Miracle Machine

When mechatronics engineers, electronic technicians and industrial mechanics get together

Four students from Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University (DHBW) working at Freudenberg have realized a robot solution that assembles mechanical face seals under a project that epitomizes our spirit of Innovating Together.

This is not something you come across everyday: four of the seven young men who began their dual studies at Freudenberg in 2016 already have several years’ experience in industrial mechanics, mechatronics and electronics for industrial engineering. Stefan Erbe, Michael Wernz, Stefan Berlinghof and Lev Löwen had already completed vocational training before commencing their studies at DHBW - two of them even trained at Freudenberg. That is why they were selected for a special project where they could contribute their know-how as part of their pre-study internship.

“They designed a robot-based solution that supports the production of mechanical face seals,” explained Stefanie Tilger, who is responsible for the students. The seals manufactured by Freudenberg Sealing Technologies are made up of as many as ten parts. Until now, these parts were assembled manually by production employees. The programmed robot eases the burden by performing some of the assembly tasks itself.

From left: Stefan Berlinghof, Lev Löwen, Michael Wernz and Stefan Erbe

150 hours of teamwork

The young men aged between 20 and 25 spent around 150 hours working on the project together. “We needed a precise plan because time was short and the project was very extensive. None of us would have been able to do it on their own,” says Löwen. “The biggest challenge was finding a solution as to how to correctly position the individual parts of the seal. We didn’t have time to order ready-made camera systems which the robot uses to locate the exact position of the parts. So we went for a purely mechanical solution and built everything ourselves,” Berlinghof explains. The solution lay in measurements that were accurate down to the last millimeter, and in very detailed planning.

Before they started making the components, the four DHBW students visited Freudenberg’s production to get a good idea of the process and the product. “The production workers asked us: When will it be ready, your ‘miracle machine?’” Erbe recalls with a smile.

Combined expertise

After five weeks working together, the big day arrived. The instructors, bosses, production employees, and Stefanie Tilger came to examine the results. Summing things up, Tilger says: “We found the robot pretty convincing, and the students demonstrated they had learnt a lot during the project, above all from one another.” And what do the robot’s designers have to say for themselves? “If there was another project like this one I would pick exactly the same team,” Löwen says. "Working with colleagues from the other Business Groups was great fun. Each one of us contributed their own specialty knowledge.” Successfully, as it turned out. “If one of us hadn’t been there we would have been missing pieces of the knowledge puzzle,” agrees Wernz and captures the project mission in a nutshell. "We wanted to show that synergy effects are generated when employees from different specializations pool their knowledge,” says Tilger.

The robot solution is still a prototype. “We hope we can continue to work on the project to come up with a production-ready version,” says Erbe. Bernhard Eberle, who is responsible for continuous improvement at Freudenberg Sealing Technologies, thinks that would be an excellent idea: “The project was a great success, this ´miracle machine´ has lots of potential.”