How a unique large-scale machine is set up in basic operation

State-of-the-art five-axis machining centre in operation since mid-May: completely new manufacturing possibilities for components of research equipment

Anyone who orders a large piece of equipment weighing over 40 tonnes knows from the outset: This will not be a routine job. In the midst of the worldwide corona pandemic, however, such a shipment quickly becomes a particularly big challenge - as in the case of the 1.6-million-euro five-axis machining centre of the ZEA-1, which is to enable completely new manufacturing processes for components of research equipment in Jülich.

Time pressure because of Covid

The large-scale equipment arrived on campus on the last day before the start of basic operations - after a two-day journey by heavy transport from the manufacturer in Allgäu. "We were in quite a hurry because of the Corona pandemic," recalls Knut Dahlhoff, head of the Manufacturing Technologies and Assembly department at ZEA-1, of the planning phase. "No one could predict then whether such transports across Germany would be possible at all in the course of the Corona crisis."

At the same time, the no less decisive question for the institute was whether outside companies such as the equipment manufacturer would still be allowed to enter the campus grounds at all during the - at that time still imminent - basic operation. Because without them, the construction would not have worked. But this was quickly clarified with the crisis team of the research centre: The specialists from the Allgäu region were allowed to come and professional assembly was ensured. "After that, many of our colleagues at ZEA-1 were certainly able to sleep more soundly," says Stefan Baier, head of the Mechanical Production team.

How a unique large-scale machine is set up in basic operation.
Complicated delivery: Getting the 40-tonne new large-scale equipment into the workshop hall of ZEA-1 was millimetre work.
Research Centre Jülich

Difficult delivery

Nevertheless, it was not going to be easy: Due to necessary road closures, the huge heavy transporter was only allowed to drive at night. It arrived in Jülich at around two o'clock in the morning - with the 42-tonne, ten-metre-long and eight-metre-wide large piece of equipment on its loading platform. "The device was delivered practically in one piece. A special crane then hoisted it onto a special rolling system," says Dahlhoff. It then moved very slowly into the large workshop hall of ZEA-1, a technique that has survived for thousands of years despite the high-tech: "It was a bit like building the pyramids in ancient Egypt, where gigantic blocks of stone were transported on rolling logs," the engineer explains.

Millimetre work weighing tons

The entrance to the hall became a test of patience, because the machine had to pass through the eye of a needle: "The huge machine almost completely filled our wide rolling gate - that was real millimetre work," reports Baier, in whose team the machine is used. In the end, the five-axis machining centre found its place in the intended location in the hall. There, ZEA-1 had already had the foundation reinforced with the help of colleagues from the Department of Construction and Modernisation Management (B-B) so that the giant would stand stable. The lower part of the machine is formed by a huge block of cast iron. "This machine bed is important so that vibrations of the machine are not transferred to the building - but also not the other way around, which is crucial especially when working in the micrometre range," says Baier.

Construction during basic operation
Research Centre Jülich

First components go to ESS in Lund

Nevertheless, the device absolutely had to go into operation in mid-May - because the ZEA-1 has to fulfil contracts that have already been concluded. "After the first test runs of the new processing centre, we will immediately start building a sample chamber and components for a twister shaft," says Prof. Ghaleb Natour, director of ZEA-1. These will then go to the large-scale research facility of the European Spallation Source (ESS) in Lund, Sweden, as components of a neutron scattering instrument DREAM manufactured in Germany and as an important building block for the target.

Strong collaboration

"The fact that all this was possible was a masterstroke by many colleagues on campus," says Natour, adding his thanks. In addition to ZEA-1, numerous business units were also involved, including:

  • Corporate Development (UE),
  • Purchasing and Logistics (M),
  • Finance and Controlling (F)
  • and the Technical Division (TB), including:
  • Planning and Building (B), in particular the Building Inventory and Modernisation Management Division (B-B),
  • Technology and Operations (T)
  • as well as the Object Security (S-O) for the organisation of transport.

The large-scale equipment is being financed with a total of 1.34 million euros in funding from the Structural and Development Fund (STEF) and ZEA-1's own contribution of 250,000 euros.

Incidentally, the five-axis machining centre at ZEA-1 replaces four machines for milling, turning and grinding, whose technology is now getting on in years. "The oldest machine we are now replacing is about 60 years old," says Dahlhoff. The old machines have already been sold with the help of the Materials Management (M-M) department - the proceeds will go towards financing the new machine.

New possibilities for research equipment

"The five-axis machining centre will be our new centrepiece - our new 'helper for everything'," says Dahlhoff. In future, this custom-built machine for Jülich will enable colleagues in the Manufacturing Technologies and Assembly department to machine metals and other materials in a single device - producing components ranging in size from a few millimetres to two metres with the highest precision.

"At the same time, thanks to the five axes, we have a high degree of design freedom because - to put it simply - we can machine the material from all directions and angles," the engineer explains how the machine works. In addition, the machine has a sixth axis that enables a local turning operation. "The combination of technology now available is unique in this form as far as we know. We can now deliver components with highly complicated geometries that were not even conceivable before."

From quantum computing to climate research

According to Natour, the new device can be interesting for all areas of research at Jülich - "for anyone who needs highly complex components made of metal and can't get them on the market." Among other things, it can be used to produce components for quantum computing, neutron scattering instruments or special spectrometers for the Jülich climate researchers.

The machine is suitable, for example, for components that have to be vacuum-compatible - that is, components where, for example, the lid and the instrument opening fit exactly and have to be absolutely tight - "otherwise you quickly have a million-dollar damage to your instrument," says the head of ZEA-1 and adds: "We will offer other technology units of the research centre the joint use of this special machine."

Contact persons

  • Central Institute of Engineering, Electronics and Analytics (ZEA)
  • Engineering and Technology (ZEA-1)
Building 03.21 /
Room 4007
+49 2461/61-5045

Last Modified: 13.11.2023