Efficiency you can trust

9 May 2024


Germany’s economic policy is a stumbling block, especially in international competition. Companies in Germany are slowed down by high regulations and tough approval procedures but that’s not to say it’s all doom and gloom as we feature manufacturers that are thriving.

The Federation of German Industries (BDI) expects the German economy to grow 0.3% in 2024 while forecasting that the global economy will expand by 2.9%.

“The economy is at a standstill in Germany. Compared to most other major industrialised countries, our country is falling further behind,” said Siegfried Russwurm, president, BDI, “We don’t see any chance of a rapid recovery in 2024.”

The German economy contracted by 0.3% in 2023, due to persistent inflation, high energy prices and weak foreign demand, according to the federal statistics office.

Russwurm said the challenges facing the economy last year have not faded, making 2024 another difficult year. The modest growth expected is set to come from a recovery in consumption as inflation eases.

“The central banks’ interest rate policy could become a ray of hope over the course of the year,” Russwurm said, noting the decline in inflation raises the prospect of gradual interest rate cuts.

However, he said lower rates would not have a noticeable effect on the real economy until spring 2025.

The BDI predicts that German industry is unlikely to bounce back and production in energy-intensive sectors, in particular, is likely to remain weak due to high electricity prices, adding 2024 would have many elections of high importance and Europe must be ready for all scenarios.

He also expressed concerns about another presidency of Donald Trump with his “America first” approach.

“Europe must prepare for a world in which we, Europeans, are more on our own and can rely less on the transatlantic security partnership of the past 75 years,” he said.

SCHMALZ

Schmalz took advantage of asking questions about the economy during a visit by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s to its factory in Glatten recently.

The head of government was given a tour of the family business, spoke to management and answered questions from employees who all had similar concerns in common.

“What is the German government planning to do to improve the economy?” Tanja Keck, a member of the purchasing department, asked the Chancellor. And the economic state of Germany was another point of discussion regarding other questions from the approximately 30 employees.

“Many employees are concerned about the competitiveness of German family businesses,” said Kurt Schmalz, managing director, Schmalz. “We urgently need a change of direction in economic policy.”

Above all, the excessive bureaucracy and lack of flexibility are causing medium-sized company headaches. “If our buyers have to invest the majority of their time in checking suppliers for compliance, then something is seriously wrong. We feel increasingly thwarted by politics.”

Germany’s economic policy is a stumbling block, especially in international competition. “We are active at 31 locations with 1,800 employees worldwide. This means we are competing with China, which supports its companies in every conceivable way,” said Andreas Beutel. “German companies are fighting with blunt weapons in the current economic and energy policy.” What could help would be significantly better tax conditions. “Investments in innovation must be allowed to be written off extensively.”

With Schmalz adding: “China is moving at high speed, while companies in Germany are slowed down by high regulations and tough approval procedures. We are currently experiencing this with the construction of a solar system near the company.”

The Chinese are also in the lead when it comes to costs. “Labor costs in this country are already far too high,” added Beutel. “If further social benefits were added on top of this, it would be impossible to prevent the migration of the middle class in the long term.”

All in all, the Chancellor’s visit was a special moment. “A historic day for Schmalz,” said Schmalz. “It was an honor to have Olaf Scholz as our guest. We are delighted that he took the time to listen to our concerns and answer our questions.”

DEMAG

While some companies are seeing a slowdown, Demag is in demand and recently partnered with Rheinkraftwerk Albbruck-Dogern AG (RADAG) hydroelectric power plant to upgrade its double-girder overhead travelling crane hoists to lift and lower their dam beams.

Its current OTC was long overdue a renovation so Demag was called in to oversee the entire operation from installing its DH hoist units, to replacing moving steel structural elements and the load bar to installing two 16-ton hoist trolleys, which can also operate in tandem. The Albbruck-Dogern power plant on the High Rhine is located on the German-Swiss border. As a hydroelectric power plant, it uses the slope of the Rhine to generate environmentally friendly renewable energy.

Along with a weir power plant built later, the operator Schluchseewerk generates an annual average of 650 million kilowatt hours of CO2-free electricity at this site, which is used to supply 180,000 households.

The water volumes required for power plant operation are supplied to the power plant channel via a weir channel.

