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Sound of Music 

Like the ‘Sound of Music’ that has won its place in movie folklore, the 2024 ‘Sound of Studer’ themed event that took place at the company’s Steffisburg headquarters has won its place in the hearts and minds of the 65 journalists from over 20 countries that attended. The annual Fritz Studer AG event is always packed with the latest innovations in grinding, an insight into the company’s ongoing evolution and an overview of the global trends in the manufacturing industry – and the February event once again lived up to its billing. By Rhys Williams

Located in the Swiss Alps, in a region more stunning than the backdrop to the legendary movie, the ‘Music Motion Meeting 2024’ kicked off with presentations from the management team and was followed by technical presentations on the latest innovations and an insight into what we can expect to see as we move through 2024. 

Studer CEO Jens Bleher kicked off proceedings with a presentation that discussed the company’s performance over the last 12 months, the market turbulence, new updates to the CORE interface, product enhancements and the pride in the success the Swiss manufacturer continues to enjoy with its success at the World Skills event. 

“Despite the challenging investment environment, we again increased our sales, especially in key markets like the USA and China. Asia was the largest single region followed by Central Europe and North America and consistent investments in product development and site infrastructure have paid off. We have turned our announcements into reality and improved our market position to strengthen ourselves for the future in the long term,” the Studer CEO announced. 

Studer once again won market share in many regions around the world, and it hit a new sales record in its Customer Care segment. Bleher took it as a positive sign for the 2024 fiscal year that the order situation developed exceptionally well towards the end of 2023. Whilst confident that order intake will continue in a positive direction, the CEO was particularly bullish about the expected performance in the second half of 2024 – a period when the manufacturer of cylindrical grinding machines will present new technologies. 

Although the development of incoming orders was weaker in individual markets, such as Germany, China and some Asian countries, other parts of the world saw positive results. At the 2023 event, Turkey and several Eastern European countries were the surprise performers. At this year’s event, Sandro Bottazzo, CSO at Studer said: “We achieved good results in many countries and even posted a new record order intake in some.” Some of the standout performers were announced as Spain, Austria and Holland, a welcome boost with the headwinds of global uncertainty and inflation faced by some of the manufacturing powerhouse nations. 

Looking at the industry by customer segments, a point that should be marked as a good barometer of worldwide manufacturing performance for MTDCNC readers was that the aerospace industry once again generated the largest increase in new orders. This industry has now overtaken the declining automotive industry for Studer. The ‘tool’ manufacturing segment remained below expectations with the largest individual segment for the second consecutive year being ‘precision engineering’. “I am very pleased that our grinding machines are so highly trusted by small and medium-sized enterprises, and that this segment remains strategically important for us,” explained Bottazzo. The ‘mechanical engineering’ and ‘mould & die’ segments also maintained their critically important positions. The increasing demand for precision cylindrical grinding machines in the semiconductor industry has been marked as very pleasing for Studer with Bottazzo confirming robust semiconductor growth in the Americas and Asia.

The performance of specific precision cylindrical grinding machines and maintaining a broad portfolio remained of particular importance in 2023. Incoming orders for CNC universal cylindrical grinding machines were reported as very solid. The machine with the highest sales volume was the S33, followed by the favoritCNC, the S31, the S41 and the favorit. “When it comes to internal cylindrical grinding machines, it was the third-best year for incoming orders in the company’s history for the S131,” said Bottazzo. Orders for the new S100 internal cylindrical grinding machine were also very pleasing and exceeded targets. Whilst 2023 sales volumes didn’t exceed the 2022 numbers that were reported as the company’s third-best year on record, the order value was almost on par. This was due to higher-value turnkey solutions and the Customer Care packages reaching record numbers.

Alluding to the Customer Care division, Bottazzo added: “Here we were able to set a sales record for the second consecutive year. This applies to all business areas from maintenance and service to spare parts and overhauls. Particularly pleasing was the development in Eastern Europe, where Studer now performs service with its skilled personnel in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary.” This expansion and the incredible growth have lit the way for the company to continue investing in the Customer Care division. 

In 2023, Studer participated in more than 30 trade shows. At EMO 2023 the company presented three automation solutions for the first time. The arrival of the new insertLoad loader as well as the roboLoad and uniLoad was a paradigm shift for the company and these were prominent during the press tour of the facility. 

Throughout 2023, the focus remained on the development and advancement of grinding technologies. The S36 external cylindrical grinding machine introduced in May 2022 has proven particularly suitable for components in the e-mobility sector since its arrival. Alluding to this, CTO Daniel Huber added: “Now, our customers can use all spindle variants and automation solutions without restrictions on the S36. Thanks to the new, powerful grinding spindle with 25kW, it is possible to use particularly wide grinding wheels up to 160mm.” The S36 fills a gap between the existing S11 and S22 machines and it offers greater spindle and automation variants. This includes integration with the easyLoad and uniLoad systems that permit customers to automate production on the S36. Additional options include the ability to add high-speed grinding with CBN or diamond grinding wheels and the Smartjet system.

Huber also mentioned the success of the new S100 internal cylindrical grinding machine that was introduced in October 2022. Since this introduction, new spindle options have already been added such as the powerful Ø58mm dressing spindle with more additions planned for further models in the future.

