“Do it yourself; don’t rely on others.” That’s the strategy followed at Fröling, the Austrian heating and boilers manufacturer. The firm puts this into practice with highly automated machinery and TruTops Fab.
Made in Austria — that’s the principle pursued by company owner Ernst Hutterer and his plant manager Johann Hochstöger. The Fröling heating and boiler manufacturing company in the Upper Austrian town of Grieskirchen has enjoyed a solid market position for fifty years now. A pioneer in modern wood-fired systems, the company lays claim to numerous innovations. Among them are the modern log-fired boiler with high-temperature combustion, truly a trailblazing invention, the wood chip furnace with lambda electronic control technology, and pellet-fired boilers that have earned international awards.
All the firm’s products bear the hallmark of the strong research and development department in Grieskirchen and are the result of great vertical integration. Hutterer: “We don’t rely on others in our efforts to deliver top quality.” Everything critical to the system, right through to the control software, is developed in the company’s own laboratories. And essential components in the boilers, including the high-quality, modern-design sheet metal cases, are produced in-house.
Automation makes for productivity
In 2006 Fröling invested in a new “greenfield” building designed specifically for sheet metal production. Hutterer sums up: “We wanted to get away from the old plant at the headquarters. They had grown willy-nilly over time and offered no coherent structure. We wanted to streamline internal logistics.” What sprung up only a few kilometers away in Stritzing was and is one of Austria’s most modern sheet metal works, among the world’s best. This imposing factory, with lots of expansion space, shows how a continuous process chain can be achieved. Plant manager Hochstöger always goes for automation: “Only with a highly automated sheet metal production chain can we, in a high-wage country like Austria, counter cheap competition from eastern Europe.”
Accordingly, a Stopa high-rise storage facility with a thousand pallet bays is the center of operations. Grouped around this are automated punching and laser cutting machines, manual press brakes, and two fully automated bending cells, each with a BendMaster 150 and — the latest investment — a BendMaster 60. Up to 150 tons of sheet metal a week, mainly at gauges of 0.7 to 10 millimeters, are processed by the factory in three-shift operation. Fifteen workers are assigned to the early shift. In the late shifts the reduced crew is between five and seven. From Saturday afternoon to Sunday, the plant runs entirely automatically.
Miner with a feel for sheet metal
In his showpiece factory, plant manager Hochstöger relies on two guarantees for success: one is comprehensive production control with TruTops Fab; the other is foreman Manfred Grohmann. This former miner learned how to shoulder responsibility in the now defunct brown coal mining operations near Ampflwang. Between 1995 and his joining Fröling in 2002, he worked at construction sites around the globe — the best training grounds for personal responsibility and improvisation skills. His creed is: “No machine ever stands still in my factory.”
He has no qualms about calling on the local shoemaker late on a Friday afternoon to have him repair a defective drive belt on the warehousing robot, so that work continues uninterrupted over the weekend. Grohmann puts the popular term “unmanned operations” into perspective. “The processes always have to be monitored, and no remote malfunction report issued by TruTops can change that. Lean staffing would be the right description, in my view.” Grohmann only mentions in passing that he’s the one who does the monitoring. He’s just as reticent about his extraordinary commitment. But that’s something seen by his plant manager, Johann Hochstöger, putting in a word of appreciation: “Our foreman in sheet metal production is a hero of labor, the factory’s heart and brains.”
Information at the push of a button
Grohmann relies on TruTops Fab control software. In his office he only has to press a button to get a status update for individual machines and production jobs. The file for each job order is sent, via an interface, from the ERP system to TruTops Fab. It then monitors the entire process and reports back when the job has been concluded. Grohmann uses TruTops Fab to manage his inventories, materials and orders both conveniently and transparently. He notifies the higher-level ERP system when batches are finished, and always has the Stopa storage system under control. The order book is the basis for generating the work schedule, workshop routing cards, and materials tags.
Using the orders on hand, the system automatically draws up nesting plans and NC programs. They are then transmitted directly to the machine. Production orders can be precisely scheduled on the basis of the individual worksite capacities. In turn, comprehensive inventory management creates transparency concerning the raw materials available, taking account of current receipts and withdrawals. This ensures that there is sufficient material on hand to execute all the scheduled orders.
Thanks to TruTops Fab, plant manager Johann Hochstöger can also review the situation in the sheet metal shop, with a quick glance at the screen. TruTops Fab serves as a navigation system. Hochstöger: “When we were setting up the automated sheet metal production, we made a conscious decision in favor of a comprehensive system. That is why we went for the TRUMPF software. TruTops Fab is the perfect complement to the fully automated sheet metal processing line.” Along with ongoing transparency, it’s the cost factors that count most. One example is cross-order nesting, following a variety of criteria, to optimize material consumption — winning yet another skirmish in the competitive battle with low-wage countries.
Contact us: MastersofSheetMetal@trumpf.com
This article was first published in summer 2011.