METAGRO meets Salvagnini: the P2lean panel bender to produce tailor-made stainlees steel furniture for catering.
thanks to Sandra Winter, x-technik
Experienced staff in processing stainless steel furniture
The P2lean was the right machinery at the right time for METAGRO Edelstahltechnik AG.
“I remember very well the first time I saw this machine‚ live in action at a trade fair. I was amazed how fast it was possible to bend a wide range of parts in a short time, and this fascination ultimately led to us now having one panel bender at our company,” explains Matthias Uhrfahrer, Production Manager at METAGRO. But it was not just his opinion that counted for the final decision. The experienced staff at Hainfeld, who specialize in processing stainless steel plate, were involved in the decision-making process from the beginning. The professionals helped with extensive analyses of the range of parts to be produced in order to specify the requirements for the machine.
Basically, it was necessary to replace an aging hydraulic press brake with a modern, Industry 4.0 compliant solution. “Currently we process between 400 and 500 tons of stainless steel per year, in addition to small quantities of other precious metals such as copper or brass depending on customer requirements. To do that, we rely on modern machinery that ranges from a laser cutting system to press brakes and the panel bender, as well as on a welding area and manual assembly. A large part of the profit is reinvested,” says Christoph Hofer, Head of Business Development, referring to the traditionally high equity ratio of the family-run company.
High-quality niche products
METAGRO was founded by Eng. Peter H. Reuschel. While working as a coffee machine salesman, he discovered an interesting market niche – tailor-made stainless steel furniture for the food industry – which he intended to fill with his own product offer. The official opening for his company was dated 1972, and one year later, with 14 employees, he started to produce mainly batch-one items and medium-sized batches. Even today, larger batches are more the exception than the rule at METAGRO Edelstahltechnik AG. “We are mainly active in the small batch-size segment,” confirms the Production Manager Matthias Uhrfahrer. The experts at Hainfeld often produce unique items, limited editions, or challenging special designs. “We feel more comfortable with tailor-made production. As soon as customers require something truly unusual or something must be produced from, or in combination with, stainless steel or other precious metals, we are the specialists,” says Christoph Hofer, presenting the company as the perfect partner for everything that is a little bit shorter, smaller, higher or somehow different.
Although a large part of its turnover comes from the food industry, METAGRO is also successful in many other market niches. Regardless of whether it is a football stadium (refrigeration and dispensing equipment for the Allianz Stadium of SK Rapid Wien), a laboratory (laboratory and storage room furniture for the Lilienfeld central hospital), plant engineering (brewing equipment, refrigeration technology, and bar furniture for Antonius Bräu), at the luxurious London department store Harrods (stainless steel shop-fitting components), in the public area (sculptures) or within private homes – METAGRO can be found wherever design, functionality and durability are key requirements.
Accordingly, the showroom at Hainfeld, in addition to decorative furniture items for the food industry, such as the Vertical Limit champagne refrigerator – which was custom made for Veuve Clicquot, you can also see a bread cutter for Trzesniewski as well as a stainless steel battery recycling box. A prototype from which this company from Lower Austria is expecting great things in the future. With this stainless steel box, the batteries returned to supermarkets will be safely stored in a fireproof manner.
Flexible, adaptive automation for stainless steel furniture
METAGRO could well reach unusually high sales volumes with the stainless steel battery recycling box – which is called VOLTOBOX. This would not be a problem for everyday manufacturing operations. As a result of the equipment being selected with great foresight, they are optimally equipped both for their customary batch sizes that until now have had a maximum of 500 parts as well as for true best sellers. “When we ordered the P2lean from Salvagnini, this recycling box was not yet a topic. However, with our new panel bender, we are perfectly equipped for this type of project. With an average of 17 bends per minute, the P2lean is able to demonstrate its strengths, especially with complex parts that require multiple bending steps. With a traditional press brake, the bending process for this battery recycling box would take about three hours instead of only two minutes, because numerous retooling operations would be necessary,” says Matthias Uhrfahrer, referring to a particularly user-friendly benefit of the P2lean: with its standard universal tools – the blankholder, the counterblade, the upper and the lower blades – in combination with the adaptive MAC 2.0 technology, it performs fully automated, material-specific bending. The operators perform only the loading and unloading operations.
The panel bender is programmed in the office. Thanks to the simulator integrated into the STREAMBEND software, the programmer can perform a realistic test run on the computer to ensure that later, during live machine operation, there will not be any collisions or any other undesired surprises.
