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Franke GmbH meets the challenge of the soaring demand for system components for medical equipment such as CT scanners during the spread of the COVID-19 virus with the aid of DMG MORI machining centers.
In 1936 Erich Franke developed the wire race bearing, which he describes as a “ball bearing with exceedingly low spatial requirements that satisfies even the highest demands on a body’s precision of movement in relation to another.” Franke GmbH in Aalen was established in 1949 based on this to date still common principle. With its 280 specialists the company today develops and produces wire race bearings, rotary systems and linear systems. Customers worldwide, among others from the medical technology, renewable energies and aerospace industries, trust in the innovative and high-quality solutions of the technology leader. In order to meet the high demands on quality, Franke relies on six machining centers from DMG MORI for its mechanical processing. The special focus in the spring of 2020 is on the speedy delivery of two more DMC 125 FD duoBLOCK machines, because with the global spread of the COVID-19 virus the demand in the field of medical technology components has risen drastically.
High-end special bearings with integrated drives for CT scanners, bearings for ceiling lights in intensive care units and special bearings for medical centrifuges and laboratory equipment are just a few examples of the components Franke produces for renowned manufacturers from the medical technology industry. “This confronts us with the great challenge during the pandemic of ensuring an uninterrupted supply chain while at the same time diligently implementing the protective measures in our own plant”, explains Sascha Eberhard, Managing Director of Franke GmbH. Instead of meeting on the shopfloor, we are suddenly required to maintain social distancing and reduce social contacts. “We have responded here with two extremely effective measures: strict separation of the shifts in production and a reducing the staff present in the administration by means of mobile working.”
Franke has been helped enormously in this change in the way of working due to its long-standing philosophy of investing automation and digitization. Sascha Eberhard refers in this context to the company’s currently eight digitization projects. With its own development and design Franke also concentrates on both the products themselves and their manufacture. “Many machines and devices originate from our own development and internal special machine construction.” On-site service on our customers’ premises, for example maintenance of the bearings of CT scanners, is carried out by our own service team.
Franke has ensured flexibility in production since 2008 with machining centers from DMG MORI. “The versatile machine tools from DMG MORI coupled with our perfectly aligned equipment provide us with the leeway we require in production planning to produce the so urgently needed components for the medical industry”, says Sascha Eberhard. Depending on the type of product, batch sizes are between 1 and 1,000 pieces per project. The spectrum of workpiece materials ranges from diverse types of wire to aluminum, brass, cast steel and on to include plastic and carbon. The demands on production in the high-end segment are enormous, as Sascha Eberhard goes on to explain: “At their highest expansion level Franke special bearings are complex system components with sophisticated housing designs, seals and integrated direct drives.” Machining includes extremely high-level mill, turn and drilling technology.
Machines on the shopfloor include a DMU 210 FD plus DMC 80 FD duoBLOCK, DMC 125 FD duoBLOCK and DMC 160 FD duoBLOCK machines equipped with pallet changers. All machines are equipped an accuracy pack. The duoBLOCK models in particular play a decisive role for Oliver Schröder, authorized signatory and head of purchasing and material management: “Milling and turning in a single setup combined with the automatic pallet changer offer us the ideal package for machining highly complex housing parts for special bearings with ø 300 to 2,000 mm. Accuracy is in the µ-range.” One of the two recently ordered DMC 125 FD duoBLOCK machines is also equipped with the DMG MORI technology cycle gearSKIVING, to enable in-house production of straight and helical external and internal spur gears with conical skiving tools. This brings a reduction in both costs and throughput times.
When the order for the two DMC 125 FD duoBLOCK machines was placed nobody could foresee just how important the investment would turn out to be. “The fast spread of the COVID-19 virus has led to a massive worldwide increase in the demand for medical equipment”, recalls Sascha Eberhard, “Making the two new machining centers an elementary part of our production capacities.” This contrasts with a halt in production at DMG MORI, which the machine tool manufacturer has implemented in order to minimize the risk of its employees contracting the disease. “In view of the great urgency a dedicated task force was set-up at DMG MORI. A small team in Pfronten ensures that the two new duoBLOCK machines will be delivered even earlier than planned”, says Oliver Schröder in praise of the fast realization.
The fact that Franke has managed to win new customers in the medical technical industry in recent years - especially in the field of computer tomography - and is able to satisfy the high demand in this sector, has greatly contributed to the positive business development of the company. This development has gone hand-in-hand with an increase in the workforce and with 23 trainees Franke is actively ensuring sufficient well trained professionals for the future. Sascha Eberhard has his sights firmly set on the future: “We supply our components to sustainable industrial sectors such health, mobility and energy. We are therefore optimistic that Franke will continue on its path of healthy growth and will invest in production capacities as well as innovative technologies.” That is the only way to remain competitive in the long term and to meet the very tight delivery times.
The share in sales of medical technology has risen in 2020 from 35 percent to over 40 percent. Sascha Eberhard sees a great responsibility for his company here: “Our customers rely on us worldwide. We must not betray their trust. It is now essential to supply the quantity of bearings necessary to meet the increased demand for CT scanners for the fight against the corona crisis. For our customers. And for the many thousands of patients.”
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