Machine builder Krauss-Maffei Kunststofftechnik GmbH (Booth S2102) is coming to NPE confident that it is on course for a record-breaking year. And if that happens, no small part of the credit will be due to a consolidated systems approach that makes the most of the company's expertise in injection molding, extrusion, polyurethanes processing technologies and, increasingly, automation, molds and tooling.
Chief Executive Officer Josef MÃ¤rtl told journalists during the company's open house on May 10-11 that incoming orders for the first half of its 2005-06 business year had topped 300 million euros ($358.8 million) for the first time, reaching 305.6 million euros ($365.5 million). This is an increase of 8.9 percent over the same period in 2004-05.
Orders in the company's Extrusion Technology division jumped 50.5 percent to 59.3 million euros ($70.9 million) on the back of strong demand for pipe and profile lines in the ex-Soviet Union and Turkey, as well as for sheet lines for construction applications in the United States.
``We have had unbelievably high levels of request for sheet lines,'' said MÃ¤rtl. ``We expect it to stay high through 2006 and 2007.''
The Reaction Process Machinery division registered its first orders for tooling since it set up two new operations in April. Orders for injection machines showed modest growth, as did business overall in Asia.
Overall sales for the first half of the year were down, at 266.5 million euros ($318.7 million) against 276.6 million euros ($360.9 million) the same period a year ago. MÃ¤rtl attributed this to a bumper first half in the previous financial year and said he is confident that both sales and orders for the full year (which ends on Sept. 30) will show growth.
``The third quarter should be a big one,'' he said in an interview with Plastics News. ``We are a little behind on orders at the moment, because shipments of steel are late.''
MÃ¤rtl may take heart from the confidence shown in the company by its customers. Close to 4,000 came to look at a wide range of machines Krauss-Maffei had running during the open house and to listen to expert presentations - as well as to consume large amounts of free beer, pretzels and ice cream.
``High-technology applications are the main driving force in order growth,'' MÃ¤rtl said.
Numerous examples were on display: an extrusion line that can change the size of the pipe at the push of a button; an all-electric stamping press that can simultaneously trim and drill polyurethane moldings; integrated injection molding-compounding (IMC) equipment; polyurethane processing equipment that has induction-heated molds to slash cycle times; and a high-speed, low-noise all-electric injection machine.
Otto Urbanek, installed last September as Krauss-Maffei's chief technology officer and chief operating officer (he was earlier with rival Engel in a similar capacity), is putting a strong emphasis on costs. He has recently overseen the implementation of a new synchronized flow assembly system for the company's medium- and large-sized (900-1,800 tons of clamping force) MX injection machines, based on the system installed in May 2005 for the smaller CX machines. Urbanek said synchronized assembly - each step has to be carried out in a set time - has led to improvements in quality and speed of assembly, as well as cost reductions.
``We are 40-50 percent faster in delivery for standard CX machines,'' he said. ``We can push an order through in two weeks. And there is a significant gain in efficiency that I would not like to quantify. But it's a way that we can compensate for increasing material costs, labor costs.
Tooling, automation, expertise increasing
``We now have standardized processes, so we can build the same kind of complex machine that we always have, but more effectively. By splitting up the different activities and giving them time slots, we have made the process very transparent. I can go to the machine in the assembly hall at any time and know exactly if we are in time or not.
``If something goes wrong, it doesn't get fixed on the spot; the problem gets analyzed systematically and discussed so that it doesn't happen again. It's a complete change in the mind-set of our workers.''
Urbanek also said the company ``has some good ideas to bring costs down to a reasonable level for the EX range,'' but he would not elaborate beyond saying the machines are now being assembled in the same way as CX machines. MÃ¤rtl, while not providing numbers, said he was ``definitely not happy'' with sales of these machines, launched at K 2004 as a replacement for the even more expensive Eltec, launched only three years previously.
As the complexity of processing technologies increases, so too do the demands on tooling. That at least is one reason MÃ¤rtl gave for Krauss-Maffei's decision to set up two new technical centers in April, one making molds for polyurethanes using only high-speed milling machines, the other specializing in presses, punches and flexible cutting techniques for polyurethane moldings.
The centers are located in Georgsmarienhutte and Viersen, Germany. They employ a total of 77 people. In a statement last year, the company said that in the medium term, each center expects to employ around 120.
The company is not new to mold making - it had a large operation making large molds until the late 1970s. It has also designed or co-designed molds for CDs, closures and PET preforms, made by partner mold makers.
