Leitz Tooling is a high-tech company focusing on people and solutions. It’s one of the oldest tooling manufacturers; a company where innovation is part of their tradition. Phil Ashley visited Oberkochen to see what’s going on.
Albert Leitz was a pioneer in the tooling industry. Designing the first hand-held drill in his Wurttemberg Wood Boring Factory in 1876, Albert set about building one of the great tooling companies in the world. Leitz has always been at the fore in innovation and many firsts can be attributed to the company. The first tool set for window production; re-sharpenable tooling systems with constant diameter; hydraulic clamping technology; polycrystalline diamond; tools with an electronic memory chip; optimised chip collection hoods and coatings for carbide tools to extend the life of existing tools and offset tungsten shortages.
Leitz sees itself as its customers’ guarantor of functionality, process reliability and value for money. In its strategic direction they strive for a balanced transfer of benefits to their customers. Edmund Mahler is Leitz sales manager. He says “We don’t just like to sell a company a piece of steel, others can do it much cheaper, Leitz is in the business of value-adding for our customers. We are one of the largest tooling manufacturers and one that always looks to be a technology leader. At number four or five you are always following, we call it ‘me-too’ and this is not our mission, it’s not our philosophy.” Leitz make tools for the one-person shop to the largest industries such as Ikea, and James Hardie in Australia for processing fibre cement boards.
The Leitz corporate group is made up of Boehlerit GmbH & Co, a specialist in the development and production of innovative tungsten carbide and diamond cutting materials. Bilz GmbH & Co operates in the field of tool clamping technology and is a leading manufacturer of thermic clamping systems for high-speed machining. Mahler says “The tungsten is the cutting edge; it’s where the quality is and when the tool is mounted in the machine the chuck and collet interface is equally important in achieving the best quality finish.” Research, development and testing are concentrated in the Leitz Centre of Expertise and Technology in Oberkochen. Application-specific consulting is also provided.
Mahler says that they have to know their customers’ manufacturing down to the last detail in order to understand what the customer needs. For the window manufacturer they have to understand the fittings and the hardware; you need to know how to make a window; you have to speak their language.
For all of the many markets Leitz services, they have experienced specialists who not only understand how to make the product, but the materials and machines they use to make them. They support all customers in finding the solution to special fabrication problems.
The Leitz Technology Centre in Oberkochen conducts targeted technical application experiments to seek out the optimum tooling for processing new materials. Jurgen Koppel is CEO of Leitz and gives an example. “A few years ago the raw materials to produce tungsten carbide cutting tips were in short supply. Much of it was coming from China and the prices were very high. Since then some mines have been re-opened in Canada and the United States so the price is now reasonable again. About this time we started to develop coatings for our tools to make them last longer and when the price of tungsten went up, this proved our coating strategy to be correct; to extend the life of the tools for our customers and to offer a different solution and this was all developed here in Oberkochen.”
Leitz invests in the latest processes and production facilities, in information technologies and international procurement logistics, in efficient organisation and management structures for a continuous reduction in costs and time spent. Their catalogue has 8,000 standard items but amazingly, 60% of their production is tools made to order. The reality is that the total product numbers in the tens of thousands. At their facility in Oberkochen, workers and management come from hundreds of kilometres away and live in housing provided by the Company, returning home for the weekend. This way Leitz can get the best people to make the tools. Oscar Wilde once said “The average gives the World its consistency, the exceptional its value.” Leitz strives to be exceptional.
Leitz manufactures their tools in Oberkochen and Unterschneidheim in Germany; Riedau and Zell an der Pram in Austria; Sao Sebastiao in Brazil and Nanjing in China. Brazil and China mainly produces for local markets and tools sold in Australia will almost always be made in either Oberkochen or Unterschneidheim in Germany. “The production in China is for the Chinese furniture industry which is the biggest in the World, followed by the United States, then Germany and Italy. All of our subsidiaries, including in Australia make some tools for the industry; we call it fast production. They can sharpen all of the tools we sell, even those made here in Germany; its service, service, service. Our production site is the entire World.” says Mahler.
Leitz cutting tools are produced in an environment set to secure a quality product. The raw materials usually come as cylindrical rods of various diameters that are cut into pieces depending on the height of the tool. The material is often washed before it is placed into a CNC milling machine to be processed. Schneeberger and Vollmer machines are used to produce the tools and in Australia, the Australian-made ANCA linear 5-axis tool grinder equipped with a robot produces excellent results. Sterile areas are maintained for the testing and measuring of the tools and as Koppel says “It’s like a formula one team; all organised, clean, tidy and well-run. An example is saws stacked with spacers so the teeth never touch. Sometimes checking the tool can take almost as long as making it.”
A very important topic of the present is the environment and Leitz considers this issue seriously when developing new products. “As a technology leader we work with universities all around the World, including Australia when we provided machining tests for your young Eucalypt wood. We are developing tools that last longer and make the most use of the material they are made with, our coatings protect our resources. We are making cutting kerfs thinner to remove less of the wood when sawing. Our tools are designed to use less energy and we have dust flow hoods that make the removal of chips from the cutting area more efficient and use less energy to move air” says Mahler.
The machining industry has traditionally been an important economic influence for East Wurttemberg where the Leitz Company is located. Leitz has a social commitment to the location and to the industry. With other companies in the region, Leitz started the endowed chair for Production Engineering Machining at the University of Aalen and also funds the program. In the early 1990s Leitz established the “Jazz Lights” jazz festival held annually in East Wurttemberg. This allows Leitz to support an art form that is poorly funded while bringing young people together throughout the world. Leitz also supports the LIGNORAMA Wood and Tool Museum in Riedau, Upper Austria. Its purpose is to convey technical information on the subject of wood, biology and environmental protection as well as humankind’s dependence on nature in the most vivid and exciting way possible.
Leitz is a family Company and is still owned by Dr. Cornelia and Monika Brucklacher. The late Dr. Dieter Brucklacher shaped the development of Leitz for more than 40 years and the International service and training centre in Oberkochen has recently been named in his honour. Leitz turnover was 230 million Euros in 2017 with 65% of the product exported to every continent on the planet except Antarctica. Mahler says 70% of sales are new tooling but 30% is in servicing. “We have daily contact with our customers, we know what’s going on and we support them in what they are doing now and what they will be doing in the future.” Albert Einstein once said “More than the past, it is the future that interests me, since that’s where I intend to live.”