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The entire production process at Blum is based on
Erowa's ITS tooling system, which provides
workpiece's and electrodes with a reference position
defined to an accuracy of 0.002 mm.


For Cabinet makers time is money. Today furniture fittings from Blum can be fitted within seconds and without screws. The development of these products is based on one single idea to pack as much benefit as possible into the final product for everyone involved.

The company, Julius Blum GmbH, operates four plants in Austria and one in the USA, employing more than 2,400 people and is a 100 percent family business with a very successful corporate culture. But how are these high-tech fittings manufactured? Every week, Blum manufactures hundreds of thousands of drawer guides and several million furniture hinges. Considering the diversity of several thousand different articles, it is evident that a number of organizational problems have had to be solved.

The development of furniture fittings that satisfy everyone's requirements is a tall order. The designers want the simplest possible components, the toolmaker's want as many identical parts as possible, the purchasing department wants as little raw material as possible, the assembly department only wants products that can be assembled automatically, cabinet makers want to be able to fit the fittings as easily as possible, and customers demand top quality and durability.

Today's generation of Blum products largely contrives to meet all these demands and the EROWA manufacturing concept is the key to this success factor The automatic manufacture of components relies heavily on the toolroom. Punching, plying and press tools, as well as assembly parts, are for the most part manufactured on site with approx' 1,000 EDM electrodes in permanent use. However, up to 5,000 electrodes are stored after use so that they can be reused as soon as they are needed. Production facilities run round the clock, while operators prepare the subsequent jobs in two shifts. In order to manage this, the Erowa Job Management System has been in use since 1996. The entire production process is based on Erowa's ITS tooling system, which provides workpiece's and electrodes with a reference position defined to an accuracy of 0.002 mm. In 1995, Blum set itself to use the centres up to 6,000 hours, with two manned shifts.

As early as May 1996, these requirements were reached with the first two production cells. Such a cell consists of a Zimmer and Kreim CNC EDM centre, an Erowa Robot X, and the cell computer with the JMS software to control and monitor both machines. The present nine EDM and WED centres at Blum are monitored and operated by three to four employees in two shifts. Despite a reduction of machinery, the capacity of this group has been substantially increased. To organize electrode preparation, Blum started to think about the production process some time ago.

Today, the company is capable of manufacturing its entire electrode requirement with a conventional and a CNC Willemin W402 milling centre, both equipped with the ITS tooling system, and the CNC machine enhanced with an Erowa EasyChange pallet loading system. This operation is run round the clock and the two shifts are permanently manned. During this time, the operator monitors the CNC milling machine, loads and unloads the pallet changer and, if necessary, optimizes the CNC programs. On the conventional centre, he prepares electrodes for automatic use, supplied with ready-for-use CNC programs. Here, too, organizational aspects are important: the 1,000 electrodes and the relevant programs have to be managed properly.

In order to be able to identify electrodes at any time, Blum employs EWIS, the Electrode and workpiece Identification System from Erowa. An inductive data carrier, also called "chip" is attached to every electrode holder and every workpiece pallet. This chip carries a number that serves as an address for the storage of any information about the electrode or the workpiece. One of Blum's efficiency objectives says: We want to generate quality rather than checking on it and see every electrode and every workpiece preset outside the EDM centre, on a presetting station specially set up for this task. This station consists of a motor driven 3D measuring station with software tailored to presetting work. The operator is guided through the measuring process by means of graphic representations, thus no special 3D measuring training is required - only an instinctive feel for it. Every presetting process consists of the same steps: a) electronic identification of the workpiece by means of the EWIS chip; b) selection of a suitable presetting program for the relevant geometry; c) probing of given measuring points. After the measuring process, the offset data of the X, Y, Z and C-axes are automatically allocated to the correct EWIS number, i.e to the workpiece, and stored in the central database, where all the users have access to this data.

The operators of the EDM centres face a challenge: an avalanche of electrodes, workpieces, CNC data as orders roll their way. With the Erowa JMS Job Management System, it is possible for them to manage that flood of work without any stress. Here, the most important factors are for the operator to be able to prepare subsequent jobs without having to stop the EDM cell. The flexibility of being able to respond to an order status that may change inside one hour is fully retained despite the high degree of automatization.

In the leading JMS computer, the various data is compiled into orders. Each order is given a certain priority. If an express job must be completed in between, this can be done by means of a simple change in priority. If a component is missing for a particular job, this job will be set aside, and the next job on the priority list will be started automatically. The originally planned job will be activated again as soon as all the necessary components are available.

Despite an increase in capacity, Blum is continuing to look for optimization opportunities. In order to be able to see exactly how individual centres have worked out, reference is made to the Report Base, a time evaluation system integrated in the EROWA JMS. This facility displays black on white how many hours have been worked, but also how many hours the machine has spent on changing workpiece's and electrodes, and how many hours it has lost due to malfunction and simple down-time. This enables the company to identify unnecessary losses and take suitable countermeasures.

The successful introduction of the Erowa Job Management System at Blum is the result of a project managed carefully at every juncture. The fact that all the employees concerned were integrated quickly paved the way for new methods to be accepted. Practitioners' ideas and indications were built into the new structures in good time. The Blum production team has succeeded in satisfying market requirements. Manufacture in this area now runs better than ever - indeed, it runs so well that the company is trying to exceed the goal of 6,000 productive hours per machine/year. mm.
 
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