Safety and sustainability are among the most important trends in automotive production. Pneumax bears witness to this with a dedicated division, the Automotive Business Unit. A number of new products have been developed to fulfil the requirements of sheet metal working processes, combining safety for machines and operators with energy efficiency. The latest investments in the Lurano headquarters concerned the start-up of the new unit 7, capable of doubling the production capacity aimed, mostly, at the automotive sector.
The main trends in the automotive sector include electrification and sustainability, creating an increasingly green future for the automotive industry, as well as safety, always an essential factor. With the Automotive Business Unit, which joins the Industrial Automation Business Unit (the historic division and heart of the company, which deals with pneumatic actuation, electrical actuation and fluid control in general) and the Process Automation Business Unit (which develops solutions for the Energy, Petrochemical, Oil & Gas, Water Treatment and Power Generation sectors), Pneumax is following the segment with increasing interest. This was confirmed by Lucia Terragni, Business Development Manager – Automotive Division: “The large groups are aiming at optimising their production ranges and platforms,” she said, “and are focusing their investments on new powertrains – electrified or hybrid, for which there has been a considerable increase in purchasing intent. On one hand we are witnessing the entry of new players who make components for electric motors and who are generating new business opportunities; on the other we are seeing increased attention to the electrification production plant itself. To fulfil these requirements, Pneumax has developed a line of innovative electric clamping units, from 24 to 48 V DC, with extremely compact drives and a multifield interface allowing communication on all industrial protocols”. The electric clamping unit generates an energy saving of 95% compared to a conventional pneumatic unit. Equally important is the reduction in CO2. The presence of a single cable for power supply and encoder signal management, safety drives with integrated safe torque off function and Level E performance, all contribute to making the installation of the clamping units simple and safe. The electric clamping units are the continuation of the innovation process started by Pneumax with the MLGA multi-axis electric positioners, which guarantee geometric alignments thanks to the interpolation of the axes, controlled by an advanced control logic.
The Automotive Division and the new developments regarding safety
Safety is a theme which has always characterized automotive production. The Automotive Division at Pneumax responds to the need for safety with activities aimed, above all, at the development and production of components used in the sheet metal or Body in White processes. “We are especially focusing,” Lucia Terragni stated, “on the functions of clamping, locating, moving or pivoting the sheet metal. Last year, we developed products for all these functions, in some cases expanding the range, in others responding to new requirements. An example of development related to the sheet clamping function is our power clamp with integrated self-holding system. This is a mechanism that keeps the clamping arm in the open position, even in the absence of power. The innovation lies in the integration of this mechanism directly into the clamping system, without therefore increasing the external dimensions of the device and guaranteeing a solution protected against residues from sheet metal working processes”. Also within the Clamping range, Pneumax has developed another device with the aim of reducing plant downtime. In this case, it is a double double arm clamp unit with an integrated toggle system which ensures a double reference of the workpiece to be clamped. The innovative aspect of the product is the integration of a manual release allowing the operator to safely release the mechanism during maintenance work in the absence of air. The same device incorporates the original Pneumax system for stepless adjustment of the opening angle. The “Locating” family includes the pin packages. In this case, the already extensive range has been expanded with a series of devices, both single and double rod. Even in this case, in a situation of pneumatic power failure, the device maintains its operational condition. The range of components for pivoting the sheet metal and positioning substantial loads has also been enriched with a parking brake which locks the load in any position, both during the closing and opening cycle, in emergency situations, preventing uncontrolled load movement and with an extremely fast intervention time.
The three stages of the company’s innovation chain
Let us now consider the Innovation Chain, the “supply chain of innovation” according to Pneumax. “Our Innovation Chain,” Lucia Terragni explained, “is essentially a three-stage process involving several departments within our organisation, not just the R&D department. The first phase involves the generation and screening of ideas and solutions and often involves our customers, our marketing department and our sales network. End-user participation is very important in this phase. The conversion of ideas into structured projects is the central phase; it plays a very important role and mainly involves R&D, the technical department and our internal industrialisation department”. In this phase of the process, Pneumax also makes use of external collaborations, both with universities and research centres, and with partner companies for complementary technologies. “This applies especially,” Domenico Di Monte, Corporate Brand Manager at Pneumax, commented, “to all aspects of computerisation and digitalisation. Our strategy is to have the best complementary technologies available, acquiring them from those for whom they are a core business”. Finally, the preparation phase for the dissemination of innovation involves close collaboration between the BDM and marketing to identify the best strategy and distribution channel. “Capitalising on innovation for us begins with the proceses linked to the Innovation Chain – Di Monte added – considering even in the development phase not only the performance of the product, but also its use by the end user from a Total Cost of Ownership perspective. The entire process of design, production and use must focus on energy saving: an all-round approach”. In the development work in the Automotive Innovation Chain domain, patenting solutions is a necessity: “The Automotive Division is the one where the need for patenting is most strongly felt – he added – . The products mentioned are all the subject of patent applications. This is demonstrated by the fact that Pneumax has been granted 14 invention patents in the last five years.
Service: an activity carried out with widespread international outreach
Providing a high level of service is also becoming increasingly important. For over forty years, Pneumax has been carrying out this activity on an international level, investing in its own commercial structures and workshops, in production assets and, above all, in people. “Creating specialised skills in all the branches of the organisation,” Lucia Terragni stated, “has always been a goal shared with the entire network.
Thanks to 23 fully-owned subsidiaries and selected distributors, the Pneumax Group has a widespread presence in over 50 countries in the world, providing dedicated stocks and an optimal and coordinated management of projects at international level with car manufacturers. In addition to this, training courses are held to constantly update skills. It is therefore not just a question of sales support, but also of technical support. Our facilities are prepared to intervene on the products for integration and settings when requested by the customer”.
A new production unit dedicated, primarily, to the automotive sector
Pneumax is investing continuously, regardless of whether the market is growing or declining. This is shown by the fact that in the last year and a half the new production unit at the Lurano headquarters, Unit 7, has been made operational. “Built in 2019,” Di Monte concluded, “the new unit became fully operational in 2020, enabling us to double the production capacity dedicated, primarily, to the automotive sector. Regardless of the market trend in the last period, we believe that the automotive sector is an area with growth prospects, also due to the development of new modes of mobility”.