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Four large FZ40c portal millings machines providing significant changes to business strategy at Commercial Tool & Die and Franchino Mold & Engineering in Michigan
Zimmermann FZ40c milling machines enabled both moldmakers to grow their business in their home markets of automotive injection molds and die cast diework, in a unique partnership for each moldmaker
It began in 2017, when Commercial Tool & Die (CTD), a division of Commercial Tool Group in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area, contacted Zimmermann at a mold show and IMTS. This 68-year-old company, founded by the grandfather of the current president, JD Bouwman, was heavily leveraged in automotive and off-highway injection moldmaking, but was seeking to grow into new markets with larger machining capacity. Meanwhile, over in Lansing, Michigan, Franchino Tool & Engineering was prospering in automotive molds and die cast diework but was seeking to increase their 5-axis machining capability, travel and speed. The short version of this story is that CTD ended up with three new Zimmermann machines, while Franchino bought the first CTD stock machine from Zimmermann, as it fit their needs quite well, according to Franchino President Mike Heatherington.
Commercial Tool & Die Looking To Grow
As Plant Manager Darin Hall explains, “We had reached out to Cornelius Kiesel, president of Zimmermann Inc. in Wixom, Michigan, at a mold show and then again at IMTS. We were impressed with their large CNC 5-axis machines. CTD had four goals we were seeking to accomplish with our new machine capability. Namely, we wanted reliability, efficiency to run unattended, rigidity to hold accuracies across a long travel and surface quality to meet our very high standards for automotive products.” He notes the FZ compact line of Zimmermann appeared to have the essentials they sought at CTD, though some modifications would be needed.
Company President JD Bouwman elaborates. “We found in Zimmermann the combination of a great machine with a flexible team who was willing to expand their horizons and ours. Although the basic version of the FZ40c is an excellent machine, in the end, we made 31 changes that were specific to CTG’s needs, including increased ram, with a goal to purchase three machines for our increased production.” Bouwman further comments how this enhanced capability would allow CTD to move into new markets and increase share in their home market of automotive. Today, that process has already yielded positive results, as the company is producing injection molds of much larger size than in the past, thereby opening new segment of automotive, off-highway and commercial building products.
After the initial investigation, the decision was made to lease an FZ40c to trial the machine. This portal mill has a work envelope of 197” W x 118” D x 59” H with a feed rate to 2362 ipm. As the trials proceeded over the one-year lease agreement, according to Darin Hall, “We quickly saw that the machine was very solid and would allow us to strategize differently in our approach to production.” Concurrently, CTD was realizing their market and manufacturing needs would require some significant changes to the machine, especially the ram height, for use on molds in the off-highway, construction equipment and building products market segments CTD was seeking to penetrate.
He continues, “We also realized we had a great partner in Cornelius and the team at Zimmermann, both in Wixom and in Germany, where we visited a number of times, as they did here. These folks were open to our suggestions and worked diligently to affect them.” Hall notes this lease arrangement was the first in the 68-year history of the company. “I guess you could say we knew where we wanted to go but weren’t quite sure of the machine design that would get us there.” The CTD and Zimmermann teams thus began a collaboration that would run nearly three years, culminating in today with three FZ40c gantry mills on the floor at CTD, each with an enhanced rigidity and cast mono-block fork head with unique process cooling for high precision machining, especially on models and molds. The FZ40c has a base x-axis of 236”, giving CTD the additional size they needed. Among the changes made to the machine design was an increased ram.
In the end, JD Bouwman concludes, “We had a big machine concept in mind to get us to our goal and the three modified FZU machines were the answer. Day to day, the machines give us much higher unattended machining numbers, a real testimony to the quality. Zimmermann has allowed CTD to quote new projects, bigger workpieces and enter new markets, exactly where we wanted to go.” He expressed a “big thank-you” to Cornelius Kiesel and the Zimmermann team, citing the dedication on both sides over a three-year period resulted in machines “…that simply allowed us to go to a new level as a company and that’s very exciting.” A future goal between the companies is to build an even bigger machine with increased capacities to reach even higher levels of market participation.
“Our relationship with Zimmermann is based on true collaboration and we’re mutually assisting the other to accomplish our goals. That’s as good as a business partnership can be,” concludes Bouwman.
One additional change to the FZ40c as requested, according to Cornelius Kiesel, and it presented a unique challenge to Zimmermann, he jokes. “The CTD company color is gold and they requested we paint the machine heads that color for them. We are machine tool engineers and builders but we took up the challenge and found the right paint for this challenging application. Looks nice, doesn’t it?”
