TEXT Manfred Lerch PHOTOS HELLER
Full steam into the digital future
For more than 200 years, the industry has seen constant change. The profound changes in terms of technological progress as well as the labour and social systems are today referred to as Industrial Revolutions and divided into four phases. Three of these revolutions are behind us and we are currently in the middle of the fourth phase. A journey through the industrial ages shows the changes brought about by modern technology and production. HELLER was founded during the second Industrial Revolution and from then on was a permanent fixture in production throughout the industrial world, rapidly developing into a successful and globally operating engineering company.
Industry 1.0 – the arrival of the steam engine paved the way to industrialisation
The industrial age is said to have begun around 1800 with Joseph-Marie Jacquard’s invention of the first automatic loom, heralding the arrival of the Industrial Revolution. In Germany, the transformation of the labour and social systems, i.e. the first Industrial Revolution, only started after the year 1830 in smaller industrial centres, e.g. the Ruhr region. Hand-operated looms, mechanical production systems and water and steam power characterise the period. Water power was considered the primary energy and steam engines were the first engines to be widely used in factories, becoming vital drivers of industrialisation. The main areas of industrialisation were steam navigation, the railway industry, coal mining, textile factories and the heavy industry. Railways in particular quickly gained importance as new means of transportation and created a strong demand in many other sectors. These new types of machines resulted in a massive increase in labour force. At the same time, humans turned into machine operators having to conform to organisational constraints.
Industry 2.0 – mass production using electricity
The second Industrial Revolution began with the introduction of electricity and is characterised by mass production. In 1913, Henry Ford installed a continuous conveyor belt system, the first moving assembly line. It allowed to increase the production volume eightfold. Other success factors at the time included the first steps towards globalisation. For the first time, traffic became intercontinental with the start of aviation and ships crossing the oceans.
Beginnings and development into a global business
HELLER was founded in Nürtingen in 1894 during the second Industrial Revolution by Hermann Heller under the name ‘Hermann Heller Handelsgeschäft und Fabrikation in geschützten Artikeln und Uhrmacherwerkzeugen’, specialising in the trade and manufacture of patented products and watchmaker’s tools, and from then on was a permanent fixture in production throughout the industrial world. Already in 1898, the company began developing cold circular metal sawing machines, saw blade skiving and thread cutting machines. In the 1920s, the company started to export its products to other European countries and even overseas for the first time. At the beginning of the 1940s, HELLER enjoyed an excellent reputation for its crankshaft milling machines and special-purpose milling machines equipped with hydraulic controls.
In the following years, machine technology was systematically enhanced, enabling the construction of manufacturing lines in modular design. In 1962, HELLER started to build numerically controlled milling machines and machining centres with automatic tool change, allowing to perform complex operations on a single machine. Interestingly enough, these machines were also used in the company’s own production.
Industry 3.0 – introduction of computers and automation
The third Industrial Revolution began in the 1970s. More and more machines performed the work of humans. Personal computers for office and private use opened up a new branch of industry. In mechanical engineering, NC controls superseded punch tapes. Settings and adjustments were no longer made by hand but by the programs. Machine data and production data acquisition, CAD/CAM, networking and digitisation were born during this evolutionary phase. The goal was to capture the entire data, to compress it and make it available to all parties involved. Consequently, the transformation from knowledge stored in the brain to digital knowledge already began during the Industry 3.0 phase.
Pioneer in terms of CNC/NC controls
During this phase, HELLER set new standards in metal-cutting technology with newly developed and refined customer-specific solutions and innovations in the company’s own production. Numerically controlled processes superseded mechanical controls, resulting in a first stage of automation. With the in-house developed uniPro control, HELLER became a pioneer and trailblazer in this area. With NC technology, and the subsequent CNC technology, HELLER achieved significantly faster and more precise tool and workpiece motions. At the time, programming, machining programs and unmanned production reached a peak, marking the beginning of the age of Industry 4.0. In terms of machines, HELLER introduced multiheads, enabling the use of several different tools at the same time. From the 1970s, numerous HELLER horizontal 4-spindle CNC milling machines were used in the production of aerospace components. In 1982, HELLER started with the series production of BEA machining centres equipped with the new HELLER uniPro NC 80 CNC control technology. With the opening of plants in England and Brazil in 1974 and the USA in 1982, HELLER underlined the company’s global orientation.
Industry 4.0 – the digital revolution
Initially, Industry 4.0 was a vision initiated by the German Federal Government. It is based on Industry 3.0 developments and regarded as a systematic evolution. It describes the industrial development of additional technologies, but also the changing production and working environment. Social networks and the internet connect the world. By 2020, approx. three million robots will be in use in the industry. In terms of metal-cutting technology, production is regarded as a cohesive unit today, for which all data required and generated are provided in digital, i.e. paperless form. This transparency, including cloud solutions, is today regarded as a part of Industry 4.0, but its beginnings date back to a time two decades ago.
Real-time, transparent and needs-based – added value for the future
With the new industry standards for data exchange, HELLER focuses on achieving a further increase in productivity and on the implementation of consistent engineering chains. With supplementary machine functionalities, real-time and needs-based services and expanded service possibilities, HELLER directs the focus of applications not only towards the life cycle but rather towards all key areas of a machine tool. In addition to services ensuring high availability, this includes the optimisation of the operation and performance of the machine tool. HELLER also regards Industry 4.0 as an approach to enhance transparency of the current machine status, evaluating the information gained in combination with existing data to allow purposeful diagnostics. HELLER recognised these potentials at an early stage, creating added-value for customers.
A revolution is regarded as a fundamental, lasting and often relatively sudden structural change of one or several systems, whereas the term evolution is the opposite, referring to slower developments or changes that do not involve a radical change. Looking at the changes that took place in industrial manufacturing, the correct term to use would not be revolution, but rather evolution. After all, it took almost 100 years to get from Industry 1.0 to Industry 2.0. Moreover, important cornerstones for future development phases were already laid throughout the individual ages in a seamless transition.