The municipality of Heerbrugg is located where the Rhine flows into Lake Constance and Switzerland shares a border with Austria and Germany. Industrial history was written here: In the 19th century, a local brickworks developed a pioneering new production process. At the beginning of the 20th century, Heerbrugg became known as home to companies in the precision mechanics and optics sectors. Heerbrugg is still well-known today. Largely thanks to one of the biggest employers in the region: SFS intec.
SFS intec is big. This is confirmed not only by the headcount – more than 8,000 employees worldwide, including 1,400 in Heerbrugg – but also by taking an aerial view of the Heerbrugg site, the company headquarters. Standing on an area as large as eight soccer fields kare various buildings of different ages and appearance, bearing witness to the steady growth enjoyed by the company since it was founded in 1928.
Under very high pressure
Meticulously arranged in rows and marked off by yellow lines on the floor, close on 100 machines in the pressing plant hall produce 80 to 400 components per minute and machine, while creating an impressive volume of sound. In two to six stages, the machines form wires of 0.5 to 30 mm thickness into components – under very high pressure (up to 350 tonnes) and with no loss of material. The wire raw material is fed in at room temperature. This process is called cold forming. The formed components produced in this manner are then conveyed on for secondary machining.
Metal-cutting with Mikron
Things are much quieter here, and it smells of machine oil. The machines in the secondary machining operations hall are much more compact than the ones used for cold forming. The arrangement of machines is no different: Everything is calculated down to the millimeter, and all small parts and tools have their own fixed place. “Here at SFS intec, when we talk of secondary machining operations, we mean all types of precision metal-cutting, such as milling, drilling and turning,” explains Harald Aspek. The 52-year-old operator is setting up a Mikron Multistar for the finishing of pressed blanks for the automotive industry. “We’ve had this Multistar for 13 years – I know it inside out,” adds Harald Aspek. SFS intec has been using Mikron machines (among others) for precision metal-cutting for over 30 years. Worldwide, there are currently a total of more than 30 machines in operation. Mechanical transfer machines – i.e. older Multifactor and Multistar models – account for the biggest share. The newest additions are CNC-controlled Mikron VX-10s.
Precise and fast
A journey by heavy load lift to the warehouse, where driverless forklifts are doing their rounds, and a short walk across the site road to the neighboring building take Roger Vauthier to his workplace. This is in another of the total of three secondary machining operations halls. There are Mikron machines in this huge hall as far as the eye can see. On each machine, SFS intec produces up to five million components a year, mainly for the automotive industry. “Versatility, very high cycle times and extreme reliability whatever material is being fed in: For me these are the advantages that Mikron machines offer,” says the 44-year-old operator. “And with the new VX-10s we can work with even greater precision and have shorter changeover times than with the Multifactor,” adds team leader Harald Niederer (50). He has been working with Mikron machines since he joined SFS intec 17 years ago. “Mikron machines have enjoyed an excellent reputation at our company for many years,” Harald Niederer points out. “For instance, we also use them to train apprentices.”
Gray not green
There are more Mikron machines in the third secondary machining operations hall. In addition to machines from other manufacturers, this hall also contains the latest Mikron VX-10s. It is striking that the new machines are no longer green, but painted in their standard colors of gray and white. This makes the hall appear much brighter and friendlier. “We introduced a new color concept two years ago,” clarifies Mile Veljaca. The 60-year-old team leader has been with SFS intec for 14 years. “The new Mikron machines remove the cuttings very effectively. They also run very stably once you have set them up correctly,” stresses Mile Veljaca. “There’s always room for improvement, but the people from Mikron fundamentally do a good job.”