Pictured: Kasto’s VisualAssistance speeds online fault finding & maintenance by customer personnel
“Kasto is passionate about engineering and manufacturing,” says Ernst Wagner, managing director of the German firm’s UK and Ireland subsidiary based in Milton Keynes. The parent company is a global leader in the production of industrial warehousing systems and sawing machines, most offering a high degree of operational autonomy.
In his view, in the markets into which he sells, the only way is up for automation of the two initial steps in manufacturing, namely storage of raw material and cutting it prior to the first production process. It is essential in order to stay competitive in world markets, yet Britain and Ireland lag behind most developed nations in their adoption of all types of mechanisation.
Mr Wagner points out, “Nearly half of carbide circular sawing machines sold in Germany have some degree of automation, for example the inclusion of robotic chamfering, centring or sorting of cut pieces without operator intervention (www.kasto.com/en/products/systems/systems-detail-page/s-machines.html)
“There are similarly many examples of automation applied to bandsawing installations, not only in Germany but also across Europe and the USA (www.kasto.com/en/products/systems/systems-detail-page/kastocenter.html). Here again, around half of installations are automated to some extent.
“A single robot can service more than one sawing machine, leading to greater efficiency and faster return on investment. In the UK however, such examples are rare, despite there being 1,400 Kasto saw installations in this market, two-thirds of them being more than 15 years old.”
On the other side of Kasto’s business – the manufacture and supply of automated industrial storage systems – it has installed 1,900 worldwide but there are only eight of the top-end, fully automatic warehouses in the UK. This is despite goods-to-operator material handling being typically three times faster than manual picking, added to which automated storage has a footprint up to 75 percent smaller than conventional racking. It saves valuable space, significantly increases output and growth, and lowers cost per pick.
So the potential for British and Irish stockholders and manufacturers to benefit by upgrading and automating both their logistical and sawing functions is enormous. There are early signs that more firms are getting the message and that the UK’s short-term approach to investment in manufacturing is starting to come to an end. So also is its failure over the past couple of generations to promote apprenticeships.
Consequently, Mr Wagner foresees that manufacturing will become an ever more important part of the economy over the coming years and provide an increasing percentage of GDP.
The importance of having equipment serviced regularly
Alongside this prediction, he cites an interesting statistic. A rule of thumb is that a manufacturer should spend 3 to 5 percent of the capital cost of a sawing machine per shift per annum on keeping it in peak condition. The reality is that firms in the UK spend on average 1 percent and consequently sawing efficiency declines over the years. A machine can deteriorate to the point where, from an investment point of view, there is little to be gained from its continued use, especially considering that the saw is old technology and therefore less efficient than a newer model.
His message is: do not ignore service, but take out a service contract with a full maintenance package from the outset. Behind the sales talk lies the undeniable fact that poorly serviced machines perform less efficiently and break down more often, which can easily have a bigger financial impact in terms of lost production and repair bills than paying for regular, planned maintenance.
Users of the company’s high-end bandsaw range, KASTOtec, tend to be better at maintaining their equipment than others, as the saws are to be found in arduous environments processing tough and exotic alloys in the petrochemical, aerospace, nuclear, defence and motorsport sectors.
Cutting these materials is a job that the saws perform two to three times faster than others on the market, mainly using carbide-tipped saw blades, so the machines need to be kept in good condition to ensure that expensive stock is not wasted and production efficiency is maintained.
More than 110 such saws have been delivered to UK and Irish customers in the past decade. A key factor in their construction is that they are designed for cutting with carbide blades, focusing on the weakest link in any machining operation – vibration – and reducing it to an absolute minimum, thereby increasing sawing productivity.
Redesign minimises hydraulics
New in this area is an extensive redesign of the KASTOtec saw, which has seen the introduction of a frequency-controlled, 15 kW, bevel spur gear drive capable of faster cutting speeds up to 300 m/min. Accurate material infeed continues to be by ballscrew drive, as used for axis positioning on mainstream machine tools, rather than via a leadscrew or a hydraulic cylinder.
Most importantly, hydraulically actuated downfeed has been replaced by a pair of steplessly adjustable electric motors and ballscrew drives. The technology was developed for a more recent product introduction, the mid-range, carbide-designed bandsaw KASTOwin pro, and proved so effective that the feed drive has been transferred to the highest-performance ‘tec’ models as well. Close control over the feed rate of the blade into the material, with minimal use of sensors, enables the cutting parameters for each job to be continuously optimised, not only at the beginning and end of the cut but also throughout the sawing process.
The improvement lowers energy consumption by about 40 percent, as hydraulics are now used only for clamping the material. It also leads to a reduction in cutting times by as much as half in some instances, as well as reduced blade wear, helped by patented, low-vibration design features. Similar technology has been introduced on all production bandsaws that Kasto manufactures, including the mitring machines.
Why was this not done previously? The technology was already in use on carbide circular saws, which use a rigid blade. However, a bandsaw blade requires much greater sensitivity and necessitates more responsive control electronics to react and adapt to a highly efficient, mechanical ballscrew feed. Otherwise the blade would wear too quickly due to the continuously changing engagement length when sawing round material, pipes and beams; or even break if a hard spot in the material is encountered.
When Kasto developed the KASTOwin bandsaw range and invented KASTOrespond, that higher level of control sensitivity became available. Forming part of the company’s proprietary control systems, it measures the force on the band and continuously optimises downfeed pressure, allowing the machine to adapt to material quality, shape and heterogeneity. Blade life is maximised and scrap is virtually eliminated.
Maximising uptime, minimising service costs
Kasto’s holistic service to its customers does not stop there. In addition to optimising production parameters, it constructively assists in maximising uptime of the equipment and at the same time lowering service costs by, for example, using VisualAssistance. It is an innovative video solution that allows customers to participate in maintaining their own machines and systems.
By means an interactive app on a tablet, smartphone or smart glasses, users can send live videos to Kasto’s service experts and receive visual assistance and information in real time, minimising downtime in the event of a fault or during routine maintenance. Customers can use the system to connect to service staff using audio as well as video streams, allowing users and Kasto’s engineers to share the same field of view in real time.
Mr Wagner states that Kasto’s mission is to advise on and supply constantly evolving solutions designed to closely match customers’ needs, eliminate their problems, satisfy their production requirements and increase profit, allowing them to grow their businesses.
Central to the supplier’s ability to do so is the sheer breadth of its ranges of storage and sawing systems (www.kasto.com/en). The latter includes innovative machines for sawing tube efficiently with carbide bandsaw blades in an upwards direction and even removing additively manufactured parts from their build platforms while held upside down.
He concludes, “Automation is the key. Trying to pare back raw material costs will only get you so far; it is in reducing the labour overhead where the real opportunity lies. In everything Kasto does, a cost-saving solution emerges because we know that capital investment in our equipment can be offset against a saving in operator-hours.
“We do the cost analyses for customers and show them how their investment will pay for itself in typically six to 12 months and increase productivity for many years after that. We prove to them how not only machine design but also robots and other methods of automation can improve their bottom line and help increase competitiveness.
“As far as our automated storage systems are concerned, the 1,900 installations around the globe have been delivered to one-third that many customers. It is proof that when a company has one of our warehouses, it often wants another. Admittedly it takes a few years to pay back the investment, but from then on the systems represent pure profit through higher productivity.”
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