Ian Melin-Jones

Ian Melin-Jones

For the past 30 years transfluid has been shaping progress in tube processing

When people think about 1st April they mostly think about spectacular stories that ultimately turn out to be a joke. That is not the case for Gerd Nöker and Ludger Bludau. They both remember how the history of their company also started on a 1st April and now, 30 years later, the success it enjoys is greater than ever. The story is about transfluid: established in 1998 as a two-man business, the current GmbH is now a sought-after international partner providing solutions for machines to bend and process tubes. Since 2013 it is also a world market leader in CNC-controlled rolling tube forming. There is very little now to remind us of those humble beginnings, when there was just 125m2 available. But there is one aspect that transfluid has remained true to for the past three decades: its commitment to progress in tube processing for the benefit of its customers.

Always one step ahead
When you walk through transfluid’s production halls in 2018 you will see fully automated production units and robots, working efficiently and accurately as bending and end forming systems. “When we started out in 1988 the internet was not playing a role yet and I am sure that nobody could have predicted how digitalization would revolutionize whole industry sectors on such a massive scale and in the shortest of time - including tube processing, of course”, says business co-founder Gerd Nöker. In spite of that, the first development that transfluid – still Nöker & Bludau oHG at the time - launched on the global market was a small sensation. This was, after all, the first manual tube bending machine for small tubes, up to 16mm diameter; the t bend MB 642 is the unparalleled top seller and it is still requested from all over the world for on-site jobs.

© transfluid : The t form UMR moulding machines open up for new shaping options for tubes that have already been moulded axially, for the production of sharp-edged contours for sealing elements.© transfluid : The t form UMR moulding machines open up for new shaping options for tubes that have already been moulded axially, for the production of sharp-edged contours for sealing elements.

The solution for tubes
There are now more than 12,000 machines in circulation globally, shaping tubes according to the concept of Bestform. transfluid is “the solution for tubes”, whether it is end forming, bending, cutting or connecting of the machines to an automatic cell. With their traditional technical creativity, the experts are, of course, also developing fully-automated solutions, including customized solutions to meet their customers’ individual requirements. The client base comes from a number of sectors: the plant and machine construction sector is represented just as strongly as the automotive and energy industries and shipbuilding, as well as many more.  Ludger Bludau points out that “this is exactly what still makes our work so exciting after 30 years. We have the opportunity to grow again and again, together with our customers, thanks to the new challenges, and thus redefine the boundaries of what can be achieved in tube processing”. Greater efficiency, flexibility and optimized processes: transfluid offers all of this with its smart software, into which the experts have packed all their know-how. The comprehensive portfolio is completed with a wide choice of stock machines, offering fast delivery prompt support to deal with everyday challenges.

Strong team and entrepreneurial vision
A lot of room is needed for so many ideas and transfluid has created this over time. In 1991 the business found a new home at the current site in Schmallenberg. In addition to that, the business’ leadership has grown from two to five proud members. Benedikt Hümmler, Burkhard Tigges and Stefanie Flaeper have further strengthened the Bludau and Nöker founding duo. With their combined strengths and strategic vision, the leadership group of five keeps the business on the road to success, supported by a strong and committed team. It is noteworthy that there are 10 employees who have known the business since the beginning and are still working for transfluid.

Global market leadership leads to knowledge exchange
transfluid’s position as an international market leader through its technology was confirmed in 2013 in a special way. With the newly developed CNC-controlled incremental tube end forming, the business was added to and is still included in the “List of global market leaders” of the South Westfalia Chamber of Commerce. Highly complex moulding geometries can now be achieved with the novel rolling process, such as end forming with very strict tolerances, groove structure with sharp edges and polished surfaces. This kind of forming are independent of special dies because they are adjustable. “We are of course proud of this recognition, as it is the result of intensive development work, into which a lot of our know-how has been poured”, says Stephanie Flaeper, managing director at transfluid. “However, it is also important for us to share this knowledge in the interest of advanced developments.” Therefore, the company regularly invites other experts to exchange experiences and thoughts at its Innovation Days. The experts meet once a year in Sauerland, to learn about the latest developments and to discuss the challenges of tube processing together. One thing is always clear during these events: transfluid will continue to chart new routes over the next 30 years.

