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Production Promises to Keep


How long before my machine is up and running?


By Jim Lorincz
Senior Editor 


Nothing kills the value of an investment in advanced technology more than seeing machines sitting idle on the shop or factory floor for want of a part or a technical fix. Buying advanced machine technology is one thing. Keeping it up and running through monitoring, planned maintenance/managed downtime, and quick response to emergencies is another.

That explains why machine builders/distributors take such pains to assure their customers that service, parts, and technical support are just an 800-number phone call, an e-mail, or an internet/modem communication away.

Parts and technical support, end users are assured, will be dispatched in a timely manner (within 24 hours seems standard) to the location of the troublesome machine/line on the next truck, flight, or company van with an experienced technician/engineer on the way, if needed.
Technical service support by its very nature is consultative requiring close communication between supplier and customer.


The machine tool builder's first line of defense against his customer's lost production due to downtime is, of course, designing and building a reliable machine tool. But stuff happens. Parts and components wear out, predictably, and unfortunately can fail unpredictably. Operators make errors, and programming and a host of unforeseen events cause alarms. Emergencies are always an unpleasant productivity-robbing possibility.

Machine tool builders/distributors strive to assure their customers that such foreseen and unforeseen circumstances can be handled almost routinely. Complicating that effort, however, are a number of realities about the global machine tool industry. Principal among these trends:

  • Distance from overseas machine manufacturers to their US customer base requires builder/distributors to allay any concerns about availability of parts, support, and technical help—locally or within easy reach, 24/7. As a result, communication from builders to end users is evolving in its highest forms into internet-based or company-dedicated networks for remote monitoring, diagnostics, or even control of the machine tool in the customer's plant.       
  • Lean manufacturing practices have pushed back carrying parts, spares, and necessary components to the machine tool builder. They are attempting to reduce parts inventories by designing machines with more commonality of parts, wherever possible. Legacy machines pose a special parts challenge, requiring machine tool suppliers to organize and centralize databases and access to legacy prints so that parts can be manufactured, if necessary.

"As parts manufacturers are intent upon getting more out of their machine tools and operators to stay competitive in today's global environment, there is no room for waste in the Usage patterns help Haas Automation stock its fleet of HFO vans with the right mix of parts to support its customers.manufacturing process," says Sam Shine of Makino (Mason, OH).  

"It is important to note that one of the key components in lean manufacturing is predictive and preventive maintenance {PM}, because redundancy and unplanned events are inherently waste items in the process. When equipment is not well maintained, unplanned machine downtime often results in a ripple effect of waste and cost in the manufacturing process," says Shine.

Makino offers a variety of service and support packages designed to maximize uptime for its customers. "Life cycle services include preventive maintenance, service contracts, calibration and diagnostic services, and production support. Service can be scheduled for second shift, third shift, or weekend to minimize downtime," Shine says.

Getting customers back up and running quickly is paramount. "When a machine tool goes down, the customer's livelihood is put on hold, and that's not acceptable," explains Scott A. McIver, chairman and vp-product development, Methods Machine Tools (Sudbury, MA). "Our objective is to have the right part and right service support available to the customer at the right time to support our principal brands: Matsuura in milling Nakamura in turning, Kiwa in milling machines, and Fanuc in mill/drill machines."

Methods Machine provides engineering, parts, and support through eight direct offices around the country and covers the balance through distributors. "We offer full factory training for distributors, direct engineers, and customers on everything from assembly to programming to operating machines at our Sudbury facility. We like to have the exact machine that the customer wants to train on rather than simply a virtual machine approach. This is especially important, because of the trend toward automation such as robots and our Job Shop Cell. We want to help our customers integrate these automated systems into their daily operations," McIver explains.

Complicating the support, parts, and services required of Murata Machinery USA Inc. (Charlotte, NC) is the fact that the company's two different product lines, twin-spindle CNC turning centers and CNC turret punch presses, typically operate in two widely different manufacturing environments.

Twin-spindle turning centers are used in automotive-related industries that require high production volumes for products such as wheel hubs, wheel bearings, transmission components, gear blanks and carriers, and impellers for turbochargers and climate control compressors, among others.

"Our twin-spindle turning center applications require high accuracy, as well as high production volumes," explains Kevin Wigington, general manager. "People don't pay us to run parts slowly, either. Ninety percent of our business on the turning side is automotive related with Tier 2 and 3 suppliers, as well as Tier 1 and some OEMs. Our machines are expected to run 24/7, and we're expected to support them so that they do."

Murata's turret punch presses are typically used in contract manufacturing shops for sheet metal applications such as commercial construction, restaurant appliances, HVAC components, bending machines, brackets for the construction industry, computer chassis, and electrical boxes and enclosures, among others.

Preventive maintenance programs are tailored by Murata with varying frequencies with one, two, or four visits a year. The company has 13 service technicians in the field, supported by inside technical service, and factory trained service technicians for support provided by its dealers. Two technical service personnel from Japan are resident in Murata's facility, supplying support for Japanese transplant companies in the US, as well as working with a field service trainer who is continually writing procedures for service and training. Parts are inventoried according to the latest bills of materials from Japan. Any part not in inventory can be taken from stock machines or manufactured to print in its Charlotte facility.

"More than just selling machines, we sell guaranteed production," explains Vince Trampus, vice president, Heller Machine Tools (Troy, MI). Heller is a supplier of machine tools and machining systems to the automotive and heavy-duty automotive, trucking, tractor, and construction equipment industries for machining large prismatic components for powertrains, such as engines and transmissions. The company has taken a number of steps to help its customers avoid interruption to their production.