“It is a completely different world. With a press brake, operations are performed from the outside to the inside, here it is exactly the opposite. The component does not have to be handled for every bend, everything runs automatically. You insert the unfolded blank and remove a completely bent part,” says Leopold Schweiger, bending expert at METAGRO, confirming the reduction in workload that the new panel bender offers him.
And it is possible to know how many kilograms of thin sheet metal, mostly between 0.8 mm and 2 mm, it processes every day without mechanical support using LINKS, the Salvagnini IoT solution, which can also be used as a real-time monitoring tool. “This adds up to a lot, especially when handling small components,” concludes Leopold Schweiger.
Ideal for small-sized batches
But the P2lean not only makes it possible to work ergonomically, it also offers many other advantages, as METAGRO discovered only a few weeks after putting it into service. “With this machine we are able to cover a larger variety of stainless steel products. A considerable amount of idle time for set up and programming has been drastically reduced. Also the bending of various radii as well as larger bends and adapted contours is possible with higher quality thanks to the new panel bender. In the past we often had to purchase individual tools. With Salvagnini’s intelligent Material Attitude Correction technology, the same high-quality bends are guaranteed for a wide range of sheet clamping operations. Another aspect from which we benefit considerably: extremely high repeatability within a range of a tenth of a millimeter. Small gap dimensions are constantly ensured, which is very helpful for the downstream processes – such as semi-automated welding,” says Matthias Uhrfahrer, explaining the multitude of improvements that he would no longer want to do without.
Stock of stainless steel furniture can also be reduced, because certain parts are produced only on an order basis. “We used to try to avoid small quantities and mainly produced for the warehouse, now we are perfectly equipped for batch-one manufacturing. It is truly remarkable how fast the panel bender sets up its tools and within a few seconds is ready again for the next bend or part,” says the Production Manager, praising the performance of the P2lean. “Our machine concept also uses permanently installed universal tools that offer full flexibility for bending, with material thicknesses between 0.4 mm and 3.2 mm. It is no longer necessary, as with a press brake, to consider in advance if a gooseneck, folding or radius tool is needed to make a certain part,” says the Austria Sales Manager David Mörtenböck.
Overall, METAGRO had many requirements for its new bending solution: it had to be compact, as the “only” space available is where its predecessor – a hydraulic press brake – was located. It had to adapt to the current product spectrum of the company, keeping at the same time lots of margin for future projects. It also had to comply with the most modern state-of-the-art technology. “Topics regarding automation, digitalization and networked manufacturing are becoming increasingly important for us too. Therefore it was important that the order data from the ERP system could be digitally transported directly to production,” reveals the METAGRO Head of Business Development Christoph Hofer.
This wish can be fulfilled without difficulty using OPS, a modular software suite from Salvagnini. On the one hand, OPS is used to keep business resource planning up to date – including the actual bending times and material consumption. On the other hand, a barcode is used to transfer the order and program numbers, the exact dimensions of the component to be manufactured and a wide range of other information to the P2lean. “As soon as the barcode is scanned, the machine sets itself up for the order in a fully automatic manner. Operating errors are no longer possible, because the machine detects them immediately and sends an appropriate notification, if a wrong metal sheet is inserted,” explains Matthias Uhrfahrer.
The P2lean was delivered to METAGRO on February 24, 2020 and production started at the end of April. As a part of the user and operator training was held prior to lockdown, the originally identified time schedule could be maintained despite coronavirus. “We benefited from a truly fantastic training concept. The basics were explained to us in Ennsdorf and then, after a few weeks, we were trained on-site addressing topics that arose during our first bending attempts. Our designers also received in-depth explanations about the most important machine details, so they could know everything that is possible with our new panel bender and how they can create designs appropriate for the P2lean,” says Matthias Uhrfahrer, recalling the training phase.
In the meantime, METAGRO’s bending specialists realize the machine’s full potential more and more often and, whenever they are faced with a challenge that at first seems impossible, they already know from experience: a call to Andreas Freitag, Sales & Application Engineering Manager at Salvagnini, is enough to learn some more application tricks. “Salvagnini has proven to be a flexible, on-schedule company whose trustworthiness is ensured by a handshake. From the foundation plates being laid to the first bent part being completed and far beyond – cooperation with David Mörtenböck and his colleagues was optimal from every point of view,” concludes Christoph Hofer.