Monday, October 15, 2007

What LQMT Investors Need to Know About Buhler Die Casting

Die casting machines meeting specific requirements, customized technological services and process know-how are paving the way for new, future-oriented die casting applications. Bühler Druckguss AG has specialized in this field.

Bühler Druckguss AG achieves annual sales of about 150 million Swiss francs, with good earnings. The company plans to boost its market share from 12 to 20 percent by the year 2003. The sales target is 250 million Swiss francs. Market leadership is to be selectively expanded from a position of strength. Possible variants are being carefully evaluated.

Goal: To be the leading global player

In 2003, Bühler Druckguss AG concentrated its activities mainly on Europe. But by focusing on the machine business and services in the US by teaming up with a local production partner, IdraPrince (formerly Holland Prince) the company has become a global player. Due to existing potential China plays an important part.

Electronic industry as a future market

Until recently, about 80 percent of the die casting machines supplied by Buhler were used in the automotive industry. Now, die casting is being pushed also in other fields of industry. Foremost among them is the electronics industry, which is considered an attractive future market. Today, Buhler production systems are already manufacturing casings for cell phone handsets, laptop computers, and various other electronic devices.

Share of aluminum in cars is on the rise

In the area of automotive engineering, business is likely to slow down. At the same time, however, Bühler Druckguss AG expects the share of aluminum in cars to rise sharply. This development may even slightly make up for a slowdown in the automotive business. The research and development department of Bühler Druckguss AG has developed processes allowing passenger car components to be made significantly lighter while maintaining their safety level. This enables the weight of cars and thereby their fuel consumption to be substantially reduced, contributing considerably to the preservation of natural resources.

Historical climax

Buhler shipped its first die casting machine in the year 1927. Other milestones followed mainly during the recent past: For example, 1989 saw the launch of digital real-time control of the casting process with the „Shot Control“ (SC) machine series. This was followed in 1994 by the line of high-tonnage machines based on the SC technology and – a short time later, in 1996 – the second machine generation using SC technology. In 1998, the series was expanded also in high-tonnage machines and the manufacture of die casting machines started in the US.

New model line launched

After the launch of its new machine generation in 1999, Buhler can now for the first time ever offer a complete machine series covering the entire locking force range from 2600 kN to 32,000 kN. Standardization and modularization are the outstanding features of this line of machines, which includes the types Classic, Evolution and Vision. The product policy of the past years is now paying off, which is amply demonstrated by the fact that over the past five years, the number of machines sold annually has risen from 80 to the region of 180.

Meeting a wide variety of requirements

The three new machine types meet a wide variety of requirements: Whereas the „Classic“ is used in classical applications such as for the manufacture of iron soleplates, the „Evolution“ is applied for producing sophisticated components such as magnesium parts for weight reduction in automotive engineering, and the „Vision“ for satisfying the most stringent casting requirements and meeting the needs of new technologies such as semi-solid metal casting. But the new machines are distinguished not only by their high performance and large size; their careful industrial design also gives them a highly attractive appearance: These machines are not only expected to work hard and well, but also to look good.

Technology Center for applications engineering

Cell phone handset and laptop computer casings, vehicle components, sewing machine housings, iron soleplates – we encounter a large number of different die castings in our everyday lives. To further increase production process capabilities, Bühler Druckguss AG recently expanded its Technology Center at its headquarters in Uzwil, Switzerland. A test hall houses four die casting cells. The Technology Center is an important differentiating factor for the company in the marketplace. It also boasts a laboratory, a metal melting installation, and various classrooms.

The Die Casting Center Lachingen, DCL, is a joint venture of Bühler Druckguss AG and the Die Design and Construction Company Schaufler GmbH & Co in Laichingen, Germany. Here aluminium and magnesium die casting foundries, OEM suppliers and developers receive support in all phases of a project from the idea of the customer up to the series part.

The advantage for customers: Components are manufactured by Buhler on the basis of specifications in collaboration with the customer, whereas up to now the usual procedure was for the customer to submit the actual components as a basis of production. This approach leads to strategic partnerships and valuable services.

Training for customers

At the Center, the training opportunities offered to customers have been enhanced. Training at the new Technology Center in Uzwil reflects real process conditions and comprises two areas: training on machines and training related to casting processes. The goal of the training courses is to raise the qualification level of customers’ personnel. Improved process knowledge enables the customer to produce a larger number of castings per time unit.

Various processes

Work is done in various areas at the Technology Center, including liquid metal die casting, magnesium die casting, semi-solid metal casting (casting of metal in a semi-liquid, „dough-like“ state), squeeze casting (turbulence-free, slow filling of die cavities) and vacuum applications. Since recently, Buhler also has a metallurgical laboratory where die-cast components can be examined. With its new service center, Bühler Druckguss AG is intensifying its process engineering efforts for the benefit of its customers and is further enhancing its leading position as a global partner in the light-alloy casting industry.

Crucial process operations

One of the services offered is to establish feasibility studies and create die concepts or plastic models in close cooperation between the customer and the specialists working at the Technology Center. The plastic model of a die-cast component allows improvements to be made at an early development stage. Die cavity filling and solidification simulations in conjunction with the associated calculations ensure that production in the customer’s own plant will start up fast and smoothly. Bionic growth analyses conducted at the Technology Center imitate Nature. They thereby enable parts to be designed so that they will optimally withstand the most diverse loadings while minimizing material consumption. The establishment of data on as-cast components or die designs is as much part of the services offered as qualification samples allowing an initial die to be verified for the dimensional tolerances of the die-cast parts. Other important process operations include the casting of prototypes and optimization for quantity production.

Staff and partners worldwide

Bühler Druckguss AG has a global payroll of about 190 – with some 130 employees working at headquarters in Uzwil. In addition to its production partnership in the North American city of York, Buhler also cooperates in the construction of high-tonnage machines with its Austrian partner Engel. Engel produces die closing units for high-tonnage machines for Buhler in Austria which are destined for the European and asian market. Machines with locking forces lower than 1000 tons and the shot units are manufactured in Uzwil.

The Buhler Technology Group

Bühler Druckguss AG is a legally independent Division of the global Buhler Technology Group. Buhler is a partner for efficient production systems and engineering solutions in die casting, food processing, and chemical process engineering. Some 6500 employees are active around the world for Buhler, generating annual sales of almost 1.5 billion Swiss francs.

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