"Pre-development has a license to fail"
As a provider of high-tech manufacturing solutions, TRUMPF places great value on close cooperation with its suppliers. Bernhard Fischereder, head of development at TRUMPF Austria and Alexander Mayrböck, sales engineer at B&R, explain how collaboration between their two companies resulted in the world's fastest bending machine.
Mr. Fischereder, how did you first make contact with B&R?
Fischereder: A good ten years ago we set ourselves the goal of building the fastest bending machine in the world. We didn't believe that goal could be achieved with a traditional hydraulic drive system, so we began evaluating whether servo technology could give us the speed we were looking for. B&R was on our shortlist of suppliers that we looked at more closely.
Mayrböck: It was at a trade fair in 2005 that I was first approached by a TRUMPF developer – I remember it clearly. He showed a lot of interest in the torque motors we had in our portfolio back then. As it turns out, that would be the first of many meetings.
What was it that got B&R onto your shortlist?
Fischereder: We recognized early on that B&R had a great deal of expertise to offer in the area of drive technology. The specialists we talked to provided excellent support in selecting and laying out the hardware.
Mayrböck: Funny enough, we now supply the machine's entire automation system. Everything, that is, except for the torque motor that started the whole conversation.
How did that happen?
Fischereder: B&R is a highly innovative company with a strong focus on developing and bringing new technologies to market. That philosophy harmonized very well with our ambition to build a state-of-the-art bending machine. So, we took a closer look at B&R's control systems, and eventually implemented the entire automation solution for the new machine using B&R controllers, I/O modules, drives and safety technology. The only thing that didn't go in B&R's favor was the torque motor. The reason for that is that we opted for an integrated spindle motor combination that wasn't available in B&R's portfolio.
How has the machine been received on the market?
Fischereder: Outstandingly. We presented it under the name TruBend 7000 back in 2008, and we're still producing it in high quantities to this day. In addition to speed and precision, that certainly has a lot to do with how much attention we paid to the machine's ergonomics. For example, the TruBend 7000 has specially designed lighting system and also allows seated operation. Even now, it's still the fastest in the world.
Did that earn B&R a permanent spot as TRUMPF's controls supplier?
Mayrböck: For that machine, yes. But that didn't mean we would automatically be chosen for future projects. TRUMPF wants to be sure it is building the best machines possible for its customers, so it evaluates suppliers according to the specific requirements of each project.
Fischereder: We follow a very clearly defined benchmarking process to evaluate and select potential suppliers. The criteria on which we base our decision vary from machine to machine. If we look at our next development project, the TruBend Cell 7000 – there we had very special demands in terms of robotics. Rather than a separate proprietary controller, we wanted to have the robotics directly integrated in the machine controller. We also evaluated each supplier's closed-loop control technology, costs, general development risk, capacity for innovation and countless other factors.
Mr. Mayrböck, what was this benchmarking process like from your perspective?
Mayrböck: TRUMPF certainly didn't make it easy for us – the technical specifications were quite imposing. But, while a selection process like this is never easy, in the end we benefited a lot from it. Solving TRUMPF's requirements led us to integrate a variety of new functions into our system that continue to give us a clear advantage on the market. For example, as one of the first customers to use our fully integrated robotics solution, TRUMPF provided valuable feedback. As challenging as implementation was back then, B&R has been enjoying the benefits of fully PLC-integrated robotics ever since. And, we have TRUMPF and its uncompromising requirements to thank for that.
Fischereder: That really is a good snapshot of how TRUMPF and B&R work together in general. We're both technological pioneers and set ourselves ambitious goals. Rather than passively selecting from B&R's existing portfolio, we're actively engaged in a mutual process of continuous development. And ultimately, that process benefits both sides.
What does it mean to be a technological pioneer?
Mayrböck: Mr. Fischereder, if you'll allow me to use your company as an example: TRUMPF is on a never-ending search for ways to improve its products. When a new technology hits the market that TRUMPF thinks might be interesting, they have a special department dedicated to creating functional prototypes based on that technology.
Fischereder: Exactly right. Our pre-development department allows us to pursue completely new ideas parallel to our daily business, which is extremely valuable. Frequently, this phase involves cooperations with universities. In fact, it was a member of our pre-development team that approached Mr. Mayrböck about torque motors that day at the trade fair.
What happens after pre-development?
Fischereder: That depends. Since they're exploring topics that are completely new to us, our pre-development team has a license to fail. They are tasked with testing the viability of new ideas, and if they didn't have the freedom to fail, there are some things they would hesitate to try. If we reach the end of a pre-development project and there are too many risks or unknowns, we pull the plug. If the technology proves itself, then we continue on with a full-fledged series development project.
What are some new technologies that TRUMPF has introduced?
Fischereder: Two examples that have made it into series machines are variable-speed servo hydraulics and multi-touch HMI – both of which can be found in our newest press brake series, the TruBend 5000. The control and drive technology on these machines also comes from B&R.
Mayrböck: … after an exhaustive benchmark evaluation, that is. Once again, TRUMPF demonstrated its commitment to understanding the exact needs of its customers and then developing solutions to meet them. For example, we had to present a whole selection of operator panels with different touch sensor technologies. They put each one through its paces in terms of durability, image quality and suitability for gloved operation.
So it's fair to say you have an eye for detail, Mr. Fischereder?
Fischereder: A machine is only as good as its ability to meet the customer's needs. That comes down to the big things like performance and production quality, but also the little details like ergonomics. In the end, it's the combination of all these factors that makes our machines so successful.