Entering the 21st century at the speed of light

Swarco Dambach GmbH, a specialist in road signs and traffic signals, strengthens its machine pool with a fiber laser machine combined with an automatic material handling system from MicroStep. "We are now more flexible, faster, more efficient, produce more cost-effectively and with higher quality. If all projects went like this, we would all be happy."
At construction sites, on the highway, at a town entrance: traffic and road signs from Swarco Dambach GmbH regulate the traffic in many places. Swarco's production site in Gaggenau on the western edge of Germany's infamous Black Forest was using the same machines for many years. With an investment into a modern fiber laser cutting system with material handling from MicroStep, Swarco achieved an enormous leap towards greater efficiency and flexibility. It is an important step for maintaining their leading position in the otherwise closely contested market.

Everyone knows Swarco's products. Whether you travel on foot, by car, by bus or by train: products that the company manufactures in their Gaggenau site, and also within the entire Austrian Swarco Group, guide our ways and give us direction in our everyday lives. This is because Swarco develops and produces solutions for securing, guiding and regulating road traffic, such as road markings, signs and traffic signals. "Swarco is a company that makes products of the highest quality standards, is always deeply involved with the customer, knows what the market needs and has the ability to react very quickly to changes. Our customers are spread all over the world and, at the end of the day, every road user is our customer," says Andreas Flamm, strategic purchaser at Swarco.

Swarco offers a wide product range and is also developing new types of digital and automated components for better and faster traffic management. The market for standardized signage is highly contested – around 15 manufacturers compete with each other in Germany alone. The materials are prescribed, as are the foil coatings and RAL colors. Only a few factors decide who succeeds with the federal, municipal or local authorities: "The minimum quality benchmark is clearly defined so delivery times and the cost factor play a key role. Efficiency and flexibility in production are therefore correspondingly important," emphasizes Bernard Frank, plant manager at Swarco Dambach in Gaggenau.

Andreas Flamm, Strategic Purchase (left) and Bernard Frank, Plant Manager in Gaggenau (right).

MSF Pro laser replaces ten machines thanks to precision and automation

To achieve higher speed and efficiency in the production processes, the long-established company recently began to modernize its aging technology pool. The most important new addition is MicroStep's fiber laser cutting machine MSF Pro equipped with an automatic sheet handling system MSLoad. The new solution replaces in fact ten production machines, including nibblers, laser cutters and milling machines. "We are now more flexible, faster, more efficient, produce more cost-effectively and with higher quality. We have arrived in the 21st century at the speed of light," says Andreas Flamm. The 2D laser cutting system was installed in the spring of 2021 and has a working area of 4,000 x 2,500 mm. Its main task is processing of thin aluminum sheets 2 to 3 mm thick, with the occasional slightly thicker plate or a piece of steel as required by the standards on world’s roads. The additional rework of earlier days has been completely eliminated.

MSF Pro with a 2D fiber laser cutting head, a work area of 4 000 x 2 500 mm and MSLoad automation system.

A lot of planning and preparation to implement the key technology

In their search for the right solution, Andreas Flamm and Bernard Frank took their time. After all, they had to define and procure a groundbreaking key technology for the company. From the very beginning, it was clear it had to be a 2D laser cutting machine able to process standard 4 x 2 m metal sheets. There was the additional challenge that material absolutely could not be scratched during the entire process. After some market evaluation, the idea of a requirement for automatic loading was born, joined by unloading in the later planning stages. "Not all manufacturers have this technology automated. Some might offer it, but then would have to develop it. MicroStep had the system ready and it works. That's why I'm satisfied. The solution of picking up the sheets without leaving scratches also works," says Bernard Frank.

The modular material handling system MSLoad is used for automatic loading of cut material as well as unloading of finished parts in combination with the automatic shuttle table of the laser cutting machine.

Yet the decision-making process was a long journey that also placed high demands on the manufacturer. "We are definitely a demanding customer. We sent an incredible number of samples around, had them cut by laser and tested them. We played with different laser powers and different sheet thicknesses. Because this was a huge investment for us and it had to work exactly the way we needed it to. MicroStep spared no effort," Andreas Flamm looks back.

Job cutting ability a welcomed bonus

It took intensive planning and many extra meetings for the two responsible people. In the end, they found a solution that covered all requirements. Flamm estimates the return on investment at around two years. There are even capacities for additional job cutting available now. "If all projects went like this, we would all be happy," says the strategic purchaser.

The machine’s control system provides easy, user friendly and reliable operation via a modern user interface with a touch screen. To achieve maximum utilization and flexibility of the machine operation, a standalone operator console offers the possibility to prepare and edit cutting plans even during the cutting process.

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