Although the basic recipe for the solid soap bar has not varied much for decades, the process of making this basic commodity has changed significantly since the advent of industrialisation. Modern factories now produce thousands of pieces of soap per day.
Hirtler Seifen GmbH, from Heitersheim, Germany, is one such soap manufacturer, but unlike many of its peers, it has a history spanning over 125 years. From its traditional origins, the company has grown to become one of the largest manufacturers of soaps and cleansing products in Europe, delivering its products to customers all over the world.
However, the company’s plant was in need of an upgrade to optimise its production line for efficiency, production output and recipe-change flexibility. Hirtler Seifen’s 20-year-old digital servo controllers had reached the end of their useful life, and the rest of the system’s associated components could not be upgraded without undertaking a complete system overhaul.
The need to increase speed
Automation solution providers Mattke AG from nearby Freiburg were tasked with bringing Hirtler Seifen’s production line completely up to date with the newest precision movement technology. They realised that this was more than just a simple controller exchange task, because Hirtler Seifen’s primary goal was to increase its production rates from 5,000-6,000 bars of soap per day up to 15,000. They also required greater flexibility to accommodate production line changes.
As the plant was already running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, reducing maintenance-related downtime through better equipment reliability and positioning accuracy was identified as one of the ways in which production could be stepped up.
The decision was made to completely replace the linear axles, motors and servo controllers, from the pre- and post-production handling portals to the cooling system for the soap-free cleansing bars. Mattke selected Parker's LBB080 toothed belt linear actuators, SMH-Series low-inertia brushless servo motors and COMPAX3S single-axis servo drives for the job.
A four-week deadline
Hirtler Seifen set Mattke a challenging delivery date: the factory was to be closed for just four weeks, during which time the entire refit had to be completed. Throughout this very tight overhaul period, Parker provided essential custom manufacturing support to Mattke.
After the CAD drawings were completed and system requirements were finalised, Parker worked quickly to complete the mechanical axles for the handling portals, complete with electric thrust cylinder, linear actuators, servo motors and drives, in just three weeks – half the time usually required for such a task. During this time, Mattke’s engineers were hard at work setting up the system software. When the mechanical equipment arrived on-site, the team had just one week to install and set up in time for production to begin.
Increased production and flexibility
The project was delivered on time thanks to the close collaboration between Mattke and Parker.
“Our partner, Parker, who manufactured the mechanical axles, put in a great deal of effort and provided a high degree of technical expertise.”
Simon Hübner, technical director, Mattke AG
In addition to the significant increase in volume provided by the overhaul, the new system now offers Hirtler Seifen increased flexibility.
Each of the five products that are currently manufactured by Hirtler Seifen can be manufactured at the same time, but still managed separately. And if the soap manufacturer wishes to add more products to the production run, this will be an easy task.
This article was contributed to by Michael Boerner, key account manager, Automation, Parker Hannifin Germany