Autonomous factories are the future – EuroBLECH 2018

The 25th International Sheet Metal Working Technology Exhibition, EuroBLECH 2018 has always has been the industry’s technological forum for you to view the world’s sheet and plate machine manufacturers and software developers’ new products and innovations aimed at reducing the time between component development and final delivery. As usual fiber laser machines, with more power and capabilities to cut thicker material, lead the way. But this time around the emphasis was on digitalisation, artificial intelligence (AI) and Industry 4.0. These intelligent production themes dominated the exhibition halls at EuroBLECH 2018 as I can envisage they did at other major manufacturing related exhibitions around the world.

Is it just a hype considering machine and metalworking machines have long had monitoring systems? Definitely not. The concept of Industry 4.0 – a term shaped by German politicians and industry leaders – is much more. Digitalisation and the future of work project analyses the impact and drivers of automation, robotics, artificial intelligence and other digital technologies on employment and changing skill needs of jobs. Digitalisation and Industry 4.0 are the future of industrial production and are changing the world of manufacturing. Some call it the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

On a net exhibition space of 89 875m², a total of 1 507 exhibitors from 40 countries presented a top-class range of innovative products for the complete sheet metal working chain. 56 301 trade visitors from all over the world came to visit the world’s biggest sheet metal working show to find out about the latest technology trends for sheet metal processing and view the numerous live machine demonstrations on display.

The biennial event has evolved to become a global show, with 37 per cent of visitors coming from outside Germany, including over 120 visitors from South Africa.

Trumpf had one of the biggest stands that was calculated to be about 3 000m²

The exhibition gives a snapshot of metal fabrication’s possible future. This year’s show hinted at what a fabricator could expect in the future: Fewer, more powerful, flexible, self-learning machines producing more than ever, all in a connected environment.

The ‘big boys’ amongst the manufacturers again had impressive stands. Bystronic, Amada, Trumpf, Mazak, Prima Power and Salvagnini certainly dominated the halls that they were located in, halls 11 and 12. However, the other recogniseable manufacturers of equipment for processing sheet metal, plate, tube and beam – also located in these halls – were not to be outdone. It was really noticeable that many had increased the size of their stands and had put much more effort into the aesthetics of the stand design, taking into account the accessibility of visitors. It was not a case of just ‘plonking’ machines down on their stand to fill the space. This included companies such as Durmazlar, Voortman, BLM, Ficep and Faccin.

Over in halls 14 and 15 there were some equally impressive stands, halls that were dominated by foreign exhibitors. These included Ermaksan, Safan Darley, Dener, Mitsubishi Electric and many others with the Turkish contingent dominating.

Hall 27 is the biggest exhibition hall at the Hannover exhibition grounds with an area of
31 000m². If you compare it to Hall 11, which has 23 985m² of gross space and Hall 12 and Hall 13 being in the region of 23 635m² each, it certainly needs time to explore. Overall the Hannover Messegelände (Hannover Exhibition Centre) has the largest exhibition space in the world with a gross capacity of 463 165m². Compare this to the 42 000m² of covered exhibition space offered by the Expo Centre Johannesburg and it certainly puts things into perspective.

Amada exhibited over an area of 2 000m²

Hall 27 was again occupied by companies manufacturing large and heavy equipment used for operations such as forming, tooling and handling. Here you found companies such as Schuler, Feintool, Otto Bihler, Danobat, Sacform, AP&T and Aida exhibiting, with Schuler standing out as the largest exhibitor.

Some other sizes you might be interested in: Trumpf’s stand size was calculated to be about 3 000m², Bystronic’s was 2 100m² and Amada exhibited over an area of 2 000m².

Autonomous factories are the future
But it is not just about the size of the stands. There is no doubt that digital developments are set to offer significant advantages in streamlining and simplifying sheet metal processing, as well as improving productivity and efficiency. But it is not only the large manufacturers that have been gaining ground in the realm of digitalisation. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are also recognising its potential.

