Lego Baubles

"Core range goes together just like toy bricks."

If you know what you are good at, you also know where you can use reinforcement. Lucas van Leeuwen gathers people and knowledge around him to move his company and projects forward. We asked him why he likes to collaborate with Festo.

Lucas van Leeuwen has worked for a long time for third parties, making his knowledge and capacity as a mechanical engineer available. With such success, he was asked to take on a large agricultural mechanisation project. "That was when I started employing people with qualities that complement mine." In 2012, Devoteq, his company, became a thriving start-up with innovation at the top of its list of features. And Festo gets to contribute regularly to projects that have tremendous diversity. "From automation in animal husbandry to particle accelerators, and at the moment, we are putting the finishing touches to a Christmas ball machine and a Toblerone wrapper," says an enthusiastic Van Leeuwen. Together with project manager and engineer Paul Schuurmans, they show what is unique about their approach and what role Festo plays.

Invisible thinking

"It is best to engineer a solution so obvious that people find it a natural outcome of a process. But the amount of thinking that went into such a solution is often invisible," laughs Van Leeuwen.

"For example, for a machine that automatically makes personalised baubles, we looked at the process and the product itself. With a small adjustment to the product, you make the process much easier and more reliable."

Out-of-the-box thinking. And then it's nice to have a supplier you can use as a knowledge partner. "The customer for this Christmas ball machine needed a lot more production capacity quickly. Their product became very popular during Corona, and Christmas balls must arrive on time. We received the request via a manufacturer of punching machines. We started messing around with them and thinking about how you could make this process as automated as possible." Van Leeuwen chuckles when he tells us he figured out the entire machine without being asked. "We presented that machine and sold it immediately. Now we are working on an optimisation based on a new design. The first machine paid for itself quickly, and sales are still growing."

Proven technology

The innovation is mainly in the process and, simultaneously, in thinking about a possible product optimisation. Schuurmans has significantly benefited from Festo's help in this respect. "We don't want to invent the wheel ourselves regarding the technology we use. If you can make the technical solution with building blocks, it saves you a lot of engineering. We try to get as much as possible from one source. The lead time of the project was of the utmost importance. You can't deliver Christmas balls after Christmas. Festo was able to deliver quickly and helped us a lot with the knowledge about building blocks and components."

The personalised Christmas ball is a transparent ball containing a photo that the consumer can upload during the ordering process. The ball consists of two halves. These are positioned in the machine, one half with the rounded side down, the other half with the rounded side up. The photo is placed on the first half using a vacuum piston, the second half is placed on the first, and the ball is turned so that the closing cap with loop can be placed.

Big challenge: delivery time

Delivery time was, therefore, a significant challenge, especially for the Christmas ball machine. Deliveries are a challenge for the entire market but a very specific one for this project. Van Leeuwen is very pleased with how Festo handled this challenge. "Festo's products are widely applicable, so if you have a problem with a delivery time and you talk to an employee, together you come up with alternatives that you can work with. For us, as a start-up, it's a challenge to get involved. You can only carry out this project if you can share the risk with your customer. It requires the customer to trust you."

"We made a rough draft of the movements required fairly early on, like a talking picture. Together we went through the plans and got a lot of tips. Very practical ones about how things fit into the design and how you can implement the diversity of movements with as many standard components as possible. That was important for the delivery time and the costs."

Fast turnaround

To be able to test the innovative solutions and take them into production quickly, Devoteq uses many 3D printed parts. "This way, we can quickly test whether something works and adjust a part quickly." When it comes to engineering, they also like to work with function blocks. "For the development of ideas, we also like to work with Lego," Van Leeuwen explains. "We see the modules from Festo as a kind of Lego; eighty per cent of the machine functions you can control with components. We look for practical solutions and the balance between function and cost."

"The Festo engineers were very proactive in thinking along with us. For example, I did not know there were vacuum filters with an extra chamber. That turned out to be the solution for positioning the photo. We tested it a lot because the positioning of the image still proved to be a problem. The components have many possibilities, but you need someone to tell you about them. If you don't know about it, you won't look for it," laughs Schuurmans.

Wrapping machine

The end customer not only commissioned the bauble wrapping machine but soon came with more questions. For example, the company also supplies personalised Toblerone bars. These need a unique wrapper. A project with entirely different challenges. "In one machine, we wrap three different sizes, randomly mixed together. To compensate for the difference in product size, we used a guided cylinder. We made a carriage on a rail with a carriage cylinder, and thanks to a tip from Festo's Rijk Hamoen, we mounted a three-position cylinder with two carriages, thus getting a very compact adjustment that can even handle four positions."

With this machine, there are even more peaks in the order entry than with the Christmas balls. "A team of forty IT people is constantly working on the order engine for this client. With special days like Valentine's Day, Father's Day and Mother's Day, the demand is very high."

So, three sizes of bars are processed in one machine. Van Leeuwen: "This machine uses 'normal' packaged bars, and a personalised sleeve is glued around the bar. This sleeve has four sides and a breakable sticker so that the sleeve can be removed neatly. We made a concept of the solution, and when the customer saw it, their wishes grew. Well, then you have to manage expectations very well and find the question behind the question. We first worked out the concept and went through all the steps with Festo."

Happy with air

Schuurmans: "It is incredible how much knowledge is hidden in a component. You think it's just a cylinder, but it contains so much technology! And when you talk to an expert like Rijk Hamoen, you realise that he knows everything about the finer points, the movements, how a cylinder can release its heat." Schuurmans' enthusiasm about the cylinders continues. "The rotary cylinders are very interesting and pleasant to work with. Very small, very special, and they work really well. There are some very funny types!" For the preparation and positioning of the products, the Devoteq team made an indexing table. Van Leeuwen: "Controlling with pulsed air works very well there." A driven toothed belt axis with an electric stepper motor smoothly rotates the bar and a menucontrols the settings per product type. "The pneumatics are very easy to use and very surprisingly affordable. And as I said, eighty percent of the machine functions can be controlled by components; if it is not possible as standard, you have to look again."