There is a strong trend toward miniaturization and higher levels of integrated technical functions in products used in many fields of technology. This goes hand in hand with a need for ultimate quality and functionality, especially in sensitive areas such as the aerospace industry and medical technology.
Huber, an optical electronics company from Enzberg near Mühlacker, is specialized in the production of small batches of highly complex mechanical parts used in these industries. For example, it produces components used in valves required to operate impeccably at temperatures as low as -100°C. It is not possible to use elastomer seals at such temperatures and as a result metal functional surfaces are needed to achieve the right seals, which typically involve tightly positioning metal on metal. This is only achievable if surfaces offer minimal levels of roughness and ultimate precision.
To meet such requirements, Huber joined forces with the Pforzheim-based Steinbeis Transfer Center for Production and Organization to develop a new process that would help eliminate the possibility of a variety of processes negatively impacting surfaces – from machining to final packaging before shipping.
Their fully automated solution revolves around an autonomous manufacturing cell that processes components individually in order to avoid potential damage inflicted on surfaces by parts accidentally bumping into to one another – without having a detrimental impact on the overall process. At the heart of the unit lies a new kind of cleansing system which allows factors with an influence on cleansing to be taken into account (temperature, cleansing time, mechanical support, and chemical use). The system works in such a way that despite having to use extremely environmentally friendly cleaning agents, all required processes can take place in parallel to component machining. This safeguards ultimate quality standards at minimal cost.
In addition to developing the technology behind the system and setting it up, the project also involved planning a commercialization strategy to extend the new technology’s potential field of application; this strategy is now being systematically implemented. The project has allowed both partners to demonstrate how an overarching approach to problem-solving and close collaboration between science and business can result in innovative technologies and concepts capable of securing competitiveness in the long term. Achieving this through the project has been honored by the Steinbeis Foundation Transfer Award – the Löhn Award.
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Herbert Emmerich
Steinbeis Transfer Center Production and Organization