Aluminium Laufen AG Ensures Smooth Landings
Aluminium Laufen AG has changed itself from a supplier of semi-finished products to a full-service supplier of tailor-made, ready-to-install extruded profiles. This benefits customers such as Europoles Suisse GmbH, which makes innovative mounting systems for streetlights and security cameras as well as helicopter landing pads. The two companies’ joint success story spans Europe, the Middle East and Korea.
A green meadow and a handful of industrial buildings lie next to the northern end of the runway at Mollis airfield, not far from Marenco Swisshelicopter AG. Aircraft noises approach and recede. South-east of Zürich, between the feet of steeply towering mountains, this is the home of Europoles Suisse GmbH.
Despite being surrounded by high mountains, Europoles Suisse has views stretching all the way to the Middle East. Founded 20 years ago as Nivatec, and for the last 10 years a fully independent subsidiary of Europoles GmbH & Co. KG, the 18-employee company has established itself as a technology leader in easy-access mounting systems for lighting and surveillance cameras, as well as lighting systems for airports, motorways and stadiums. Following a direct request from Swiss air ambulance service Rega, which operates a base in Mollis, the company has also manufactured helicopter platforms since 2015. The Europoles Suisse team also includes seven employees working at the Europoles parent company in Germany, plus three people in Dubai.
Whether it’s airport lighting for Zurich, Munich or Dubai, stadium floodlights (including the 2002 World Cup in Korea) or lighting systems for the Saudi king’s private airport in Jeddah (which has 14 parking spaces), Europoles Suisse’s solutions are in use all over the world. Managing Director René Vuillemin says: ”Aviation is currently a real driver in the Middle East. As a competitive Swiss provider, we supply turnkey systems to this region. Aviation’s share of GDP in the Middle East will soon rise from 28 to 35 percent, making it an attractive market.” René Vuillemin is also head of the newly established helicopter group of the Swiss Aerospace Cluster, a network with a branch office in Dubai.
Modular Design, Vibration-Free, Weatherproof
Aluminium helipads from Europoles Suisse have many advantages over competing products made of concrete: they are light, quick to assemble, can be quickly defrosted or cooled, and are not prone to cracking.
Designed with the help of finite-element modelling (FEM), the helipads can support two-and-a-half times the maximum weight of the helicopter, to ensure safety during a crash landing. They are fire-tested under a load of three tons of concrete, and feature separators for the safe disposal of water.
In addition, the helipads have a unique selling point in the form of an innovative building decoupling system that dampens both vibration and noise. In hospitals, for example, doctors and patients in the operating theatre depend on a completely vibration-free environment.
René Vuillemin continues: “Like all our other products, we have developed our own modular heliports. This means that we not only have a high-quality product on the market, but also a relatively low-cost one.”
Europoles Suisse must ensure that its helipads, which are made from aluminium profiles, are quick to assemble, stable, and can withstand wind and weather. In addition to lighting controls from its German partner company BATT GmbH, the company relies on tailor-made aluminium profiles from Aluminium Laufen AG.
The high-strength extruded aluminium alloy profiles supplied by Aluminium Laufen contain heating channels for the water-glycol antifreeze mixture used to remove snow and ice. Cooled variants are also available for the Middle East, to stop helicopters sticking to the platform in high temperatures.
Aluminium Laufen designs its aluminium profiles to meet the functional requirements of each user. Those destined for Europoles Suisse, for instance, feature overlaps and marking grooves to simplify assembly and the installation of insulation material.
Tonnage is a Thing of the Past
From the point of view of Aluminium Laufen, such challenges are not new. For a number of years now, the aluminium specialist has been taking advantage of the expert technical advice it can offer customers on material selection, profile shape and producibility. In many cases, this support begins at the design stage.
From its origins as a manufacturer of semi-finished products, Aluminium Laufen in recent years has increasingly developed into a one-stop shop that supplies complete assemblies, including surface finishes, and rapid samples for prototyping. In addition to intensifying its dialogue with customers, the Basel-based company is focusing on quick service and just-in-time delivery. Michael Späth, Sales Manager and Member of the Executive Board, adds: “We are able to produce profiles with high strength requirements as well as profiles with high demands on design or surface finish.”
Aluminium Laufen support its customers in terms of construction, function and logistics. Michael Späth explains: “We are the speedboat among semi-finished product manufacturers. We produce individually designed components and have specialised in the SME landscape, which requires flexibility. Because we are extremely fast and can deliver small batches, our competitors from abroad are often unable to keep up.”
Individual Products, Competitive Prices
Another advantage of aluminium extrusion is that the dies can have a wide variety of geometries, often eliminating the need for additional processing. Over the past five years, Aluminium Laufen has also built up a new machine park with various five-axis CNC centres. Francesco Mercadante, Sales Switzerland, says: “We offer not standard products, but individual solutions. In addition, we are particularly agile when it comes to small and medium-sized orders within a radius of 300 to 400 kilometres. Even in the case of short-term changes, we are able to implement them quickly for our customers. In addition to SMEs, our clientele includes customers in the project business as well as brand manufacturers who differentiate themselves through particularly clever solutions.”
In addition to the extended processing options for extruded profiles, production in the Basel facility has been converted to lean, a new company-wide IT system was introduced, and various processes have been automated. “We are known for surface treatment, in close cooperation with our local partners,” Francesco Mercadante adds. “In addition to refinement, customer requirements are becoming more complex and require increasingly high quality. We deliver down to lot sizes of 10, but we have also had orders with lot size 1”.
Booming Helicopter Business
Back at the helicopter mecca in Mollis, Europoles Suisse has recently designed a helicopter landing pad for the hospital in Dornbirn, over the border in Austria. This is a challenging location: on one side, the helipad projects beyond the roof, requiring special calculations and tests.
But such challenges are nothing new for Europoles Suisse. Unusual loads, some of which create torsional loads on the aluminium profiles, crop up time and again. An example is the company’s systems that allow lights and security cameras to be raised into position and then lowered whenever maintenance is needed. For example, a “Nivalift” system can hoist a lighting crown weighing up to 3.8 tonnes – the equivalent of two cars – on a mast 50 metres tall. Again, Aluminium Laufen supplies the extrusions.
Europoles Suisse’s know-how is increasingly in demand in the Middle East, where the helicopter business is booming. Whether in Qatar, Doha or Dubai, huge sums of money are being invested in air traffic throughout the region. “Helicopter taxis are only the beginning. China and the rest of the far east will be next,” says René Vuillemin, who already has his next ideas in the pipeline.
New Online Portal
When Michael Späth of Aluminium Laufen presents a new service project at the Europoles location in Mollis, René Vuillemin is enthusiastic: “Of course, we could very well use this.” “This” is a new online portal for aluminium extrusions. Customers will be able to upload their profile drawings as DXF files to verify the feasibility of their projects and check costs at any time of the day or night.
Customers using the portal will benefit from instant quotations, and will be able to quickly and efficiently check different variants online. “This service will speed up the design process for customers,” says Michael Späth. In addition, logged-in users will be able to see all their orders, quotations, and tools.
The new portal will use algorithms that are adaptive and should constantly improve, to the benefit of both customers and Aluminium Laufen. Such functionality is unique among aluminium suppliers, the company says. Currently under development, the new portal should be available to customers by the end of the year.
This article was first published by Schweizer MaschinenMarkt.
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