An equal partnership

Interview with Heiko Quack

XXL projects are nothing new for Starrag's Bielefeld-based sales director for large projects, Heiko Quack. But one order pushed the boundaries in every direction: The customer, Metalex, not only had one of the largest portal-type machining centers in the Droop+Rein T product line built to date, but also contractually agreed to work together as partners on an equal footing.

Mr. Quack, what sets this project apart? Is it the size, the multifunctionality, the machining performance required from the Droop+Rein T portal-type machining center?

Heiko Quack: Everything, because you don’t build a six-axis machine in these dimensions on a daily basis, with these milling and turning capabilities, with eleven machining heads, five tool systems and over 400 tools. Another special fact about this project is that Metalex wasn’t just looking for a machinery supplier.

They wanted a partner who could work with them to jointly develop and execute this project. He emphasized that this is also stated in the contract. Metalex expects us to work on this project together, to exchange ideas, to define a common goal and work towards it together, as partners. That’s the only way such an enormous project can be brought to life. And it wasn’t just the project management on both sides that was carried out as a partnership. The whole team of Metalex and Starrag employees working on the project did an incredible job! Of course, there were a few misunderstandings and differences of opinion over the almost-four-year timespan of the project. But neither side lost sight of their goal and always knew how to come up with a solution.


What impact had the coronavirus pandemic on the project?

Heiko Quack: It’s had a huge impact. We had to work together on a major project during the pandemic – with everything that entailed. For a while, Europeans weren’t allowed to travel to the US. However, our Engineers were given an exemption by the US government because Metalex works on projects in the national interest. But the main reason for the project’s success was the team spirit shown by the two different companies, both of which are used to work in a practical and solution-oriented manner and having a hands-on mentality.

What was the feedback like after four years of intensive collaboration in Cincinnati?

Heiko Quack: First, the intensive project management made a big impression. Second, I believe the high-quality, clean work was seen in a positive light over there. It also definitely impressed the customer when we changed certain details after we realized we could do things even better.

And what does the team on the shop floor think?

Heiko Quack: This topic of partnership comes up again and again. The shop floor team was able to get involved in the development from day one: Now they know the most efficient way to program and operate the machinery to suit their needs. We have implemented many of the users’ ideas in terms of software and application technique with regards to axis transformation. Operators are now able to use all technologies quickly, efficiently and productively. Everything we have learned will also be useful for future projects. That’s another example of the advantages of working on projects in partnership with others.

How did the management react to the new acquisition?

Heiko Quack: I sensed there was some skepticism, with executives thinking, "Was this huge investment really the right thing to do?" But they didn’t stay skeptical for long, because the machinery has proven its worth already. The first orders – large aluminum rings for the aerospace industry – came in before they even started actively marketing it.

Does this mean they’re interested in more XXL machines?

Heiko Quack: Metalex wants to remain at the forefront of technology and is continuing to invest in production technology as a result. They definitely have enough space in their production buildings for more large machinery in any case.


Metalex is planning a Smart Factory. How is Starrag supporting its customer to do this?

Heiko Quack: We have implemented several digital solutions on our machinery. First, we have provided an interface to enable Metalex to connect the machinery to its production monitoring system. Data from the machine is constantly being collected and processed via this interface. For example, the runtimes of NC programs can be monitored and evaluated, or tool costs can be clearly assigned to the individual machining operations. We also took the digital fingerprint of the machine after it was put into operation. We document the condition of the machinery upon delivery using various measurements and analyses. By repeating these automatically and digitally evaluating this fingerprint, we can enable Metalex to carry out preventive maintenance on its new machinery and ultimately anticipate maintenance needs throughout its lifespan.

“ It also definitely impressed the customer when we changed certain details after we realized we could do things even better.”

Heiko Quack, Starrag sales director for large projects