As the company moves through 2024, sales are expected to remain strong with a projected upturn in the second half of the year. This will be set in motion by major exhibition appearances and the arrival of new models for the respective events. The new arrival will be a successor to the popular favoritCNC that will reveal new features. Some features in the pipeline include an angle display of the wheel head, the popular QuickSet setup function and a conventional mode as a manual grinding cycle that permits manual grinding without any programming.

A particular focus for development in 2023 was given to the company’s C.O.R.E. hardware and software architecture from the UNITED GRINDING GROUP. “The C.O.R.E. touch operating panel already allows an unprecedented level of intuitive use. Soon there will be a customisable interface where operators can define and save their workspace,” explained Huber. Data collection and analysis, as well as new sensors and instruments, were also a focus. 

Looking to the future of the business, the CTO added: “The issue of sustainability continues to be important. The SmartJet® cooling system developed by Studer already sets new industry standards with its ability to reduce the need for coolant and energy in the grinding process. Demand for high-performance semiconductors is also rising due to e-mobility and photovoltaics. Studer’s S41 CNC universal cylindrical grinding machine with in-situ X-ray measuring head now sets the standard in wafer manufacturing. It is extremely successful in the market. In the long term, only the machine manufacturers who offer intelligent and efficient machines incorporating the latest technology can be successful,” summarised the CTO as he reflected on the extensive development activities over the past 12 months.

Obviously, the success of a business is not purely based upon its product lines, but also its very foundations. To reflect upon the internal business activities, COO Stephan Stoll provided an overview, saying: “The production mix of the machines manufactured has shifted to more complex systems through 2023. With active procurement management and the normalisation of global supply chains, orders were completed on time.” Stoll positively assessed the implementation of the joint production strategy within the UNITED GRINDING Group, which provided Studer with significantly improved utilisation.

Major operational projects included investments in automated test stands and manufacturing tools. As one of the very few grinding manufacturers producing high-quality spindles, the expertise for these strategically important machine components has been expanded. Comprehensive structural and logistical measures were further implemented in Steffisburg. This has been bolstered in the internal grinding competence centre in Biel with plans for further growth. Referring to the additional growth, the COO said: “After the considerable investments of the past years, the redesign of our logistics processes and warehouse infrastructure is now imminent. The centrepiece of this project is a central logistics hub with a directly connected container warehouse. The higher efficiency of the fully automated warehouse system will benefit machine production.” 

The press was shown a roadmap of the planned changes to the manufacturing facility and how it will streamline production, service and logistics. In conclusion, Jens Bleher emphasised the great importance of well-trained employees. He was very pleased with the recent successes at the prestigious professional championships, SwissSkills. Last year, Studer apprentices Luis Salzmann (1st place, design engineer EFZ) and Noah Rossel (2nd place, automation engineer EFZ) won the gold and silver medals with their outstanding performances. “STUDER is represented for the third time in a row at the WorldSkills showcase. We are very proud of this. It confirms our extensive commitment to vocational training,” concludes CEO Bleher.

This commitment to education was further strengthened with an award presentation at the press event for its research prize, the ‘Fritz Studer Award’.  Applicants from several European countries submitted their work and it was Dr. Emil Sauter who won the award and the prize of CHF 10,000. The Fritz Studer Award is aimed at graduates from European universities and technical colleges. “The objectives of the research prize are to boost innovation in the machine tool industry with feasible solutions whilst also promoting young technical and scientific talents,” says Dr Frank Fiebelkorn, Head of Research and Technology at Studer. 

Numerous theses and dissertations were submitted to Studer and evaluated by a panel of experts consisting of Prof. Konrad Wegener, Inspire Institute for Machine Tools and Manufacturing at ETH Zurich, Dr Hans-Werner Hoffmeister, former head of the Manufacturing Technology department at the Institute for Machine Tools and Manufacturing Technology of the TU Braunschweig, and Dr Frank Fiebelkorn, Head of Research and Technology at Fritz Studer AG. Criteria for evaluating the works included the feasibility of the findings in the mechanical engineering industry, the degree of innovation and quality of the research idea, scientific content, form, and the accuracy of statements, and the results and findings. 

The Fritz Studer Award 2023 was presented to Dr. Emil Sauter from the Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Machine Tools at ETH Zurich. He impressed the entire jury with his topic. ‘Detection and avoidance of thermal damage for high-performance metal grinding processes using hybrid machine learning models.’

His work deals with the development of an innovative condition monitoring system for external cylindrical grinding with metal-bonded CBN tools, which recognises thermal damage in situ and predicts the remaining useful life of grinding tools with relative accuracy. Process parameters such as structure-borne noise, spindle current and force characteristics can be identified. With time-frequency transformations, the research identified features of a process to detect different stages of thermal damage. The remaining tool life can also be estimated. In general, this work with its many industry-oriented practical tests also shows that machine learning methods can lead to higher productivity and improved component quality. Whilst MTD magazine extends its congratulations to Dr Emil Sauter, we also applaud Studer for creating a platform for the engineers of tomorrow.

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