CNC machining and 3D printing

Challenge

Strong international competition and market pressure with increased focus on cost efficiency, short time to market and customization of tools.

Solutions

A fully automatic production line in Denmark based on CNC machining and the establishment of a 3D printing department in Wall-Thürmer A/S.

Costs

Thürmer Tools ApS has invested in a CNC machine and are close to acquiring a Baxter robot. Next to this, there are running costs for 3D printing in Germany and a R&D team in Denmark.

Result

An annual increase in turnover of 25 pct. and the first 3D printed product on the market in 2016.

Introduction

Thürmer Tools ApS is a manufacture of thread cutting tools for the European market. The production is based in Hvidovre, Denmark, just outside of Copenhagen. The current European market for cutting tools amounts to €17.5 billion.

The company was founded in 1898 under the name Thürmer & Co when Fritz C. Thürmer invented and patented a square cutting die, changing the way that external threads were made. In the 1920s, Thürmer was a major industrial company in Denmark and employed more than 2.000 workers. Since then, the company has reduced its staff considerably and changed hands several times. Now in 2016, the company employs 25 people and is once again generating a profit.

In 1999, all standard production was outsourced to China, leaving only specialized thread cutting tool production in Denmark.

Turnaround - moving production back to Denmark
 

In the 2010s Thürmer Tools ApS experienced challenges in a tough market that was competing more and more on customized products, fast deliveries and, as a result, a constant pressure on the company’s profit margins. These problems threatened the company’s existence and something needed to be done.

To get back on track, Thürmer Tools ApS decided to draw back production from China to Denmark because of quality issues and poor possibilities for customization due to long delivery times, and they decided to remove some of the company’s products. The strategy was that Thürmer Tools ApS, through automation, would increase their focus on offering a competitive price and be able to develop customized products and get them to market faster.

“We saw a niche market for producing in Denmark and set up a grinding center for customized and odd size thread cutting tools. We have a wide stock of blank tools - a blank tool can be made into 72 different kinds of cutting tools – in less than one hour using our set-up. This is impressive since the market leader within this business has up to 7 weeks of delivery time. ”

- Erick Thürmer,
CEO and Owner of Thürmer Tools ApS

Thürmer Tools ApS established a full automatic production line in Denmark at their factory in Hvidovre. The production was set-up with a CNC grinding machine centre, also called a grinding robot. CNC stands for Computer Numeric Control and are automated machine tools for cutting, drilling, welding and grinding, and it is operated not by hand, but by programmable encoded computers usually located in the devices. The advantages of using a CNC machine includes saving labour costs and getting very high degrees of precision and flexibility. 

Furthermore, Thürmer Tools Aps is planning to order a Baxter robot from Rethink Robotic in the near future to further improve production. A Baxter robot is a 3-foot tall two-armed robot designed to perform dull tasks on a production line in Small- and medium sized companies. The Baxter robot is used for simple industrial tasks such as loading, unloading, sorting and handling of materials. 

The CNC Grinding Center has already had a big impact on Thürmer Tools ApS and has made it possible to quickly and efficiently cut a thread in the pre-produced tabs and therefore, compete with the relatively low production costs in China.

” I believe I can make products for the same price as in China - Machines cost are the same. The future is looking into digitalization and especially disruption” 

- Erick Thürmer,
CEO and owner of Thürmer Tools ApS

3D printing - preparing for future tool making

In order to secure the company’s future and to meet the growing market need for customization and more efficient tools, Thürmer Tools ApS established Thürmer 3D-Print in 2013. Thürmer 3D-Print focuses on 3D printing technology and the possibilities that the technology offers. Thürmer believes that 3D printing offers solutions to the problems in manufacturing threads, especially in regards to customizing products and maintaining a short delivery time, affordable prices and a high quality.

From the beginning, Thürmer Tools ApS experienced some problems with the abilities of the current 3D technology, but with the rapid development of 3D technology in general, this barrier has been overcome. Since then, the key issue has been the relatively high costs of 3D printers.

