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    Edumar: Even greater variation in unmanned milling

    With INFINITY Platform from BMO Automation, Edumar makes automation more flexible

    Edumar Metaalbewerking was the pilot customer for BMO Automation’s new INFINITY Platform. In barely a year after the first pallet handling module was installed at the plant, a second CNC machine was connected and Edumar purchased the product handling extension module. The INFINITY Platform is a flexible automation platform that grows and adapts alongside the machining company. Recently, the INFINITY Platform was voted winner of the Technishow Innovation Award.

    Edumar Metalworking describes itself as a social company that works not for but with customers. This has a lot to do with the Philips background of both founders and owners, Eduard and Marius Wijlaars. ‘We advise our customers on how to make the workpieces better, by sharing our past experience,’ says Eduard Wijlaars. The first characterisation – social – is a given for the two brothers from Someren, Netherlands. Many employees come from this village – 60 per cent of them trained at the company – and in the 29 years the two brothers have been in business, staff turnover has been just 15 people. ‘We try to do as much as we can for the community in Someren.’ This ranges from offering internships and having Edumar’s experienced professionals teach weekly as part of a BBL apprenticeship programme to providing lunch for the employees. ‘We do the lunch shopping at the neighbourhood supermarket in Someren Eind, which is run by local residents.’

    Experience with automation

    The two brothers bought the first robot back in 2006. ‘I was happy with it for three weeks, and that was it,’ says Eduard Wijlaars about his introduction to automatic loading of a CNC machine. The milling machine would finish the products on the twelve pallets in less than two hours. ‘Then I would have to turn around and go back to the shop to load new pieces on the pallets. After a few weeks of that, I was fed up.’ Within a year, they had a robot with positions for 30 pallets, and in 2012 Edumar bought its first BMO robot system. Today, Edumar has several BMO Automation robot cells. ‘We make the contract items during the weekends and at night so they don’t take time away from other orders. Our machines are always running at night and the weekends. More and more low volume, high mix. Years ago, we considered it too risky to do single pieces on such an automated machine. That’s no longer a problem.’

    Flexible solution

    In early 2022, Edumar received a large order for milling aluminium tiles for in a production hall in the semiconductor industry. It involved a large batch of square tiles, over 600 mm to a side. The dimensions and weight exceeded the limits of the BMO Automation Titanium cell. Both brothers realised that automation was necessary for an order of this size. Eduard Wijlaars: ‘Frank Biemans promised to find a solution. However, we not only wanted to load the large tiles but, eventually, to be able to use the cell for unmanned milling of smaller components.’ A few months later, the supplier was a pilot customer for BMO Automation’s new INFINITY Platform, which was launched internationally at EMO 2023. A characteristic feature of the cell is its modular design; one can easily add additional storage modules. The height of the standardised product carriers, and even tooling such as machine clamps, is adjustable. This dynamic storage is controlled with smart algorithms: in the INFINITY storage modules, the height of the carriers can be adjusted in 5 cm steps, which is done fully automatically based on the height measured during operator input. So, the storage modules dynamically adjust to the orders for that night or weekend. ‘This makes it even easier for us to produce a large mix of products unmanned,’ Eduard Wijlaars says, summing up the benefits.

    Growing with the company

    Its modular design makes the INFINITY platform a sustainable investment. As a metal company grows, more storage modules can be added. Or you start with one variant and then expand to the other. Edumar, for example, started with pallet loading only, because they wanted the cell fast. The expansion into product handling has now been ordered. It is just as easy to add the next CNC machine to the platform. Initially, the INFINITY Platform at Edumar was linked to a Hedelius Forte 65 3-axis machining centre. A few months later, the Hedelius Acura 85 5-axis machining centre was added. ‘That’s also where the need for product handling came from,’ explains Eduard Wijlaars. ‘We make a lot of products on the 5-axis machine.’ In the future, Edumar plans to expand the INIFINITY cell with automatic loading by an AMR, an option for which it is already prepared. Once the supplier moves into the new hall behind the existing premises for the storage of materials and workpieces, space will be created in the production hall to start using AMRs to further automate the logistics and allow the CNC millers to concentrate on their area of expertise.

    INFINITY software

    BMO Automation controls production in the cell using the Job Managament software they developed. With the Tool Life Management option, the software automatically assesses whether the tool life is still sufficient for planned production based on how much the tools have already been used. If not, the operator is automatically alerted during set-up. The software also provides an alert if a specific vice is missing. ‘The smaller the batches you mill, the more important this Tool Life Management software becomes,’ says Eduard Wijlaars. ‘People make mistakes, software doesn’t. That helps prevent standstill of the machines. Once the operators have ticked off the whole list, they can confidently start the machines.’ Eduard Wijlaars still marvels at how easy the software is to use. For him, though, this is essential. ‘It has to be simple for the operator. They don’t want to program 9 axes, or program a robot with a teach panel.’ In saying this, he certainly does not want to give the impression that operators are nothing more than button-pushers. On the contrary, he and his brother constantly challenge their personnel. They invest heavily in continuing education and training. All the employees also use hyperMill to create their own programs. The BBL level 3 students are already learning to work with this CAD/CAM software. ‘When you create the program yourself, you see where the problems lie and learn from them. The guys now spend much more of their time thinking about how best to mill workpieces and how to set up the production properly.’

    Connecting even more machines?

    The INFINITY Platform can easily be set up to operate more than two CNC machines. At Edumar, they have deliberately chosen to keep it to two CNC machines: the Forte 65 and the Acura 85. Eduard Wijlaars feels this is efficient enough. ‘Something can always go wrong at night, and if you have four CNC machines in the line, that’s four machines that come to a standstill. If you weigh the cost of the robot against that of a machine, a cell with two CNC machines is a good balance, especially in the near future, with the AMR.’ Once the new hall is ready, there will be a large rack there for storage with a robot in front of it that will load the AMR to automatically feed the INFITINY cell with materials, workpieces and, in good time, tools. This enhancement will further increase production flexibility, potentially enabling Edumar to reduce their inventory of high-demand items required for repeat orders. Nevertheless, Eduard Wijlaars does not plan to do this. ‘During quiet weeks, we make use of the time to produce for stock. When demand picks up, we can deliver from this stock so we have more time for rush jobs. That makes us more flexible.’

    Spindle efficiency

    For him, spindle efficiency is not the top concern, but BMO Automation’s flexible automation solution does help keep spindle efficiency high. To illustrate this, he points to a specific order where the 3-axis machine is machining strips. ‘We made a template for this that holds twelve strips. It’s in a fixed position in the INFINITY cell. If we have an hour to spare at night, we mill a batch of twelve strips.’

    With the INFINITY Platform, automation is not inflexible; it is remarkably adaptable. This is precisely what manufacturing companies require to swiftly respond to shifting demand. ‘Our approach isn’t about pushing employees to work harder; it’s about encouraging them to work smarter. Ideally, I’d like lazy people. They figure out how to let the machines and the robot do the work,’ say the Dutch metal business owner with a laugh. Amidst the backdrop of steady production growth, his team of 40 employees shows no signs of laziness; rather, their intelligence is unmistakable.