WFT Werkzeug- und Frästechnik GmbH specialises in the precision manufacturing of pre-series and series tools for the plastics processing industry. The company's impressive example shows what can be achieved with the right automation solution, and why employees also benefit from it.
Experts for the large and the heavy
WFT GmbH's machine park covers a total area of 3,000 square metres. Two massive overhead travelling cranes tower above it, with a lifting capacity of 25 tonnes each, for a total of 50 tonnes. "That's how much the heaviest tools we produce here weigh," states plant manager Heiko Siebke, with regard to the enormous production dimensions.
The fact that the compact HEDELIUS ACURA 65 EL is by no means the largest machining centre in the company's halls should therefore come as no surprise to anyone. In any case, the production opportunities offered by the compact machine combined with the Indumatik Light 120 pallet automation system are something that WFT would definitely not want to do without today.
A fourth-generation family business
WFT GmbH was founded in 1997 in Delligsen, about 40 kilometres south-west of Hildesheim. However, the roots of the company go back even further, leading to the Hanseatic city of Hamburg. There, master model builder Hermann Lühr founded his eponymous company more than 100 years ago, in 1919, dedicated to the construction of foundry models for the machine and shipyard industries. From the 1970s onwards, there was increasing investment in modern CNC technology and CAD/CAM systems, which led to an expansion of the production range.
As a second pillar of this Hamburg-based company, the newly founded WFT GmbH was intended to focus on toolmaking and machining from the end of the 1990s, which enjoyed great success. Today, customers include the automotive industry, aerospace companies, medical technology companies and their suppliers. With Stefan Lühr, the fourth generation of the family now runs the company, which currently employs 58 people.
Automation: "Not a decision you make overnight"
The thought of automating in-house production initially arouses scepticism among many users, especially with regard to practicality.
At WFT, too, the purchase was preceded by in-depth considerations and deliberations: "We've prepared intensively for automation. It's not a decision you just make overnight," emphasises Siebke.
Even today, he and Stefan Lühr are all the more satisfied with their decision in favour of the automation concept presented by HEDELIUS. Thanks to the high level of interface compatibility, it was possible to choose from a wide range of possible automation solutions. "Such flexibility can't be taken for granted," highlights Lühr. Heiko Siebke underscores the clear productivity gains: "With the connected automation, we've easily doubled capacity at the machine."
Individual parts during the day, standard parts at night
WFT's production portfolio offers optimal conditions for automation, because in addition to individual parts, a whole series of recurring parts that are constantly required are also produced. The company has developed its own WFT standard for this. "We can simply run the corresponding programs on the machine at night and on weekends," explains Siebke. During the day, individual parts are produced manually on the machine in accordance with customer orders. "This means that our employees can now focus better on the really demanding parts, which provides significant relief.
Generous dimensions on a small footprint
WFT discovered the ACURA 65 EL at a trade fair: "The machine was presented for the first time at NORTEC 2017," recalls Siebke - "and barely a year later, it was in our production hall."
Despite its compact dimensions, the 5-axis machining centre has generous travel paths of 700 x 650 x 600 mm (X/Y/Z). The integrated rotating/swivelling table with bearings on both sides enables high-precision machining of all sides. The connected Indumatik Light 120 automation system has space for 24 pallets.
Automation and flexibility - not necessarily a contradiction
An important factor for increasing efficiency is the option to equip the machine simultaneously with the main production time: Storage and retrieval of workpieces for the night shift is possible without interrupting production during the day. Loading from the left side of the machine also means that the door of the machining centre always remains freely accessible. This makes it easy to switch between manual and automated operation at any time. Machinist Belana Freitag also appreciates this flexibility: "We can react quickly: If something has to be milled at short notice, you can simply interrupt production and continue seamlessly later."
Great digital and personal service
Like WFT, anyone who's committed to increasing efficiency must, of course, also be able to rely on rapid assistance in the event of a malfunction. With a view to the service provided by HEDELIUS, Stefan Lühr sees its investment decision confirmed time and again: "The customer service is really great. If something's wrong, the technicians are usually there within two to three hours."
The summary from Heiko Siebke is similarly positive. He is particularly impressed by the HEDELIUS service app: "You simply upload a picture of the machine and get feedback within a very short time; it doesn't get any better than that," he reports enthusiastically.
Obviously, there are plenty of reasons for WFT's management duo to remain loyal to HEDELIUS. "At the moment, we're not planning to invest in another machine," says Lühr, "but if the time eventually comes, HEDELIUS will be on the short list right from the start."