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Technical Report
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Parade of the Robots

When grinding metal parts that are used in assembly line manufacturing in the automotive industry, companies must use automation, given the stringent design, dimensional and quality requirements of the OEMs. The grinding of metal parts in a precise, reproducible manner involves more than simply grinding.

The Grinding metal parts made of a variety of materials – such as steel, stainless steel, aluminum, copper, magnesium and the like – is a science unto itself. Bathroom and kitchen fixtures are a good example. They are smooth to the touch, easy on the eye and completely free of sharp edges or burrs. This special look and feel requires quite a bit of technological effort. In addition to being machined, the blanks need to have casting flash removed and their surface rendered smooth, all of which requires quite a large amount of grinding and polishing.

Nobody knows this better than Kyriakos Venetis, who was one of the first so-called “guest workers” to come to Germany from Greece looking for work in the early 1960’s. Today, at the age of 75, this successful self-made man heads a group of four small companies focusing mostly on grinding and polishing, abrasive blasting, machining and surface treatment of all kinds of metal parts. Among these firms, the largest operation is the metal-grinding manufactor Metallschleiferei Kyriakos Venetis in the Southwest-German town of Leutenbach-Nellmersbach, which employs the majority of its 60 some people. And this is how it all started: As early as 1967, Venetis recognized an opportunity to start out on his own with metal grinding, and made the best of it. From the initial two employees, the company grew by leaps and bounds, requiring—after several moves to ever-larger premises—the construction of large factory in 1986. Venetis’ operation continued to flourish since he had made a name for himself as a top-notch service provider in the metal grinding and polishing industry, finishing as many as 1.8 million exterior rear view mirror frames annually during boom times. 

His customers in the automotive industry and their suppliers, as well as other renowned manufacturers from other industries, have remained his loyal clients to this day. This is especially true since Kyriakos Venetis and his son Dimitrios and daughter Dimitra, both of whom are active in the company, have always been very receptive to new technologies. Summarizing the past years, Kyriakos Venetis says, “Over time, we have gained such a great experience and expertise in metal grinding and polishing it assists us greatly in our day-to-day work. When customers approach us with a challenge, we solve it by performing tests, building fixtures, developing fabrication strategies, and ultimately, delivering the completely machined, finished parts. While this still requires a lot of detail knowledge and manual work, we would not be able to do any of this anymore without the extensive use of automation, i.e. robotic equipment. Our customers insist on precisely reproducible dimensional grinding and polishing quality at competitive prices, and the only way to comply with their expectations is to use robotic systems.” The automotive industry continuously raised the bar, which is why Venetis started adopting robotic technology for his grinding and polishing processes in 1994. To this day, he has been working with SHL Automatisierungstechnik AG, a company that specializes in robots that grind and polish. At his original factory in Leutenbach-Nellmersbach, Venetis has nine robotic grinding and polishing systems, plus 17 manual grinding and polishing work stations, and at the factory in nearby Gingen an der Fils, there is another robotic grinding and polishing system. They are usually operated in two or three shifts, and for certain products, as many as 2,500 JIT-produced or completely ground and polished sets – out of a 20,000 production Lot – can leave the factory per day. Says Dieter Philipp, long-term employee and Technical Plant Manager, “We are living and breathing just the right combination of grinding and robotic technology expertise and experience. This combination allows us to maintain and guarantee superior quality, based on a high level of process reliability in our grinding and polishing processes. To achieve this, we have to leverage robotic performance and capabilities to the max, which is why we need a strong, versatile and competent technology, supply and service partner.”

It became apparent in the summer of 2007 how well Kyriakos Venetis and SHL Automatisierungstechnik AG have cooperated to be successful. A huge fire wreaked catastrophic damage on buildings and the grinding and polishing systems. Support from many maintain operations at a level that enabled the company to fulfill all of its supply obligations while, at the same time, starting on the project to rebuild. For SHL Automatisierungstechnik, this resulted in a major, incremental order for nine robotic grinding and polishing systems whose delivery and installation was spread over a period of time. In total, Venetis ordered several industrial robots by various OEMs from SHL with load capacities ranging from 16 to 60 kg and in different configurations. In addition, SHL provided custom-made robot bases, as well as 13 FKS 250/450-S Aluminum abrasive band grinders from SHL (protected and enclosed units with TÜV certificates), as well as five additional grinding emulsion tanks.

As Dimitra Venetis explains, “SHL really provided us with a lot of support in that situation. For example, we were able to get the 60 kg robotic system straight from SHL’s demonstration and training center. In addition, SHL not only provided all the system components, but it also sent an assembly technician so that we were able to start installing, integrating, and commissioning full production on-site and under our control. At the same time, one of our employees was being trained at SHL in Böttingen to independently operate and service the robotic systems at our plant. With the exception of one customer, we have maintained our customer base, and we have been able to increase our production capacity further due to the two additional robotic grinding and polishing systems we installed.”

Finally, it should also be noted that the small, but competent, Venetis Group emerged stronger from this ordeal. It can now provide complete finishing services for other metal parts, such as motorcycle components, stove doors, injection-molding barrels, precision tools, chucks, and ornamental items—thus broadening its customer range and reducing the group’s dependence on the automotive industry. The ability of the company to grow is a result of its uncompromising focus on robot-supported grinding and polishing, because the SHL systems can effortlessly and quickly be converted to handle new grinding and polishing jobs, making them very flexible and versatile. Expert grinding and polishing know-how meets multi-functional robotics and SHL grinding and polishing cells—creating a success story for Venetis and allowing it to continue for years to come.