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This is how pro-micron wants to make the metal industry smarter

The Bavarian Innovation Award will also go to Kaufbeuren in 2020. With the Spike series, which can be retrofitted or delivered ex works, the company pro-micron has developed a product that monitors the quality of machined parts while they are still being manufactured and initiates appropriate countermeasures if problems arise. In an interview, Managing Director Hubertus von Zastrow explains how he and his team want to use the innovation to drive the economy forward.

Produktionshalle neues Gebäude
B4B WIRTSCHAFTSLEBEN SCHWABEN: The winner of the Bavarian Innovation Award was a pro-micron product series called Spike. In a nutshell, what is behind it?
With Spike, you can evaluate during workpiece machining, for example, the expected surface quality, or determine whether a hole is straight or running - so exaggeratedly speaking - unintentionally brought in banana shape. Das heißt konkret: Durch diese Überwachung kann unser Kunde Schlechtteile automatisiert identifizieren, und beispielsweise Werkzeuge zum optimalen Zeitpunkt tauschen, bevor sie Ausschuss produzieren. This reduces scrap costs and increases productivity because, for example, tool changes only take place when they are really needed instead of every - say - 1,000 parts. The monitoring of high-quality small batches also benefits similarly.
Where then does the keyword "smart" fit in there?
With spike we measure the effective forces of the milling cutter, the drill or the grinding wheel that hit the component during machining.Our customer can use the so-called spike_polar to observe each individual cutting edge during machining, and thus detect whether a cutting edge is starting to break out, which would produce a correspondingly poor surface. This makes it easy to distinguish more powerful tools from less powerful ones, and to optimize machine parameters to achieve the desired result with as little force as possible.Until now, spike has been used as a diagnostic tool to diagnose the causes of faults. Data could be sent to a laptop and the process subsequently optimized. Today, the information is not only transmitted to the PC, but also to the relevant machine control system and, in the future, to the customer's corporate cloud if required. Spike communicates with the machine virtually fully integrated by itself, and uses algorithms specially developed by our process engineers, so-called spike_kpi's, to independently initiate the right measures.
Wenn der Prozess also ohne Menschen auskommt, optimiert er sich selbst
Our customers will always need employees, but in other forms of deployment. More boring tasks will be replaced by more project-oriented tasks. Currently, the topic of artificial intelligence in manufacturing is becoming very interesting, and not just for our company. Here, we are working with the ISSE Institute at the University of Augsburg on self-learning tools that use the spike data to recognize in advance whether or not there is a defect, in order to alert the expert accordingly at an early stage that the probability of rejects is increasing before actual rejects are produced. Many new customer benefits can still be generated here for the entire value chain, i.e. machine and tool manufacturers, but also coolant and raw material producers. We are therefore working very closely with our partners in the value chain. We are starting to work with the vocational schools to prepare the future machining technicians for the change./span>
At the award ceremony for the Bavarian Innovation Prize, Bavarian Economics Secretary Roland Weigert described the winners as "drivers of the economy". Which industries would pro-micron like to "drive" in particular?We would like to use the spike wherever metal and, in the future, wood or CFRP are machined. This is the case in many industries, for example in the automotive industry, in aviation, but also in medical technology and plastics technology.  We generated around 100 billion in sales in metalworking in Germany in 2019. A good 247,000 employees were involved in this. So we are talking about an essential industry - also in the region, by the way: the Grob Werke in Mindelheim and DMGMORI in Pfronten as machine builders, or the fourth largest cutting tool manufacturer in the world, Ceratizit, are one of the largest employers in the Allgäu. And in precisely this metalworking sector, we are also world leaders from Germany. It is important for the economy that this remains so. Pro-micron would also like to make its contribution to this.
How many smart tool monitors are already in use then?
Worldwide, there are a few thousand. But the market is of course many times larger, because we are still in the rollout phase. So we have great potential in the future, which we want to exploit to the full. We already generate 38 percent of our sales in Asia.
What does this mean for Bavaria and the Allgäu region in particular?
In December, we moved into our own new company location, directly on the B12. With an investment of over 6 million euros in Kaufbeuren, we are expanding our development and production capacities to set the standard in digital machining with spike - together with our partners in the value chain.spik
Does the Free State's award also help with this plan?
It certainly does, because it gives us a tailwind that we are on the right track strategically and technologically, and it raises our profile. Even though we've been working on innovation for a long time and have had economic success with it, we're only serving a very small market share so far. The award is a great help in our goal of expanding this market share. We have received a lot of positive feedback on the videos explaining our innovation, which were donated to us by the Ministry of Economics as part of the award. We are now in the process of translating them into English and Chinese. After all, a prize from Bavaria is valid worldwide.

Michael Ermark, B4B Wirtschaftsleben Schwaben