Group Rhodes, through its Rhodes Interform business, has announced a new working partnership with the German manufacturer Dr. Hochstrate Maschinenbau GmbH.

The partnership will involve Rhodes Interform acting as distributor for Dr. Hochstrate Maschinenbau GmbH in the UK and Ireland for its range of Hydraulic Folding Machines and Guillotines.

Dr. Hochstrate Maschinenbau, based in the Ennepe-Rhur area of Germany, near Dortmund, has over the past 40 years become renowned for its high-quality Folding Machines manufactured for the sheet metal processing industries.

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Steve Jackson, Technical Sales Manager for Rhodes Interform, said: “We’re delighted with the new distributor agreement with Dr. Hochstrate Maschinenbau, which will enable us to extend our range and develop new business opportunities within the sheet metal processing industries.  These machines are renowned for being easy to operate, extremely versatile, as well as efficient and reliable and we are looking forward to demonstrating their benefits to companies across the UK and Ireland.”

Dr. Hochstrate Maschinenbau has invested in continuous research and development alongside some of Germany’s best universities to optimise the precision and range of functions of its Folding Machines, enabling it to set new industry standards.

Hoschstrate machines are known for offering the best possible transmission of forces during the bending process, offering maximum benefits to customers.

Rhodes Interform will be a distributor of 160 machines from the range, which can be equipped with 20 special features, to enable each to be tailored to suit individual customer demands. In addition, extras are available with every machine including a Patented Hydraulic Camber device ensuring perfect bends irrespective of the thickness or length of bend, front and rear gauges, automatic sheet thickness detection, touch screen CNC control and automatic tool clamping for upper and lower beams.

Each machine is manufactured and tested in Germany to the highest quality standards.

The Hydraulic Folding Machines can be supplied in lengths from 500 – 8,000mm and sheet thicknesses from 1 – 25mm in mild, stainless and special steels, aluminium and other nonferrous materials and engineering plastics.

Standard machines include Siemens PLC Control, electronic positioning, upper beam face angle of 45 degrees, electric footswitch for manual and automatic operation and upper beam safety stop. All machines fully comply with CE Certification and are supplied with a 12 month manufacturer’s warranty.

The advantages of a Folding machine over Press Brakes are numerous, most forms can be produced without expensive tooling, operator fatigue is less as the material is horizontal, so less handling is needed. The Hochstrate Folder offers accurate repeatability with no variations in bend angle due to differing thicknesses of material.

Round bending up to 180 degrees or 270 degrees without tool changing can be achieved with an option for conical bending.

Under current CE Guarding legislation ‘Light Guards’ are not required, offering further cost savings.

Forklift manufacturer and material handling solutions provider Combilift has officially opened its new global headquarters and manufacturing facility in Monaghan, Ireland. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the company also announced that it will be significantly expanding its workforce with the creation of 200 new jobs in the next three years.   

Speaking at the opening ceremony, the Irish Prime Minister An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD said: “Combilift is an incredible home-grown Monaghan success story. When the company was founded 20 years ago, it had three employees, a brilliant concept, and the ambition to make it a reality. Combilift is playing a significant role in Monaghan’s success, and I would like to congratulate Robert Moffett and Martin McVicar and everyone at Combilift on their achievements to date and wish them every success for the future.”

Built at a cost of €50 million, the investment in the new 46,500 sq. m. (500,000 sq. ft) facility will allow Combilift to realise its ambitious growth plans. Martin McVicar, Managing Director said: “We have employed an additional 230 people since we announced our plans for this factory in 2015 and the combination of this state of the art production plant and the growing skilled workforce will allow us to double production within the next 5 years.”

Combilift currently exports 98% of its products to 85 countries through its 250-strong international dealer network. The current workforce stands at 550 people and the new employment opportunities will be for skilled technicians, design engineers, logistics and supply chain specialists and those with mechanical and electrical mechatronics skills.

