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Report from Italy's BI-MU.

Billed as "the even-year EMO," 18 BI-MU, the biennial machine tool exposition held in Milan, Italy, in October gave attendees a chance to view the offerings of more than 1400 exhibitors (a shade less than IMTS) from 30 countries and 1900 companies, half of which were non-Italian, according to sponsor UCIMU-Sistemi Per Produrre, the Italian Machine Tools, Robot and Automation Manufacturers Association.

The Italian machine tool industry, which had done well in the 1983-89 period enjoying exceptional and uninterrupted growth, is battling a recessionary economy at home and in Europe, a devalued currency (officially 7% but reaching as high as 17% vs the Deutsche mark), and difficult investment conditions in its home market.

Italy's machine tool industry is not inconsequential, either. In 1991, it ranked third in the world in production (US-fourth), fourth in exports (US-fifth), fifth in consumption (US-third), and sixth in imports (US-second).

Italian machine tool industry exports, in fact, had succeeded in increasing market share in both Germany and France, to 5% and 13% respectively, in 1991. Unfortunately, even Germany, the locomotive of the European economy, is running out of steam, and recessionary conditions prevail on the continent.

Italian machine tool builders, who had entered 1992 not unlike US builders, with shrinking order books and backlogs averaging slightly more than five months, have had a difficult first half of 1992 with production, exports, and consumption all dropping precipitously. There is even a danger of "deindustrialization" if the Italian government does not come up with significant incentives to investment.

Looking to exports

Consequently, Italian builders are looking to new markets in the east like China, South Korea, and Taiwan to spur export growth. Even the US, which has diminished in importance as a market of destination for Italian exports, is getting another look. Share of Italian exports going to the US had plummeted from 13.4% in 1986 to 4.9% in 1991.

UCIMU, the Italian machine tool association, is currently entering the second stage of a market research effort to investigate the potential of the US market for member companies. Ten Italian builders have expressed an interest in taking the second step and having a consultant look at specific product lines and markets.

The US market "looks healthy right now compared with the European market," according to one European machine tool executive. Hubert Heller, president, Gebr Heller Maschinenefabrik GmbH, Nurtingen, Germany, feels that there is more confidence and investment opportunity in the US than in Europe.

His company's strategy in the US is to focus on the automotive industry, where the company is so well known that Mr Heller says it is unnecessary to exhibit at IMTS. In Europe, on the other hand, Heller pursues a broader based approach to the market for its machining centers, milling machines, and special machines.

"Traditional machine tool builders are not selling machines, we are selling production solutions with emphasis on lean production," says Mr Heller. "If you are selling production solutions, you can analyze the manufacturing problem and support whatever solution fits, whether it involves stand-alone machines, transfer lines, or cells."

On display was Heller's MCS-H machining center, designed for manufacturing small batch production. The new machine is equipped with a cassette type tool magazine with 120 tools as standard with an option to expand up to 200 tools.

The Mandelli Group, the second largest Italian machine tool builder after Fiat's Comau, the large automotive systems integrator, showed off its newfound product diversity through acquisitions.

One display featured a Mandelli 8 machining center with a universal head and an OMBA TCL 90 vertical turning lathe connected by an automated pallet changer. The setup makes it possible to do both prismatic machining and turning operations on the same workpiece.

Another possibility is that the two machines can be connected with an AGV as is being done in Germany for a valve manufacturer. The prismatic machine, the Mandelli 8, can be equipped with a rotary table for vertical drilling and milling of the same workpiece.

Mandelli, which has supplied big flexible manufacturing systems to Rockwell, Caterpillar, and John Deere, is looking for increased penetration into the US market, Pier Luigi Zeneuvre, strategic marketing manager for the Mandelli Group tells T&P.

Successful debuts

Charmilles Technologies gave the Roboform 40 its European premier. The Roboform 40, which made a good debut at IMTS, is aimed at production applications such as mold and dies that don't require the high precision and speeds of more expensive machines. Priced in the $140,000 range, the Roboform 40 features a fixed table and can accommodate large and heavy parts up to 2200 lb.

Agie's ELOX Mondo 20 and 30 EDM die sinking machines made their European debut after a very successful introduction at IMTS, according to Robert Varonier, regional business manager, Agie, Switzerland. Mr Varonier explained their success: "They are very simple, like the Macintosh to operate. They can store optimized data, are easier to interface, easy to read, and easy to modify."

