On a clear day...you can see the Alps

July 1, 2004
International press tour reinforces why TRUMPF remains the leading manufacturer of high-power industrial lasers

It's snowing at the 500-meter level in the mountains surrounding Grüsch, in the canton of Graubuenden, Switzerland. Snowing in late spring? Well it is the Alps, you know. We, a contingent of international journalists, are here to visit TRUMPF Maschinen Grüsch AG, the division that manufactures and exports, globally, the Trumatic L3050 for TRUMPF.

Figure 1. TRUMPF's expanded plant in a valley of the Swiss Alps.
Click here to enlarge image

Aldo Brändli, managing director, welcomes us to this plant, employing about 400 people, which is expanding to meet the growing market for this laser cutter. Why locate in this part of Switzerland, he is asked? It seems that Berthold Leibinger, CEO of TRUMPF, vacationing not far away was approached by the canton's Economic Development Commissioner and asked why TRUMPF hadn't considered locating a plant here. The company already has a 196-employee plant that manufactures tool-grinding devices in the town of Baar (Zug) close to Zurich. Dr. Leibinger sent a team to investigate the opportunities and the result was the attractive plant (see Figure 1), designed by his daughter's architectural firm. TRUMPF is now the main employer in this valley, which is located close to the world-famous ski resort of Davos, playground for British royalty and the fictional James Bond.

First, let me offer a little background on how the group of Asian and North American journalists arrived here. We started out in Ditzingen, Germany, by touring the main TRUMPF factory for the production of high-power CO2 lasers, laser cutting systems, punching equipment, and the supporting facilities. Each year the company invites current and prospective customers from Europe to see the latest in the company's product line. This event, called Intech, was chosen as the venue for the International Press tour.

We started a full day of touring by visiting TRUMPF's Ditzingen campus (see Figure 2), where we walked through the newly opened Sales and Service Center, a glass-walled, multi-storied building that features an effective environmental system, essentially a building within a building that distributes conditioned air to the occupants of an advanced open office layout.

Figure 2. TRUMPF's Ditzingen, Germany, campus with the new sales and service center (insert).
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At the adjacent showroom building we were shown the latest TRUMPF product advances that featured two already seen in the Unites States: the Trumatic L 2510, fully automated flat sheet cutter powered by the company's new TCF 1 diffusion-cooled CO2 laser and the multi-axis high-power laser/robot systems introduced at Fabtech last November.

At Ditzingen we also saw the company's Direct Laser Forming operation, which features the TrumaForm LF production forming machine powered by the company's new HLD 25- Disc Laser, a 250-watt unit. TRUMPF seems heavily committed to the metal deposition technology, having recently signed an agreement with PLM to market that Michigan company's technology in Europe. Direct metal forming is envisioned as a technology for future growth. The concept, as shown in Figure 3, is proving attractive to companies seeking to reduce labor-intensive machining operations.

One feature of the tour was an introduction to TRUMPF's Synchro production system, a unique combination of just-in-time and other production systems that it successfully uses to move product out the door. More on this later.

Moving on to Schramburg, Germany, we toured the facility (shown in Figure 4) that produces the company's solid-state lasers. Primary among these is the new multi-kilowatt disc lasers that are being produced for eventual use at Volkswagen (see ILS May 2004) and other auto manufacturers. We were somewhat surprised to see 4kW disc lasers being readied for shipment because a competitor had told us that this unit was not yet ready for production installations. Schramburg produces solid-state lasers from 20 to 6000 watts that are used, globally, in systems for marking, drilling, welding, and other industrial applications. Another surprise was the sight of a 4kW diode-pumped Nd:YAG laser being prepared for shipment, as we had been led to believe that high-power diode-pumped Nd:YAG lasers were not popular in Germany. We were told that these high-power diode-pumped units were sold primarily to companies in Japan.

The prospects for the high-power disc laser have Dr. Kurt Mann, director of sales and marketing, very excited. He told us that excellent beam quality, 7 mm*mrad, allows the laser beam from the disc to be inserted into a fiber of 200 µm diameter, producing a reduced diameter spot that contributes to higher processing speeds and therefore shorter cycle times and lower total heat input into the work piece.