“As they become increasingly autonomous, our machines are taking on more tasks and making life easier for the people who work with them. But you can only unlock these benefits with a connected, intelligent production environment. That’s what enables us to achieve productivity gains and secure our customers’ competitive edge – and artificial intelligence is the key,” said Heinz-Jürgen Prokop, Chief Executive Officer Machine Tools at Trumpf.

Bystronic had a stand of 2 100m²

“There is now little to be gained by striving for ever higher laser power. Instead, the focus should be on connected machines and the processes that occur upstream and downstream from the actual production process. Combined with intelligent data analysis is where the biggest productivity gains can be achieved,” said Prokop.

“With flexible system solutions, Bystronic is expanding the rules of the game in the field of sheet metal processing. Until now, there was always a trade-off between fast and versatile. In future, users will be able to produce small series or individual mass-produced products at conditions similar to standardised high-volume series. With the new generation of our cutting and bending systems, users can adapt their processes much more easily and thus respond more quickly to their customers’ requirements,” said Alex Waser, CEO of Bystronic.

Bystronic also presented the networked world of sheet metal processing. Under the motto “World Class Manufacturing”, customers and visitors were able to experience live where integrated automation and new software solutions for laser cutting and bending are heading.

Amada are not a company that releases many quotes from executives. With a special focus on laser technologies and production benefits delivered by IoT, the Japanese manufacturer presented its concept of “V-factory” with machine monitoring and direct-response service possibilities under the theme of: Processing innovation with new technologies.

One of the mains stars of their stand was the Amada Ventis-3015AJ 4kW – a new fiber laser generation with 4kW laser power that the company says for the first time, stainless steel, aluminium and other materials can be processed with a cutting quality equal to that of a CO2 laser. Additionally, Amada is also now making its new Clean Fast Cut (CFC) technology available as standard on its high power (6kW and 9kW) fiber laser cutting machines.

Mazak launched a new model – the Optiplex 3015 6kW DDL (Direct Diode Laser). The company says the Optiplex 3015 is up to 15 per cent faster than its 6kW fiber equivalent. The new DDL machine delivers stable cutting for both thin and thick material, says Mazak, due to the use of Beam Diameter Control, along with Intelligent Monitoring Functions (IMF) and Intelligent Set-up functions (ISF).

Some of the other recogniseable manufacturers of equipment for processing sheet metal, plate, tube and beam put great effort into their stands

Turkish OEM manufacturers Durmazlar had a number of firsts for the company on display. This included the AD-ES 1240 Electrical Press Brake Robotcell, which includes a Yaskawa Motoman GP12 compact and flexible handling robot with a payload of up to 12kg, the AD-SERVO 30135 press brake, a 2kW entry level fiber laser for the cost conscious but don’t want to forego quality, a 5-axis fiber laser system and a 10kW fiber laser system.

Prima Power introduced its new Integrated Robotic Bending System. The system consists of a BCe Smart panel bender, a 7-axis anthropomorphic robot, and an eP-0520 press brake. The configuration is completed by a sheet separator unit for raw sheet stacks, a centering table, and a reverser for the sheet to be bent or the bent components to be stacked.

Observations and opinions of EuroBLECH 2018
Judging the comments from most of the people I spoke to at the exhibition, it certainly opened up their eyes, especially for those first time visitors. Percentage wise we might still be small in the world in terms of output but we still form an integral part of the chain and we are growing. More importantly the number of foreign people I spoke to that were very much aware of South Africa was most encouraging and this can only bode well for the future, if they decide to do business with us.

Our engineering companies are also up to it and I know of quite a few machines (lasers, press brakes and a panel bender) that were ordered, while we were at the exhibition. There were also discussions taking place for some other major equipment purchases. All will be revealed in time.

Below are some observations and opinions, as well as some photographs, of some of the visitors from South Africa that visited EuroBLECH 2018.

NB The next EuroBLECH (2020) will take place from 27 to 30 October 2020 in Hannover, Germany.


