IN THE PRODUCTION DEPARTMENT
The last section of this part is dedicated to the production department where Alberto Zuani guides us in the visit to the production chain starting from the beginning with the semi-finished products.
“This is the cutting area where the production of the tool starts. We begin with raw material bars consisting of two different kinds of material:a very light weight and efficient 7075 alloy aluminium, or steel, a material more commonly used in the past. This is our metal bars warehouse from which, working on special order, we cut what we need. With the two cutting machines we manage our production capacity quite nicely.
A list of the pieces we need for each order arrives automatically from the engineering office, and the operator cuts the required number of pieces of the required size, and so on. We try to cut everything required for the order and once the raw material is cut we enter the material removal stage. So the first department consists in the warehouse and cutting area with overhead crane”.
The second department is the turning area.
“Turning gives shape to the tool via CNC turning machines, always served by the engineering department that with the CAD generates the input data for the machinery, also known as CAM, and generates a program that automatically creates the piece. Therefore the operator loads the rough cut slice and the machine processes it.
Once the piece has been ‘rounded’, the other machinery, by removing the material, creates all of the slots in which the tool’s cutting parts are to be applied, also known as ‘knives’ – CNC milling machines large enough for processing the kind of tool, that create the slots for the knife or for the insert.
Going back to what we were saying in the office, through the creation of TWT, we have brought together two cutting machines, one of which was at Zuani’s and the other at Rekord’s, and so we have become faster. In general, technologically speaking, we have kept the best and gotten rid of what we didn’t need.
Some of these machines are special in that they work non-stop and unmanned. The operator loads the pieces from the warehouse, to which he then associates the program, conducts all of the necessary checks, and finally the machine starts working autonomously. These machining centres work 20 hours a day, on average.
At this point, the tool is finished because it has undergone all of the necessary processing stages. It takes a small step back to the previous department where it is cleaned and is given a surface finish, then it is touched up and any machining residues are removed. Both the aluminium and the steel pieces go through a sanding phase. Then, only the steel tools undergo a chemical treatment to prevent oxidation.”
Once the tool has been created, production focuses on its cutters (called ‘knives’) in the sharpening department.
“Basically, the tool or tool body production stage is over, but the cutter still needs to be constructed and this happens in the sharpening department. On our tool we can fit standard commercial cutters, but the vast majority of these tools are ‘special’ pieces that we create in-house.
We purchase the raw material, i.e. hard metal, in the form of ingots, and from this rough insert we obtain any shape designed by our engineering office, the shape that will then create the same shape in the wood requested by the client. By making all of these ‘special’ pieces each project is done ex novo and has a different code – just to give you an idea, in merging Garniga, Rekord and Zuani we have arrived at about seven thousand codes –.
Based on the design that is sent to the engineering department, the sharpening department operator fetches a specific rough piece, mounts it in a specific position and launches the program that creates that specific insert for a specific order. The sharpening machines are more or less similar to milling machines, even if unmanned”.
“We are talking about 15,000 profiled knives per month – Tomas Zuani adds – because in this department we produce the inserts for new tools as well as all of the spare parts requested by our clients”.
Considering that several production sectors are fully automated by now, do you program the functioning of the machinery based on the orders and quantity of work shifts?
“Exactly, even though we do have some standard settings – Alberto Zuani explains –based on which we can make some calculations and plan the loads in terms of production, which obviously depends on many factors, but overall we always try to keep a fairly defined target”.
“The most important variable is the size of the orders – Tomas Zuani adds.Even though it doesn’t all depend on us, we try to keep an even mix between medium-small orders and large orders”.
“Obviously, an order for 100 tools compared to one for 5 – Alberto Zuani says – travels at a completely different speed and requires precise programming. Here where we perform the first sharpening phase and, when the client requires it, the spare parts too, and when possible the overhauling of used tools, we have almost reached the final stage”.
We are standing in the first sharpening department, and Pietro Ferrari asks whether this is where the periodic resharpening is also performed.
“No, this is not done with these machines. It is done but by following a different procedure – in a dedicated area – because in the other process the knife’s ‘front’ is sharpened, with the cutting edge made thinner and therefore made sharper, while on these machines we actually create the profile.Everything undergoes laser marking with which we mark every piece so as to ensure product traceability. Through the code we can identify the tool”.
Then we enter the final assembly, presetting and wood carpentry department where the ‘baptism’ with the wood occurs.
“Here we are at the final stage where we bring together the product coming from the sharpening department with the product from the workshop and we assemble our tool. So this is the final assembly and presetting department, and we go onto the profile projectors to check that all that was done before complies with the instructions of the engineering department.
Once assembled, the tool is tested both on the machines and in the carpentry department on a piece of wood. So the tool comes out compliant with the order design because the match between what was designed and what was machined can be measured. As you can see, there are myriad profiles…
Once assembled, the tool arrives at the warehouse and the last inspection is done to check for the presence of all of the material, that can be the tool arriving from production but also something linked to spare parts. Then we have the warehouse for the standard accessories that can be supplied together with the new tool.
Lastly, packaging is a stage we are very careful with, because “we manufacture fairly heavy and very sharp objects”. For this reason, in addition to the aesthetics that stylishly expresses our brand, we have chosen a type of packaging made of heavy duty cardboard so that our boxes, once shipped by courier, arrive in perfect condition”.
Finally, and unexpectedly, we arrive at the coating department and we are dazzled by the diamond.
“The coating department was created in 2010, when we became interested in giving our tools extra quality. We had started to explore with another Italian company with whom we conducted tests and started to produce diamond-coated tools – because diamond coating provides very high hardness levels combined with an almost imperceptible coating thickness so as not to create rounded edges where the insert cuts, seeing that wood, unlike metal, requires sharp edges. The logistics was difficult with this company, however, so we decided to take a chance and we brought the machinery home.
After two years we came up with the right recipe for creating the DLC coating. I might even be bold enough to say that we are the only ones in Italy doing it because it is one of the most complicated methods there is. Now, in addition to carrying out our own orders, we also do coatings for other tool manufacturers”.
As is only right, we turn to the young operator of this precious workshop, Filippo Senter, and we ask him what is the procedure’s most delicate aspect. In short, we playfully ask him what it is like to coat the world in diamonds!
“When comparing a normal knife with a naked edge and a knife with a diamond-coated edge, we see the iridescent black colouring of the latter. We are talking about a 1.5 micron coating deposited on this insert, consisting of half a micron of diamond and a layer of chromium underneath”.
“To give you an idea of the dimensions, a human hair is about seven microns thick” Mauro Zamberlan points out.
We ask whether only one side of the knife is coated.
“It depends – Alberto Zuani explains –,certainly the most important part is the cutting edge and the part where the chips pass, so not all of the parts are coated”.
“This process – FilippoSenter says – begins with the super-delicate phase of the washing of the inserts because the machine works in a vacuum and any atmospheric agent that enters contaminates, ruins and negatively affects the process, so we must clean and dry them perfectly.
Once all of the inserts have been washed and cleaned, we mount them on special frames and then we insert this frame into ‘this’ machine with six revolving posts that start the chosen cycle by removing all of the oxygen from inside, after which the deposition of the various elements of the NaDia coating is performed.
At the end of the process, the treated piece is left to cool – Filippo Senter concludes – and then packaged and shipped.This treatment is routinely performed on the “4Life” line of tools and only on request on all other compatible pieces”.