Photo: Sine Fiig, Thürmer Tools

Family business ready for Industry 4.0

Tuesday 22 May 18
|
by Morten Andersen

Contact

Hans Nørgaard Hansen
Head of Department, Professor, PhD
DTU Mechanical Engineering
+45 45 25 48 16

Industry 4.0

Thürmer Tools has been manufacturing special thread cutting tools for more than 100 years. The company is now a front runner in Industry 4.0 and has plans to create the special tools counterpart to Spotify.

Ingeborg Rosenvinge, Head of R&D 3D Print, opens a flat, silver-coloured briefcase. It is lined with black foam rubber, in which a series of grooves have been cut. They contain so-called thread taps designed for cutting internal threads in metal workpieces.

“The special feature of precisely these thread taps is that they are 3D printed,” explains Ingeborg Rosenvinge.

“3D printing is much more flexible. When the customer brings us a new assignment, we will be able to 3D print a proposed solution. If it’s not the completely right solution, we can adjust it and produce new versions right until we have found the optimal choice. Conventional production would be disproportionately expensive.”

 

The prospects of 3D-printed specially designed thread cutting tools are tremendous, as conventional production of these tools is disproportionately expensive. The tool shown here has been manufactured by the Danish Technological Institute.

Photo: Thürmer Tools

   Photo: Sine Fiig, Thürmer Tools

Saves millions in coolants

The thread taps in the briefcase are prototypes. There is still some way to go before the printed taps are strong enough to find their way to the customers.

“After all, we’ve only been working with this for a couple of years. The advantages that we are seeing so far are, however, so great that it has whetted our appetite,” says Ingeborg Rosenvinge.

"Right now, our biggest goal is to deliver thread cutting tools which we’ve 3D printed ourselves. But why stop there? "
Ingeborg Rosenvinge, Thürmer Tools

If you look more closely at the thread taps, you discover that they have a hole along their central axis. When metal cuts metal, friction obviously occurs. The holes in the taps are intended for the supply of coolant which can alleviate the strong heat which is developed.

“Instead of having a simple cooling channel along the central axis, it would be more efficient to have a branched structure of channels. With conventional production, it’s impossible to produce taps with an optimal cooling channel structure. But we’ll be able to do so when the taps are 3D printed,” explains Ingeborg Rosenvinge.

The company assesses that it is possible to save 30 per cent of the coolant used to cool the thread taps by having 3D-printed cooling channels.

“It’ll make a huge difference. In addition to coolants being expensive in themselves, a number of measures for handling them are also necessary to protect the environment. In the automotive industry, as much as 11 per cent of the cost of producing a new car concerns the coolant and lubricant used in metal processing.”

Research collaboration on proof of concept

The optimal structure of the cooling channels can be mapped in a computer-assisted design process.

A number of the mathematical tools for the method—which is called topology optimization—have been developed at DTU. In this connection, Thürmer Tools is conducting a dialogue with researchers from DTU, who have also helped test the strength of the 3D-printed thread taps. This takes place via—among other units—the ‘TwentySeven’ unit, which the company established at Scion DTU in October 2015. The name refers to 27 being the lucky number of the founder, Fritz C. Thürmer (see fact box below).

The prospects of 3D-printed special tools are so promising that Thürmer Tools—together with the Norwegian enterprises Sintef and Tronrud Engineering—has recently received a research grant of EUR 1.6 million.

The funds—which have been granted by Innovation Fund Denmark’s Eurostars programme, the EU, and a Norwegian research foundation—must be used to obtain proof of concept for 3D thread cutting tools over the coming 30 months.

“The project gives us a unique opportunity fully to achieve our vision to 3D print our tools. In our case, it does not have to take 30 months. The very instant that we have documentation showing that the taps are good enough, we are ready to begin selling them,” says Ingeborg Rosenvinge, who heads the Eurostars project.

 

3D-printed prototypes of taps which can cut internal threads in metal workpieces. The picture below shows machine taps designed for installation in a CNC machine.

Photo: Thürmer Tools

   Photo: Sine Fiig, Thürmer Tools

Print your own tool

The new activities have brought the illustrious family-owned company into the digital age. Last year, Thürmer Tools won the competition ‘Danmarks Digitale Førertrøje’ (‘Denmark’s Digital Yellow Jersey') established by Siemens, which is one of the international heavyweights in Industry 4.0.

“We’ve generally received a lot of attention. For example, we regularly receive enquiries from very large Danish companies wanting to hear more about what we’re up to,” says Ingeborg Rosenvinge, and promises that Thürmer Tools will not rest on its newly acquired laurels.

“Right now, our biggest goal is to deliver thread cutting tools which we’ve 3D printed ourselves. But why stop there? When 3D printing becomes possible, it will open up for a completely different production. Instead of the customer buying a tool from us, the customer may have a 3D printer. What he buys from us will then be a drawing which he can use to 3D print a tool himself. Mind you, a validated drawing which he knows will provide a tool which meets the relevant specifications."

Digital tool community

There is still some way to go before the concept—which Thürmer Tools has baptized ‘Tollify’—is realized.

“3D printing of tools is not yet at the ‘plug and play’ stage, which it must be before we can let customers print their own tools. But we’re definitely heading in the right direction. At the same time, we envisage a digital community in which our customers can ask us questions, but also help each other with tips and ideas.”

Finally, the company is considering switching to using completely different materials.

“Back when we began talking about 3D printing, there were sceptics who thought that 3D prints might be good enough for plastic workpieces, but that metal workpieces could never be strong enough to cut other metal workpieces. We’re working to disprove this, but the argument could actually also be used as an inspiration. Today, there are—in fact—polymer materials which are extremely strong,” says Ingeborg Rosenvinge.

Photo: Sine Fiig, Thürmer Tools
Ingeborg Rosenvinge at a 3D-printed plastic prototype of a special tool. The tool will subsequently be printed in metal. Photo: Sine Fiig.

120 years with thread cutting tools

Thürmer Tools has been manufacturing special thread cutting tools for metal workpieces since 1898. The year before, the founder—Fritz C. Thürmer—had taken out a patent for the square die. A die is a metal block used to provide a workpiece—typically a bar or a pipe—with an external thread. Later, the company commenced production of a number of other cutting tools, including thread taps, which supply metal workpieces with an internal thread.


Over the years, the company has relocated a couple of times, and it has been wholly and partly sold off and once merged with another company, but every time it has been bought back by members of the Thürmer Family. Production has been outsourced to China in two stages—most recently in 2003, when the whole batch production was outsourced.


At the address in Hvidovre near Copenhagen—where ten employees and students are employed—there is today only special production of thread cutting tools. The company warrants that problems will be solved within 48 hours, but most tasks can be managed within 24 hours. For example, the company has large stocks of thread cutting tools in ‘odd’ sizes, which can often help customers with an acute problem.


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