Mike Lee – Retecon Machine Tools

“This was my first visit to EuroBLECH, an exhibition that features all aspects of sheet metal working, from the high-tech laser cutting of materials to the simple accessories for the sheet metal industry. This is truly a must visit for all South African companies if they want to keep up-to-date with world trends and to enlighten themselves with the latest technology that has recently been launched or what you can expect going forward.”

“Industry 4.0 was at the forefront of the exhibition this year, with the larger companies like Trumpf exhibiting the knowledge and know-how on how to implement Industry 4.0 into the market place and your company.”

“We, Retecon, had a number of our suppliers exhibiting. Many of these suppliers had some exciting launches of new products and some were world firsts. Their grasp of automation and the integration of it into the product lines is really there to take note of. It is not just about IoT and the other concepts related to connecting technology. Efficiencies are still very much part of the objectives of the machine and equipment manufacturers that we represent. We were also able to conclude a number of orders at the show as well which always makes the trip worthwhile.”

Stig Rassmussen of Davox with Mike Lee of Retecon Machine Tools

Hannes Burger and David Parker, both of Steelcut Services with Jacques Strauss of Retecon Machine Tools in the middle

Duane Ramos and John Berkin, both of Amanzi Storage Solutions

Jurgen Lecki and Anton Lachenicht, both of Retecon Machine Tools

Heinie van der Westhuisen of Multipunch with Eike Woermann of Eico Manufacturing

Graham Rome of Retecon Machine Tools with Philipp Zwirner of Trumpf

Garth Haig of Retecon Machine Tools with Jimmy Muir of Macsteel


Quinton Janse van Rensburg – SigmaNEST and SigmaMRP

“It was a privilege to attend EuroBLECH again. To see the amount of visitors from South Africa that made the effort and went to the expense of attending was very pleasing. EoroBLECH is certainly the show to attend when looking for the latest technology from machine manufacturers and software providers.”

“The new products on show from both machine manufacturers and software developers, is impressive. Additionally, you can see the development of these products and the advancement in technology is going forward from one exhibition to the next exhibition.”

“We could see at this year’s exhibition that there is a distinct drive towards Smart Factory setups and incorporating Industry 4.0 into your company environment. As a result software programmes are playing an even bigger and more vital role in providing communication from the shop floor as well as providing the machine to machine information that is being fed back to the office in order to give the sales and production departments the information and feedback to better cost and track manufacturing items on the shop floor.”

“SigmaNEST and SigmaMRP have once again proven that they are at the forefront of this technology and I am proud to be part of this growing team. The drive for automation in the European market has given such a variety of options to get items out faster through manufacturing plants and will enable them to work smarter, more effectively and efficiently. It will be interesting to see how the South African market will embrace automation in the coming year or two, and how we will move forward in the current economic environment.”

“I am already looking forward to attending the next EuroBLECH exhibition, which takes place in October 2020, to see what new technology will be made available to us.”

Quinton Janse van Rensburg – SigmaNEST and SigmaMRP Product Manager, Jandre TerreBlanche, Ben TerreBlanche, Cornel Warren and Nica Lourens, all of SigmaTEK


At van der Merwe – Abel Equipment / LaserXpress

“This was our fourth visit to EuroBLECH, and as usual we were in awe of the quality of the exhibition and the products on display. If you consider that the exhibition is only four days long, then it is mind blowing to see the money and effort being spent by companies like Trumpf, Bystronic, Amada and others.”

“What is most impressive to see is the live demonstrations of working equipment that could take weeks to install at customer sites. For us it is the show window of the very best and latest technology available in the world.”

“We also believe it is the best platform from where to do business if you intend buying machines. It is also a great learning experience and widens one’s visions. Every trip we meet other South Africans that operate under the same conditions and share the same threats and opportunities. It is therefore also a great place to make new business friends.”

“And last but not least the vibe, the beer and the German food such as the various types of wursts (sausages) make you start planning your next visit.”

At van der Merwe and Jaco van der Merwe, both of Abel Equipment / LaserXpress

Shaun Wethager of SP Laser


Byron Gueffroy – Durma South Africa

When planning my visit to EuroBLECH this year, I was sure I would see another increase in the number of fiber laser machines offered by the manufacturers and I was not wrong. Fiber laser technology has taken the world by storm and it is showing no slowdown in both technology and the laser power sources. For example, this year Durma had a 10kW linear drive system on display, which was equipped with an automatic loading and offloading system. And they are already talking about 12kW and 15kW options in the near future.”

“Durma also launched a budget fiber laser at EuroBLECH. The machine has a maximum 2kW laser source and a single table. It is a very viable option for those customers that want to get into laser cutting on a small scale but don’t want to pay the full system prices and are not prepared to settle for inferior brands to meet their budget. Another impressive addition to the Durma range is the 5-axis fiber laser system designed for the automotive and aerospace industries and of course our very capable tube laser systems also featured at the exhibition.”

“Another prominent factor this year was the level of automation offered, from fully automatic panel folding to robot bending cells and robot welding systems. The emphasis seems to be on minimising labour, while increasing levels of productivity, with user-friendly solutions. Of course Durma are amongst the leading companies that are able to offer products to meet customer demands. Durma’s solution for this type of manufacturing cell is the Durma PB series “Blue Bend” panel benders and the Durma AD-ES 1240 ROBOTCELL.”

“This year surface finishing of components was also prominent and many manufacturers exhibited their capabilities.”

“EuroBLECH is still the exhibition to attend when it comes to sheet, plate and structural steel machinery and equipment. For me it has never been a disappointment to attend the exhibition and it will take some effort to beat this informative and professionally run exhibition. I look forward to visiting again in 2020.”

Emre Kostur and Murat Bolu, both of Durmazlar with Byron Gueffroy of Durma South Africa in the middle

Gareth Jackson of First Cut with Fred Weber and Jean-Paul Peroace, both of Bystronic

Chris Dale of Dale Automation with Gerald Anthony of P&A Fabricators

Malcolm Moriarty of Metal Chip Machinery, Doret and Nick van Deventer of NJW Engineering Services with Fabrice Tima of Kaltenbach

Alistair Simpson of R.A.W. Projects

Clinton Windt and Tony Windt – TWR Steel Services Centre

“Once again we were pleasantly surprised by how laser cutting and automation technology has evolved since our last visit to EuroBLECH in 2016. Fiber laser technology has really come a long way and once again we realised that it is rapidly taking up its position in the sheet metal processing environment, if it has not taken over completely already. With our current economic situation as it is and costs increasing on the different platforms, it has become utterly important to streamline production by means of automated processes but with a massive focus on increased efficiency and cutting down on costs while still offering your customer the same end product but, with better quality and in a less turnaround time.”

“We were surprised to see how many different laser machine manufacturers, from the various countries, that are now manufacturing fiber laser technology with many of them offering add on services such as automation solutions, combined with secondary processing.”

“All of the exhibitors put in a lot of time and effort into displaying their products at EuroBLECH 2018. We think it was well worth it for them in the end as we found out about many new investments in equipment that were made by South African companies, including one for TWR Steel Services Centre.”

“As the 2018 EuroBLECH exhibition ended, we realised that we had seen and witnessed technology growth like we had never seen before. This included a massive focus on software development and how these different automated processes communicate and integrate with one another. ‘Machines are taking over the world’. We can’t wait to visit Hannover again for the EuroBLECH Exhibition in 2020.”

Philipp Burgerner of Bystronic with Clinton Windt and Tony Windt, both of TWR Steel Services Centre

Dean Findley and Llewellyn Abraham, both of SPE with Uwe Krupke of Storequip


Calvin Ungerer – Triangle Plasma Cutting

“This was our first visit to the EuroBLECH exhibition and we were overwhelmed by the size of the exhibition and the quality of the machinery that was on display. We spoke to many different exhibitors and our eyes were opened to a whole different type of technology, with all the guys showcasing their top robotic equipment. However, in our case robotics will not work for us as we are a cut-to-size company. I do believe though that some of the bigger local manufacturers will be able to follow the robotic trend.”

