Look to five-axis machining. This Latin American leader in machining systems places money on new market growth. Reuben Ford describes an innovative approach.
Grob is a global leader in complex production and machining systems and the leading manufacturer in Latin America.
Products range from the universal machining to highly complex production systems with individual automation – from ancillary assembly machines to fully automated assembly lines.
Known for its four-axis tooling systems and turnkey projects for automotive giants, Grob intends to broaden its customer base via new five-axis machining centers.
“New technology enables production of complex, high-precision components, based on mathematical models requiring five-sided machining with compound angles,” relates Michael Bauer, president of Grob do Brasil.
Resulting products will open new markets (e.g., aeronautics and medical).
The German-based parent company’s second largest and fastest growing division, Grob do Brasil approaches 60 years in business. Sales reached a high in 2012. It has captured an automotive industry lion’s share and, in the process, became South America’s largest tooling supplier.
Grob do Brasil manufactures assembly automation and production systems for gear boxes and vehicle engines, supplying clients such as Ford, Volkswagen, General Motors and Peugeot.
Four-axis systems account for about 90 percent of revenue, but a new line of five-axis machines represent the remaining percentage (indicating an area of expansion). More than 90 percent of automobile producers purchase Grob machinery. But Bauer offers this observation: “We don’t want to depend on one industry.”
For Grob, market leadership and the past two years of 40-percent annual growth provided a comfort zone – but the company seeks to bust out of its own box.
Meanwhile, the company’s 28,000-square meter facility, located in São Paulo (an industrial capital), achieved record revenues of $156 million in 2012. Grob do Brasil achieved these impressive results despite the ups and downs of an erratic local economy.
The company was launched in Brazil in 1956 to satisfy demand for machine and tooling created by the automobile boom. Surviving challenges past to present, Grob developed the creativity and competence needed to expand into diverse sectors of the national automotive market.
A rich history proves Grob do Brasil more than well-equipped to conquer new markets. Indeed, the company is poised to take the next logical step. Bauer explains: “Multiple axis machines offer high stability and precise forms and flow profiles, which can be used for components across a range of industries.”
The strategy is already being implemented with the same determination and commitment that drove the company into a leading position in the automotive sector. For sure planned changes to the facility in São Paulo have been postponed to direct investment toward the technology and development of new machines.
Machines for the Future
The new line of five-axis machines, marketed under the names G350 and G550 have been in production since 2011. Recent market efforts produced excellent results: ten finished models have already been delivered and 19 are due for installation in 2013.
“Our sales have taken on a different format. As opposed to purchases made by automobile assembly plants, the new machining systems are sold individually – machine by machine,” Bauer continues.
Training comes into play. “While we firmly believe in new market potential, we also understand that to communicate the huge benefits and differentials of fix-axis machinery, we need to train clients,” says Bauer.
This led to workshops. The first – which included seminars and demonstrations – was offered in May 2012, to members of the aerospace, molds and forms, and dentistry industries.
The G350 and G550 five-axis universal machining centers with swiveling/rotary table technology ensure a high degree of flexibility, productivity, best accessibility and high stability. They also have the advantage over the swivel head machines. Angled surfaces need not be interpolated over two or even three axis. In one single fixture, equally sized work pieces can be machined with shorter linear axis. “Advanced software operates the automated production centers, which have pallet changing options ideal for changing component specifications,” Bauer says.
Remote machine maintenance and remote machine diagnostics enable the customer to have an optimal fault diagnostics service and the fastest possible maintenance and repair measures on its highperformance manufacturing equipment.
Grob is putting on the brakes after saturation of the automotive markets in Europe and the postponing of new projects. “We have significantly increased our production capacity, and recovered from the 2009 crisis, now we will focus on our quality and technology,” says Bauer.
Despite familiarity and expertise relating to the automotive industry’s twists and turns, Grob do Brasil seems to be making a smart maneuver by adding a new angle to its multifaceted market strategy. Sales of the G line centers have hit targets by doubling from 2012 to 2013 and the company is confident that numbers are rising. Grob’s machines reflect the company’s flexibility, and the focus on five-axis machining solutions is a bold and sensible step into the future.
Plans are already underway for the G750: a five-axis tooling system for the production of larger pieces. Like the other members of the standalone universal machining centers (the aforementioned G350 and G550), the G750 will have various applications in different industries.
“Five-axis tooling centers are the machines of the future,” Bauer asserts.
Forward thinking that chart future markets is a priority for Grob do Brasil. After all, Grob constantly improves its production methods, based upon its strong heritage of research and development related to optimal machining.
Look for further innovation to come in the form of various solutions for increased machine efficiency and energy optimization.
“European tooling processes minimize usage of coolant, which is expensive to dispose and potentially harmful to the environment,” Bauer explains. “We use a minimum quantity of lubrication system [MQL], which greatly reduces coolant consumption and tends toward the future.”
The MQL technology uses just one small reservoir that creates a mist of coolant and lubricates the machining systems, ensuring optimal process technology with the highest energy efficiency and minimum maintenance and disposal costs. “Ford and Volkswagen are already using these methods, “reveals Bauer.
At the EMO 2011 machine tool trade fair, Grob presented a completely hydraulic-free machining center as a worldwide innovation with numerous patent registrations. All axis and drives for tool and workpiece clampings take place via highly dynamic servomotors with high-precision gearboxes. The environmentally friendly technology uses no valves and is cleaner and safer.
While Grob do Brasil’s performance shows accelerated growth, Bauer modestly points out that “2013 is a year for consolidating achievements and controlling growth.”
The technology – and the company – marks another step toward the future of tooling.