Michael Knake runs a job shop and is a true whiz kid. Following him through his manufacturing shop will show you why.
Whenever Michael Knake stands among his 2D laser cutting and punch-laser combination machines, the founding of the company in 1990 seems almost unreal. “At that time I had only used equipment: drill presses, a rickety guillotine shears, and an aged gas-shielded welder.” The master tool-maker manufactured prototypes on those old machines. But those products convinced the customers and they clamored for more.
Then things really took off: additional staff, new machinery, and in 1995 Knake erected his first building, today’s Hall 1. Now he stands next to his TruMatic 7000 and reports on the role the machine’s “ancestor”, bought in 1995, played in the development of the Knake enterprise: “The TRUMATIC Laserpress 260 punch-laser combination machine made by TRUMPF laid the foundation for our growth,” Knake recalls. “It let us make up larger batches at an attractive price per piece and position ourselves even more favorably in the market.”
Do it right, or not at all
He continues on to Hall 2. Built in the year 2000, it offered the space needed to expand the equipment with two gas-shielded welding robots and a TruLaser Cell 1005 laser welding cell. “I wanted to have the widest possible range of manufacturing technology — to respond to every demand put forward by the customers,” says Knake. He adds, with a grin: “What’s more, I was tired of sending components to other companies for certain steps in manufacturing.” He stays well ahead of his customers. “As a supplier, I have to take the first step.”
Laser welding was one example. Knake notes that it will still take a while for his customers to realize all the things they can do with the technology. “But if I want to be successful in this market, then I have to be among the technological front-runners,” he emphasizes. For him, efficient processes are a must. He has equipped all the laser machinery with automatic loading and unloading systems. “That’s how I look at things — either I do it right, or not at all.”
Up to date with the solid-state laser
Thomas Grieshop, general manager at Knake, is in full agreement with this strategy. He is waiting in Hall 2 to show us the company’s newest acquisition: a TruLaser 5030 fiber. “In our view, the solid-state laser is the next step in technology,” he says. “The speed of the solid-state laser machine is unbeatable for sheet metal up to 3 millimeters thick.” As Grieshop departs, Michael Knake emphasizes that, “Standing still is backsliding.” He has to chuckle at this truism. “I used to hate those adages, but today I cite it myself because there’s a lot of truth in them. You can never stop developing, as otherwise the competition will overtake you.”
After a glance in Hall 3, where components are given their final appearance with a number of welding and finishing techniques, he continues to Hall 4. Here the broad spectrum of products manufactured by Knake can be seen. Right at the entrance there is a fairly delicate housing for a laser to be used in eye surgery.
Things get a little brawnier at the other end of the building; cabs for wheeled loaders are being welded there. “Machining sheet metal is our core competence and we cover every aspect,” Knake emphasizes, listing his five pillars: laser cutting, punch-laser combination processing, bending, welding and surface finishing. The company can serve every industry and supplies everything from parts for medical technology to preassembled components for potato diggers. “We have no idea what tomorrow might bring. With our broad range of capabilities, we can minimize risk and make a quick adjustment if one of the industries we serve falls on hard times.” Knake has always gotten along just fine with this strategy.
The input materials for all this flexibility are found in Hall 5 — the receiving department. “On average we have 800 to 900 tons of sheet metal in storage, in some 270 formats,” Knake notes. That ties up a lot of capital. But it also lets him respond quickly to any order. In Hall 6 Knake shows us the final manufacturing process: bending. Nine press brakes are found here, most of them from TRUMPF. “TRUMPF has a wide range of models and covers almost every aspect in sheet metal machining. This meshes well with our operations,” Knake observes. Using machinery from a single source has one very practical advantage: “All the software is compatible — no matter whether for bending, laser cutting, or punch-laser combination machines.”
Logistics services in demand
On the way to Hall 7, the finished products warehouse, Knake explains that today a successful job shop needs more than just good machinery. “Our customers now expect more in terms of logistics,” and he mentions a few key phrases including make-and-hold orders, just-in-time delivery, and stocking spare lots, should a replacement be required. To meet those needs, he built a hall with 2,500 square meters of floor space and 2,300 storage positions. A company fleet of three trucks and a van makes for flexible deliveries, without having to call on freight forwarding companies.
On the way back, Michael Knake quickly shows us another machine, one that at first glance doesn’t seem to fit with this highly modern equipment: a punching machine that has more than thirty years on the clock. “This was my first machine and it kicked off development in 1990. That machine combines a profile and rod shear with a hole punch.” Michael Knake becomes contemplative for a moment. “Back then I could not have dreamed of what it all has come to.” What was decisive for success? “There’s no single factor that brought us to where we are today. It is the aggregate of a large number of factors.” And then, after a short pause: “A little bit of luck doesn’t hurt, either.”
Contact us: MastersofSheetMetal@trumpf.com
This article was first published in summer 2012.