“We on the other hand are interested in the new fiber technology. The speed at which the new fiber lasers are cutting is astonishing. The time saving as well as the energy saving factor is a plus point, especially for South Africa with our energy sources that are not up to scratch. I am not sure as to when and where this fiber technology will take us, but I think it is worth keeping your eyes on it.”

Calvin and Tania Ungerer, both of Triangle Plasma Cutting

Ferdie van der Merwe and Johan van der Merwe, both of Rhino Canopies

Hannes Pretorius of First Cut, Freddie Visser of Stainless Plate Products, Andrew Broekhuisen of Aluminium Trading and Leon Van Wyk of IJP Filing & Labelling

Ansie and Shaun Alcock of Banella Metals

Vaughn Hanwith Horden of F&H Machine Tools

Ben Steenkamp of Fabrinox, Vincent Harth of Metal Chip Machinery and Jukka Hakala of Coastone

Steve van Wyk of First Cut with Dirk Jan Potharst of Voortman

Yagambaram Moonsamy and Rodney Moonsamy, both of Reliable Sheetmetal Fabrication and Roofing cc with Neobalan Govender of Denvern Auto Renovators


Andrew Poole – First Cut

“EuroBLECH 2018 provided a fantastic opportunity for our customers and suppliers to interact and discuss areas of their businesses. I found that the focus this year was less product orientated and far more orientated towards the areas of software and automation as the manufacturers move towards integrating Industry 4.0.”

“The cutting speeds of Bystronic’s new 12kW fiber laser were simply mind blowing. However, it was patently clear that unless the logistics around the machine are addressed, in the form of loading and unloading, these speeds will be rendered ineffective for those that purchase these machines.”

“It was by some distance the most successful show First Cut has attended and this was boosted by a number of new customers ordering machines and equipment from our suppliers.”

Andrew Poole – First Cut

Peter Bernard and Daniel Kobza, both of MicroStep with Ludwig Ollermann of MicroStep South Africa

Paul Dreyer of Lasercraft


Willie Jones – Jones Masjiene

“A good start to survive in an ever changing market to keep manufacturing costs low is to keep up-to-date with new manufacturing technology and to embrace the technology. A visit to EuroBLECH offers you the opportunity to rethink strategy, evaluate new plans and to fill one’s mind with weird and wonderful ideas.”

“A few years back old school boilermakers, machinists (fitters and turners) and welders were the back bone of every machine and sheet metal workshop. As technology changes you do not need these special skills anymore. A few mouse clicks in a virtual world on a CAM programme allows you to prepare the process for a part to be laser cut, bent and welded. In reality the process is faster and more accurate than it used to be marking out the job as we did in the past. Speed and accuracy have improved and one is able to manufacture continuous quality parts and a quality part adds up to a quality product.”

“Offline programming of robots in a virtual world is the dawn of a new era for robot applications and robot assisted manufacturing. Offline robot programming is also slowly catching up with the way milling and turning machines are programmed and operated. The factory of the future is a world where the virtual and reality are intermixed. Already these cell’s with an operator with virtually no experience will be able to produce quality finished products.”

“Already our newly acquired Valk welding robot cell with Panasonic DTPS offline programming software produces a better quality weld than skilled welders can produce. What makes this installation and investment by us so amazing is that the programmer’s do not have any prior welding experience.”

Ciska and Willie Jones of Jones Masjiene

Cindy Conlong and David Conlong (Scaffex)

Uli Retter and Peter Retter (Kare Sheetmetal Products)

Simon Smith and Wernhard Bernardo both of Southey Group

Udo and Andelle Schenach of Flashing Centre

Gideon Muller of Sabenza Steel

Manus Potgieter of PIM with Fabio Lovatin of Salvagnini

Francesco Tallarico of Talmac


Rick Ferreira – Amada

“After the change of political leadership in South Africa from late December 2017 had created a somewhat euphoric business climate in early 2018 before subsiding into a technical recession in the first two business quarters, along came EuroBLECH 2018. Once again I was pleasantly surprised by the number South Africans who visited our stand, all of them wanting to share and compare product information of what they had seen at the exhibition and also give an indication of what their plans and requirements are for the future.”