Franchino — right place at the right time
That’s an old expression but it’s true in this case. About an hour east of CTD sits Franchino Mold & Engineering in Lansing, Michigan. According to company President Mike Hetherington, “Our business is currently about half in automotive injection molds and half in die cast diework for a variety of industries, including construction, stormwater and septic management. During this recent period in business, with all its challenges, we’ve been flexible in seeking new jobs in various industries and it’s paid off, resulting in a sizable increase in our sales volume.”
The connection between Franchino and CTD requires a bit of explanation, as Hetherington notes. “We were on a business trip to Germany, seeking new machine concepts. We had occasion to tour the Zimmermann factory and, while there, we saw the FZ40C portal milling machine being built for Commercial. We were looking for that type of machine and had our checklist. The FZ40C began to check off the boxes and we knew it was the machine for us. As it happened, we learned the machine was being leased to Commercial down the road from us in the Grand Rapids area and we’d known them for years. We don’t often directly compete, so we made some contacts and decided to wait for their lease to expire, then we purchased their machine and it was shipped to our facility in Lansing.” He also mentions several particulars. The machine needed to work both steel and aluminum molds, be a true 5-axis mill, be able to efficiently rough, semi and finish all in one setup, have an HSK spindle, run 1400 ipm and be up for two shifts reliably. The FZ40c was found suitable on all these points, according to Hetherington.
On one job, he notes with a smile, the shop took a roughing cycle from 16 hours to 3 hours, due to the machine’s rigidity, speed and accuracy. As a bonus, the Heidenhain CNC onboard the Zimmermann machine provided a monitoring capability that enabled the Franchino Machining Supervisor, Chris Cook, to learn the status of the machine remotely.
Cook cites another example of the company’s use of the Zimmermann FZ40c. “We run molds for huge septic tanks and the Zimmermann is currently at 3000 hours of run time at 2000 ipm with no issues.”
Hetherington adds the machine purchased from CTD recently ran for two months solid at 90% capacity. “Looking back, I’d say we were definitely in the right place at the right time, discovering this machine on our trip to Germany. It’s been a very valuable investment for Franchino, providing reliable production on big workpieces. It will open up more opportunities for our company in various existing and new markets.” Hetherington has been president at the company since December, 2020, having gone, as he says, “…from mowing the lawn as a school kid to coming to work here with my engineering degree to engineering manager to VP of operations and now president.”
Franchino Mold & Engineering was founded in Lansing in 1955 by Richard Franchino, whose son and recently retired president Bob began as the first employee, sweeping the floor for $0.25 an hour. Mike Hetherington is currently working on the construction of an additional 60,000-square foot facility with an 80-ton overhead crane to handle the massive workpieces produced at this shop, which produces molds & dies plus does considerable repair work for its customers nationwide.
About the company
Zimmermann is based in Swabia (Germany) and is a leading global high-tech supplier of portal milling machines. These are characterized by huge workspaces, substantial machining dynamics and cutting performance. The company, founded in 1933 by Friedrich Zimmermann, now has over 200 employees worldwide. With its product range, our innovative company has one goal above all: to offer the right solution for our customers and thus to be able to guarantee high economic efficiency. “Quality made in Germany and supported locally” is our motto. The company’s special machines are used worldwide in the automotive, aerospace, moldmaking and mechanical engineering sectors. The company has its North American headquarters in Wixom, Michigan, near Detroit, where it operates a full tech center offering engineering assistance, commissioning, parts and retrofit services, as well as multiple machines for demonstration purposes. Zimmermann Inc. is headed by President Cornelius Kiesel.
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Machine tool builder of various mills introduces new moldmaking machine
Wixom, Michigan-On July 24-25, Zimmermann Inc., the North American affiliate of Zimmermann GmbH in Germany, hosted an open house at its headquarters here for its customers and prospects in North America. Among the crowd were many major suppliers to aerospace and automotive, as well as other large part producers for the OEM, media from the industry, suppliers and other associates of Zimmermann. Machines were on display, highlighted by the company’s FZ33, a compact and highly flexible 5-axis gantry mill designed specifically for moldmaking.
Presentations were given throughout the event, which also featured displays from a number of Zimmermann business partners, including Mapal, Keller, Siemens, Zoller, Heidenhain, Fischer, Tebis, Unisorb, Weiss and Haimer.
The open house was hosted by Zimmermann GmbH President Frieder Gänzle, as well as Zimmermann, Inc. President Cornelius Kiesel and his team for North American engineering, sales and service.