Three machine sets, each consisting of a generator and turbine, are installed in the power plant channel. To allow regular inspection work on the turbines, the turbines are sealed off from the water with the help of the dam beams and emptied.

For this purpose, the 11-metre-long dam beams are lowered into the niches provided.

As part of positioning and removing the dam beams at depths of up to 22 metres requires high accuracy, two 20 ton DH 2100 hoist units with a 4/2 reeving system prevent any hook travel. They are installed on two mechanically coupled trolleys that travel with a span of 3.54 metres on an 80-metre-long crane runway.

Thanks to a selector switch on the pendant controller, the hoist units can be used individually or in tandem for loads weighing up to 32 tons. Both trolleys have a hook lead-off of 7,000mm to secure the load bar for mounting the dam beams.

Further safety functions such as overload protection with summated load cut-off and a load spectrum recorder are integrated into the hoist units. An additional technical feature makes it easier for the crane operator to position a dam beam precisely: the length of the hook path is measured via rotary encoders on the hoist units and shown on large pivoting displays on the crane bridge.

Starting from the reference point of the uppermost hook position, personnel are shown the deposit position of a dam beam with centimetre precision, which can then be documented and controlled for subsequent removal. Two additional large displays show the current weight held by the hoist units.

Operator Schluchseewerk also uses the hoist units to transport people to carry out inspection and maintenance work. The two DH hoist units were equipped with a second brake as a holding brake for this purpose. Their function can be checked via an additional button integrated into the ground control panel.

In addition to the high positioning accuracy in the long and cross-travel directions, year-round operation must also be ensured – even if the dam beams are only inserted and removed three times a year. Although the crane installation runs under a concrete roof protected against precipitation, the equipment is exposed to outdoor temperatures through the side opening along the length of the crane runway.

A total of eight travel unit combinations from the Demag modular drive system were selected for the drives used for the long-travel motions. These consist of DRS 250-wheel blocks with guide flanges on one side, which are driven individually by cylindrical motors. Wheel blocks with 160mm travel wheel diameters are used for cross travel and are driven in pairs. Control for variable-speed travel and hoist operation is provided by Demag Dedrive Compact frequency inverters.

The trolleys are equipped with additional heaters for the switchgear cabinets. The region experiences cold winters, so the electronics are optimally protected against these weather conditions. The power supply system also took account of the effects of the weather and the confined space conditions: the track profile for guiding the trailing cable runs along the 80-metre-long crane runway and runs at a right angle at the end of the runway. With this solution, the cable accumulating section is located at the end position of the crane and the crane maintains the best possible approach dimensions.

ABUS

In other news, KraussMaffei has optimised its internal processes for material flow, loading and unloading tasks and production processes by ordering 191 cranes from ABUS. The cranes will be used at it factory in Parsdorf near Munich and in Laatzen. The order includes 147 overhead travelling cranes, 44 jib cranes and HB light crane systems.

KraussMaffei Technologies is an international company based in Germany with a long tradition in the plastics processing and mechanical engineering industries. With over 185 years of experience, the company offers solutions in injection moulding, reaction processing and automation as well as supplying customers in a wide range of industries, including automotive, packaging, medical and electrical engineering.

The ABUS cranes will be used in KraussMaffei’s new plant in Parsdorf near Munich for loading and unloading tasks for incoming and outgoing goods, support logistics processes for individual parts and spare parts storage and enable assembly processes for machines manufactured at KraussMaffei.

The overhead travelling cranes are used to lift individual parts and bring them into position for bolting and assembly onto the machine. Entire assemblies and finished machines are also transported back and forth between the production stations.

Cranes with two crab units are particularly helpful for this, as they can be used to lift and move the finished machines evenly at several attachment points.

“We accompanied one of the cranes, a double girder overhead travelling crane with a span of 22 metres and a load capacity of 80 tons, during its construction at our production plant at Gummersbach- Herreshagen and took a step by step look at how an overhead travelling crane is created from steel plates, cables and a rope,” said Markus Huber, project manager, KraussMaffei.

At the start they are normal steel sheets, just 6mm thick. The pre-cut sheets arrive by lorry at the production facilities at the ABUS plant in Gummersbach-Herreshagen.

