CNC machining and simulation analysis

Challenge

High requirements in the automotive industry and constant market pressure to optimise production. Since the 1970s, Raufoss Technology has had an automated production line, but has recently focused on transforming its production to a more flexible production form. 

Solutions

A combination of an automated production system with digital simulation to increase flexibility in production.

Costs

Raufoss Technology has made considerable invested in their automated production lines, including large investments in 500 tons’ hydraulic presses and new digital solutions.

Result

A more cost-effective production that makes it possible to run a competitive business in a high cost country like Norway.

Introduction

Raufoss Technology is a producer of vehicle components (suspension control arms) in aluminium to the automotive industry. The company delivers its products to some of the world’s largest car manufacturers (e.g. Volvo, General Motors, Jaguar, Daimler, BMW).

Since 2004, Raufoss Technology has been a division of the Austrian Neuman Aluminium Group who is specialised in the development and the production of aluminium parts to a wide variety of sectors. Raufoss Technology has its main manufacturing plant in Raufoss Norway, but is also present with manufacturing facilities in Montreal, Canada and Suzhou, China.

When automation is not enough 

Already in the 1970s, Raufoss Technology started its automation process. The automotive industry has been a key driver in efficient and lean production. Being a supplier to the automotive industry, it is crucial for a company like Raufoss Technology to have highly efficient production processes.

Generally, the level of automation among suppliers to the automotive industry is high. New and smart solutions within automation are no doubt a key competitive factor, as there is a constant push towards more effective production. Raufoss Technology is aware that they need to produce as efficiently as possible, all the time.

 “As a supplier to the automotive industry, we have to deliver high volume products by producing hundreds of thousands of the same product each year. By investing in expensive production equipment, like 500 tons’ hydraulic presses, we need to utilise the equipment 24/7. This has made it worthwhile to invest in robots that can handle parts in the different forming steps of aluminium. One robot can work around the clock and do the work of 3 operators when utilised correctly”.

- Christopher Braathen,
Plant Manager of Raufoss Technology’s Raufoss Site

Today however, it is not enough to focus solely on more automation. Digital solutions are needed to optimise production even more. For instance, a challenge Raufoss Technology faces is, that due to the specific demands from each of its customers, the company has to produce a series of products in different forms and shapes. This is highly demanding in a production system developed for high volume production of a small product range. Raufoss Tecnhology’s production consists of capital-intensive large machines that are intertwined in coherent and specialised production lines that are not adaptable for the production of different items. To meet this challenge, Raufoss Technology has focused on how to transform its production from state-of-the-art to a more flexible production form that can handle a larger variety of products with the same level of efficiency.  

Simulation analysis is used to plan material flow and inventory management. For this purpose, Raufoss Technology has collaborated with SINTEF in a project supported by The Research Council of Norway (The MIX project). Within the framework of the project, simulation has been developed in order to mimic different scenarios and how they affect production processes. In October 2016, Raufoss Technology is moving its production of suspension control arms for Volvo cars (for the Volvo cars being produced in Sweden and not those that eventually will be produced in China) from China back to Norway and into a new plant. This move is to ensure that the production equipment and use of storage is optimised, and the simulation model using developed forecasts and scenarios has been important in this decision.      

How digital simulation works

Simulation is the imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system over time. It is used as a work tool in manufacturing because it can be used to model how an existing production line might perform if altered, or how a new product might behave before the prototype is even completed, and thus, saving on costs and lead time.

Simulation analysis is an important part of Raufoss Technology’s product and process development. The automotive industry generally places high demands on the quality and safety of the components it buys. This means that the actual component must satisfy tough tolerance requirements. Simulation is used to verify products before they are approved for final equipment purchases. Simulation can help check the reliability of machinery, scrap rates and machine setup requirements, as well as to predict the components’ performance on the car.

Raufoss Technology has several automated production lines, both for forming, assembly and CNC machining of parts. CNC stands for Computer Numeric Control, and these machines are operated by precisely programmed commands encoded on a storage medium (computer command module, usually located on the device) as opposed to controlled manually by hand wheels or levers.

 “The separate elements of our production line are not unique. It is by utilising the combination and interplay between simulation, material technology and automated high volume production that we have a unique production system”

- Christopher Braathen,
Plant Manager of Raufoss Technology’s Raufoss Site

 

The results: Higher productivity – moving manufacturing back to Norway

As a result of its efforts within digitalisation and automation, Raufoss Technology has demonstrated that it is feasible to run a competitive business in a high cost country like Norway. More concretely, its Austrian owner, Neuman Aluminium Group, decided to move the production of suspension control arms for Volvo cars back to Norway from China.

An element in this decision was that the production site in Norway is significantly closer to Volvo’s factory in Gothenburg, this has reduced lead time by three to four months. However, the higher productivity in Norway has been crucial. Firstly, the cycle time for CNC machines in Norway is 25 seconds compared to almost four times longer in China. For the assembly process, there are similar benefits by producing in Norway. Secondly, the production site in Norway needs approximately 1/3 to 1/4 of the operators required in China. It is estimated that the reduced working capital compensates for the investments made in Norway.

The future prospects are looking good for Raufoss Technology as they are both receiving requests, and winning new orders for new products from the car manufacturers. 

“We also see now that we are getting contracts for new products. This proves that we have managed to stay competitive in an intense global competition.”

- Christopher Braathen,
Plant Manager of Raufoss Technology’s Raufoss Site

Plant Manager of Raufoss Technology’s Raufoss Site

Raufoss Technology expects that the company’s turnover will more than double in the next two years. In the future, Raufoss Technology plans to keep its focus on the integration of digital solutions in its automation processes. Christopher Braathen states that it is important not to get too eager in the implementation of automation and digitisation, but to be cautious that new solutions implemented can have negative effects on the entire production system, as the machines are integrated and connected.