In 2015, the company started to look for ways to improve existing Thürmer Tools ApS products, which holds tremendous possibilities. As an example, 3D printing can help in relation to machine tabs. When using tradtional machine tabs al lot of cutting fluid I needed to cool down the tab. By printing layer-by-layer with a 3D printer, internal spiral cooling can be produced, which reduces the use of cutting fluid, extends tool-life and creates a structure that makes it possible for the tool to work faster and therefore, achieve better cooling. This is not possible with traditional production technologies today.

“What 3 D printing can do is to optimize the internal structures. We are able to make internal grit structures and thereby making the products lighter adding new features - and without waste material”

- Ingeborg Rosenvinge,
Head of R&D, Thürmer ­3DPrint

How Metal Printing Works

The 3D printer spreads a thin layer of metal powder over the object. Following, a lacer runs over the object and melts the metal powder. The technique makes it possible to build much more complex internal structures than in traditional tool manufacturing. This makes it possible to create better internal cooling in thread cutting tools and to produce much lighter tools.

Thürmer Tools ApS is serious about their 3D printing strategy and has chosen to use ten percent of the company’s yearly earnings on developing and implementing 3D printing in producing thread cutting tools. The strategy is inspired by Lockheed Martin – a global technology leader within the security, defence and aviation industry. Lockheed Martin’s ‘Advanced Development Programs’ receives ten percent of their total earnings every year in order to disrupt the market that they are in. In the same way, Thürmer Tools ApS invests in its 3D printing strategy with the purpose of disrupting themselves and creating the thread cutting tools of the future. 

“We will see over the next five to ten years that 3D printing will make it possible to produce advanced high quality products locally. We will not need shipping in the form we know it today.”

- Erick Thürmer,
CEO and owner, Thürmer Tools ApS

3D printing is still an expensive technology. In addition to their own investments, Thürmer Tools ApS has succeeded in getting funding from Horizon 2020 and Innovationsfonden (via Innobooster), as well as through projects with MADE - Manufacturing Academy of Denmark, a cluster-like initiative working to enhance advanced manufacturing in Denmark through research and innovation activities.

At the moment, Thürmer 3D Print has one active 3D printer. However, all 3D printing in metal is done by a partner in Germany. This German company is already a key player in 3D metal printing, with large 3D printing facilities and skills available. In order to obtain new knowledge in 3D printing, Thürmer 3DPrint sends employees on study and training trips to 3D metal printing centres in Germany on a regular basis.

According to Erick Thürmer, CEO and owner of Thürmer Tools, the potential for 3D printing in thread cutting tools is huge. Aside from the €17.5 billion European cutting market, there is a huge cost saving potential when using 3D technology. For instance, 11 pct. of the production cost of a Volkswagen goes to cooling and oil in the production, which could be reduced considerably if using 3D printed thread cutting tools.

The results: Improving profits – preparing for the future

For Thürmer Tools ApS, their effort towards automation and digitalization has resulted in a significant improvement of the company's profits and the company is now profitable once again. With automated and robot driven production, Thürmer Tools ApS can deliver customized products to customers much faster, with fewer errors and at a competitive price.

“For us the steps we have taken towards automation and digitalization have been the difference between bankruptcy and success. The possibility of customizing product with a very short time-to-market and the strategy of reducing the number of offers products has been our way to success”.

- Erick Thürmer,
CEO and owner, Thürmer Tools ApS

For the 3D division of Wall-Thürmer A/S, Thürmer 3DPrint, the future looks interesting. Thürmer 3DPrint expect its first 3D printed thread cutting tool to enter the market within the next year.

“We expect to have large light weight tools on the market within a year and more advanced cutting tools with ultra efficient lubrication features within 2-3 years”.

 - Ingeborg Rosenvinge,
Head of R&D, Thürmer 3DPrint

AS A result of its work with 3D printing, the company has established collaborations with large companies such as LEGO and Grundfos. Interest in 3D printing in the manufacturing industry has therefor led to a new business opportunity for Thürmer 3DPrint, as they are now consulting and advising other companies on the use of 3D printing.