Gänzle commented, “We are very committed to success in the American moldmaking market, as we have experienced good results in aerospace and other large component production for years here.” Kiesel echoed that sentiment, “Our customers are growing in number in the moldmaking industry, owing to the solid stability of our machines, with their highly flexible programming capability and swivel 5-axis head, that allow very fine finishing on the mold surfaces, as well as intricate pocket machining with a high degree of accuracy and repeatability.”
One of the main suppliers to Zimmermann for CNC is Heidenhain and Gisbert Ledvon, the company’s marketing manager who attended the event, observed, “Zimmermann is a very good customer, as they work closely with us and their customers to produce CNC programs for application-specific purposes. They also put on a very fun event!”
As a testimony to the long-lasting quality of Zimmermann milling machines, a unit built over 20 years ago was also on display. This machine is currently being retrofitted for resale to an interested customer. (Interested parties may contact Cornelius Kiesel at Zimmermann for details.) The machine is well suited to the aerospace industry, where Zimmermann offers its portal milling machines for spars and stringers for all commercial aircraft currently in use.
All attendees enjoyed the food, evening entertainment and collegiality at the event.
The demands for prototype, tool and mold making are increasing. Only those who can supply high quality output, quickly and flexibly, can succeed against the powerful competition worldwide. Zimmermann is responding to this trend with the new FZU. This 5-axis gantry milling machine is not only extremely compact but, thanks to its thermo-symmetrical design and accuracy, it also provides the ideal entry point to the Zimmermann machine line with maximum productivity. Plastics, casting resins such as Ureol and aluminum are particularly suitable for machining. “This development will enable us to close the gap in the lower weight class,” states Frieder Gänzle, General Manager and Partner at Zimmermann in Germany.
“The basic expectations, which prototype, tool and mold makers need to meet today, have not necessarily changed over the years, they have simply grown,” sums up Frieder Gänzle. Customers in the automobile industry, he notes, especially expect components with almost perfect surface finishes and ever higher accuracies. Manufacturers introduce new models or variants to the market at ever shorter intervals. Whereas prototype, tool and mold makers could previously plan in the longer term, they must respond today to inquiries considerably faster.
“We cultivate a very special relationship with prototype, tool and mold makers,” says Gänzle. “Together, we have evolved consistently in recent years. We are very appreciative of our strong business in this sector.” Zimmermann is continuously exchanging technology information with its user base. In discussions, it has become clear that this sector requires powerful, compact machines with maximum productivity and open time. And, importantly, Zimmermann must offer an attractive price/performance ratio, while meeting all these requirements. “We have evolved even further towards heavy-duty cutting, over the years,” reports Gänzle. “As a result, even the smallest machine in our portfolio, the FZ33 compact, has become more popular. We have continuously pushed it upwards from a technological point of view.” Its focus is on aluminum cutting, but steel can also be machined. This enables Zimmermann to offer customers a very efficient, flexible and space-saving machine, while the corresponding design improvements have also had an effect on the price. “The requirement we were presented was for an entry-level model which rounds off our program at the lower price point,” explains Gänzle. The result is the FZU, a 5-axis gantry milling machine which is optimized for weight and stability.
Pre-assembled machine concept
In contrast to the established FZ33 and other machines that Zimmermann offers today, the company is taking a different path with the FZU. “We can narrow down the special features of this gantry machine to three main characteristics,” describes Gänzle. The first point: “We are following the trend towards modern manufacturing machines and designing them as space-saving, pre-assembled units.” This means Zimmermann assembles the machines in-house and can then transport them to the customer by truck or ship without having to dismantle them. Onsite, they are ready for use in a very short commissioning time; erection and start-up require minimum effort. For the customer, this means quickly available machines which can be installed without constructing foundations. “In the design, we have kept to the usual transport sizes. At the same time, the new FZU achieves a remarkable working range for its size,” explains Gänzle.
It is important to match the machine to the required dynamics. Adverse environmental conditions and long machine running times necessarily give rise to thermal expansion effects. In spite of the customers’ increased accuracy requirements, the machine must always achieve outstanding surface finishes. The Zimmermann engineers have therefore designed the FZU gantry machine to be thermo-symmetrical. This means that the milling spindle, guides and other accuracy-determining components are arranged so that their heating is either compensated or they can expand in uncritical directions. “This is the second important characteristic,” emphasizes Gänzle. The base frame consists of a steel welded construction which forms a continuous U-shape. The machine gantry’s centrally guided Z-slide has an octagonal section – and not a rectangular one like comparable machines – which makes it particularly stable. Thanks to its design, it therefore has impressive rigidity for its size. “With a weight of approximately 35 tons, a length of 3,500mm, width of 7,500mm and a height of just under 5,000 mm, we have been able to build a light and compact machine,” says Gänzle.
