Studer - past, present, future

7 mins read

Cylindrical grinding specialist Fritz Studer AG celebrates its centenary this year. Andrew Allcock went to the company's Swiss headquarters, in Thun, to hear about its past, present and future

The focus of product attention at this year's annual Studer Motion meeting held in Thun, Switzerland, the 20th in the series, remained the company's S41, launched last year with much fanfare (see and box item). Some 45 machines have been built, with more than 30 of them assembled for customers. Studer itself has a dozen test/demonstration/exhibition machines for its own purposes.

Image: Fritz Studer started the company 100 years ago

Unusually for the company, the S41's predecessor, the S40, was withdrawn at the end of June last year, with no tapering down of its production. The result for the S41 is the fastest ever take-up of a new model in the company's history. (The S40 sold an average of 48 machines/year over its 20-odd years' life, offers Kaspar Shaerer, head of sales support.)

The success of the S41 supported the company's general positive trend, with last year's order figures demonstrating healthy improvement, posting a 25% increase year on year and reaching SFr230 million. For this year, the company is forecasting a further 10% growth, taking the figure to around SFr250 million.

Image: Studer's assembly line as it is today...

Image: ...and as its manufacturing facility once was


On sales, last year saw the company bill SFr210 million (£145 million), a 20% increase on 2010, with this year expected to match order intake, at SFr250 million (£173 million) – the company's recent high point was 2008, when sales reached SFr280 million (£194 million), but these fell to SFr150 million (£104 million) in 2009. Order intake was around SFr140 million (£97 million) in 2008 – the recent low point.

While Studer had been challenged by shortages of materials during last year, nevertheless it overcame these, while its ability to ramp up production was also key in its achievements. Short delivery times were maintained, says Michael Horn, Studer executive board chairman, with these continuing to give the company a competitive advantage. Key also in the company's responsiveness and success are its own internal planning tools that deliver a "plausible sales plan", which is considered a "prerequisite for success".

Internally, Studer continues with its PuLs, continuous improvement effort, where employees seek to "improve a little every day", using their know-how and ideas. This also underpins the company's aim to produce only what is needed and produce it at the right time, with the PuLs approach extending down its supply chain and up to its customers.

Helping it to improve its performance in one particular production area, high precision machining, will be a major investment in a Dixi horizontal machining centre, serviced by Fastems pallet system, which will be installed in December this year. This will manufacture high precision components over three shifts, with the system running unmanned during the night. Consistent high quality, high precision machining at highest productivity will be the benefit.

A new business development has been the establishment of its Service Academy, which will support comprehensive training of service personnel over a three-month period. This will help drive repeat sales, which are another key element in ensuring success, the company stresses. In addition, 'Service Mobile' has been introduced, which will speed up the administrative side of service.

Image: Studer's factory today....

Image: ...and in earlier, more modest days

Returning to products, though, and Fred Gaegauf, managing director concerned with R&D and quality, underscores the company's trend-setting ways in technology, highlighting some future developments in brief. Customer needs have not actually changed – they require that a component must be finished complete on a Studer machine – only the methods have changed, he highlights.


Looking back, Studer was the first company to develop, in 1977, a CNC controlled cylindrical grinding machine; it was also the first to succeed in using several grinding wheels on one and the same machine; it already had a hydrodynamic spindle capable of delivering 0.1 micron roundness in the 70s; and it also developed innovative air gap elimination technology, leading to shorter processing times.

Turning to the future, Mr Gaegauf introduced Studer's 'SmartGrind' machine – a 'dream map'. In unveiling a concept machine that looked rather like a soft drink can, due to is cylindrical guarding, he suggested that the audience might view it rather dismissively, saying that it has taken Studer "100 years to invent a cola can". However, it was really just an illustration of the areas in which Studer is concentrating its R&D efforts with regard to the future. Studer invests around 5% of sales in R&D, of which 40% goes on improving existing machines, 40% on developing new machines, and 20% on innovation, he noted.

Two areas of development were highlighted – energy usage reduction and smarter machine control. On the former, the company has signed up to Germany's VDMA's Blue Competence initiative (see box item and P8) and has been working with ETH Zurich in a Swiss state-funded study to identify the energy consuming elements of different types of grinding machine, prioritising them in order of importance. By far the largest consumer is the spindle, but the coolant system is also a major energy energy user. By using frequency control and manufacturing nozzles via rapid manufacturing that have novel internal profiles, a large reduction in energy consumption can be achieved, Mr Gaegauf underlines. Reduced machine warm-up times have also been achieved, with the example given being an S31 cylindrical grinding machine where a 60-90 min period reduced to 25 mins.

On the control front, the extension of the company's software to make setting up and running a machine easier and faster is targeted. Studer's key software elements take in StuderWIN, a pictogram-based operator interface that allows easy set-up and programming of machines at the machine. StuderGrind is a more detailed programming system, with graphical simulation for on-machine and offline use. Both these systems have sub-modules, such as StuderThread and StuderDress (3x-15x faster dressing of profile wheels). Another key software package is StuderTechnology, which is, in fact, another sub-module, but which supports the automatic generation of appropriate grinding parameters to support the chosen grinding operations (see These values can even outperform those entered by a skilled grinder, as many tend to stay with tried and trusted data. In fact, StuderTechnology is now standard on all machines, it was announced at this year's event. But Mr Gaegauf's dream is that there be a new level of control that allows operators to adjust grinding process parameters via a graphical representation, rather than by editing cycles and numbers.

This might see an operator dragging a curve indicative of some grinding parameter or set of parameters to a new position, for example. Basically, it would allow an operator to optimise a program, without knowing the detail of the program, Mr Gaegauf suggests.


Underpinning this will be what is described as a 'photocopier approach'. This would see the drawing entered to the control (3D model), with the machine automatically generating the process, but with the operator able to adjust it via this new manner of touch-screen interface.

One hundred years is a long time for a machine tool firm, although there are those with a longer pedigree, of course. But to its centennial status, Fritz Studer also adds global pre-eminence in cylindrical grinding, plus a number of industry firsts, together with a continued drive to improve its products and services. To date, the company has delivered 21,000 cylindrical grinding machines.

In fact, the company's S35 machine, launched in 1989, had some elements of such an automated programming system, Mr Gaegauf explains. This newly envisaged system, however, will not be seen for some five to six years, it is estimated, but the company's seriousness is demonstrated by the fact that the concept has been patented worldwide by Studer.

The global leader in cylindrical grinding technology clearly has no plans to relinquish that position any time soon.

Box item 1

Blue Competence/Eco design/Energy efficiency

The European Parliament intends to categorise machine tools into energy consumption classes, just as has been done with domestic appliances. This is because, for EU countries, a cut of 20% in CO2 emissions is to be made by 2020, with machine tools seen as a large energy consumer.

The European umbrella organisation for the machine tool industry, CECIMO, has taken up the challenge and launched a counter-initiative for a self-declaration, similar to the certification of companies that adhere to CE regulations. The Eco Design Directive (2009/125/EC) recognises self-regulation by industry as an alternative to binding legislation. Industries covered by self-regulation will not be bound by mandatory requirements decided at Commission level.

According to German mechanical engineering trade association VDMA, which counts German machine tool industry trade association VDW as a member, there are approximately 400 types of machines, and well over 2,000 products from which machine tools can be combined. This complexity doesn't lend itself to simplistic solution, hence CECIMO's move on self-regulation.

VDMA has launched its Blue Competence (BluECOmpetence – see also P8) communications and branding initiative for the mechanical engineering industry in general. Only companies that sign up to the initiative's goals and policies can badge their machines with the Blue Competence logo. VDMA has an eight-point system, with each point allocated a certain number of points, up to a total of 320. Only companies scoring above 170 can use the Blue Competence logo. "Proof of fulfilling this requirement can be requested at any time from the partner by means of on-site inspection, subject to prior notification", says the VDMA paperwork.

See also article here

Box item 2

S41 – vital statistics

Launched last year, the S41 replaces the S40 model. The claim at launch was that the machine sets new standards in precision and accuracy.

To highlight this, Studer gave the example of two parallel lines travelling around the globe – the divergence error for Studer was put at 19 m, while for competitor machines it was put at 70 m.

The S41 has centre heights of 225 mm as standard and 275 mm as an option. Distance between centres is 1,000 mm as standard, but 1,600 mm as an option. Up to four external grinding wheels or three internal grinding spindles enable over 30 grinding head combinations. External grinding wheels up to 500 mm diameter can be used and wheels are only driven by motor spindles, not belts.

On performance and accuracy versus the S40, the swivel movement of the turret wheelhead (B-axis) is by a direct drive. It rotates the turret wheelhead up to around three times faster (270° in 2.6 sec) and positions the new grinding wheels in a much shorter time, with a positioning accuracy of <0.1 sec of arc – the S40's figure was 0.25 sec of arc.

Image: The S41's grinding wheel turret B-axis is fast

The circularity and stepping performances of CNC interpolation of the X and Z axes is 65% better than the S40; accuracy is improved by 20%; parallelism is 1.5 micron over a Z-axis distance 1,600 mm (although 4 micron is the publicly claimed figure), while Studer guarantees a straightness of <3 microns over 950 mm; roundness during live spindle operations is 0.0004 mm (optionally 0.0002 mm); rigidity is 40% higher; and stiffness and damping are superior.

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First published in Machinery, March 2012