Universal Milling Centers Large-Scale, Single-Line Production

Sept. 8, 2022
An Ecomill travelling column machine replaced two machining centers for a construction machinery builder, saving valuable space and work hours, and significantly increased productivity.

Komatsu Germany GmbH is a Hanover-based manufacturer of wheel bearings and mobile excavators for construction machinery, and a subsidiary of Japan’s Komatsu Group. According to managing director Ingo Büscher, while the Covid-19 pandemic had an obvious effect on European demand for construction machinery, lately there has been a rebound. “This year has been marked by a substantial growth of roughly 70 percent, which more than compensates for the previously experienced decline,” according to Büscher.

Several aspects have had an influence on this positive development. For a start, Komatsu Germany produces premium vehicles that meet the highest standards. “The market is aware of that,” Büscher stated. Another factor is that the operation in Hanover is no longer focusing only on earthmoving machinery but has rather been expanding its lines of business to include other industrial applications, such as waste management, steel production, port handling etc.

Büscher also related that Komatsu Germany strives to work with buyers to deliver customized, high-quality products – on time.

“Our customers cannot wait indefinitely for their wheel bearings and mobile excavators to be delivered. They need them as soon as possible. Our internal processes allow us to manufacture and deliver a customized construction machine within four weeks after receiving the order,” the managing director explained.

Replacing two machining centers

In March 2021, Komatsu Germany integrated an EMCO Mecof Ecomill travelling column milling machine into its mechanical production. Designed for pendulum machining of components with weights of up to 20 tons, the machine replaced two older machining centers. While the new machine does save a lot of space, there are two factors that are even more important to Ingo Büscher: the newly gained flexibility and productivity.

“We really wanted to implement single-line production, which means that once they have been welded, several of our construction vehicles’ main components (such as shovels, excavator arms, or front and rear frames) will be conveyed into one central machining center. This center must be able to mill different assembly bolt fits into all of these components, regardless of their sizes and of whether they are intended for a wheel bearing or for a mobile excavator.

“EMCO Mecof’s Ecomill makes it possible for us to master this challenge,” Büscher said.

However, arriving at the current solution was not easy. Repeated adjustments of the standard machine concept were required. One of many challenges involved full digital integration into the production management. More than that, it was clear that there was only one area available to install the machining center, which implied the exact calculation and implementation of the installation site’s statistics.

Milling time cut from 45 to 17 minutes

Only a few changes had to be made to the highlight of the Ecomill, a flexible and infinitely variable universal milling head with A- and B-axes able to perform highly precise horizontal and vertical tasks, according to Uwe Urban, EMCO’s sales manager for large-scale machinery:

“The mechanical design of our compact milling head makes it possible to use relatively short tools, which in turn results in ideal power transmission and high stability,” he said.

The universal milling head comes with pneumatic oil lubrication, a water-cooling system, and automatic positioning to the nearest thousandth of a degree. “These innovations allow us to achieve increased precision and productivity with regard to the workpieces,” Urban explained.

This was confirmed by Matthias Henning, Komatsu Germany production manager, who asserts that the productivity gain on the basis of H8 fits with a diameter of more than 100 mm, which have to be milled into several types of shovels on a regular basis.

“It took the old machine a total of 45 minutes to complete the milling process,” Henning said. “The Ecomill, however, can do that in only 17 minutes.”

The travelling column machine also reduces downtime. While a component is being machined on one side of the machine, the machine operator prepares the next component on the other side.

All the operator needs to do then is select the matching program on the CNC and press the start button. After that, he will keep an eye on the machining process while at the same time setting up a new component. Today, it takes only one employee to execute all of these steps.

“In the past, we would need three skilled workers on two machines to complete these tasks,” Henning recalled. Today, he is glad that he has two more employees to assign to other tasks, as needed to address customers’ increasing interest in Komatsu Germany.