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Yesterday's Specialty Is Today's Mainstream

Posted by: 13. June 2014

As I scanned machine tool builder websites to learn about old and new models this week, I found myself returning again and again to www.hermle.de.  Recently, 5-axis and milling/turning machines (true machining centers that can turn parts) captured my imagination. I wrote about universal machines on June 5, and true machining centers that can turn on June 11.  When studying up on both subjects, one link led to another, which often led to the Hermle C series of 5-axis machining centers.

I consider Hermle a niche builder whose focus on 5-axis machining centers has been a company hallmark since they began building machine tools in 1957. Hermle Machine Tools LLC, Franklin, WI is the exclusive sales and support organization for Maschinenfabrik Berthold Hermle AG, Gosheim, Germany.  Though five-axis and universal machines may be considered niche, the trend in machining here in America is to increasingly rely on flexible machines that can do “everything.”  

Not too long ago, 5-axis machining was only considered when machining included 3D surfaces or other complex geometries. In short, 5-axis machines were used for specialized, niche applications.  As manufacturing takes hold in Asia and South America, where low-cost labor is plentiful, North American manufacturers find a safer haven in machining applications that are more process-intensive, shorter run, and yes, more complex. And because flexible machines are more suitable to handling this type of work, 5-axis and universal machines are becoming more mainstream, less niche.  In essence, as machine tools evolve, combine processes, and incorporate operations more automatically, the “niche” in the supply chain shifts from the machine tool to the machine tool user.  What defines high-tech machining today isn’t what the machine can do (so many machine tools are now available with state-of-the-art capability), but how the machines are utilized.  And this is why the most flexible machines (machines that can do “everything”) can’t really be considered “niche” as originally thought.  

So, if my premise is correct, and if a company like Hermle wants to grow, the demand for more and more flexible machines has the potential to transform them from niche to mainstream builder.

Take a look at their small but comprehensive lineup that covers this range of capabilities:

True 5-axis (trunnion-style) machining centers that can also turn parts with X, Y, Z axis travels from 350mm x 440mm x 330mm to 1200mm x 1300mm x 900mm and with top spindle rpms from 9,000 to 42,000 and horse power from 26 to 76.  On paper, these machines can do just about “everything.” Now it’s up to the users to define their niche. 

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