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Molding the future

The integration of mold maker Hummel within the ElringKlinger Group marks the introduction of a creative think tank specializing in pioneering production methods of the future. Expertise such as this is essential when it comes to unlocking further growth potential.

Years of neighborly collaboration finally culminated in amalgamation, with ElringKlinger acquiring a ninety percent interest in die- and mold-making specialist Hummel-Formen GmbH in September 2011. The rationale behind this acquisition was to strengthen ElringKlinger’s expertise relating to tool engineering and expand the company’s know-how in the field of material-based lightweighting. After all, replac­- ing heavy metal components with lightweight polymer- based solutions was and continues to be one of the main routes chosen by car makers in their quest to reduce fuel consumption and scale back CO2 emissions.

In an age in which ever-increasing demands are made on individual parts and assemblies, fiber-reinforced composites are often the material of choice. However, processing such materials poses challenges in many cases. It is precisely in this area that Hummel has amassed a wealth of expertise. Since its inception in 1960, the company, located just a few minutes away by car from ElringKlinger's headquarters in Dettingen, had invested continuously in new technology. This included state-of-the-art machinery as well as the introduction of company-developed processes that were soon to give Hummel a unique selling proposition within the markets it served.

In fact, it was these core competencies that brought ElringKlinger and Hummel together – long before 2011. As early as the 1990s, the company was working on solutions aimed at integrating seals and gaskets into plastic components. One of the first products from this era is today considered the incubator for ElringKlinger's business activities in the area of plastic housing modules, which today account for annual sales of EUR 140 million.

60%
of all solutions developed at the Lenningen plant are attributable to lightweight engineeringand thus the reduction in fuel consumption.

The aspirations associated with the incorporation of Hummel-Formen GmbH into ElringKlinger AG four years ago as its Lenningen plant have more than been fulfilled thanks to a successful process of integration. Indeed, developers and production experts make no secret of the fact that profound knowledge in the field of tooling is a decisive factor as to whether new developments or new processes can actually be implemented in practice.

There is an audible sense of pride in the voice of Thomas Wolf, Head of Technical Sales, when he describes what has already been accomplished in Lenningen and what has been planned for the future. The expertise applied to tool construction, 3-D product engineering and process development has helped the plant to extend its competencies across virtually the entire process chain. Jürgen Weingärtner, Head of Technical Service at ElringKlinger, sums it up as follows: “Drawing on our experience, we are able to provide customers with solutions tailored to their requirements, applying various methods and using a range of materials – as well as combinations thereof.”

To make this possible, the Lenningen plant has evolved continuously from a technological perspective. Today, for instance, the focus is no longer on the actual tool itself. Rather, the emphasis is on thinking in processes. “Behind every task there is a new process,” as Thomas Wolf puts it. A string of newly developed solutions in recent years reflects the successful transition from a die and mold maker to a developer of specialist processes applied to manufacturing operations.

Thomas Wolf, Head of Technical Sales at ElringKlinger’s Lenningen plant, believes that each new task holds an opportunity for process optimization.

In this context, the tools themselves merely form the basis for implementing new processes or new products within a partnership that includes tool, process and automation. A prime example cited by Thomas Wolf is the hydroforming of aluminum pipes directly within an injection-molding tool, a method developed by an OEM and applied by ElringKlinger. Another pioneering solution is the lost core injection-molding method (with integrated injection-molding for ready-to-install parts) developed by the Lenningen plant; it can be used for parts featuring highly complex interior geometries and a closed outer skin. Additionally, the plant applies the so-called JoinMelt method, as part of which a welding process can be incorporated into the injection- molding process, i.e. forming can be combined with joining in a single step. Last but not least, it uses a number of production processes for parts made of organo sheets. The to-do list in Lenningen currently includes six different projects relating to materials and production engineering.

Furthermore, the plant is working on numerous in-house development projects for products and processes in the field of lightweight construction and product optimization. These are to unlock new market segments for ElringKlinger AG’s global manufacturing operations.

“While a brilliant idea may be feasible in terms of product design and computation, it doesn't necessarily mean that it can actually be executed at a production level. Our task is to transform ideas into reliable processes and efficient tool technology.“


Thomas Wolf, Head of Technical Sales

The sales department at ElringKlinger is particularly delighted by the fact that these newly developed solutions are attributable to orders placed by customers – with the prospect of future series production. At the same time, they serve to extend the company’s own expertise and also strengthen its position when it comes to submitting bids for subsequent serial applications.

Despite the sense of momentum needed to work simultaneously on various projects for both internal and external clients, Weingärtner and Wolf still have a number of other forward-looking ideas in the back of their minds. One of them is to transfer some of the expertise concentrated at the Lenningen plant to the other sites operated by ElringKlinger around the globe.