Not without our robot
Sigrid and Roland Deeg are big fans of automation. Not because they want to cut staff levels, but because it helps them get better employees.
Outside it smells of farmland, inside of metal. The Roland Deeg GmbH facility is surrounded by fields and meadows. It is located on the slope of the small Kirchberg industrial estate in the Hohenlohe district — that remarkable boom region in the rural, northeastern area of Baden-Württemberg, where farmers and industry managers meet at the baker’s shop every morning. There are more market leaders than towns here and behind every bend in the lane you’ll find an entrepreneur organizing his global business operations: packaging technology, mechanical engineering, ventilators, assembly technology, even jeans. This makes the perfect setting for a classical job shop like Roland Deeg GmbH.
The company has positioned itself in the market as an all-rounder in sheet metal. It offers laser-cutting, bending, welding and milling, along with assembly and logistics. CEO Roland Deeg says: “We want to offer our customers everything from a single source and in so doing generate in-house as much added value as possible.” The business landscape in the Hohenlohe region is reflected in his customer base: mainly traditional mechanical engineering, packaging technology, construction machinery — and occasionally the automobile industry.
The tally after eight hours
Deeg employs 140 and runs a three-shift operation. At the entrance to the production hall you will find 2D laser cutting machines working their way through steel, stainless or aluminum. Every time a finished part is removed, a LiftMaster feeds the machines anew. In other parts of the building, you can hear the crackling of hand-held welding torches or see workers loading milling machines or packing products. Inside the hall you can see how the facility has steadily grown over the years. There seem to be passages and stairways leading to annexes everywhere. One area is reserved for bending work. Workers perform manual bending on seven TruBend machines. Next to them, BendMaster robots feed three other machines: a TruBend 5230, a TrumaBend V 130 X, and a TruBend Cell 7000. In its bending cell, this job shop processes small items in monthly volumes of 50 per order and upwards.
Roland Deeg is standing on a landing, watching his press brakes. “I decided to go for automated bending years ago. The main reason is simple: volumes,” he says. “A good press brake operator performs some 150 operations in the first hour of his shift, while the robot only manages 100. But when you add up the numbers at the end of an eight-hour shift, the robot will always be lengths ahead. It just doesn’t get tired.” Deeg’s TruBend Cell, for instance, produces a good 20 percent faster than a highly skilled worker. And Deeg is delighted that it turns out parts for hours on end, without a worker having to intervene — because there is a shortage of qualified labor.
Lures for skilled labor
It is difficult to entice qualified workers to move to Kirchberg with its 4,100 inhabitants. The region has a jobless rate of just 2.9 percent, which is as good as full employment. Competition for qualified staff is fierce. “Many well-qualified people prefer to join the really big companies here because they believe that their jobs are much more secure than ours,” says Deeg. “And more often than not we are unable to pay the same high wages that the large firms do.”
Bending specialists are especially hard to find. This vocation is exacting; abstract spatial visualization and unabated concentration are much sought after. But it is physically strenuous, too, especially where large sheets of metal are involved. It is hardly unusual for a press brake operator to have moved dozens of tons by the end of his shift. “This is hard on your joints and is the kind of tough job hardly anybody wants anymore,” says Roland Deeg. “Automation closes this manpower gap and, at the same time, makes a contribution toward establishing an ergonomic working environment.” His wife, Sigrid Deeg — who runs the company together with her husband, adds: “Automated machinery compensates for the lack of skilled workers but also attracts them. Younger people, in particular, are not interested in tending a machine all day. But they just love programming robots.” This is how the machinery can give the well-trained staff the latitude they need to apply their knowledge elsewhere in a sensible way. In addition, the company is doing its part to combat the lack of skilled workers; it is currently training 25 apprentices in six different vocations.
One hundred percent good parts
The work performed by the Deegs has changed a lot over recent years. All their customers have in the meantime adopted just-in-time production. This demands that job shops achieve a high degree of flexibility. Furthermore, quality requirements are becoming ever more stringent. For Roland Deeg, this is yet another reason to acquire automated machinery. “To name just one example, a scratch on a sheet metal part used to be completely irrelevant. Nowadays we have to supply everything with a perfect surface.” His BendMaster machines help him achieve this. “Robots perform bending operations with an enormous degree of precision —and process every single part to the same high level. Accurate electric drives in the TruBend Cell 7000 ensure great angular precision. To be perfectly frank about it: Parts produced automatically are better parts.”
Sensors and image processing, such as those used in automated bending, prevent mistakes that humans make. Sigrid Deeg explains: “A typical error, for instance, is for a bending operator to mix up left- and right-hand parts and to hold the sheet metal the wrong way round. Automation keeps this from happening.” This also simplifies the next step, which is documentation, because you are always aware of the performance data and the exact number of components processed. Though the Deegs own a medium-sized job shop, they do not find it odd to place such emphasis on automation. “Without this guaranteed quality and the high manufacturing speeds, we wouldn’t be able to manage at all,” says Roland Deeg. “There is no question about further expanding our automated processes in the future.”
Contact us: MastersofSheetMetal@trumpf.com
This article was first published in spring 2014.