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Mass Customisation

Martin McVicar attributes the company’s impressive growth and its status as an acknowledged world leader in the material handling sector to mass customisation. “Combilift has set the benchmark for the mass production of customised innovative products. Mass customisation is the new frontier for both the customer and the manufacturer as customers are increasingly expecting products to be tailored to their requirements. We listen to and take feedback on board from our customers and dealers to identify solutions that best match their individual specific needs.”

Combilift invests 7% of its annual turnover in Research and Development to enhance its customisation capability and to maximise ROI for its customers. “The flexibility in our new facility means that we can continue to accommodate any request for a customised material handling solution. We also see ourselves as much more than a forklift manufacturer and are transforming the transport and logistics sector with our innovative, space-spacing products and our services.”

Combilift offers a free logistic and warehouse design service which enables customers to see the benefit that its products will bring to their business. “Our engineers proactively design, plan and produce material flow analysis and 3D animations - 150 to 200 per day for our worldwide customers - which clearly illustrate the capacity potential as well as the optimum flow of materials on their site.” said McVicar.

Growth of Combilift

Established by Martin McVicar, Managing Director and Robert in Moffett, Technical Director, in 1998, Combilift is a privately held and fully capitalised company. It developed the world’s first multidirectional all-wheel drive IC engine powered forklift in 1998. In the first year of operation it produced 18 units,17 of which were exported. The company has more than doubled in the last 5 years and now has 40,000 units in operation in over 85 countries.

Combilift’s product portfolio has expanded way beyond its first multidirectional model according to McVicar: “Combilift has always focused on a number of niche market segments and has a proven track record of launching one or two new products annually. In the first 10 years we focussed on the long load material handling sector with the multidirectional range which revolutionised the handling of long materials, allowing customers to handle long products in less space more safely.”

Between 2008 and 2018 Combilift diversified its product ranged by developing a number of innovative space saving warehouse and heavy load handling products; the Aisle Master articulated truck and the Straddle Carrier (Combi-SC) respectively.

Pedestrian products were introduced into the range in the last five years, enabling Combilift to gain a foothold in this growing market. The Combi-WR, Combi-WR4 and the Combi-CS all incorporate Combilift’s unique patented multi-positional tiller arm technology. “There is a growing demand for pedestrian trucks, driven by safety concerns where customers and/or employees are in the vicinity of operating forklifts,” said McVicar. “It is our intention to significantly expand this range, as can be seen with the launch of the new high lift capacity Combilift Powered Pallet Truck (Combi-HC-PPT).”

New Factory

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The new 46,500 sq. m purpose–built factory is set on a 100-acre site with room for future expansion when required. With 11 acres of roof space, it is one of the largest manufacturing operations under one single roof in the Republic of Ireland.

Incorporating the latest manufacturing processes with a focus on sustainability, the new factory will enable Combilift to double its output in a single shift across all production lines. Four 90 metre moving assembly lines produce a finished truck every 15 minutes. There are 60 welding bays, two plasma cutting machines, three paint lines which use sustainable water-based paints and three automatic shot blasters to cater for different sized products. 12,000 pallet locations ensure ample storage space for parts and components. The facility also includes a 50-seat cinema training room, 5,000 m² of office space and a dedicated R&D Development and Testing Centre.

23% of roof space is covered in skylights, enabling staff to work in natural daylight without the assistance of artificial lighting. Other lighting is provided through 1100 LED light with individual PIR sensors. Solar panels supply 185 kW of energy with a

1 MW Biomass plant fuelled by recycled wood (pallets etc.) to heat the spraying booths and assembly area. 110,000 litres of rain water are harvested for jet washing and bathroom facilities.

More than 50 truckloads of finished products are dispatched from the factory each week, and spare parts are shipped across the world to the dealer network.

Certified to international quality and safety management standards, the new headquarters and manufacturing facility has been awarded ISO 9001 international quality management system, ISO 14001 Environment Management and OHSAS 18001 Occupational Health and Safety Assessment Series.

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