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Automated beam processing — how is it done?

From manual beam processing to automation - More and more carpentry businesses are converting their operations to automated beam processing. But what is the reason for this transition? And in particular, what factors must be taken into consideration so that the change produces the desired result for these businesses?

An article from the magazine "DER ZIMMERMANN", 5/ 2017.
Here you can read DER ZIMMERMANN online.
Editor: Tamara Brumm 


The timber work industry is booming, the businesses are reaching full capacity, and this development appears to show no signs of stopping in the near future. A highly positive development, but one that poses a challenge to the businesses, is to fulfil customer requests within the desired construction times. The short construction times and high-quality work demanded by developers must be ensured by businesses who wish to remain competitive and win over customers.

This also involves an issue that has concerned the timber work industry for a long time — the lack of skilled personnel. There are not enough qualified workers, which is making it increasingly difficult to find suitable employees. 

Incorporating automation into the business

Automated beam processing offers businesses countless options to not only meet the required capacity, but also achieve a high level of quality at marketable prices within the desired time frame. When converting to automation, it is important to bear a few things in mind before successfully implementing the investment into the business. Space plays a large part, since the halls have typically already been built, which means that the machine has to be easy to integrate and must not use up too much space. If the planning for the new building includes a hall, it is important to agree upon this with the machine manufacturers prior to construction, as they support the planning process with important notes on the optimum work processes relating to automation. For example, logistics have a significant influence on the positioning of the gates or hall cranes.
It is also important to observe which processing dimensions are required. In this case, it is necessary to consider which dimensions will take up the majority of the work. If, for example, a beam processing machine for smaller cross-sections is sufficient for 90% of all components, but the remaining 10% require a larger cross-section, it does not necessarily mean that a machine for large cross-sections is the right one. Ultimately, the machine has to be worthwhile for the business, which is why it is necessary to consider how greater investments deliver added value. For example, preparing the machines to the maximum cross-sections increases the travel paths, which leads to greater wear and longer cycle times. Ultimately, buying larger cross-sections for manufacturing is a more economical option for a lower proportion of larger dimensions. Simple components such as purlins in larger cross-sections can be processed manually.

As carpentry work is characterized by tradition, there is a common opinion that this craft and the associated tradition will be lost due to automation. However, the opposite is true. Thanks to equipment such as tool changers and dynamic 5-axis technology, plants offer a large number of processing options that can no longer be produced by hand as they are too time-consuming and expensive. Automated beam processing enables the daily use of processes that would not be manufactured economically in the conventional way.

Thanks to the beam processing plants, the carpenter's workshop is significantly more ergonomic and innovative, and as a result, more appealing as a training location and workplace. This is particularly beneficial regarding the low numbers of qualified workers, as it can help attract quality staff.

Changes in the work processes

Of course, there will also be changes in the work process within the business. The data the machine works with is created in CAD and transferred via an interface to the machine. Even in the smallest carpentry businesses, a CAD system is already used for planning, which has already laid the foundation for automated beam processing.

The degree of detailing in CAD planning generally increases with automation. The required capacity shifts somewhat, as more capacity is required for work preparation and less in the hall. However, due to the many young people who have grown up with PC’s, and enjoy working with them, it is usually easier for businesses to find staff for work preparation than for the hall or the construction site. In addition, the higher degree of prefabrication means higher quality and lower assembly times on the construction site.

The data is transferred directly from CAD to the machine, where it is processed. For automated beam processing, the error rate is considerably lower as the plans are no longer manually measured and transferred to the component.

Data is initially created in the CAD programs. Industry-typical CAD programs can be used for this. The WUP or BTL data created in the programs is transferred to the machine, displayed in 3D, and all processes manufactured fully automatically, such as a dovetail on the miter cut or inclined bore holes. Based on this data, the production process can be planned as early as the work preparation stage and the expense which will be incurred can be calculated. If short-term changes are required, these can be carried out directly on the machine so that there is no delay in the production process.

Solutions for all requirements

Of course, the requirements of carpentry businesses differ when it comes to beam processing technology. That is why there are different expansion stages for the beam processing machines, which differ mainly in terms of processing speed and processing options. It is important for the business to be clear about what capacity is required and what the product requirements are. Depending on the product spectrum, the focus can be on high beam processing performance or even on high flexibility, which affects the number and type of possible processes.

To provide businesses with the perfect solution, a wide-variety of machines have been developed to ensure that there is a suitable machine for any requirement. This can be seen in the beam processing machines in the WEINMANN WB series.

The WBS 120 is a cutting saw with a basic trimming unit. It is suitable for simple beam processing work and cutting wall components. Simple processes such as notches, leaves, and tongue and groove joints can also be manufactured.

Thanks to the WBS 140, a number of 5-axis machining processes in beam processing and cutting are possible for the timber frame and frame construction. This version is suitable for small and medium-sized business that require a high level of processing flexibility with moderate beam processing performance.

The WBZ 160 model is particularly suitable for businesses that require a high degree of processing flexibility, as well as a high level of beam processing performance. This enables almost unlimited component processing.

For even higher performances and simplified component handling, the WBZ 160 powerSIX is available. This machine is equipped with an underfloor unit for 6-sided processing in one throughfeed, without having to rotate the component.

To use the machine technology profitably and utilize all options, the employees, who will operate the machine later, not only receive training in the workshop in advance, but also production support on site following the installation.  Support is available at any time for later questions.

Added value in practice

Many businesses have concerns about how the beam processing machine can be fully utilized to cover costs when considering automating beam processing. Particularly when you look back at some rather bad years in the timber work industry. Machine manufacturers can reassure businesses in this regard, since according to calculations and customer experience, using a WEINMANN WBS 140 for three days a month is already sufficient to covers its costs. This is based upon a finance period of six years, as well as the salary for a machine operator and the machine space occupied. This also saves outsourcing beam processing, meaning more flexibility and precision. Ueli Köfler, Managing Director of Köfler Holzbau describes his investment in the WBS 140: "The quality of the components has increased, while processing times have shortened and production costs have lowered."

Many businesses rate the added value that automation brings to flexibility and precision so highly that using the machine at full capacity is not a priority.

Kienle Holz- & Ausbau starts automation

Kienle Holz- & Ausbau is a carpentry firm that, due to excellent market conditions and a desire to equip its business for the future, decided to enter the world of automated production.

In the beginning, Kienle manufactured his houses in a small workshop, which also worked well. But with growing demand, the workshop became too small, and receiving supplies and making deliveries became too problematic. Even back then, Christian Kienle saw the future of his company in turnkey timber house construction. That is why, in 2015, he moved his business to an industrial area and invested in a new, self-built hall, as well as a flat-pack table and a WEINMANN WBS 140. "We decided on the WBS 140 because it is very compact and does not require special foundations or a basement area for removing material. This is beneficial to us because we have grown very quickly and we don't have a picture in mind of what our hall layout will ultimately look like. This isn't an issue with this machine because we can switch its position at any time."

The purchase was a brave step for Kienle. But because of the strong number of orders, he is laid-back about the investment, since he did not solely have profitability in mind. It is important to him to advance the business and to concentrate industry expertise within the company instead of outsourcing it.  We are able to achieve greater quality and individuality for our customers if we are in control of and can optimize the complete process."

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