A Hobby Turns into a Growing Business

June 17, 2021
An industrial foreman started turning parts in his garage, and now he’s the managing director of a precision machining business. "Turning is my life," he explained.

Edelstahl WM GmbH set up new workshop last year in Wiesenfelden, Germany, with turning, milling, welding, and grinding capabilities, right through to measuring. A new WFL Millturn M35 turning-milling center is the latest addition, strengthening the business’ focus on complex parts and help it to win more new orders.

It all started in May 2011. Seeking an outlet from his regular work, Waldemar Maul acquired a turning machine and started making parts in his garage, in Kelheim. Not long afterward, Waldemar’s hobby became a second job -- a one-man shop. Applying his training as an industrial mechanic specializing in industrial engineering, Maul picked up customers from his full-time job as an industrial foreman at a gear and pump workshop. Some of the turning and milling work was outsourced by the customer, and this allowed him to develop a specialty in manufacturing high-quality, stainless steel products.

What Maul started in 2012 led to increased sales in 2013 and 2014. "We were able to impress our customers very quickly with our high-quality work and by always meeting deadlines. This enabled us to establish strong customer relationships," according to his wife, Anna. Soon, the business was incorporated.

In December 2014, a workshop space was rented in Kelheim. In February 2015, the business moved from Maul's private garage to a larger, production workshop he rented. And the managing director decided to give up his main job and devote all his effort to Edelstahl WM GmbH.

More new machines followed in the subsequent years, as the workshop was equipped with more machines and specialty tools. In September 2016, the first turning-milling center was acquired, with a turning length of 1500 mm, as Maul aimed to increase the quality and accuracy of the manufactured parts. "We were then able to meet customer requirements to a greater extent, as well as to expand the order volume due to the broader production spectrum for turning and milling,” he recalled. “Setting up an inspection room allowed us to further increase the accuracy of the manufactured parts."

Then, in late April 2020 Edelstahl WM GmbH moved into the newly built workshop in Wiesenfelden, where the managing director is responsible for the entire technical operation, including production. Another employee provides him with support, and there are plans to train a cutting machine operator this year. Anna Maul handles the commercial aspects of the business, including order processing, financial accounting and human resources.

Edelstahl WM GmbH has specialized at producing individual and prototype parts through to small series runs from the very beginning, using high-quality, select materials. "The parts we produce are characterised by exceedingly high quality and 100% precision,” Maul said. “We also support our customers with internal problem solving. This could include product or project-related suggestions for solutions and improvements, for example."

"Our customers operate in a wide range of markets, with the majority coming from the chemical, mechanical engineering, and medical technology sectors," Anna explained. Ninety-five percent of them are direct customers in the region who assemble the systems themselves.

Since 2011, the company has been producing parts in special alloys, such as V4A grades, duplex, super duplex, etc. "That's why we also opted for the WFL machine. I was looking for a powerful and robust machine on which I could process these materials," Waldemar Maul explained.

Asked how he came to specialize in highly complex parts, he said: "You learn a lot about materials when training to become a welding specialist, such as how and where to use materials and process them correctly. Often the wrong materials are chosen for certain environmental conditions and then everything rusts within a very short time. Thanks to my professional experience in a gearbox and pump factory, I also know what is important when installing and removing such parts. What is more, every time I come across challenging manufacturing tasks, it always spurs me on. That's why we've established a focus on complex components."

"Often we have orders involving special alloys,” he said, noting that such parts are “predestined” for the Millturn machine.

"My goal on this machine is to minimise the number of clamping operations so I can do multiple machining steps,” he reported. “This enables us to achieve higher quality as well as narrower component tolerances."

Due to the extensive range of equipment in the workshop, blanks can be cut to size in Edelstahl WM GmbH's own facility. Then, the parts are rough-turned or rough-milled and finally welded. Only the pickling of chromium-nickel steels is outsourced. After machining the parts by turning, milling and (flat) grinding, the workpieces are measured in the inspection room.

Order volumes of 100-300 pieces are typical, with parts being delivered in batches of 10 or 20. "Usually this ranges from one to ten, on average. That is the usual batch size," according to Anna Maul. There is hardly any mass production at Edelstahl WM GmbH.

So far, the strategy of Edelstahl WM GmbH has proven to be successful, and the specialization in small batch sizes and individual parts as well as the complexity and accuracy of the components will be further expanded by the investment in the Millturn.

A SolidCAM software subscription with a 5-axis program was purchased to assist with the programming. "For some orders, we could have done with having the machine sooner. The decisive factor in our decision to purchase the Millturn was investing in a machine that would improve our current production processes and take us forward strategically," Waldemar Maul said.

At Edelstahl WM, most of the parts manufactured are produced by the managing director himself. However, the goal is to hire staff or train machining technicians; Due to the special orders and complex workpieces, it is difficult to find suitable personnel. "We want to train employees to the point where they can do the work on their own. Unfortunately, applicants are often put off by the complexity of the components and the required precision," explained Anna Maul.

Waldemar Maul knows what is important in his business. As a foreman in a gear and pump workshop, he himself disassembled, overhauled, and reassembled pumps and gearboxes. This is of particular benefit to him in his work today. "If I can see the drawings and know where it's going to be installed, I'm already at a distinct advantage."

Customer loyalty confirms this. Precise, high-quality work and support when manufacturing parts are of the highest importance at Edelstahl WM. "We want to understand exactly what the customer does in order to deliver the quality they need,” according to Anna Maul. “We are in constant communication. We come up with suggestions for improvement and develop solutions together."