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At Elematic’s headquarters in Toijala, Finland, the economic recession has not slowed down the pace of product development. In fact, it is almost the reverse. Now is the time to plant the seeds for a promising future. As always, developing new and improved features for our products is based on listening to our customers and their needs in order to succeed ever better in their businesses. The story of E9 development The product development process of today is often about updating an existing machine or product. This was the case with the Extruder E9 project. Its popular predecessor, the Extruder EL900, has been enhanced with features that have been added and modified according to feedback from users as well as maintenance personnel, start-up engineers, and production. Increased slab heights also demand improved compaction, a feature now found in the E9. EU safety directives are updated regularly and the new safety regulations taking effect from the beginning of 2010 have been considered in the design of the new extruder. What actually happens during the development process? Having considered customer feedback, development goals are defined and preliminary design is started up together with the industrial designers, who are in the project right from the start. “Together with the designers, we begin to discuss and plan for the safety and usability of the new design, as well as the processability. We are fortunate to have found an excellent partner, the Finnish industrial design company Muodonmuutos Oy. Our cooperation has lasted for some 15 years already, and this long experience, for its part, guarantees the processability and usability of the product,” says Leena Raukola, manager of Mechanical Engineering and Product Development at Elematic. Test and test again Throughout the process the goals are focused and adjusted. The planning stage often includes the testing of ideas on proto-models, before making the actual prototype, which is then tested both at Elematic and in a factory environment. No matter how simple the product, there are always many rounds of changes. “Testing is a continuous task—we’ve been testing the durability of wear parts at our customers’ factories for many years,” says Raukola. “The aim is to develop ever more durable materials. The different aggregates used by customers affect the wear of parts and we continually optimize cost versus durability to offer customers machinery to suit their particular circumstances.” According to Elematic’s Product Manager of Flooring, Heikki Lehtonen, customer feedback has been the basis for many improved features in the E9. “For example, the strand guide has been completely renewed. Many parts of the machine have been changed to make maintenance an easier job, and the first service tests have shown that we are definitely going in the right direction.” Safety has been enhanced by providing the E9 with better hand grips and larger stair steps on the mass container. The design of the upper rim of the container is also more compatible with the intermediate conveyor. For better usability, the sensor for the concrete surface level is now more reliable, as it has been changed from the earlier optical version to an ultrasound sensor. Computer control improves usability “Developing technology has enabled us to make a more comprehensive program to run the machine, as well as an improved user interface,” explains Tuomo Sepponen, from Elematic’s Electrical Engineering and Automation. “The new user interface consists of several levels for varying uses—for example, different casting levels, a maintenance level, and so on. The casting levels have fewer adjustments and the maintenance level naturally more variations. The interface also includes compaction automation that truly makes the running of the machine so much easier and evens out variations in slab quality—without the user having to make adjustments,” continues Sepponen with enthusiasm. The purpose here has been to make the machine simpler to use by removing options not needed in a particular casting level, which also reduces the probability for accidental adjustments. According to Sepponen, troubleshooting is now smoother, as the instructions can be read from the user interface. More information is provided on alarms, and if you have WLAN, a connection to the Elematic help desk can be set up. The E9 user interface almost does the job for you—it keeps track of all maintenance tasks and needs and informs you of upcoming tasks on the screen. Production history data can be saved to the machine’s memory, from where it can be easily transferred to the factory production control system. This data can include, for example, cast amounts per slab type, service actions, fault alarms, and operating hours. Cream on the concrete cake Jukka Kauppinen is Production Manager at Elematic and an important member of the development project team. He is happy to note that in addition to all the improvements made to serviceability and usability, the E9 can be assembled faster and so can reach the customer more speedily. The enhanced production and assembly technique have worked to keep the price of the machine competitive. At Elematic’s new (2007) production facilities it is possible to invest in the assembly of a particular machine. The improved serviceability of E9 is also seen in assembly: a simpler structure makes it easier to put together. Did you know? New European standard for hollow core slabs (EN1168) has an impact on the product development process. In April 2010, a new regulation becomes effective and according to which all slabs sold in European Union market must have a CE-marking, showing that the product complies with the new standard. If you are investing in new machinery, remember to take these standards into account. With the E9, you are on the safe side as the cross sections are all according to the new standard.