Wherever hygiene plays a major role, aluminium and stainless steel are frequently the materials of choice. To make soap and disinfectant dispensers, a medical technology manufacturer uses a combined punching/fibre laser installation. This saves time and leads to better material utilisation.
It’s nice in Issum. Green and flat, this stretch of land on the Dutch border is home to many gardening and agricultural activities. It is also the seat of Ophardt Hygiene-Technik. In 1962, the firm was founded by Hermann Ophardt, and five years later the first dosing dispenser, by the name of Ingo-man, came onto the market; last year it celebrated its 50th birthday. With continuous ongoing development, Ingo-man dispenser systems are supporting hygiene in the health sector and food processing, helping to prevent the spread of infections.
The naval architecture graduate loved tinkering. It was therefore no wonder that a friend, who worked not far away in Krefeld in the chemical and pharmaceutical industry, approached Hermann Ophardt with a certain problem. They had created a foot disinfectant for swimming pool use and now faced the challenge of applying it to the feet of the swimmers. Ophardt promptly developed the first dispenser system, thus laying the foundation stone for the firm, which is still in family ownership.
Besides dispenser dosing units with the corresponding pump systems and refill bottles, the portfolio now includes coupling systems, dispensers for towels and toilet paper, refuse containers and hygiene bag dispensers for the health and food sectors. Alongside Issum, this medical technology specialist operates locations in Belgium, Switzerland, Ireland, Canada and the Philippines. The latter three countries specialise in the production of plastic components. It is in Switzerland, and above all in Issum, that Ophardt’s metal processing takes place. Around 500 workers worldwide provide great depth of production.
Digitisation of hospital infrastructure
Dispensers for liquid soaps and disinfectants, for example, are available in plastic and metal versions. The latter are necessary where hygiene is the top priority, for example in a medical setting. Aluminium and stainless steel are the preferred materials and can be sterilised and autoclaved.
“In our metal processing, we do all the WIG welding, laser cutting, punching, punching/nibbling, bending, grinding, powder coating and lacquering,” explains Piet Nelissen, Operation Manager Germany at Ophardt. “In the past, Ophardt even developed and sold its own powder lacquering installations under the name PLM Issum. In some cases, we are still using these installations today.” This is only one demonstration of the innovative energy of the firm. Another example is the Untouchable coupling system. It is sensor-controlled and has a multifunctional design for dosing water, soap and disinfectant: it is for tabletop installation and allows comfortable non-contact operation. An infra-red sensor enables gesture control. A “swipe” above the working surface selects the desired function (water, soap, disinfection). Then the hand is simply held under the outflow. For the Untouchable, Ophardt received the Purus Innovation Award 2017 in the category “Washroom Hygiene” at the Messe Berlin.
“We are also pursuing the idea of digitisation,” adds Nelissen. “We have developed a solution which makes the hand-disinfectant dispenser at the door of a patient’s room in hospital intelligent. On the one hand, it counts how often the door opens, that is, how often someone enters the room, and at the same time it counts how often it is used. Any discrepancy here means that someone has entered the patient’s room without disinfecting their hands – with highly infectious illnesses or a weak immune system, this could cause problems. Notification of the missed disinfection is then passed on to the nurses’ room.” The intelligent dispensers can do even more: they inform hospital management which dispensers need refilling. This makes human checking of the contents levels of all disinfectant dispensers unnecessary and reduces costs.
Saving waste – and thus costs – thanks to laser
In order to be able to manufacture these dispensers, or the sanitary solutions in aluminium and stainless steel, Ophardt recently started using the machine competence of Dimeco. This French firm offers complete solutions in the field of sheet-metal processing from coil, and since last summer has been offering a combined laser and punching installation which immediately attracted Nelissen’s interest. “We had often had contact with Erik ten Dolle, sales representative for Dimeco in northern Germany. Yet none of the previous Dimeco products met our particular needs. Now, however, the new development with the combined laser/punching is absolutely made for us!” A complete solution based on the installations Linacut for fibre laser cutting and Linapunch for punching has been set up in Issum. From the double decoiler, the strip passes through the straightener and via the feed into the Linapunch electric punching machine (equipped with standard tools), where the stampings and deep drawing for, for example, the suspension fittings for the wall dispensers are produced; from there it passes straight to the Linacut, which separates even the deep-drawn features effortlessly. Finally, a robot solution unloads the individual workpieces, which are currently moved by hand (soon to be replaced by a driverless transport system) to a bending cell where they receive their unmistakable shape.
“Before purchasing the combined punching/laser installation from Dimeco, we used punching/nibbling for this step. That made expensive progressive tools inflexible because they needed elaborate tooling; this task is now tackled by the laser,” says Nelissen happily, and Bernard Bozian, sales engineer at Dimeco, adds, “A further advantage for Ophardt is that manufacture direct from the coil is now possible. The blanks previously used occupied substantially more storage space and were simultaneously finite in processing. Coils, in contrast, are practically endless in two of four directions. This and the production capability of the laser make completely new constructional approaches realisable.” Strips up to 1 m wide can be processed and various laser powers are available (up to 6 kW). Thanks to a camera, the cutting process can be observed precisely.
Nesting software: waste is now no longer waste
“In addition, we can save on waste,” says Nelissen with satisfaction. With the right nesting software, the strip is fully utilised in component production. “Our dispensers have a wall thickness of 1 mm. The sheet-metal bottoms used to be 0.8 mm thick and, logically, were produced in a separate production process. Since we started using the Dimeco combined punching/laser installation, we have raised the thickness of the bottoms likewise to 1 mm and now cut the bottom from the same strip as the dispenser housing – namely from that part of the strip which was originally waste. Previously, that was not so easy,” explains the native Dutchman, who knows all about narrow boundaries – after all, he witnessed how the German/Dutch border ran through his parents’ living room during the shifting of the border in 1963. “Purchasing the combined punching/laser installation was also an investment in the future, for it has boosted our production capacities greatly. In addition, we can now react to customers’ wishes more quickly due to the flexibility of the installation.” MM