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SEP 2018

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International Perspective 28 MoldMaking Technology —— SEPTEMBER 2018 By Barbara Schulz Standardized, Automated Processes Facilitate the Leap to Industrial Moldmaking Germany-based moldmaker Hofmann successfully made the leap to industrial tool and moldmaking and capitalized on the possibilities that automation and standardization offer. F rom humble beginnings in 1958, Hofmann Innovation Group (which now operates under the brands Hofmann, Ihre Impulsgeber and Hofmann, and Ihr Möglichmacher and which is based in Lichtenfels, Germany), has developed into one of the most renowned companies in the plastic processing industry. With distinct simulations and consistent part optimiza- tion, Hofmann designs and produces molds for the automotive, home appliances, medi- cal, packaging and electronics sector. Around 400 employees and partners in Spain, China and Turkey generate a turnover of 56 million euros (as of 2016). Managing Director Stefan Hofmann says that the key to success is automation and standardization throughout the entire manu- facturing chain. He took up the reins of the family business in January 2018 from his father Günter Hofmann. More than 10 years ago, Hofmann reacted to pressure from low-wage coun- tries by turning to automation and standardization in an effort to cap costs. But, low-cost countries have not been the only sources of pressure. The market demands high flexibility, components are becoming ever more complex, and there is increasing pressure on manufacturers, including mold shops, regarding prices. Additionally, a skills shortage poses a challenge, and of course consumers demand components of high quality but are largely unwilling to pay a higher price. Therefore, even small and medium-sized enterprises, and perhaps even espe- cially small and medium-sized enterprises, need to address the issue of automation. Images courtesy of Susanne Schroeder. Hofmann's automated milling line includes four Hermle C42U machines, a washing and measuring station, 60 pallets and space for 400 tools. According to Hofmann, the cell is as efficient as 10 stand-alone machines. Addressing Automation Is a Must for SMEs But the topic of automation is diverse, ranging from zero- point clamping systems on milling centers with pallet chang- ers to linked, fully automated manufacturing cells. Multiple clamping is the most basic type of automation. In a next step, for example, parts can be provided on a pallet in front of the machine, and the pallets can be changed either manu- ally or automatically. The final step could be to link multiple machines through a handling system or robots, and this is what Hofmann has selected. The company started with its EDM department, which, according to Hofmann, was the ideal place to launch the first automation project in his mold shop. "We started our first automation efforts in our EDM department," he says. "Because electrode milling and EDM are time-consuming processes,

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