Partner under pressure
Professional competence and on-site collaboration are the key to project success – even under time pressure
Every single day, both small and medium-sized companies are faced with the challenge of reasserting their position in value chains. They mostly accomplish this through customised solutions, produced by using special machinery. Against this background, it is vital to increase the flexibility and speed of maintenance performance, as demonstrated by a joint project between AL-KO DÄMPFUNGSTECHNIK GMBH and itsme.
They prevent our car boot from falling on our head, ensure that we don’t spend a long flight in an uncomfortable upright sitting position, and guarantee that heavily loaded trailers can brake smoothly: gas springs and hydraulic dampers like those developed and produced by the company AL-KO DÄMPFUNGSTECHNIK GMBH at its Rossau site near Chemnitz. Products from the Central Saxony-based company can be found in almost every industry, from agricultural, construction and railway to aviation, medical technology and mechanical engineering. The company’s distinct hallmark across its many diverse applications? Individuality.
“We essentially produce three different types of gas springs: those for classic use, which store power and push the piston back out again due to the gas spring pressure. Special designs, which are more complex in terms of construction, are somewhat more demanding: gas springs that function in reverse, which means they retract their piston without counter-tension. These tension springs are particularly used in special machine construction on account of their compact installation possibilities. They are not off-the-shelf products, but individually designed and manufactured in collaboration with and specifically for the user”, explains Gerhard Rank, managing director of AL-KO DÄMPFUNGSTECHNIK GMBH.
Three types of gas spring
The third type, lockable gas springs, are also products designed for special applications. They suppress the gas flow via an operating function to enable them to remain in the position selected by the user. “We mostly produce small and medium quantities, given that we design the gas springs in a very client-specific way”, says Gerhard, describing his company’s business model. AL-KO relies on special machines for its own production, which in turn ensures the flexibility required for production in small quantities. A specially designed, complex interaction between mechanics, pneumatics, hydraulics and control technology ensures that the individual parts, such as pistons and piston rods, are assembled with low tolerance and without damaging their vulnerable surfaces.
Each individual production cell constitutes something unique, and without its parts, subsequent work steps would come to a standstill. Some time ago, a standstill of this kind was imminent in Rossau: “It was no longer possible to complete individual sections of the programme sequence of a machine. On top of that, a defective servo inverter was reporting errors at increasingly shorter intervals. In keeping with our company policy of ensuring the highest product quality, maximum production flexibility and productivity, it was soon clear that a replacement solution had to be found”, explained Michael Wolf, head of Plant Technology and Maintenance at AL-KO DÄMPFUNGSTECHNIK GMBH.
“Having a competent partner is key”
In this case, however, a repair, which normally doesn’t pose a major problem, ultimately proved to be unsuccessful. The reason? The corresponding LXM05 inverter had already been discontinued and could therefore no longer be supplied by the manufacturer Schneider Electric. Unfortunately, it was not possible to run the successor model LXM32 on the Siemens S7-300 drive without reprogramming and parameterisation. With every processing step being unique it was not possible to change the process. This is why it had to be a one-on-one replacement, both in functionality and in behaviour.
Local presence and knowledge of applications
Under these circumstances, the Schneider Electric specialist in charge recommended contacting Jens Kretzschmar and Marcel Hönemann, both of whom are technical consultants for Industrial Automation at itsme. This turned out to be very fortunate for the AL-KO Maintenance Team, because between them they were not only able to quickly provide the hardware replacement; they also immediately took care of the reprogramming and parameterisation of the unit comprising a servo motor and an inverter in the existing machine.
“As we were still able to read the defective inverter, we set to work at short notice. We both applied our specific specialties to the task: Jens applied his experience of servo amplifiers and I my knowledge of the installed PLC. The actual reconstruction was then no longer a major challenge”, says Marcel, describing the operation.
Management at AL-KO DÄMPFUNGSTECHNIK GMBH was also very satisfied with the outcome: “When faced with such a problem, the assumption might be to simply contact the original manufacturer of the machine. The fact that this is relatively far away geographically is not a problem for larger projects, such as new installations”, Gerhard reflects on the situation and adds: “But in spite of state-of-the-art facilities such as remote maintenance or video conferencing, it is still very important to meet in person. Hence, we are keen to engage with local partners in order to be able to sit down and discuss problems quickly, avoiding any unnecessary inconvenience. This was another reason for our decision to work with itsme.
“In spite of state-of-the-art facilities, it is still very important to meet in person”
The project was actually the springboard for both partners to embark on other smaller and larger projects together. “We are highly satisfied with our collaboration with itsme. It demonstrates just how important it is to have a competent partner who can take on the current challenges and find a quick solution”, says Gerhard. “These kinds of relationships are crucial, especially to a medium-sized company like ours, as we cannot maintain all of these competences in-house.”
Another project that is currently the largest modernisation project at AL-KO DÄMPFUNGSTECHNIK GMBH also involves collaboration with itsme: the now well-proven teams are in the midst of completely redesigning the video monitoring of an installation process. “After having had such a positive experience, we started this new project”, says Gerhard. As part of the quality control process, image processing will soon be used to ensure that the connecting of piston and piston rod is carried out according to specifications. “This is a very sensitive area and so our aim is to reliably detect and exclude even minimal errors due to faulty components or processes in this production step”, he says, looking to the future.
AL-KO DÄMPFUNGSTECHNIK GMBH develops and produces gas springs and hydraulic dampers for series and special solutions. Their dampers are widely used in almost all industries such as agricultural technology, construction vehicles, railway, aviation, medical technology and mechanical engineering. These can be found in products such as cabins, doors and seats. They offer their customers high quality standards according to DIN ISO 9001 with complete solutions from a single source, from project planning, procurement and production to complete logistics services, with a focus on flexibility, delivery reliability and dependability.
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