Swiss grinding specialist Studer is having a successful time, is aiming to maintain that, but is keeping technical developments under wraps until the forthcoming EMO show, Andrew Allcock reveals
Swiss precision cylindrical grinding firm Fritz Studer AG's annual press get-together in Thun, during February this year, shed little light on the company's forthcoming EMO exhibition moves, save for a sneak preview via a video that offered an inkling for those with eyes to see.
Management changes (box item), plus a business update were, together with more detailed conversations with the company's sales agents (who attend a separate event), central elements; while the presence, unusually, of a large contingent of journalists from Asia this year highlighted a ratcheting up of efforts in that corner of the globe.
Studer, which employs 800 at its Thun and Biel locations, has continued to hold up very well in the past year, the company reports, against expectations that the strong Swiss franc would impact business. Orders for the whole company were up 15% (to around Sfr 250 million; £175 million), with sales increasing by around 20% (around Sfr225 million: £157 million). But expectations for this year are being marked down on both counts, with this particularly due to the cautious forecasts from the European automotive industry, the company adds.
CHINA IS COOL
In Asia, the company says it "experienced a considerable cooling off in the machine tools market last year for the first time". In the Chinese market, which otherwise demonstrates double-digit growth, significantly less was invested in new machines in the first half of the year than in previous years. Only during the second half of the year was a revival of demand noticeable, says Studer, which also lasted into the New Year. And "it remains to be seen how the market will develop this year", is the cautious note adopted.
In America, the market "was more than satisfactory throughout the year", as, in conjunction with the Körber Schleifring sales organisation, Studer was able to achieve "a new record in incoming orders for machines in 2012". And the company assumes that investment will continue this year, driven by the automotive and aviation industries.
Elements in Studer's continued success include its sales agents' efforts, precise and efficient manufacturing and, of course, its technology.
On the first, the times when customers ordered "just a machine" are past. Studer's customers expect it to provide cost-effective and efficient solutions for their increasingly complex processes and applications, but "only those in a position to implement these requirements competently in practice will have long-term success". In support of this, the company this year intensified its communications and discussions with its sales agents. And it is also to expand its Service Centre training, where both employees and sales agents are schooled, to further support solutions' sales. There are already 900 training modules available and some 80 people have gone through the centre, which was established last year.
Investment and continuous manufacturing process improvement are constant themes at Studer. The big ticket investment for the company this past year has been a large Dixi precision horizontal machining centre, purchased to bring in-house, for example, the machining of motorised spindle workhead housings (it already has a smaller one for smaller such parts). This machine "is the most precise machine Dixi has ever built", according to Gerd König, who heads up production (see box item, p47).
Commissioned in January, it will be in full production on 1 July. The company will invest a further Sfr5 million (£3.5 million) this year, including air conditioning for the systems assembly area. Studer's lean/continuous improvement strategy carries the banner PULS, or Präzision und Leidenschaft (precision and passion), and efforts continue, focusing on "what the customer is willing to pay for" and a qualification programme for more Studer employees.
In terms of technology, the company gave little away, other than that an A-axis would be added to the range of possibilities for its machines; this will allow the grinding of helixes with angles of 6°. But that innovation is core to the company's success was heavily underscored by CEO Fred Gaegauf.
And there is more coming, as a video of what was termed by Mr Gaegauf as its 'Innovation Dome' was premièred to the audience, showcasing the technology elements that underpin Studer technology.
This virtual dome included such things as its Granitan machine base, Studer guide (slideway technology) and Studer Load (loading device), but something called 'ultra-move' was in there, too, along with the A-axis development. No more clues on ultra-move were given, so a visit to EMO (Hanover, September 16-21) will be required to discover more.
Prior to this Innovation Dome, the company had already developed what it calls its SmartGrind concept machine, which is really a collection of concepts.
For example, Studer is a member of the VDMA Blue Competence energy efficiency programme, with related developments part of its SmartGrind concept. And Mr Gaegauf stated that the company would soon be in a position to offer real benefits in energy efficiency, citing the area of coolant circulation and supply as one of them. That said, with a CNC grinding program generated by StuderTechnology software, up to 50% energy can be saved on average – every machine with Studer Win has Studer Technology in-built. "Studer Technology is not finished yet. The system is being further developed," it was added.
And as a mark of the company's own commitment to energy efficiency and environmental awareness, Mr König said that Studer itself would now only use electricity from renewable sources in its operations, this having commenced at the beginning of this year.
But although there was no new machine to unveil, it must be remembered that it was only two years ago that the company revealed its S41, the successor to the S40 universal cylindrical grinding machine (www.machinery. co.uk/31213). And the success of this machine was underlined by the new CEO: "Never before has a product established itself as a blockbuster in such a short space of time." In fact, the S41 had delivered "50% higher growth than expected", it was stressed. And with its innovative B-axis, it has become something of a benchmark, with competitors likening their latest developments to its capabilities, he added.
The message is clear, innovation is and will continue to be Studer's strength.
Image: Left to right Dr Gereon Heinemann, Gerd König, Fred Gaegauf, Peter Weber
Last summer, Körber Schleifring (owner of Fritz Studer AG) relocated from Hamburg to Bern, the Swiss capital. Since 1 January this year, the management of the Körber Schleifring holding company has been composed as follows: CEO, Stephan Nell; Finance, Gustel Baumert; Operations, Michael Horn.
With Mr Horn's assumption of responsibility as Schleifring chief operations officer, Fred Gaegauf is now chairman of the cylindrical grinding technology group of Studer and Schaudt Mikrosa. Alongside Heinz Poklekowski, chairman of the tool grinding technology group, Mr Gaegauf will be part of the extended management of Körber Schleifring and will manage Schleifring's cross-divisional technological operations.
In parallel with this, Studer's organisation has changed since the beginning of the year. Mr Gaegauf is now CEO and oversees human resources and quality management; Peter Weber heads up sales, marketing and customer service; Gerd König now has charge of supply chain management, production and Studer Systems; while Dr Gereon Heinemann is handed technology divisions.
Grinding what for what?
Ever wondered where all those ground parts can be found? Well, as part of its Customer Centre at Thun, Studer has made it easier for visitors to connect its machines with recognisable products. In a somewhat novel approach, the company has broken the day into segments and activities, grouping together items used in them. From 6 to 8 am, Studer technology could have a hand in the manufacture of: alarm clock; hair dryer; electric shaver; electric toothbrush; shampoo bottle (mould tool) and coffee (tooling). Between 8 and 10, the objects become: lock; car; train; and newspaper (machinery) and so on through the day, right through the evening, between 10 and 12 pm, where a CD, a beer (bottle top) and pills (tools used in their production) are highlighted.
Taking a more traditional, sectoral view of its machines' applications and objects are broken down into six sectors: food; medical; industrial; automotive; aerospace; and leisure.
It is unlikely that Studer has any intention of going in for an 'Intel inside' type of campaign, but such efforts as these certainly link its machine tool technology with end-use products the more so and demonstrate attention to detail in delivering its message, as well as it technology.
First published in Machinery, April 2013