Figure 3. Part formed by direct metal deposition.
Click here to enlarge image

For certain applications this means that thicker metals can be cut and welded at greater working distances; a major plus for robotic motion applications, such as those used to weld the roof of the Volkswagen vehicles. This better beam quality also means that the lasers can be located further away from the production lines with distances projected to be up to 200 m. At VW in Wolfsburg, earlier in the week, we had seen how solid-state lasers for welding the Touran vehicles were located above the body-in-white line with power delivered through fibers that snaked up though the floor of the assembly area. On the longer Golf V assembly line fibers dropped down from above. If the fiber runs can be made longer, then the VW concept of a laser powerhouse will be easier to realize.

While at Schramburg we were given an early view of the 2003/2004 financials for the company. The company will exceed last year's sales of $1.25 billion and $100 million in income. Total employment will crack the 6000-employee level, with additions at all locations. R&D expenditures, always a TRUMPF priority, will grow from the $93 million of the last fiscal year. Total laser shipments through June of this year will be >10,000 for CO2, >8500 for solid-state, and >9000 for laser systems. Last year 69% of sales were laser related and this is expected to grow in the current fiscal year.

Peter Leibinger, CEO of TRUMPF Laser, stated that business opportunities in Asia are excellent, the U.S. is recovering, and the European Union with the addition of 10 new members could well be the growth engine for the new fiscal year. He concedes that the prospects in Germany are less bright because of political and social factors that are dragging down the economy and he was less optimistic that a near-term solution was in the cards. At an earlier meeting in Ditzingen, his father, Professor Berthold Leibinger, had echoed this but had said that TRUMPF had been able to do quite well in Germany despite the apparent roadblocks.

Peter Leibinger singled out laser welding and laser forming as two applications that will be big applications areas for TRUMPF in the coming years. He also identified a resurgence in punching, which the company has seen recently; especially for the combination laser/punching system such as the company's T 6000.

Figure 4. TRUMPF's Schramburg plant produces the company's solid-state lasers.
Click here to enlarge image

Back to the Grüsch plant where Karl Müller, head of production planning for the plant, lead the group through the L 3050 assembly area, which makes use of the TRUMPF Synchro production systems. Here in Grüsch, parts arrive from outsourced suppliers in kits that are delivered to each of 17 workstations. Three times a day trucks deliver machine frames from a TRUMPF factory in France where they have been welded and machined. Frames move along a track from station to station where teams of workers add components and parts from the pre-arranged kits. Eventfully three completed and tested machines a day are packaged for shipping in a giant bag from which all air is evacuated. Trucks arrive at 9:00 A.M., 11:00 A.M., and 3:00 P.M. to load the machines for delivery to customers.

When asked what would happen if a truck was late, Müller stated that this situation has never occurred. When asked about Murphy's Law, he said, with no humor, this cannot happen. Confidence is so high in the TRUMPF Synchro systems as it works at Grüsch, that when a customer places an order he is guaranteed a date upon which the machine will leave the plant.

On the last day, the press tour was taken to a local job shop where three TRUMPF laser cutters, a 4030 and two 3030s, along with a 6000L combination machine are working two shifts per day, 5 1/2 days per week turning out parts for about 400 customers, which include their landlord Busch, a maker of industrial scales. This shop, Keller Laser, used to be the only laser cutter in the canton and now the owner, Bruno Keller, told us he has six competitors within a 30km area. But he has managed to keep 30 employees fully occupied for nine years of laser cutting. In fact, he told us he was replacing an older TRUMPF cutter with a new 3040.

The journalists parted company at Zurich airport, still in rain and mist so they couldn't view the Alps. This was too bad for the Asians who had made this trip for the first time. But a survey of those saying goodbye indicated that TRUMPF had done an excellent job of showing the company's capabilities and that readers of publications in their home countries would be exposed to the latest in laser processing technology.

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