The machines feature a control, without CNC, which adds programmable X and Y axes to the programmable Z axis of the original Mondo series. More than 90% of the work done by CNC systems can be done at half the cost with the Mondo 20 and 30.

Mikron was showing its Centromax CNC Flexible Machining System, which combines the productivity of a rotary transfer machine with the flexibility of a machining center for precision machining of small- to medium-volume production runs.

Centromax features three workstations that can handle up to 30 tools and a fourth for loading/unloading. Each fixture is indexable, and aluminum, steel, and brass parts weighing up to 120 lb (60 kg) can be handled. A turret can be used for less rigid parts and a fixed head for more rigid parts. Typical product applications include pneumatic valves, pump bodies, secondary applications on die castings, Drum cams, and automotive parts.

Traub introduced a new vertical machining center, the TVC200 with either two or four pallets, featuring a 5.5 kW spindle motor that delivers 8000 rpm, rapid axis movement of 30,000 mm/min that can handle pieces not larger than 400 mm x 300 mm x 400 mm in the two pallet version and 300 mm on the Z axis in the four pallet version.

Chiron of Germany showed improvements in its traveling column horizontal machining centers that mostly increased tool magazine size, X,Y,Z envelope size, and improved travel rates to 30 meters per minute. Boasting 23 tool changes possible in a minute, a Chiron technician said that US-made machines are "too big, too heavy, and too slow" to compete in the European market.

Maho's getting some mileage and sales (more than 50 to date) from its integral motor spindle MT500C CNC turning machines. Maho technology includes a 34 kW motor that delivers a lot of power for cutting up to 8 mm depth and runs at 4000 rpm. A total of 12 tools can be accommodated. Options include probing when the workpiece is in the machine, auto load/unload with a gantry, and a back spindle for turning a second part.

Emphasis on quality

To the high tech stable of gantry (Beta, Delta, Gamma) and bridge-type (Record) CNC coordinate measuring machines, DEA spa, Turin, Italy, has added a manual CMM called the Mistral. The machine is priced at less than $50,000 and is targeted for the job shop environment or for low production operations. Work envelope is 710 mm x 660 mm x 460 mm, X,Y,Z axes, with maximum capacity of 600 kg (1320 lb). Resolution is 0.5 micro millimeters.

At the DEA exhibit, Tecnomatix Technologies demonstrated its ROBCAD/CMM software, which eliminates costly and tedious downtime by creating, verifying and optimizing CMM programming off-line.

ROBCAD features 3-D graphics and modeling, motion planning, and collision detention. Part geometry is transferred through major CAD interfaces such as CATIA, CV, DXF, IGES, SET, and VDAFS. Libraries of standard machines and probe elements from DEA, Zeiss, Renishaw, Brown & Sharpe, Mitutoyo, and Fanamation, among others, are available.

The first fruits of being a part of the large Swiss Group Grossenbacher Elektronik AG was shown by Anilam Elettronica srl, which introduced two new powerful digital readout products--Superwizard Inspector and Superwizard controller. The Superwizard controller provides very fast (40 m/min) position for milling and simple machining where you need more than one axis. An open loop system, it is not CNC but includes a motor and encoder and is a simple and economical way of achieving control. The Superwizard Inspector provides high precision and no error 2-D and 3-D measurement inspection.

Helisys Inc, Torrance, CA, showed its Laminated Object Manufacturing (LOM) rapid generation process for models, prototypes, and accurate patterns. Michael J. Tsenter, sales and marketing manager, said that the reception for LOM technology at the show was good and that it could reproduce larger parts more accurately and at one-third the cost of "plastic" systems.

BI-MU was also noteworthy for the emphasis placed on quality and composite materials. The quality conference and exhibit focused on aids to ISO9000 certification. UCIMU--Sistemi per produrre, the Italian machine tool association, supports the technical, technological, and commercial objectives of ISO9000 by authorizing companies to display a distinctive UCIMU mark if they are found to be in line with ISO9000 standards and have passed rigorous examination and inspection. The right to display the mark is not permanent, and companies are subject to periodic inspection. A little more than half of its 230 plus members have earned the right to display the mark.
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Title Annotation:Management Update; biennial machine-tool exposition in Milan, Italy
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Dec 1, 1992
Previous Article:Low-hp milling machines get their own cutters.
Next Article:On-line, automated Brinell testing.

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