Based in Ehingen, Southern Germany, the firm of Schumacher GmbH is close to its biggest customer Liebherr in every sense. Not only is its new fabrication hall just over the fence from the Liebherr plant, but it is also directly linked into Liebherr’s ERP system.
Schumacher produces all kinds of sheet, plate and tube parts for Liebherr’s telescopic mobile cranes – amounting to around 30,000 part numbers in structural steel, aluminium and stainless. These range from parts in 1.5mm sheet metal for enclosures, cladding and electrical cabinets up to much heavier components for applications such as stabilising outriggers, working platforms and chassis frames.
As the head of the company Herr Gerhard Schumacher explains: “They count our machines as part of their production capacity.”
In fact, with the purchase of a 6kW LVD 125030 Impuls laser with a 12.5 by 3.2m cutting capacity – reckoned to be the largest flying optic laser system on the market – it can produce large parts to laser quality that Liebherr could not do in-house.
According to Herr Schumacher, the trend is towards bigger and bigger components: “The downturn in the construction industry has led to a reduction in demand for smaller mobile cranes, but the growth of the wind energy sector has boosted demand for the larger cranes required to erect and maintain wind turbines.”
Subsequently when Herr Schumacher searched the market for manufacturers of large laser bed laser cutting machines he found LVD was one of the few if not the only company able to offer him the experience and capabilities that he needed in such a machine.
With the LVD Impuls, Schumacher can profile parts up to 12.5m by 3100 mm in material up to 25mm thick fine-grained, high-strength steel, 16mm aluminium and 20mm stainless steel. This means it can process the complete spectrum of parts for Liebherr – as well as other customers in the truck and machinery sectors – using the same machine.
The machine has twin shuttle tables so that parts can be loaded and unloaded on one table while profiling continues on the other table – minimising non-productive time.
This feature also allows Schumacher to run the Impuls unmanned for long periods, including overnight.
“We can lay up 8 large format plates, in different thicknesses and materials if we want, on each of the two shuttle tables. We can then run the machine without having to load or unload until it has processed all 16 plates – which means it can run automatically through the night shift,” says Herr Schumacher.
Schumacher GmbH’s business was originally built on sheet metal craft skills, particularly for the construction sector, and parallel to its fabrication business it still installs and repairs roofs, building facades and steel-framed buildings, as well as making one-off craftsman pieces. Indeed, this is how it first came to work with Liebherr when in the mid 1970s it won a contract to maintain its roofs and buildings.
Somewhere along the way, in around 1982, Liebherr asked if Schumacher could supply components too. This was initially for sheet metal components such as tool boxes, covers, electrical cabinets and so on. At first Schumacher was using Liebherr’s machines at weekends to do the profiling and cutting, and then welding the parts together during the week – but it soon started building its own sheet and plate working capacity.
“We slowly increased our machine capacity, and from producing what were essentially spares and maintenance parts we started making more and more production components,” says Herr Schumacher. “And our business was growing year by year.
“We became Liebherr’s ‘fire brigade’. When they couldn’t do something in-house or needed something urgently we did it. Our policy was to never say no. If Liebherr couldn’t do it we would.
“Our machines are practically bound together with theirs. They think of our capacity here as part of their production capacity. We ship direct-to-line in Liebherr, we are linked into their ERP system and they send DXF files straight from their IT system to ours. Now, any of the sheet metal parts that you can imagine might go into a mobile crane could be produced here.”
With the LVD Impuls 125030, which was installed in August 2008, Schumacher can laser cut parts that Liebherr can only make using oxy-gas or plasma cutting – which can’t achieve the cut quality and accuracy possible on a laser. On axle support components, for example, there is a requirement to create clean and accurate holes for large supporting bolts. Liebherr’s machines just don’t have the definition to do this, so, after plasma profiling, the holes had to be bored out on a milling machine.
Using the LVD laser, the cut quality is so good that the bolts fit without the need for an additional machining stage – giving a more efficient and cost-effective process.
“The spectrum of parts we can produce on the LVD laser allows us to be very flexible – and produce parts in larger sizes to a higher quality than plasma or flame cutting. This has brought us even closer to Liebherr and opened up opportunities in new products and markets,” concludes Herr Schumacher.