NUMROTO at core of Unimerco’s seamless global tool manufacturing operation

Unimerco has earned one of the most interesting reputations worldwide for creating special-purpose tools. Its development services are heavily relied on by many of its end users to work with them to design better metalworking production solutions, and the company often produces custom cutting tools at extremely short notice. Underpinning Unimerco’s special tooling services, with 12 facilities worldwide, is a very close relationship with its tool grinding machinery builder Saccke, and standardization on the tool grinding software package NUMROTO - the company’s key resource when developing and prototyping new special tooling.

This theme of uniform excellence runs deep within the company’s culture. Every Unimerco facility looks very similar, not just from the outside but also from the internal building layout. All employees, no matter whether they are manager, engineer, or machinist on the production line, works in the same unified space - there is no separation between office and manufacturing areas. Everyone is treated equally in these open-plan environments, with the CEO having the same workspace as the secretary, the designer, the engineer or the apprentice. And the company is also majority owned by its employees. This culture has enormous benefits in terms of communication efficiency and team spirit, and Unimerco has an enviable reputation for retaining highly skilled staff. Another unusual feature of the company culture is a small “hotel” area on major Unimerco sites with some 10-20 rooms and living spaces. This makes it very easy for the company to transfer employees for training and knowledge exchange, and to host major meetings for tool development, machine handovers, and training with both its clients and suppliers such as NUM and Saacke.

Unimerco has been in the tool supply business for over 40 years, and moved into the creation of special-purpose tools some 20 years ago, following the acquisition of its own CNC grinding machines for reconditioning tools.Customization of tool designs to improve cycle time and eliminate process stages was the natural next step, and the company has steadily developed its know-how in this sector. This is aided by its unique corporate culture which means that many employees stay with the company for very long periods - allowing enormous experience to be brought to bear on any production requirement. Once accepted, the final tool specification is stored on a master server at Unimerco’s Danish headquarters, allowing it to be accessed over the company’s intranet by any subsidiary. Each of Unimerco’s manufacturing locations in the Americas and Europe (and soon Asia) uses identical Saacke grinding machines, controlled by the identical NUMROTO package used in the design - with the exception of local-language differences in the HMI.

This means that Unimerco is able to faithfully reproduce every tiny aspect of the tooling design exactly as first conceived - wherever and whenever either new parts or regrinding is required. Unimerco’s focus on custom tooling typically involves the solving of complex problems, and this in turn has led the company to develop very close relationships with the grinding machine builder Saacke and the grinding software supplier NUM. Numerous major developments to the CNC technology inside Saacke’s grinding centers can trace their beginnings to requests for new levels of machining performance from Unimerco. Examples include the very first automatic Tool changer on a tool grinder or the unique network architecture. Likewise, Unimerco relies on a sophisticated tool design and machine control software, and standardized on NUMROTO in 1994.

The package’s comprehensive three-dimensional modeling, simulation and optimization environment plays a crucial role in Unimerco’s ability to turn new designs around rapidly.  If Unimerco has encountered a similar problem before (and the sheer length of its experience over 20 years means that this is usually the case) then a template design typically exists in its model library.  This means that many special-purpose tool designs can be imported, modified, simulated and optimized all within the space of an hour or so. NUMROTO’s rich virtual prototyping facilities includes both workpiece simulation and collision monitoring for the Saacke grinding machines, helping Unimerco to build plenty of time into the development cycle for trials and customer evaluations.

One of numerous industrial application areas that Unimerco is heavily engaged in is special tooling for machining hydraulic valve bodies. It’s a sector that is characterised by a need for ever more complex solutions, and many machining contractors have found that close relationships with the tool developer holds the key to meeting these demands. Unimerco has developed a range of tool concepts for this market which can be easily and quickly customized for individual applications. One example is its land grooving tool, which can machine all the lands in a spool bore in a single operation. Some machinists working in this market can use a cutter with inserts, and would typically have to machine the valve body in several operations with different tools, and maybe from both sides. With up to as perhaps 15 lands in a bore, the time and cost savings of optimized all-in-one solutions can be enormous.

Unimerco has equally advanced solutions for other common valve body machining tasks such as holes for compensators, oil, shock valves, etc. Unique know-how embodied in its designs means that its tooling solutions also ensure that bores are created “ring free” - and do not require subsequent finishing operations after the initial machining stage.

(August 2010)