From the left: Geert Cox, Managing Director of Hermle Nederland B.V., Martijn van Eck, milling operator at Vermeulen Metaal, Johan Maessen, Operations Manager at Vermeulen Metaal, and Peter Vermeulen, Managing Director of Vermeulen Metaal B.V.
For the perfect first impression
Vermeulen Metaal shows how to make a successful entry into the world of machining subcontracting. In the space of just four years, the Dutch specialist for sheet metal processing has invested in three 5-axis machining centres from Hermle – one of which was not actually planned in advance.
"If we hadn't started with the ideal solution, we would've been putting our good reputation at risk," explains Peter Vermeulen, managing director of Vermeulen Metaal B.V. based in the Dutch town of Nederweert. In 2016, he therefore invested directly in an automated 5-axis milling machine from Hermle's High Performance Line in order to enter into the world of machining subcontracting. Since 2008, Vermeulen has been earning a good reputation in the mechanical engineering sector as a service provider for design, sheet metal working, welding and assembly. In fact, Vermeulen had not planned to get into machining at all – that was until 2016, when the company where it had previously had parts milled went bust. "We were suddenly faced with two problems at the same time: On the one hand, we no longer had a machining subcontractor. And, on the other hand, because of the insolvency proceedings, we were unable to get our hands on the uncompleted orders," Vermeulen recalls.
Vermeulen decided it was time to be less dependent on others and his company started machining parts – taking over the insolvent business in the process. This meant he had got his foot in the door of the corresponding market. However, the existing machinery was far too outdated for successful entry. "If I want to get a foothold in machining, I need 5-axis technology," said Vermeulen with certainty. After searching around, he came across Maschinenfabrik Berthold Hermle AG, a milling machine manufacturer who met all his needs: In addition to the reliable systems and fast service, the desire for spatial proximity was also fulfilled by Hermle. In 2017, Vermeulen ordered a C 42 U with HS flex automation and a large tool magazine. "A somewhat unorthodox entry", explains Geert Cox, managing director of Hermle Nederland B.V. "Usually, the initial investment is somewhat smaller. But Peter had a certain vision and there was no other way of achieving it."
The RS 1 robot system continuously supplies the Hermle C 400 U with parts ready for machining – day and night.
One became three
Two further Hermle machines that went into operation in 2020 underline the fact that both Geert Cox and Peter Vermeulen did everything right: The plan to purchase a C 400 U with robot automation had been in the pipeline for quite some time, but then Vermeulen ordered a C 650 U, almost out of the blue. "At some stage we were going to have to buy a 5-axis machine for very large workpieces anyway. A new customer order simply meant that we ordered it much earlier than expected," says Vermeulen, who was suddenly under a certain amount of pressure to complete the new order: He had to start machining quickly. Luck was also on his side though: The material took its time coming, while it took Hermle just six weeks to deliver, set up and commission the C 650 in the Netherlands. "The first part was being machined even before the Hermle fitter had packed his bags," Vermeulen says when recalling the moment in early October 2020. Within two months, the stand-alone machine had already clocked up 1,600 spindle hours. "Automation was out of the question for us at the start. The machine itself had been an unplanned investment and, due to its size, the machining times are significantly longer than with the smaller milling centres." Vermeulen has some regrets about this: "After seeing how busy even the big milling centre is, I'd definitely order it with automation next time."
We have had the C 400 U since December 2020; the RS 1 robot system was added in February 2021. "The C 400 U is probably a bit too big for our standard parts. But we assumed from the outset that we would also produce larger workpieces or pallets on it," Vermeulen explains. And this assumption was correct: Today, Vermeulen Metaal fully utilises the 850 x 700 x 500 mm traverse paths. While the C 42 U uses the flexible HS flex handling system to automatically insert and discharge pallets, Vermeulen opted for the RS 1 robot system for the C 400 U – because of the parts handling, as Vermeulen explains: "The HS flex system is more flexible in that it handles pallets, meaning part dimensions and geometry are not decisive factors. For serial production, on the other hand, the robot is unbeatable, as we can machine numerous identical parts in a short space of time." The Dutch subcontractor is now also able to machine parts in unmanned shifts, supplying, for example, a 2,000-part order in several production batches over a period of one to two years.
The C 400 U spent 2.5 hours milling the aluminium component for the semiconductor industry.
For general mechanical engineering, the C 400 U from Hermle machined this workpiece made of titanium.
The SOFLEX software facilitates operation – both of the 5-axis machines and the adapted automation.
Efficiency due to rotation
Peter Vermeulen likes the perfection of the machined surfaces and the uniform operating concept of the Hermle systems. He can now flexibly use staff wherever they are required most – depending on which machine needs to be loaded, unloaded or prepared. If one of them is absent due to illness or holidays, he does not have to worry about a machine downtime. However, the 5-axis technology is not only a big hit with the staff at Vermeulen Metaal. The company has also been able to attract new customers: "We can produce larger and more complex parts and schedule more production runs. In addition to our existing customers from the food processing industry and the process and drinking water supply, we now also serve companies from the semiconductor industry and medical technology, for example." Hermle's good reputation has helped it to enter certain markets.
The C 400 U is automated with the RS 1 robot system – perfect for parts handling when machining standard parts.
Over 60 percent utilisation
The material that Vermeulen Metaal machines on the three 5-axis milling centres is just as versatile as its customers. The company mostly works with aluminium and stainless steels, but occasionally also titanium. The individual workpieces are then machined for a few minutes or up to six hours – even overnight and at the weekend. "The rate of utilisation is going up month on month. It's currently at 60 to 65 percent," Vermeulen explains.
What began as a few tentative steps four years ago has blossomed into an endurance adventure. "At first, we spent around 800 hours a month milling. It's now 3,500 or more," Vermeulen says. The machining department has also grown accordingly: Eleven of the company's twenty-two employees work there and generate 50 percent of the total turnover. "Today, thanks to machining, we can build complete machines and offer our customers a comprehensive service – from design to the finished machine," says Vermeulen, explaining his vision. Now it is about making the most of the available capacities. "We'll have achieved this in about six to twelve months," he predicts.