Craftwork is driven, on the one hand, by creativity and good ideas and, on the other, by flexibility and a capacity for innovation. Equally important are craftsmanship and reliable technology and, last but not least, well-trained, enthusiastic people – like Peter Hiltebrand, founder and head manager of the renowned Peter Hiltebrand Kunstschlosserei AG in the Swiss town of Höri. All these qualities can be found in Peter as well as in his son Peter René and, finally, in his grandson Peter Michael. They are also the defining character of this family business, which now numbers ten employees. In 1972, Peter Hiltebrand founded the company as a traditional village metalworking shop. The one-man firm, which was initially mostly active in the field of jobbing and contract work, soon made a name for itself by manufacturing playground equipment. With the growing need of many customers for greater security, Peter Hiltebrand then had the idea of combining the security function of a window grille with the decorative design of each individual building. On this basis, he developed a wide product range comprising, for example, window grilles, decorative grilles, fences, railings and gates. When his son Peter René joined the company, Hiltebrand extended his portfolio to include, for example, house signs, mailboxes, flower stands and fireplace accessories. At the same time, the company invested in machines, equipment and premises.
The daily challenge: craftsmanship versus industrial production
When you enter the metalworking shop, you are immediately struck by the combination of traditional craftwork handtools and the extensive modern machine pool. Moreover, the interplay of rationally manufactured metal parts and rustic wrought iron can be seen everywhere, showing that “the wrought iron entrance gate and the decorative grille that accompanies it are still affordable,” as Peter Hiltebrand puts it. And to make it possible to get to grips with even the most unusual customer requests without delay, the traditional blacksmith’s forge is complemented by presses for forming, shears for cutting the metal sheets, punch presses and, of course, several welding stations. As Peter René Hiltebrand explains: “Very early on, my father recognized the need to be relatively independent of the technology service providers and suppliers, who may or may not be reliable, in order to be
able to deliver products to customers flexibly and on time. That is why, and faithful to our aim of presenting traditional craftwork at a contemporary level, we procure machines and equipment which, although we are not able to exploit them on an industrial scale, give us enormous flexibility because we can call on them whenever we need them. We are very pragmatic in our investments and make use of modern technology without, however, equipping ourselves with the very highest performance capacities.” The best example of this investment policy, always designed to meet the company’s practical needs, is the acquisition of a BOSCHERT Ergo Cut 3015 Touch flatbed plasma cutting machine in 2016.
Rationalizing the manufacture of parts for artisanal metalworking
Starting from the observation that the demand for home-developed artisanal metalworking products is on the rise due to the growing desire for custom items, the three generations of the Hiltebrand family and their employees started to think about how the various elements, which are produced either as one-offs or in small runs, could be manufactured more rationally but without losing the coveted look and feel of craft products. During the evaluation phase that followed, they looked at various technologies and processes and considered the corresponding operating effort and associated costs. This led them to the conclusion that plasma cutting is the optimum solution. Other processes, such as laser cutting, would have demanded investments and equipment in a completely different price bracket and would have resulted in considerably higher operating costs. Because the Hiltebrand artisanal metalworking shop had already been impressed by the notching and punching machines supplied to them by the German sheet-metal working machine manufacturer BOSCHERT, and because BOSCHERT was able to offer a suitable machining solution with its Ergo Cut flatbed plasma cutting machine, the company decided to purchase a type 3015 Ergo Cut with the new controller with touchscreen operation. The Ergo Cut 3015 Touch plasma cutting machine has a portal design and a working range of 1,530 x 3,030 millimeters. The machine is equipped with a Kjellberg HiFocus plasma source and automatic cutting head height adjustment (two replaceable heads) and is able to cut sheets of a thickness of between 0.5 and 50 millimeters depending on the material. The machine operates at working and cutting speeds of between 200 and 8,000 millimeters per minute, while machine positioning takes place at a dynamic 30 meters per minute. The extremely compact machine design features a traveling suction container and includes a movable worktable to make it easier to load and unload the sheets. Because it is possible to use different plasma gases depending on the requirements and application (for example, marking), the machine can be used to cut a very
wide range of materials such as steel, aluminum and nonferrous metals. It can also make cuts in “industrial/laser quality”.
An interesting alternative for metalworking shops and metal construction companies
The flatbed plasma cutting system at the Peter Hiltebrand Kunstschlosserei in Höri has now been operating since the middle of 2016. After a short introductory phase, the solution is now used to cut individual parts or short runs of up to 100 parts as required. Summing up, Peter René Hiltebrand says: “This solution is vastly easier than the optically based oxyacetylene cutting of the past. What is more, we are now extremely flexible when it comes to materials and thicknesses and we can manufacture the required parts immediately as a function of their priority. We started by manufacturing 10-mm-thick parts for burial crosses, a rapidly growing sector for artisanal metal work. The trials with the corresponding sheets were successful and confirmed us in our decision to purchase a Boschert Ergo Cut 3015. Because we also work in the area of metal construction, the plasma cutting system supports us in many different ways by allowing us to manufacture all the parts we require quickly and as the need arises. One important aspect is that Internet sales are bringing an increasing volume of business for items such as mailboxes, signs, sun dials, flower stands, murals, lamps or wine racks, with the result that we are actually now using the plasma cutting system more than we originally planned.”
|The BOSCHERT Ergo Cut 3015 Touch flatbed plasma cutting machine with portal design, movable worktable and manual sheet store for the loading and unloading of the plasma cutting machine by means of a vacuum lifting device.|
|From left to right: Peter René Hiltebrand, Peter Hiltebrand Senior and grandson Peter Michael Hiltebrand.|
|High-quality plasma cutting of a 6-mm-thick sheet using the Kjellberg HiFOCUS plasma source. The height of the cutting head is adjusted automatically and the nozzle head is replaceable.|
|A small selection of metal craft products and individually designed window grilles, lamps and sun dials.|