``Around late 2002 we began thinking in-house capability would be good for some special applications,'' MÃ¤rtl said, ``to make us more independent, and to be able to offer the right combination of molding equipment, automation and molds. We saw a lot of good people leaving other [tooling] companies; we knew we only had a small window of opportunity, so we took it.''
Krauss-Maffei has managed to pick up numerous experienced toolmakers, several of them ex-employees of tooling specialist Frimo Group GmbH, which two years ago acquired rival Heidel group in Viersen.
For now, molds are only made for polyurethane processing, but MÃ¤rtl confirmed that any molds for the company's SkinForm hybrid injection molding/polyurethane reaction injection molding technology also most likely will be made in-house.
``Tooling technology for this process is very specialized, and we want to hold on to it,'' he said. ``If we do it by ourselves, we can be much faster; we know exactly what has to be done.'' High-end molds for injection molding could also be made in Georgsmarienhutte. ``But the main focus now is RIM. Let's go one step at a time.''
SkinForm, first seen at the K 2004 exhibition in Dusseldorf, Germany, does not yet have a commercial application, but interest among potential users, mostly in the auto sector, is said to be high. Series production of an interior trim part similar to that made at the show is likely to begin next year, sources indicate. The technology makes it possible to produce parts with soft-feel characteristics that apparently cannot be achieved by other routes. Parts come out of the mold ready to use.
Urbanek sees potential in combining injection, extrusion and polyurethanes technologies, not only to make new sorts of parts, but also to break free of price pressures. Krauss-Maffei is the only company in the world that has in-house access to all three technologies. It is already using the combination of extrusion and injection in its IMC process, which combines a twin-screw compounder directly with an injection machine.
Around 30 IMC units have been sold since its launch at K '98, virtually all of them for production of auto parts with long-fiber reinforcement, but a new trend is to use wood flour and natural fibers.
Urbanek said brand-new technologies take a long time to gain market acceptance. ``My goal is to develop systems to such a level that the customer feels confident enough to take the chance rather than keep staring at the risks,'' he said.
Neureder name comes off robots
MÃ¤rtl also emphasized Krauss-Maffei's increasing involvement in automation. He noted that virtually all large injection machines are now sold with robots, and the trend is also picking up with smaller units.
The company bought automation specialist Neureder, based in Oberding-Schwaig, Germany, in late 2002. Now Neureder is being integrated into the parent company and has been renamed Krauss-Maffei Automation. The new entity has been given a major boost in production and development capability. Krauss-Maffei Automation will make larger linear robots in Schwerin, Germany, and smaller linear types in Munich, Germany, where a new, 9,000-square-foot production hall went into operation in April. MÃ¤rtl said it will be used especially for high-tech processes such as trimming textile decor components, cleaning, priming and glazing for insert molding.
China construction lags behind schedule
MÃ¤rtl downplayed China in his official remarks, noting only that business there goes in peaks and troughs - and right now Krauss-Maffei is in a trough, after taking a ``huge'' order last year. However, local production of extrusion equipment is looming - if behind schedule.
Production of complete single-screw pipe extrusion lines has already begun on schedule in Jiaxing, China, near Shanghai, but in rented space. Krauss-Maffei's own plant close by should have been finished at the beginning of May, but construction is behind schedule - executives won't say by how much. When ready, the facility will have a covered area of around 100,000 square feet.
The company plans to move quickly into production of twin-screw extrusion lines as well, around August or September. And indications are that it will not be long before injection molding machines also are made there.
``We are preparing for local engagement [in injection molding],'' said Urbanek. Project plans have not been finalized, but indications are that assembly could begin as early as late next year. Urbanek said parts for the whole Krauss-Maffei group are already being sourced in China, ``and we are getting our first experience with standardized assemblies and simple castings.''
Company expects more U.S. growth
Krauss-Maffei still has a modest share of the injection machine market in the U.S. - around 7 percent according to Paul Caprio, executive vice president for Krauss-Maffei Corp.'s injection molding division in Florence, Ky., who also was interviewed at the open house:
``But if the market grew 10 percent in volume terms in 2005, we grew 50 percent. It will be the same again this year. We have the right sort of technology for the market. We see multimaterial molding growing, even if it is still a long way behind Europe. About 100 units sold in the U.S. last year out of some 4,000 were multimaterial. In Europe, it was around 400 out of 10,000.''