In-house head implemented throughout
The third characteristic relates to the new VH10 milling head, which achieves an extremely high power density. “This new development has enabled us to reassess our portfolio,” reports Gänzle. This is because the VH10 head will replace the VH12, which is not a Zimmermann product. Alongside the VH20, VH30 and VH60, the VH10 is now the smallest head in the range. Users will also benefit from the fact that Zimmermann has suitable spare heads in stock and can supply them on request in the event of stoppages, for example, due to a crash. “We strive to respond quickly and provide the customer with optimum support,” emphasizes Gänzle.
Thanks to its slender design, the VH10 spindle head has only minimal interference contours. Compared to the VH12, it achieves almost double the clamping force. This is due to the fact that Zimmermann fits two side cheeks instead of one onto the unit. The VH10 is therefore considerably more stable in operation. In order to minimize throughput times, a powerful 34 kW spindle with a maximum speed of 24,000 rpm is used in the milling head as standard. “The FZU is therefore ideally suitable for the materials typically found in this business sector, such as Ureol, clay and aluminum. In the future, we will also use the new milling head in larger machines on which processers can produce one-to-one models – for example, on our FZ37,” says Gänzle.
Standardized and yet individual
In order to provide a high-quality machine at an attractive price, the designers at Zimmermann have turned their attention to remaining competitive with regard to price through increased component standardization, while at the same time addressing individual customer requirements. As with all machines produced, Zimmermann therefore also relies on a modular system with the FZU. Among other things, this approach enables different size variants and power levels to be produced. There are also numerous equipment options which offer the customer maximum flexibility.
Zimmermann is therefore able to provide a very efficient solution with the new FZU. It is often the little things that give rise to success and customer satisfaction. “We place great importance on details – an aspect which cannot always be measured in the numbers,” explains Gänzle, who cites two examples: “For instance, the machining area is fully clad with stainless steel sheets in order to guarantee maximum resistance to abrasion. The FZU is also the first gantry milling machine to be equipped with our innovative, new NXP 24-inch multitouch controller, which is already used on our FZH horizontal machining center.” Another increasingly important topic is ergonomics. The door is divided asymmetrically to enable components to be easily fed to the machine. A small, easy-to-open door leads into the machining area, while the large door is used for loading. Operators therefore have a relatively large field of view, rapid access to the machining area and ample space for loading – ergonomic advantages which are not to be underestimated. Another detail is that a cabinet has been installed directly in front of the FZU. “This was the idea of one of our designers,” says Gänzle. “The tables, which users in the various plants position in front of the machines to place their accessories and service tools, caught his attention. With our solution, everything which is part of day-to-day operations can be safely stowed close at hand within the machine.” Added to this, there are extraction equipment and special chip management systems. “It is often the simple ideas which make the machine operator’s everyday tasks much easier,” sums up Gänzle.
To provide the best possible support to businesses, Zimmermann concentrates on high-quality and reliable service in close proximity to the customer. After all, this is exactly what characterizes a good relationship between supplier and user. “Customers expect high availability over the entire system lifecycle,” says Gänzle. “We provide comprehensive machine care.” This includes a customer hotline, by means of which users can reach a competent contact person, even outside of normal working hours, as well as a remote diagnosis system that allows a rapid response in an emergency. If mechanical components are defective or malfunction, the machine builder usually guarantees immediate shipment from its factory. In addition, the application engineers work together with the customer to optimize each individual combination of heads, spindles, tools and clamping equipment for the machines. Zimmermann therefore not only sells machines, but also complete solutions. Plans are in process for further upgrades to the stocking and service personnel staff in North America, as well. Zimmermann recently opened a new facility in Wixom, Michigan, near Detroit.
Goal: To be technologically out in front
“We don’t want to be chasing trends; instead, we want to help shape the market,” says Gänzle. “Basically, we therefore aspire not to do the same things as our competitors.” To be technologically out in front, the machine builder never stands still with regards to machine development. The FZU is therefore being continuously optimized – without at the same time losing sight of the price/performance ratio. There appears to be substantial market interest in these machines, according to company research. The initial discussions with users were highly promising. “We are confident of meeting our customers’ requirements with this new development, both in Germany and internationally,” says Gänzle. The statement that the concept of the FZU could be transferred to the other machines in the program underlines how convinced he is of this new solution. Zimmermann will be presenting the machine to a specialist audience at WESTEC 2017, CMTS 2018 AMB in September, 2018. As further indication of emerging market interest, three users have already decided to purchase this new gantry milling machine.
About the company
For more information on this development, please contact the North American headquarters: