Breeding grounds for innovation: SWISS MECHATRONICS visits Ticino

During the first SWISS MECHATRONICS TOUR on 26 and 27 October 2017, numerous members and non-members of the Swiss Mechatronic Cluster visited the canton of Ticino. There, they experienced the canton, which is otherwise renowned as a tourist region, as an innovative industrial location. Presentations and company tours were offered on the topic of complexity. The format allowed participants to network in a relaxed atmosphere. Intensive discussions resulted in one or the other deal being made. The original idea for the new event format came from Swiss Mechatronics member FAULHABER Minimotor SA, the drive specialist with the world's largest portfolio of miniature and micro drives. Also participating as cooperating partners were the Mikron company – the expert for production and automation solutions – and the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland (SUPSI), hub for scientific knowledge and technological advancement.

FAULHABER – complexity always under control

FAULHABER, a family-run group of companies founded in 1947, is today among the leading companies in the field of highly developed miniature and micro drives. The company – which invented the highly efficient DC motor with ironless winding – has been developing and producing drive solutions in the Swiss region of Ticino since 1962. Because there is no iron core, the motors are lightweight and correspondingly dynamic in movement. FAULHABER does not define itself as an industry, but rather constantly reinvents itself in new products and countless applications ranging from autonomous submarine robots to applications in satellites and rockets. The trend towards automation brings new developments in the field of medical and laboratory automation. The latter aims to provide analysis near the patient. This requires new product concepts for hospitals and surgeries. Focus is on, e.g., remote-controlled operation robots as well as interconnected but autonomously operating robots and systems.

"To keep a finger on the pulse of the industry, we realise complex projects together with the customer, which are then placed on the market as a complete solution with attachments," explains Rolf Leitner, head of sales in Switzerland. "The new motion controllers are one example of such a solution. Thanks to these, our drive solutions can be integrated in higher level control systems or PLC systems." But, the drives need to be even smaller, more efficient and quieter. As a result, the motion control product line is constantly being expanded.

Into the future with "customisation"

Our aim is always to become even more innovative and more efficient, to maintain top quality but also to address the high cost pressure. In addition to customer-specific development, FAULHABER therefore uses standard methods near the end application so that any necessary changes require only minimal modifications. Reliable, safe and highly precise, microdrives find their way into, e.g., medical technology. From the powerful DC motor with a continuous torque of 200 mNm to the filigree micro drive with an outer diameter of 1.9 mm, the portfolio has more than 25 million possible combinations. The range includes intracorporeal blood pumps as a replacement for heart-lung machines, compact and fully automatic blood pressure gauges or pharmaceutical pumps for individually dosing active agents to the patient. In the field of prosthetics, microdrives ensure that myoelectric hand prostheses grip quickly and securely. The microscope glasses with automatic focus adjustment have already become standard for surgeons.

Secret recipe: complexity management  

It is clear to FAULHABER management that complexity management is a key to success, as product diversity has grown greatly in recent years due to increased competition and global expansion. Complexity also arises through the range of industries that FAULHABER supplies with individually adapted drives. Standard products alone have nearly no chance on the market today. What are needed are "customised" products that are individually tailored to the needs of the customer. And these need to be supplied quickly at an economically acceptable cost. This means placing customer-specific variants as close to the end of final assembly in the production process as possible, something to be taken into account already during product planning. The positive effects of complexity need to be utilised and the negative effects controlled and reduced. A company that has complexity under control has an excellent tool for utilising competitive advantages and tapping into optimisation potential. This can be seen using the example of the effects of design modifications, of a modified production control for component production as well as of modified processes in the final assembly: set-up times have dropped by 40%, the variance for magnet systems by 60% and the lead times by 62%.