2012/06/01   |   Germany

Quality through automation

Storen, which is located in the town of the same name, currently employs 130 staff and produces around 00 prefabricated houses and between 40,000 and 80,000 roof trusses per year on a site covering an area of 16,000 m².

From the planning stage to „just-in-time“ delivery, Storen, which is undergoing major expansion, offers its services to the construction companies with which it works in the form of a large complete package. We spoke to the company director, Roald Haug.

Performance: „Mr. Haug, how do you think Norwegian timber house construction will develop in the future? Will the trend go more toward automation?“ 

Haug: „I am able to answer this question with an unequivocal „yes“. One reason for this are our new building regulations regarding energy efficiency, which are considerably more stringent, as well as how airtight the houses are required to be. Another reason is the distinct lack of qualified specialists in Norway. Around 10,000 foreign workers are currently employed in the Norwegian construction industry — a figure that speaks for itself!“

Performance: „Please tell us a few reasons why you have decided to invest in a WEINMANN production line.“

Haug: „It became clear to us that we would only be able to achieve optimum value for money combined with consistently high quality by implementing a very high degree of automation. This quality gives the buyer an impression of reliability, which is what ultimately determines the success of a modern, low-energy house manufacturer. As our modern manufacturing technology enables us to supply houses of an excellent quality within a short construction time and at competitive prices, we can enjoy a steady increase in orders and, as a result, turnover. In 2011, we were already able to achieve a turnover of EUR 25 million, so in 2012 we expect a turnover of around EUR 35 million.“

Performance: „What form will the production of your wall and roof elements take with the WEINMANN system?“

Haug: „The production line consists of wall production, as well as roof and floor production, and the external walls are produced at approx. 0.35 m/min. The first component in the system is a WEM 150 framing station, which works with standard lengths of raw wood for the belts and automatically cuts the lengths of wood to the correct length for a production order using nail plate presses and chop saws.

The insulation is also inserted between the studs and the door and window modules are assembled, using a fully automated nogging station.

Once work at the framing station is complete, the insulated frame work is transported automatically onto a table, aligned at right angles and sheathed with asphalt or plasterboard, depending on the customer‘s requirements.

The elements are attached and cut fully automatically using a multi-function bridge (WMS 100), while the partly bent studs are simultaneously moved into the correct position via an additional NC axis. This guarantees that the element is as accurate as possible and that every nail is nailed securely into the wood, in order to guarantee the subsequent statics of the house.

An inkjet printer on the multifunctional bridge marks the positions of laths, which can then be applied manually and relatively quickly at a later time.

The wall element is then transported on what is known as the window table, on which the windows can be inserted. The table is positioned at an angle of around 80 degrees for this purpose, so that the window, which is delivered vertically, can be inserted quickly and without the need for additional rotation, with the aid of a vacuum handling system. This special table allows our employees to work in the correct ergonomic manner. Once the windows have been inserted, the element is transported to two further tables on which the external insulating material (of any orientation) can be applied. An additional multifunction bridge is available for this purpose, which forces the  insulating material through a hole in a precise manner, minimizing the manual work required. This machine also alternates between nailing the battens and cladding on both tables, as well as cutting them to the required angle.

Finally, another special loading station was developed together with WEINMANN, where a table positions the finished elements and stacks them in a special device, until a stack of wall elements with a width of 1.2 m has been created. This stack can then be immediately loaded using a forklift truck, after applying the appropriate transport safety device and packaging.

Our roof production and floor production consist of 2 NC axis tables. The clamps for the longitudinal beams on these tables adjust to the correct positions in a fully automated process and in just a few seconds, in accordance with the information in the data records. The machine operators just need to insert and nail the beams accordingly.

This enables an additional multifunction bridge to apply adhesive to the frame in a fully automated process and within a few minutes, onto which the sheathing can then be laid. The board layer and the battens are then nailed and cut again in another fully automated process, using the multifunction bridge. Even in this workplace, all processes are carried out while constantly switching between the two tables, meaning our staff and the machines complement each other perfectly.“

Performance: „What advantages does this production method offer you?“

Haug: „We produce markedly better quality and are able to do so with considerably fewer staff! In order to achieve our target production volume of 600 houses per year, we would require 46 employees if we were not working with the WEINMANN system, whereas now we are able to produce houses with just nine members of staff. Between 2010 and 2015, we expect our turnover to quadruple. We will therefore reorganize production to a two-shift operation, with effect from May this year at the latest. I anticipate that the investment in the plant will have paid for itself in three years or less.“

Performance: „Have changes therefore been made to the operating process? Has the new plant had an impact on the number of people your company employs?“

Haug: „There was a significant shift in operating processes from the factory floor to management: All planning and construction processes, including drawing up, correcting and optimizing construction plans, are now carried out by the planners — those employees who have an overall view of the construction project. Administrative divisions, such as our purchasing, sales and construction departments, have of course grown in proportion with the increased order volume, but the number of employees within production has not increased.“

Performance: „Were the employees initially skeptical when they found out about the purchase of the system?“

Haug: „It was actually the opposite. The employees at Storen are proud to be working with an ultra-modern production system. The investments we have made over the last five years, totaling around EUR 10 million, have enabled us to safeguard all jobs for the next ten years.“

Performance: „Mr. Haug, thank you for talking to us.“

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