Technology editor Phil Ashley recently visited Intermac in Pesaro, Italy to take a look at how its quality machines are built.

Back in 1987, Intermac was set up as a branch of the wood working machine company of Biesse. Initially producing only glass processing machinery for seven years, Intermac ventured into stone processing machinery with enormous success. It seems fitting that Italy; where city-states such as Florence erected great stone structures such as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and the Laurentian library, would produce some of the finest CNC stone processing machines today.

Biesse’s first foray into other materials processing was the Master Glass for the automatic CNC shaped scoring of glass. The Master Edge for the CNC machining of edges of straight and curved glass panels followed in 1990.

Master Stone was created in 1994, Intermac’s first CNC for stone machining. Intermac inherited the technology of the Pesaro-based company that had become one of the market leaders in high technology processing of wood and it remains at the forefront of advanced materials processing technology.

The similarities of the processing needs for glass and stone meant that for the stone industry, the new machines were ideally suited to a product that until this time was mainly based on traditional stone craftsmanship. Now, homeowners can benefit from technology that brings the beauty and durability of designer-benchtops within reach of their budgets.

Director Gianluigi Casadio said, “I can’t help thinking of the Master which has always been synonymous with machining throughout the world. The association is solid and undisputed, and that’s something we’re proud of.

“When Intermac designed and developed the first machining centres, it introduced innovation and technology to a world that still did things manually. This insight made us true leaders and over these years we have been able to maintain that position. But we don’t want our past success to limit us. We know that companies that innovate, market leaders can go one of two ways. They can either remain leaders or sit and wait for someone to outdo them. We certainly don’t plan to sit and wait; we want to be sure that other models like the Primus waterjet or the Vertmax vertical glass processing machines will be associated by everyone with the technology they use.”

The production in Pesaro has been based on the Kaisen continuous improvement manufacturing system for five years. The system guarantees a consistency of quality that is essential to a company that manufactures for the world market. In fact, there are 160 checks made on each machine during the assembly stage.

Several different models of machine can be manufactured on the same assembly line. Due to increased sales, it has been split into two lines.

The company manufactures between 12 and 15 machines every week but interestingly 80% of its fabrication is production cells of two or more machines with some form of materials transfer and handling. Most machines are different and built to satisfy the unique needs of the customer. In many cases an acceptance test is required before the machine even leaves the factory.

Like all modern manufacturing of major machines, sub-assemblies are built to a very exact timing method called takt time. Takt comes from the German word, taktzeit or clock interval, and each stage is carefully planned so that the sub-assembly arrives at the machine in the correct order and at the exact time.

Takt time is not the time it takes to make a product but refers to the rate of production needed for meeting customer demand, a different thing altogether. The work required to assemble a sub-assembly is also carefully considered so that mistakes can be eliminated and new workers can be trained quickly. At Intermac, every machine on the production line is different but its logistics are advanced and can accommodate a wide range of variations of the product.
Many people refer to quality but the real question is, “Is it fit for purpose?” or, “Will it do what it was intended to?” To ensure that every machine will do what the customer expects, the parts are continually tested during the entire manufacture of the machine.

Because of this, the electrical cabinet is installed as early as possible and as every cabinet is designed for a specific machine it carries the same serial number as the machine it was designed for. After the machine is built, it goes through two days of additional trials before it is disassembled for packaging and transport to local and international customers.

To further ensure that all the parts on every machine are the quality needed for continuous machine operation, only limited numbers of parts are kept in stock with deliveries. In some cases, this could be every day. Defective parts are identified early and replacements can be resupplied in a very short time.

Intermac’s production has total control over the end product. Director Franco Angelotti said, “Our customers need to produce more at lower costs and keeping the process in check. In an increasingly competitive world, where margins keep getting tighter, having control becomes a crucial part of staying competitive.

“The needs that have become standard are having machines integrated one with the other, having machines communicate with the management system, reporting on the flow. Other advantages that come with integration include diagnostics to correct interruptions and being able to spot and correct problems quickly. The priority mission these days is improving efficiency and having control over the production process.”

Intermac produce an extensive range of equipment for processing materials. Machines include the Primus waterjet cutting machines for laminated and monolithic glass, marble, granite and engineered stone; the Master series for stone and glass processing; and the Vertmax for vertical processing of glass.

It is supported by the Donatoni range of bridge saws and a complete range of processing tools from Diamut. With so much at stake, it is important that the customer trusts that the machine will do exactly what was promised.

Director Gianluigi Casadio said, “I can tell you how we try to maintain trust: by being consistent and knowing how to listen. We’re consistent in providing the specifications our customers expect, but we also know how to listen to their changing needs. The market changes all the time and businesses can no longer simply respond to expectations. We need to interpret, always thinking ahead and putting oneself in the customer’s shoes. A machine that doesn’t work well, or doesn’t do what is expected of it, hampers the customer’s work as well. That’s a risk we’re not willing to take”.

By launching the next generation of Master machining centres, Intermac aims to reaffirm and consolidate its leadership in the machining of glass, stone and metal for years to come. It’s a leadership entrenched in the company’s ongoing drive for innovation and solutions that can meet the needs that come with the new manufacturing philosophy that is Industry 4.0.