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MACHINE TOOLS Turning of transmission shafts and gears

Oct 21, 2019

Any new production plant built on ‘greenfield’ land is a challenge for planners — especially with the long-term future in mind. Unit volumes, for example, should always remain scalable, and the processes should satisfy the requirements of modern industrial production for a long time to come. Pankl Racing Systems recently chose EMAG machines for turning transmission shafts and gears. The article dissects the various aspects behind using EMAG as the key machinery supplier and the different components to achieve an efficient process.

The construction of Pankl Racing System’s ‘high performance drivetrain plant’ is a particularly impressive example. In just two years, an ultramodern plant was erected at the site in Kapfenberg, Austria, including a smart, digitalised transmission manufacturing facility. Installed in that facility were a total of 16 EMAG machines for soft and hard machining of shafts and gears. One of the key factors behind the choice of EMAG as a central machinery supplier was the support the company provided in the planning phase; rapid response times, central points of contact for all queries and comprehensive technology expertise were crucial.

What is distinctive about the quality of the various assembly line and standalone systems at Pankl is - when you talk to the managers at Pankl about the new drivetrain plant, terms like ‘full traceability’, ‘zero-error strategy’, ‘top performance’ and ‘digitalisation’ come up a lot. They give you an idea of the demanding task that was given to them at the beginning of 2016. Detailed planning for the new plant started at that time, encompassing not only transmission manufacturing but also a heat treatment system, four assembly lines for ready-to-install transmission shafts and an ‘additive manufacturing’ facility. The overall goal was to develop an ultramodern plant to produce drivetrain systems — with an eye on the growing technological challenges in motorcycle manufacturing, because the new plant would produce complete motorcycle transmissions for Pankl’s customer, KTM. Europe’s leading motorcycle maker, KTM constantly places great emphasis on component quality and lightweight design. Additionally, Pankl produces more than eleven different transmission models for KTM, which means a relatively high component diversity for drive input and output shafts and idler and sliding gears. “Ultimately all the production chains have to follow the principles of quality, safety and flexibility”, said Bernd Kögler, plant manager for transmission manufacturing at Pankl. “This means we use ultramodern and extremely precise machines that are interlinked by intelligent automation systems and are flexible in use. All the quality data relating to a component is 100 per cent traceable — from the original melting of the alloy through to the finished part. That gives us high process reliability. If weak points arise, they can be quickly identified and remedied.”

Partner with complete turning expertise

Pankl’s technology partner in the ‘turning’ application area is EMAG, with a total of 15 turning machines and one grinding machine from EMAG being installed in the new plant. These include, three complete production lines, each with three VL 100 machines for the soft machining of gears, two connected VL 200 machines for the hard machining of gears, two VTC 100-4 units for the soft machining of shafts and an additional production line for the hard machining of shafts that includes the VTC 100-4 turning centre and the HG 204 horizontal grinding machine. Finally, there are two more VL 100 pick-up turning centres that are used as standalone machines, for tasks such as the manufacturing of prototypes. With such a high volume of orders, the question naturally arises, how did the company decide on EMAG as its primary partner for turning? “I should start by explaining that although we’d been developing and producing complex mechanical systems for high-technology industries such as auto racing and aerospace for many years, we hadn’t previously had any mass production of transmissions”, said Stefan Zinner, technical director of transmission manufacturing at Pankl. “So, we were looking for a partner who could assist us right from the start, advise us about the turning processes required and finally provide us with complete systems. In that sense, EMAG is an obvious machine supplier who has a very good reputation especially in the area of turning.”

Soft machining of 22 different shafts

To understand the requirements that are important in choosing a machinery manufacturer, it helps to look at the lines installed for the soft machining of the drive input and output shafts which handles eleven different models of each. Pankl opted here for a process that is both demanding and perfectly synchronised, with a stacking cell, two EMAG machines, a pick-and-place unit and a gantry robot. The slugs and blanks are transported by gantry loader to the O-belt of the first VTC 100-4. This vertical turning centre has two workpiece grippers that can each pick up a part and put down a finished one, in parallel to the machining operation. This reduces non-productive time when turning the first side. Additionally, a four-axis turning operation is used to minimise machining time. Once that operation is completed, a pick-and-place unit picks up the parts and turns them over for equally rapid turning of the second side in the second VTC 100-4. The gantry robot then conveys the part to a laser marking system. The writing and data matrix applied to the part ensure that every shaft is traceable. The production
process then continues with gear teeth cutting, case hardening, truing and hard machining — with the latter again involving EMAG technology. The machines used here are another VTC 100-4 for hard turning of recesses and shoulders and the HG 204 horizontal grinding machine for plunge grinding along the entire shaft. Michael Mogg, team leader for machine turning at Pankl, summed up the situation, “The lot sizes in our shaft production vary considerably between 800 and 5,000 units. So, it’s important to us that all processes, including retooling, go smoothly and quickly. We make sure of that with these flexible production systems.”

High reliability of supply

A similarly perfect solution was achieved in the production system for the soft machining of a total of 110 different idler and sliding gears for various motorcycle transmissions. The three production lines, each with three EMAG pick-up machines of the VL 100, rapidly carry out rough-machining of the first side (OP10), rough-machining and finish-machining of the second side (OP20) and finish-machining of the first side (OP30). Once again, a gantry loader provides the link between the machines. An interesting additional feature here is, an image processing system which guarantees that the part has the correct radial alignment before being clamped. The workpiece carriers used were developed specifically by Pankl. They ensure rapid and flexible loading of the machines with a wide range of parts — lot sizes between 800 and 2,500 units are typical for the company’s gear production.

In total, Pankl currently produces about 80,000 transmissions every year, and that number is rising fast. The company is already aiming for more than 100,000 transmissions in 2020. What is the leadership team’s overall take on the situation more than one year after the start of production? “We feel our plans have been vindicated”, said plant manager Bernd Kögler. “We’re now seeing an efficient process for the many different components we make. We’re reaching the target volumes we aimed for in our planning, and at the same time we can guarantee the required level of quality at all times. Our customer can rely on this reliability of supply — and exactly that was far and away our most important objective.
EMAG has basically been our technology partner in the area of turning and will continue to play that role.”

Courtesy: EMAG

Image Gallery

  • Shaft production at Pankl. The lot sizes in Pankl’s shaft production vary between 800 to 500 units.

  • Focused on precision & reliability, Pankl produces a total of eleven different transmission models for KTM motorcycles

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