“As is the norm for an exhibition of this magnitude all manufacturers present go ‘all-out’ to showcase their innovation and enterprise with the release of their latest range of products. This year was no exception. For the 25th edition of EuroBLECH, the main focus points were Industry 4.0, big data and digitalisation. Amada had already realised the importance of these concepts and embraced the technologies back in 2010 when they launched the VPSS (Virtual Prototype Simulation System). The system offers advantages in terms of streamlining complex processes, reduces the cost of collaboration between designers and manufacturers by optimising the design iteration process, increases machine utilisation (up to 85%), lowers costs per part and reduces scrap, a drastic lead-time reduction, traceability of products, utilises a full suite of CAD/CAM software to enhance and verify sheet metal products, moves setup off the shop floor, manages machine productivity and maintenance controls, retrieves data and the utilisation of the data allows you to gain shop floor control (ownership of information), amongst others. Today, productivity and efficiency is even more enhanced with VPSS with the introduction of the new generation of Apps and software that are used to monitor and control the networking of machines.”

“Most of the OEM manufacturers have targeted the automation area of fiber laser, bending and welding operations linking it to Industry 4.0 application systems that are feeding on global demand for less input and increased output.”

“Once again this all leads you to think that the top of the pinnacle has been reached in terms of technology now available. However, wait until the EuroBLECH 2020 exhibition and so the cycle will repeat itself with more innovation being introduced – this is what makes the EuroBLECH exhibition so special, a forum where you can learn and keep up-to-date with technology and industry trends.”

“A slightly negative observation was that to me it seemed that the number of visitors to the exhibition were down as compared to previous exhibitions and what is normally the engineering student visitor day (Saturday), was cancelled. Could this be a prelude for a tighter economic time approaching the European market?”

Mark van der Vyver of Crest Information Systems, Barry Page and Rick Ferreira, both of Amada with Gary van der Vyver of Crest Information Systems

Ryan Lipa and Wayne Rohrs, both of Amada


Thys de Villiers – TRM Supplies

“My first visit to EuroBLECH was overwhelming and offered so much more than I expected. It’s the world’s largest exhibition for the sheet metal working industry with exhibitors from across the world participating. This year, the show was mainly influenced by the topics of digitalisation and Industry 4.0.”

“I had the privilege of visiting a number of our suppliers, discussing future prospects, advancements and feedback for improvements, but also to get to know our suppliers on a more personal basis, away from home and the office.”

“The suppliers that we deal with that exhibited included SEI Laser Deutschland GMBH from Germany, Yangli China, Hugong China, Great Dragon China and SPI Lasers UK.”

“What it meant for me was to experience up close the very latest industry trends and innovations for the various manufacturing environments, as well as to find out about solutions in the field of sheet metal production. Practical demonstrations drew attention at every exhibitor’s stand with companies demonstrating individual applications to entire solutions for both big companies and small businesses.”

“The machines on display are of world-class quality and automation was prominent across the whole exhibition. It was fascinating to see how machinery and technology has evolved and advanced over the years. There are constant new developments and solutions, from the smallest companies to the recognised leading manufacturers of sheet metal equipment.”

“The passion for sheet metal working was noticeably overwhelming from not just the exhibitors but also from each and every single person visiting, young and old. Overall the positive results I heard from exhibitors was that it was a successful show and they also stated that they had made a large number of new business contacts.”

“From myself, I admired the range of the products on display as well as the quality of the exhibition stands and the many live demonstrations of digital processes. What a success it was for me and I am sure for the many other South Africans that visited!”

Thys de Villiers of TRM Supplies with Stephan Pfluger of SEI Laser