The flexible blanking method means there is no more need for procurement and handling of blanking dies.
VM Automotive is currently reaching the final stages of installing a Schuler laser blanking line in its facility in Berlin, near East London, Eastern Cape. The line will cut blanks out of a moving sheet metal coil that then get formed into car body parts in further steps. As fiber lasers are used for the cutting process, no dies are required, in contrast to conventional blanking lines.
The flexible blanking method means there is no more need for procurement and handling of blanking dies. Product changes can be made almost without any set up time, simply by loading the corresponding cutting programme. Additionally, material can be saved by optimising nesting. If more shaped blanks can be cut from the same surface area, this significantly reduces coil waste.
Cutting without dies
Laser blanking lines with DynamicFlow Technology (DFT) are a highly flexible, productive manufacturing system. They use extremely powerful fiber lasers for the continuous cutting of coiled material. The result is a high production rate, a superior cutting quality and an excellent contour precision, even for sensitive outer-body-blanks.
Thanks to DynamicFlow Technology, cost intensive dies, time-consuming die repairs and die storage are overcome. Backed by Schuler’s years of experience with the specific requirements of the automotive industry, laser blanking lines with DynamicFlow Technology delivers an impressive package of incredibly flexible production conditions at comparatively low investment costs. This makes them a legitimate alternative to conventional, die-based blanking systems in the blanking shop.
VM Automotive is the brainchild of Gibson Njenje, a former spy boss who was previously the head of domestic intelligence for the State Security Agency, it was reported in City Press.
The Schuler laser blanking line being installed at VM Automotive. The project of installing the new Schuler blanking line began just before COVID-19 pandemic and has carried on subsequently. This presented many challenges to both the local company Retecon, who represent Schuler in South Africa, and the international manufacturer Schuler. Various measures had to be taken just to get the engineers out from Germany to install the blanking line
In 2019 VM Automotive began its investment in a R450 million factory and Schuler laser blanking line to supply aluminium and steel blanks to Mercedes-Benz. The project had been three years in the planning stage with the weaking of the rand delaying it at various stages.
Njenje, who is chairperson and CEO, said that the focus of the company was on the automotive industry and in future they would specialise in laser blanking of components. Njenje started the company in 2013.
“We are already doing blanking work for Mercedes-Benz in East London and BMW in Rosslyn, Pretoria. We broke into the automotive market when we bought a 100% stake in a plant owned by MA Automotive Tool & Die that is located in Rosslyn and took control of their contracts with BMW.”
“We are doing work with Mercedes-Benz on the W205 series, which is the outgoing C Class series. This ends now in 2021 and we have signed a separate contract for the W206 series, which begins in 2021 and ends in 2028. The cycles are usually seven years.”
“Early in 2019 we were awarded the W206 contract and this is why we started to build in Berlin. We have now completed the building, which is a superstructure building for the Berlin area. At the same time in Europe they began building the laser blanking line, which is currently nearing the end of installation. It’s a new generation model. It’s fast. It’s a high-speed laser machine. When it is up and running we will be one of the few that will have such a machine running,” said Njenje.
VM Automotive receives high-quality steel or aluminium coils from material suppliers in Europe. The coils are transported to their plant where the high-speed lasers cut them to the client’s specifications.
Njenje put the cost of the Berlin factory’s construction at R100 million and said it includes offices, workshops, testing areas and cleaning facilities.
John Cerff, VM Automotive’s chief financial officer, said the high-speed laser could cut up to 30 parts or more per minute. Once the blank is cut it will be taken to a press shop owned by MA Automotive Tool and Die next to the plant in Berlin where it would be moulded into a car part. Cerff said the machine they would use was the first of its kind in the southern hemisphere, and the sixth in the world. The machine alone costs about R200 million and takes about 12 months to be manufactured.
Cerff said the Schuler machine was 57m long. The production factory in Berlin is 140m long, 32m wide and is a 5 000m² production building, which means the high-speed laser machine would take up a huge space of the factory.
Cerff said the R450 million investment in the East Cape excluded the Rosslyn facility from where they supply to both Mercedes-Benz and BMW. He said the plant in Berlin would supply only to Mercedes-Benz in the Eastern Cape. Mercedes-Benz has a plant in East London, 47km from Berlin. VM Automotive chose the Eastern Cape because Mercedes-Benz was based there but it wants to add VW, Nissan and Ford to its list of high-profile clients.
Retecon overcomes COVID-19 pandemic challenges to install laser blanking line
“The project of installing the new Schuler blanking line began just before the COVID-19 pandemic and has carried on subsequently. This presented many challenges to both ourselves and Schuler, the international manufacturer who we represent in South Africa. Various measures had to be taken just to get the engineers out from Germany to install the blanking line,” explained Retecon’s CEO Hans-Peter Neth.
“However, our local team of service and installation engineers from Retecon were up to the task of doing the installation. They have been involved virtually from the beginning and when restrictions were placed on international travel and people movement they took control.”
“The installation was in progress and we could not afford to let our client VM Automotive and Mercedes-Benz down. Through our experienced team’s knowledge, teleconferences, videos and other means we have kept the installation on track and make sure that everything was done according to specification. When Schuler technicians were allowed to travel South Africa to complete the project only a limited number arrived as compared to what would normally be sent to install a line of this magnitude. They first had to spend 14 days in quarantine before they could visit the factory in Berlin,” continued Neth.
“We have now overcome the challenges and the Schuler laser blanking line has started to produce test components. We expect the line to start operating by the end of November.”
“We must congratulate our local team on sticking to task and overcoming the challenges and thank VM Automotive for their support and understanding.”