Signs Made Easy

Since 2013, HPS – Hydraulik und Pneumatik GmbH has been using a CNC system from STEPCRAFT for labeling their hydraulic units. This system has allowed them to optimize their processes, enabling them to respond flexibly and quickly to customer requests.

HPS – Hydraulik und Pneumatik Service GmbH, based in Düren, is a full-range supplier of high-quality systems, products, and services. With its hydraulic units, pneumatic controls, and the construction of compressed air systems, the company offers a wide range of customized solutions and systems.

To facilitate the operation and maintenance of these units, stamping numbers are usually found next to the various valve seats. However, since these numbers are no longer visible after the painting process, HPS started years ago to attach metal signs to their systems. While this solved the problem of labeling, it also posed new uncertainties for the company. If the customer decided to add position signs shortly before delivery, HPS had to request them externally. From entering the data into the ERP program and creating the order, to typing in the position numbers, to production and pickup, at least one working day was spent. ‘When the signs arrive, you have to drop everything because the machine has to go out, and the freight forwarder is coming. And what if 2 signs are missing?’ says Christopher Baur, mechatronics engineer and assistant to the technical department. The company wanted to become less dependent on suppliers and, above all, be able to respond more flexibly to customer requests. For example, one customer’s specification at the time was that the signage must not be made of metal. ‘So we couldn’t use those thin metal signs that we had used until then,’ notes Walter Baur, Managing Director at HPS.

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Stepcraft Kunden

When he visited the Intermodellbaumesse in Dortmund in April 2013 with Christopher Baur, an enthusiastic model train and car builder, they also stopped by the STEPCRAFT booth. The exhibited CNC machines immediately caught their interest, and Walter Baur was sure: ‘This is what we need! Then we are independent.’ The decision was made to go for the then-largest portal milling machine, the STEPCRAFT D.420. ‘The model 420 seemed excellent for our needs right away! We can produce large signs for our conditions, but also the small signs extremely well,’ notes Christopher Baur. ‘CNC technology is very precise, and I consistently get the same high-quality results.’ As a mechatronics engineer, he was already familiar with this technology and could apply his knowledge well to the STEPCRAFT D.420. With the help of the detailed assembly instructions, the setup initially progressed quite quickly, but when they couldn’t proceed, they turned to the manufacturer. ‘Come to us, we’ll take a look. Who does that today?!’ Walter Baur recalls the conversation at that time. A quick appointment was made at STEPCRAFT in Iserlohn, and the machine was loaded into the car. The issues were quickly resolved, and ‘they quickly explained the WinPC-NC program to us. Then the matter was settled.

Back at the workshop, the machine was immediately put to use. Christopher Baur created an HPGL file in Photoline, an image editing program, and loaded it into the CNC system using the WinPC-NC program. After setting the machine parameters, they were ready to go. He chose engraving plastic as the material to meet the customer’s requirements, which stated that no metal could be used for the labeling. Using the Proxxon milling spindle and the engraving tip, he produced signs, which were then applied to the hydraulic unit.

HPS retained this approach and was able to reduce the costs of signage by 50%, so the STEPCRAFT D.420 had amortized within a year. Since then, ‘we basically have the machine running every week. There’s always something to do,’ says Christopher Baur. For example, the signage of their own test stand, including circuit diagrams, which followed shortly after. This makes it easier for the technician to determine volume flows, pressures, and temperatures more quickly and easily. In addition to short instructions, the company also engraves its own nameplates, including the corresponding commission number. ‘This way, the customer immediately sees which number to provide when contacting HPS. This is always helpful and is now also demanded by customers,’ explains the mechatronics engineer.

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From the former full working day it took to obtain the signs from an external supplier, with the STEPCRAFT CNC system, there’s now just about an hour left. Next, they plan to label the shelves so that the respective load capacity is immediately visible. And Walter Baur, as a model train builder, already has another use in mind: ‘When I retire, I’ll use it to build little houses!