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The courage to change

It’s obvious immediately. A brand-new 5-axis Zimmermann FZ33 CNC gantry milling machine has been set up in the Formbar AG machinery building, 30 kilometers northeast of Zürich. Any company deciding to purchase a machine like this has to have a great deal of courage and clear goals. Like Kaspar Hürlimann, for instance. The managing director of Formbar AG is a judicious man who knows exactly what he's doing.

This company in Kirchdorf, Switzerland, was founded in 1911 and has been operated as a family business for three generations. During this time, it has developed from a manually intensive sawmill to a modern model and mold manufacturer based entirely on computer-supported systems. And yet: Four years ago, the future of this traditional company, which was then known as Keller Modell- und Formenbau AG, was very uncertain. Revenues were not developing as expected. Fortunately, the investors recognized that the company had far more potential. With its highly trained employees and exceptional equipment, it actually had the perfect basis for a successful future.

So the investors started searching for a new managing director. The ideal candidate was a partner with an entrepreneurial spirit who also exactly understood the practical side of model and mold manufacturing. 

  • The cycle is completed

    Their choice was Kaspar Hürlimann, a skilled model builder with more than 30 years of professional experience. After working as a model builder for ten years, he studied mechanical engineering in parallel with his work and completed his resume with a master’s degree in technical economics. As procurement manager with responsibility for managing staff, he became a well-versed leader. The decision to make this change was not an easy one for him. After all, he had worked for the same company for 15 years and was very comfortable with his situation. However, he decided to take the bull by the horns and to once again venture into the unknown. It may have also played a role that, as a young man, he had already worked at Keller for 3 1/2 years and still felt a bond with the company. So he was back again 30 years later – this time in management and with far more experience.

  • A new approach

    When Hürlimann took over as managing director three years ago, Keller Modell- und Formenbau AG specialized primarily in large orders from the foundry industry. He quickly realized that the product portfolio had to be significantly expanded if the company was to get back on track for success. In addition to casting models, the company now also manufactures components for the motor sports, aerospace and automotive industries. It benefits from its enormous wealth of experience and the versatility of its machinery. Everything is performed within the company – from preparation, to programming, assembly and production, to finishing. The specialists know exactly how to handle customer-specific blanks and how to work various materials such as plastics, aluminum, wood or carbon. They are fully proficient in techniques such as turning, milling, planing, drilling, sawing, smoothing, polishing, paint coating and final finishing. And by the way, the company name was changed to "Formbar" ("formable") a year and a half ago – a name that speaks for itself.

    The absolute highlight since the new start was the acquisition of the FZ33 compact 5-axis CNC gantry milling machine. This is the third in the bundle of CNC milling machines, which already includes a Zimmermann FZ30 compact 5-axis CNC gantry milling machine and an MV-304C 3-axis milling machine. "This machine perfectly complements our existing machinery. It has a traversing range of 4 x 2.5 x 1.5 meters, is extremely flexible and is more than twice as fast as our existing 5-axis gantry milling machine," enthuses Kaspar Hürlimann. Its enormous performance spectrum enables the manufacturer of components for all types of industry.

    The symbol of a successful future – Kaspar Hürlimann with "his" new 5-axis FZ33 CNC gantry milling machine just a few days before commissioning.

    Despite the initial success, this was still not enough to really be counted among the best. And that was absolutely Kaspar Hürlimann's goal: "We wanted to be faster and better. On the one hand, it was clear that we had to switch to a more process-oriented approach. What are our weaknesses and where is there potential for optimization? How can we most effectively utilize our machinery and employees? Also, we needed a software application that could model this process while simultaneously providing outstanding strategies and functions." Almost by chance, he finally came across Tebis, the process provider for CAD/CAM complete solutions from Martinsried near Munich.

  • The important role of the CAD/CAM provider

    "It was actually a customer of ours who was using Tebis," explains Hürlimann. "His opinion was that Tebis is extremely fast and can be used to achieve better results than other software solutions. Since other customers and colleagues from the industry were of the same opinion, we decided to test Tebis." After just a very short time, the NC programmers at Formbar were enthusiastic. Data from other systems such as Catia or Siemens NX, including all structures, can be imported with no difficulties. Reliability, automation and quality are key aspects for Tebis. Especially with the many large complex components that Formbar manufactures from aluminum with the most stringent demands on precision and accuracy, it is particularly important that all information on tools and machinery groups, cutting data and feed rates as well as for the blank and the component be stored in virtual databases. Every programmer must have access to this information. "The template topology just can't be beat," says Hürlimann. "A large advantage of Tebis is also that all zero points in the zero-point clamping system can be stored in the virtual machine. This enables programming with multiple reference groups. The machining sequence can still be sorted, even if the components have already been clamped. This is spectacular in combination with the Tebis simulation methods. Time-wasting tool changes are completely eliminated." The company is now using four CAD/CAM workstations and an interface workstation from Tebis.

    One of the total of 11 employees: NC programmer Michael Hilpert in action.

    The Swiss workers also took the process optimization advice of the experts from Martinsried to heart. It all started with a comprehensive analysis performed in partnership with Tebis Consulting. "It's truly interesting to have your own processes examined from an outside perspective," explains Hürlimann. "The processes have to be right, especially now, as we are growing and expanding our product spectrum. In a case like this, it's good to have your own weaknesses pointed out and to start over with the right structure." The managing director summarizes: "Our customers are convinced by the quality of our products and our on-time delivery. "Tebis has certainly played a large role in enabling us to work so efficiently today." The optimization measures are still proceeding at full speed. The company is supported by Tebis Implementation to fully benefit from the advantages of the software. The entire programming process and all libraries are overhauled in October. Process restructuring should be completely finished by April 2016.

    Open house at Formbar AG on August 28th this year: A Maserati Alfieri is milled live on the new machine.

    NC programmer Natali Majer explains the machine control.

  • On the way to the world championship

    Formbar has world-class employees, as evidenced by 22-year-old Elias Siegrist. In the Swiss skills championships from September 17-21, 2014 in Bern, he earned the title of best young Swiss mold maker. As Swiss champion, he took part in the world skills championship in São Paulo, Brazil, from August 11-16 this year – and once again was on the victors’ podium with an outstanding third place.

    Elias Siegrist with his Mini, which he has use of for one year as a prize for placing first in the Swiss championship.

    Tebis is one of the main sponsors.

Overview

Quote

Our customers are enthusiastic about the quality of our products and our on-time delivery. Tebis has certainly played a large role in enabling us to work so efficiently today.

Features

Focus:

Casting models, components for the motor sports, aerospace and automotive industries.

Benefits:

  • Enormous wealth of experience
  • Powerful machinery
  • NC automation

Sector:

Mold manufacturing, Automotive, Model making

Company:

Formbar AG

Location:

Kirchdorf, Switzerland

Interviewee:

Kaspar Hürlimann

Position:

Managing director

Published:

2015/09

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