The operatives unload the vehicle and use a magnetic lifting beam to load the sheets onto the feeder of the shot blasting machine. This is the first step: in this system, the material is blasted, i.e., shot with small, hard steel balls. This loosens rust and impurities and the surface is optimally prepared for further processing.

Every overhead travelling crane manufactured at ABUS is commissioned right from the start. The entire static calculation, the electrical equipment and everything else that will later be fitted to the crane is already specified and planned in digital assemblies. In this way, the crane is optimally matched to the customer’s requirements, but can still be built efficiently and quickly, and is more favourably priced than if a bespoke engineering design had been commissioned.

The next production step involves assembling the crane. The next step is to build a box-shaped beam from the sheet metal, which - with a material thickness of only 5mm - can later lift a load of up to 80 tons. To do this, various components are welded on. First, however, the blasted pieces of sheet metal have to be joined together to obtain the length of the future box girder. To do this, the sheets are placed next to each other and mechanically welded at the ends.

The next step is a manual one: the various sheets are lined up in the shape of the future box girder and secured with spot welds. Alongside the long side plates, the web plates, are the upper and lower sides of the box girder, which are called the upper and lower flanges, as well as a few more parts inside the girder, which are later unseen - but are of great importance for the stability of the crane. These are stiffening reinforcement plates, L-shaped steel profiles that are welded longitudinally on the inside of the web plates and bulkhead plates. They stand vertically in the box girder and divide it into chambers.

These plates are also used in shipbuilding, where the name is more familiar. While the stiffening diaphragms stabilise the web plates in the longitudinal direction, the bulkhead plates ensure that the subsequent forces are transferred to the crane girder and are essential for stability.

The prepared box girder is then placed under the welding portal, a system specially developed by ABUS for the subsequent automatic welding process.

Here, all weld seams, especially the four seams at the corners of the box, are welded by a self-propelled portal. In addition to the four seams at the corners, the seams of the cross-bridge rail – a square steel bar on top of the box girder on which the crab unit will later travel - are also welded.

Although the crane will be over 22 metres long and span the entire hall in Parsdorf, it has to fit exactly on the crane runway in the hall. That is why the dimensions are given in millimetres: In this case, the double girder overhead travelling crane is given a span of 22800mm, which ABUS achieves with a tolerance of 2mm.

For this purpose, the box girder was manufactured with a certain oversize in the previous process and now precisely measured on a cutting device and cut to length with a welding torch. This is incidentally the first time that both box girders are next to each other, because the double-girder overhead travelling crane consists of a left and a right box girder, on whose upper flange the crab unit will later travel.

Before the next production step, the end carriages are bolted on. They, too, consist of welded steel profiles and contain the crane’s running wheels and drive motors.

KETTEN WÄLDER

Ketten Wälder is a family business established in 1948 which, after starting out with handmade agricultural chains, now specializes in stainless steel chains and accessories and has seen much success with demand for its cromox brand.

“With our cromox brand, we have developed the world’s first stainless steel hoist, which is manufactured in Germany alongside our cromox chain hoist (CCH).

“In the last few years, Ketten Wälder has seen an increasing interest in stainless steel products on the market that are suitable for use in ATEX areas (which can handle loads in explosive atmospheres),” said Angela Moser, process and sales manager, Ketten Wälder. “Our high-quality stainless steel products are a perfect fit for these industries. As ATEX requirements are very demanding, we have developed a hoist especially for these areas - the Aurox (ACH) hoist, which is of our usual high quality with copper-plated hooks. The requirements in various industries are constantly increasing, which is why we are continuously developing our products and will announce some new developments in 2024.”

Working in tandem, the two Demag trolleys securely hold the dam beams.
Integrated into the dam is a crane with two Demag trolleys.
Demag DH hoist units from above.
The Ketten Wälder Aurox hoist
The damp enviroinment does not effect the robust Demag DH hoist unit.
The Ketten Wälder Aurox hoist is perfect for ATEX environments.
The sheets are lined up in the shape of the future box girder
Schmalz MD’s Kurt Schmalz (left) and Andreas Beutel (right) with Olaf Scholz (centre).
The pre-cut sheets arrive by lorry at the incoming goods department at ABUS.
The dam beams are raised and lowered using joystick controllers
The HB liight crane systems at the plastics processing facility.
Up close: The Demag DH hoist units.