A collaboration with ANCA helped Swiss tool maker Fraisa reduce production costs by 50% through a customised automation solution.

Fraisa is a family-owned business that offers its customers a complete range of solid round tools with endmills, drills and taps, with a full service offering encompassing logistics, customised tooling, regrinding and recycling of tools. Headquartered in Switzerland, Fraisa has a strong position in Europe and has entered the US and Chinese markets in the last ten years as it capitalises on a tap market predicted to reach $699m globally by 2020.

“I think opportunities in the tool and cutter market are significant,” says Josef Maushart, CEO and President of Fraisa. “I expect a further growth of 2-3% a year and see especially high growth in solid round tools. To meet this demand, we are moving into a complete renewal of our tap production.

“We knew that providing taps was a unique selling proposition for us as most of our competitors only manufacture endmills and drills. However, with high labour costs in Switzerland we needed to incorporate automation into the manufacturing process and that took us to the edge of technology as far as cutting tool production is concerned, especially with a complex tool like a tap.”

The classic way to grind a tap is to first grind the flute and then on a separate machine, grind the thread. The ANCA TapXcell combines these operations on a single machine, creating an opportunity to automate the entire process. Fraisa also wanted the flexibility to change the product without people being involved in the fabrication for small and large lot orders.

Amelinda Ilardi, Engineering Project Manager at ANCA, facilitated the collaboration with Fraisa.

“To remain competitive in high cost labour markets like Switzerland, Fraisa wanted a machine that could grind multiple tap types unmanned for 50 hours,” says Ilardi. “There was no solution on the market, and Fraisa approached us to develop the technology they needed.

“To enable the machine to run unmanned, we needed an in-process measurement capability to ensure grinding stability. To do this we designed a new application where the thread pitch diameter is measured by a Renishaw MP250 touch probe. Measuring to ±0.002mm accuracy, this feature is crucial as it ensures every batch of taps are of consistently high quality.”

Not only can the machine run unmanned for 50 hours, it is fully connected to Fraisa’s factory ERP system for further efficiency and reliable production data gains. The machine can be remotely monitored using ANCA’s RedaX product and automatically sends notifications to keep remote staff aware of the machines progress and also any issues or faults that need to be addressed. RedaX can also be used to track the productivity and up-time of multiple ANCA machines.

“ANCA’s commitment to innovation is by being able to deliver custom solutions as an enhancement to our standard product,” adds Ilardi. “This requires agile response and capacity in our engineering to deliver what can be quite a complex set of customer requirements.”

Unique to the market, the TapXcell is a complete production package for tap manufacturers. The grinder itself includes a 37kW grinding spindle that enables grinding of even taps above M32, as well us dual wheel dressers and between-centre workholding. Industry leading iTap software makes setting up all machine operations easy, even for the more complex tool geometries. Grinding capability is complemented by the TXcell’s robot loader, which manages auto-changing of up to 24-wheel packs and tool changing. For Fraisa, ANCA introduced an extended-capacity turntable to the current TapXcell design to meet additional capacity requirements.

“ANCA has the capability and will to answer our specific requirements and collaborate with our teams to customise a solution fairly quickly,” says Maushart. “From previous projects I knew they had an experienced engineering team with the capabilities and capacity to take on complex challenges such as automating tap grinding.

“As a CEO I am often asked how a country with high labour costs like Switzerland can have such a thriving manufacturing sector. The answer is easy, Switzerland is one of the most innovative countries in the world. At Fraisa, innovation means we have a steady product renewal process and renew on average 800 of our 8,000 articles each year. This is the evolutionary aspect of our business, with daily improvements. But to really succeed, from time to time it is important to have a revolutionary innovation.

According to Maushart, the change from a manned three-shift operation for five days a week to an unmanned seven-days operation, Fraisa has cut costs by half. Productive hours have risen from an average of 105 per machine per week, to 150 hours, with serious efficiency benefits.

Fraisa does not see unmanned production as a negative for its employees, Maushart adds: “There are several advantages for our workers. We made the decision to retain their salary if they invested more time in upskilling themselves in other manufacturing processes. This benefits us as we have a more engaged and skilled workforce who can focus on more value-added work rather than just monitoring machines. It also offers them a better work-life balance by not having to work on weekends or shift work.”