“New technologies have brought about very significant changes in our plant”

The machine tool sector in the Basque Country has become a point of reference for processing companies in Spain. This is because of the commitment of manufacturers to technological transition, digitalisation and sustainability. All these changes are at the heart of the ZAYER production plant. Everything we do is focused on them, and they are the spearhead of an internal revolution.

Mikel Arriola, Director of Production is at the head of these changes. He has been managing the production plant at Zayer for 33 years, so his work is closely linked to the foundations of the company and its products; the factory. Simply put, we are machine tool manufacturers and the factory is where all ZAYER’S creations have their origins.

Let’s speak about technological transition. How have these changes affected ZAYER as a company?

On the one hand, as suppliers of machines and services, it has affected our focus on the customer and on the other, it has affected how we design and manufacture our machines.

With regard to our customer service, we have gone from selling a machine to offering services to optimise machine use. This covers preventive, corrective and predictive maintenance, customer service, etc. We have developed software applications for the CNC that help customers program their machines, applied sensors to machines to ensure perfect finishes and developed remote connection systems to have updated machine information available at any time.

As regards design and manufacture, we use new technologies for everything. 3D designs allow us to view the final version of the machines so we can double check all the designs and calculations. From that point on, we develop the CNC programs to manufacture the parts and the measurement protocols that are installed automatically in the machines. The ERP system manages the entire manufacturing process, controls stocks and orders, as well as both machining and assembly manufacturing orders.

What effects has this change had on the production plant?

The world of possibilities that is available to us because of new technologies has led us to implement very important changes in our plant. Some of these are:

  • Information management and storage have become centralised; paper has completely disappeared.
    Internet access points, both physical and WiFi, have been installed throughout the workshop.
  • We also have access to the system from these points, so we can refer to the drawings, processes or information about each project and download workshop information automatically. This serves to ensure that the information is always updated and prevents errors.
  • Connections and start up of the new machines are carried out entirely by computers.
  • All the new machines can be connected externally through our HORUS system, which ensures that its settings process is checked in the plant by a remote computer.
  • We have a white room where we assemble heads, collect the drawings and assemblies information directly from our design department and carry out all the checks set out in their protocol.
  • The assembly workers can view all the assemblies in three dimensions.
  • The heads are sensorised for temperatures, fluid flows, vibrations, etc. and we verify that stations meet the accuracy and quality guidelines by thorough run-ins.
  • Our machining machines are connected through a network to monitor their status and anticipate maintenance tasks. This enables us to prevent errors in manufactured parts.
  • We carried out machine receptions with customers in virtual conditions during the pandemic. Customers we able to experience the tests on their machine as though they were inside our facilities, thanks to the means we have implemented. This occurred because of the pandemic, but now it is a breakthrough that has improved the process and avoids the need for customers to travel and waste useful time.
  • We have strengthened our provision of services in certain tasks. These were carried out previously with our own staff and are now outsourced, so we can focus on key processes.
  • We have implemented a new customers’ room in the workshop, a stone’s throw from machine assembly. This allows us to improve the customer’s experience by streamlining the visit, the connection of each machine to the digital management system and the presentations.

As you can see, there are many changes that have happened over a relatively short period of time.

What new needs would you say have arisen in the plant because of these changes in this new period?

The process is never-ending; we are already engaged in the “digital twin” of each machine, digitalisation of the warehouse and continuous improvement of safety, of course. Remote access and connection to each machine and cybersecurity are key topics right now. There is also optimisation in the use of resources, materials and energy. The work carried out to attain sustainability is one of ZAYER’s strong points and will require lots of work both now and in the future.

What projects involving change/innovation are you working on now to adapt the manufacturing plant to technological transition?

Apart from what I have already commented on, we are highly focused on ecological transition. We have changed multiple systems and modus operandi to make our management systems more sustainable. Examples of this are the complete plant heating system, intelligent led lighting and thermal insulation of the northern area, among others.

Does the investment in R&D&i also involve dedicating manufacturing resources to these tasks or are they carried out externally?

We test and apply the new machining designs and developments in the plant itself, in what is known as the MACHINING LAB area. This consists of two of our own machines, one KAIROS and one TEBAS, dedicated to innovation. We use these for continuous application of new developments, tests and innovation.  We also have external resources such as the collaboration with the Tekniker and Tecnalia technological centres.

Head Labs

Machine operators used to wear overalls to work; they say they will be wearing lab coats in the future… Is the profile of experts changing in ZAYER?

Without a doubt. Technical staff are increasingly qualified. The most basic mechanical adjustment tasks have disappeared and the work has evolved into more complex tasks involving assembly, operation, settings and verification. But we should not forget the other professionals.

Machine design, manufacture and assembly require multidisciplinary teams involving professionals from many different areas, especially as regards the provision of services in our business. Engineering, mechanics, quality, electronics, big data, artificial intelligence, ergonomics, user experience, marketing. The list is long and always growing. Our activity is making enormous progress, which can be seen in the profiles of the professionals who work at ZAYER.

With all these changes and new features during assembly at the plant, don’t you get a lot of visitors?

Yes, you’re right. we receive many visits. It’s always been the case, something common to our sector and especially to ZAYER. Most visits are from customers, but we are also frequently visited by suppliers, collaborators and training centres. These continuous visits are very good for us because it forces us to be prepared.

Do you think it is a good idea to show your manufacturing areas and disclose the work you do?

At ZAYER we think this is indispensable to show customers how much we confide in the quality of our products and to reveal their competitive advantages. Customers like to visit the head assembly area and the area where we carry out the assembly of the largest machines. Visitors who have technical knowledge also like to stop at the grinding machines area where we finish the large structural workpieces.

What are the major challenges that you have to face each day?

Our primary challenge is to guarantee that our processes comply with the established quality and deadlines so we can obtain a superior product in the least time possible and at a reasonable cost.

The quality of our products has always been one of our benchmarks. Our machines stand out because of their accuracy, robustness and reliability. Our facilities are large enough to assemble large machines and have foundations similar to those that we expect our customers to have.

 All the structural parts of our machines are manufactured from cast iron and machined with large, highly accurate ZAYER milling machines. The parts are ground to meet the specified tolerances. As a result, our machines are extremely accurate and do not require electronic corrections.

Flexibility is very important for us. We have developed a design based on interchangeable sub-assemblies so we can adapt quickly to the various needs of our customers without having to develop something new, which could be less reliable and more expensive.

We also have to highlight the level of experience and know-how of our assembly staff. The level or expertise of our teams is really a differentiating factor.  


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