way that is marketable. This means that these articles no longer have to be reworked. They are produced, packaged ready for shipment and delivered to the customer. Quality control is now completely in the hands of the machine. In the beginning, the articles needed to be reworked manually, e.g. in order to remove the flight groove or for cold deburring of the parts. But these extensive work steps are now done away with completely, making us and our site even more competitive.
THAT SOUNDS IMPRESSIVE. HOW DID YOU MANAGE THAT?
The first thing you have to know is that, in the case of this one component, for instance, these are spring pads. They are used between the spring and body for vibration protection and the absorption of noise. A 24-cavity tool is needed to produce them. This is no small task and, based on my past experience, I was of the opinion that in order to achieve uniform filling in all 24 cavities, 24 cavity pressure sensors would be needed. But this would have made the solution too expensive. However, with the help of the intelligent controller of the FlowControl cold runner, we were able to leave out the sensor system and obtained a flawless end product suitable for immediate sale.
We benefit threefold from this solution: on the one hand as a result of not having to do any reworking and on the other hand as a result of increased material efficiency – less waste is produced. And last of all, we are considerably faster as a result of the applied process. If we had built this system in the conventional manner, we would have needed 1.5 systems, theoretically speaking, to achieve the desired output. However, this system is designed for 24/7 operation, it monitors itself, saves manpower and, as a result of its continuity, has a major influence on quality. Let me say it again: these are all facts that make up for site-specific disadvantages and that allow us to produce with an absolute competitive edge.
ARE THERE ANY FURTHER ADVANTAGES AS A RESULT OF AUTOMATION?
Regardless of the business aspects, a modern, in part fully automated machine park is, of course, much more appealing, also and most importantly to younger people. It helps us in our search for talented people who want to rise to new challenges, and our existing employees are glad to have increased relief in their work, elements of which require a lot of effort.
WHAT’S NEXT? ARE THERE ANY FURTHER AUTOMATION PROJECTS?
Based on the experiences we made with the complete automation of the two systems, it was resolved to short-list further projects for similar plans. These are currently in the project engineering phase. Things to look forward to.
WHAT ABOUT THE INTEGRATION OF YOUR MACHINES IN THE SMARTCONNECT 4.U NETWORK?
Our machines are all connected so that our staff in charge can get information on the machine status at any time. We intentionally opted for this solution. The big advantage of a connected machine park is obvious: added flexibility. When my customer wants to know something in particular, I can log directly into the machine and show it to the customer. No matter where I am at the time, from any location in the world. And if I, or my co-workers, encounter problems with the machines that we can’t fix ourselves, DESMA simply logs into the machine and can offer immediate support so that the machine is up and running again fast. This is a 24-hour round-the-clock service. What more could you want?
IN CLOSING, PLEASE DESCRIBE WHAT MAKES WORKING TOGETHER WITH DESMA SPECIAL?
It’s like I always say: Innovation arises in the dialogue. We learn from the machine manufacturer; the machine manufacturer learns from us. This only works if you trust each other and if mutual learning is also accepted. With DESMA, we have a partner who always gives us the opportunity to improve things – also, and most importantly, in the short term. That’s what distinguishes a strong partner.