Configurable online, on the go and on a tablet, as a durable special part, 3D printed or equipped with smart intelligence, motion plastics are increasingly becoming high-tech components. At this year's Hannover Fair, igus demonstrated this development with 120 new products – from the intelligent plain bearing to what is claimed to be the world's first online platform that brings together suppliers and users of cost-effective robotics.
With its 'motion plastics' core technology, igus ventures into new areas of industry every year: 3D printing for wear-resistant parts with a service life that can be calculated online; smart plastics; energy chains with a travel of 1000m; and lubrication-free polymer ball bearings with a 10 times longer operating life. And the fact that high-performance plastics for motion continue to be in great demand all over the world shows just how successful igus is. In 2018, igus was able to increase its sales by 8.5 per cent to EUR748million. Of the total sales, 53 per cent was achieved in Europe, 31 per cent in Asia and 16 per cent in America and Africa. The number of employees rose to 4150.
igus is growing organically and continually opening up new markets in areas such as the stage machinery and solar sectors. At the company's main site in Cologne, there is an upbeat get-up-and-go atmosphere.
Frank Blase, CEO of igus GmbH, says: "Due to flexible working methods and open structures, we are able to implement new motion plastics ideas in sprint teams very quickly. We continually test our products and remake them, improving them until the user gets exactly the right product that enables him to move forward."
This dynamic approach has resulted in 120 new products, which igus presented at Hannover Messe this year. At the fair, it was apparent that plastic machine elements became high-tech components quite some time ago. igus is exploiting the opportunities of digitisation and is presenting plain bearings that can be equipped with intelligence. With the expanded communication module icom.plus, customers can now decide in which form they would like to incorporate the acquired data from the sensors. From an offline version for restrictive environments to the linkage of values to the igus server for automatic spare parts ordering, users are free to integrate and read their data.
Robotics platform and 3D printing
High-performance polymers from igus are also expanding the possibilities for low-cost automation. The reason is that enormous cost savings are possible if robots are built with gearboxes and many other parts made of plastic. Robots from EUR3000 are already a reality. In conjunction with 16 industrial partners, igus presented the rbtx.com online platform as a world premiere, bringing together suppliers and users on a platform for lean robotics. Customers can completely configure industrial and service robots there.
The area of additive manufacturing also grew further last year. The 3D printing capacity at igus was tripled due to new SLS printers, and the company developed its own high-temperature printer for the heat-resistant iglidur J350 tribo-filament. For frequently bought machine elements such as gears and rollers, igus now offers special online configurators and a printing service, delivering components with excellent wear resistance. Claimed to be unique worldwide, the service life of these 3D-printed components can be calculated online.
Data from the test laboratory forms the basis for these calculations. Last year alone, more than 264 new plastic components were developed and tested in the test laboratory. In addition, more than 11,300 tests were carried out in the plain bearing area on over 50 different test stands. In the laboratory for energy chains and cables, over 4100 tests were performed in 2018, involving more than 10 billion e-chain cycles.
At the same time, the test laboratory is also a 'think tank' that uses tribo-polymers to develop special products for the most varied of industrial sectors and practical applications. One result is the iglidur Q2E plain bearing, which can safely and reliably support up to 7 tons in construction machinery and agricultural equipment without any lubrication at all. The E4Q e-chain is suitable for long travel applications; with its slimline pebble-shaped design, it weighs very little and is easy to assemble without tools thanks to QuickLock crossbars.
At the moment, a new testing facility is being set up outdoors for corresponding long-travel tests. The size of the test laboratory will therefore increase to over 3800 square metres. In many other parts of the world as well, there are moves towards a further expansion of capacities with the aim of being able to supply customers locally without any delays. For example, the size of the USA branch has been increased by a further 5000 square metres to around 19,000 square metres for offices and production. In China, a new building offering 22,000 square metres of space is currently being built; the project will be completed in August. In addition to expanded facilities in Brazil, India, Poland and Thailand, land has been purchased for the new building of the local branch located in Korea. The building, which will be 9500 square metres in size, will be completed by the end of 2019. But Frank Blase is sure of one thing: worldwide growth is only possible if the customer continues to be the focus of all the company's activities.
Blase says: "The question that my father, the founder of the company, put to the first customer in 1964 has lost none of its relevance for today. He asked: 'What is your most difficult injection-moulded part?' Today, we ask a slightly different question: 'How can we help you to lower your costs and improve the technical performance of your equipment, doing so easily, quietly and without lubrication, and offering a long service life at the same time?' With motion plastics, we are continually finding new answers."
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