Automation benefits everyone
Manufacturing company Uddeholm is the heart and soul of a district in central Sweden and one of the world’s leading producers of tool steel for sectors such as the automotive industry. Such achievements require excellent forward planning, and a newly installed robot cell is helping the company to more efficiently meet customer demands for fine-machined tool steels.
Visiting Hagfors in the province of Värmland in western Sweden is a little like taking a fantastic journey back in time. The local landscape, with its large lakes and deep forests, has been home to the processing and refining of iron and steel since the seventeenth century. That heritage is today being maintained by Uddeholm, the world’s leading producer of tool steel for use in the production of industrial work tools for a range of sectors, including the automotive industry.
While its heritage is a source of immense pride, having a long history doesn’t get you far in the face of tough global competition. Over the past eight years, Uddeholm has been at the centre of a comprehensive efficiency drive, involving the investment of one billion Swedish crowns (100 million euros) in the facility. In the spring of 2015, another 250 million crowns was invested in projects including a better flue-gas treatment system, a research and development facility for powder steel, and an eleventh remelting furnace. Another strategically important investment has been in the company’s first robot-loaded machine cell for double-sided milling, something that became fully functional in the spring of 2015 after about two years of planning, evaluation and testing.
The journey to automated efficiency
Stefan Stenmark is a production engineer at Uddeholm and manager of the project, which came about when an older mill needed refurbishing. When it became apparent that the cost of refurbishment was too high, the idea of trying another solution was proposed.
“When we evaluated the options, the existing solution just seemed completely wrong,” says Stenmark. “I’d long been thinking about a robot, and it now seemed the time was right. It’s been an intense and fun journey which has involved everything from evaluating suppliers to finding the money and putting the solution into service.”
Stenmark says the procurement of the robot cell for milling started in 2013 and involved a new way of working, in every sense of the phrase. “We don’t usually collaborate with the supplier during procurement, but in this case it felt both natural and useful,” Stenmark says. “Among other things, we were able to discuss material solutions as part of a dialogue with Seco and the machine supplier, Stenbergs.”
Håkan Nordh is a service engineer at Seco and Account Manager for Uddeholm. He says his involvement in the robot procurement process was an important and instructive experience, which among other things involved undertaking research trips to Turkey and Taiwan for “test runs in real situations and with the real material”.
“Uddeholm’s requirement specifications to the machine supplier were for a 2RA surface finish, Sverker 21 tool steel, and a maximum throughput time of 2.5 minutes. These were the basic requirements that we had with Stenbergs. We really appreciated having the opportunity to be in the loop from an early stage and to work with Uddeholm on this important procurement.”
Following assembly and six weeks of trials, the machine was delivered to Uddeholm in December 2014 and then underwent fine tuning. The machine and a larger mill have both been fully operational since last spring. Together, the machines provide a complete solution, with the robot cell handling breadths from 25mm to 200mm and thicknesses from 4mm to 80mm, and the larger machine handling all other sizes.
Adjusting to automation
Head of Department at Uddeholm Ulrika Åhs says the robot cell means that customers have had to adjust to new, fine-machined plates.
“Milled steel is as good as ground steel and the robot cell maintains the measurements better than the ground segments,” she says. “Thanks to thorough investigation, we also know that the new structure doesn’t affect the material properties any more than polished. And the chips from the robot cell are better for the environment. They can go straight back into the smelter for recycling, without further processing.”
Uddeholm’s intention with the robot was never to reduce the workforce. Instead, the primary goal was to increase efficiency and in this way be able to offer a lower price for the material produced.
“The competitive advantages that the robot cell offers our customers are: quality, time and delivery reliability,” says Stenmark. “For us internally, it frees up capacity and various people have now been given new work duties. Everyone is satisfied and the whole solution has turned out better than I expected.”
Some 850 of Hagfors’ 5,000 or so inhabitants work at Uddeholm, and many others have links to local suppliers. The company is, in other words, the heart and soul of the district, and the investments now being undertaken will impact on many people’s lives.
“Uddeholm is a part of a 350-year-old production chain that is now being re-examined and developed,” says Stenmark. “We’re building our operation on skilled operators. At the end of the day, it’s about ensuring the district’s future.”
By Anne Hammarskjöld Photos by Tobias Ohls
Shaping our everyday lives
It’s highly likely that your glasses and the car that you drive both have a link the district of Hagfors in Sweden’s Värmland province. The Uddeholm steelworks has been located here since 1878 and today produces one of the world’s best and cleanest tool steels. This steel is used for the production of industrial work tools for the cutting, shearing, and shaping of steel, other metals and plastic in both a cold and warm state. The steel is used by the automotive industry and producers of pacemakers, PET bottles and eyeglasses to name just a few applications.
Uddeholm works with about 100,000 different customers in 100 countries. Some 50 percent of the production output goes to the automotive industry.
Over the last two years, the company has taken on 100 new employees and profit margins have increased from 4-5 percent to 17 percent.
New Double Octomill™ allows for increased productivity
The new-generation Double Octomill R220.48 face-milling cutter is a highly versatile, economical and productive tool that can be used for roughing and finishing.
Seco’s Double Octomill is one of the face-milling cutters used by Uddeholm’s robot cell. The innovative Double Octomill has inserts that are positioned in the pockets by HSS pins, making indexing easy and secure. Nothing can go wrong because the HSS pins keep the insert correctly in place, ensuring an extremely long life for each pocket (65 HRC). The Double Octomill’s 16 cutting-edge inserts make it unbeatable value on a per-edge and per-part basis.
The face-milling cutter is available in diameters ranging from 40 to 500 mm and it is particularly well suited to the processing of large components. All Double Octomill cutters use a unique pocket design and ground slots on the insert to achieve maximum precision.