Inventory at Mazak's parts center has more than 46,000 part numbers that can be delivered within 24 hours for all Mazak CNCs sold in North America.

"We have a staff of technical people on an 800-number help line, and also the internet where end users can post questions. The help line is available 24/7, and we transfer the help line to Europe where we have English-speaking personnel in England and Germany during off-business hours in the US to support the US team.

"Remote diagnostics or remote troubleshooting is something that has come of age in the last five years so that we can simulate the customer's problem in our office on a CNC controller just like the customer's, or we can go one step further and through the internet remote diagnostics capability, go into the machine's CNC and take control of the machine to see what's wrong," says Trampus.

StarragHeckert (Hebron, KY) offers its Service Assistant Module (SAM) expert system, which can plan and supervise all service and maintenance activities for its STC, LX, HEC, and CWK machining centers, equipped with a Siemens control. Greg Dunkley, vice president and general manager explains: "SAM plans and supervises all service and maintenance activities and the remote on-line diagnosis system guarantees the optimal use of all resources. It is an on-machine expert system that permits real-time monitoring. The software package bundles realtime process monitoring, remote diagnosis, troubleshooting, data recording, and statistical analysis, maintenance and service monitoring in a visualization system that provides an operator with one-button access to all the relevant information about the current condition of both machine and control system."   

MAG Maintenance Technologies (MAG MT; Hebron, KY) has developed distinct initiatives to support its 50 legacy brands as well as other manufacturing equipment. Productivity solutions cover coolant, tooling, and applications support. Auxiliary service is responsible for complete machine mechanical rebuilds or retrofitting machines with new controls for a variety of brands, and also does unit repair of spindles, with exchange of units possible off the shelf. Industrial service provides field service, maintenance contracts, part fails, and spare packages. MAG has centralized its parts inventory in Hebron, KY for its legacy brands, with the exception of Fadal brand which maintains a warehouse in Chatsworth, CA, to handle the West Coast.

"When we go in and support our own new and legacy equipment with parts and service, more than likely, if the customer is satisfied with our performance, they'll want us to support their other equipment," explains Gary Finney of MAG Maintenance Technologies. "We've streamlined our response by building a verification database that can make sure that we have identified the right part to the right machine model right down to the serial number. Every time a new machine ships, we capture the data and add it to our growing database. In addition, to support second and third-shift people, we've grown the online store capability, which can confirm availability and pricing and create a formal quote that can be passed on to purchasing."

"Our hydraulic and plastics and composites compression molding presses are engineered and built to operate within the operating parameters required by end users in industries ranging from defense and aerospace to industrial lighting and electrical components," says Tim Dining, president, Greenerd Press and Machine (Nashua, NH).

"To help our customers improve their press productivity, we have introduced the Pressport private network for remote communications with Greenerd presses. This technology enables them to monitor and manage press performance from an office next to their shop floor or from afar. Data from their presses can be viewed via an Ethernet connection over a secure VPN network, and they can receive status/alarm notifications on internet-enabled devices such as cell phones, smart phones, or PCs," Dining explains. Notifications may include cycle and batch completions, clogged filters and the like. A hot button allows operators to send an alert directly to a Greenerd engineer for critical 24/7 assistance, if needed.

"Improving our service is a process, not a project," explains John Roth, director of customer service, Haas Automation Inc. (Oxnard, CA). "Our basic commitment to our customers when buying a Haas machine tool through the HFOs is fair machine pricing, fair upfront spares pricing, and fast service and parts support," Roth says.

"We have an extensive system for measuring parts consumption and evaluating usage patterns to put the right parts into the dealer's stock so that the customer is going to get his machine fixed from a part in stock a high percentage of the time, the first time," Roth says. "We track service reports on our machines and follow up with customers on service calls. Typical survey questions generate important feedback, not only for Haas but also for the HFO. How long did it take the technician to get there? Did he arrive when he said he would? Did he have the parts he needed? Was the machine fixed when he left? Was he polite, professional?"

Hardinge Inc. (Elmira, NY) supports its extensive number of legacy machines in the field with its Rapid Response Shop and Team. "However long the machine is in the customer's facility, we'll support it," explains Gene Monks, North American service manager. "If a part is required for a legacy machine, we'll pull a print and make it in the shop. For newer machines, we design with the objective of making families of machines where standardization and commonality of parts is highly desired. That's the case with our family of XR machines. We've grouped our equipment in families of different sizes where we can use common parts such as spindles, belts, controls, and the like," Monks says.

ZPS America LLC (Indianapolis), which will formally open for business in January 2009, will support its six-spindle Mori-Say TMZ 642 CNC multispindle machines with an inventory of $3.5 million in spare parts and with ten factory-trained personnel, as well as a number of engineers from the factory in the Czech Republic. "The best possible support is absolutely necessary for any machine," says Olaf Tessarzyk, managing partner. "Support for the user in terms of prompt answers, complete spare parts inventory, and 24/7 service is essential to preventing or, at least, minimizing downtime."

Via the internet, ZPS service engineers can troubleshoot Mori-Say multispindles from anywhere in the world. Spare parts will be handled by a completely automated MRP system linked to ZPS' customers. "Because we are located in a foreign trade zone, we can clear parts from the factory to any North American customer in 48 hours or less," says Tessarzyk.


Doing the Math on Maintenance

Sunnen uses a consultative, shop-floorbased approach to servicing its machines at Sun Hydraulics.(Sarasota, FL).Sun Hydraulics (Sarasota, FL) is one of a number of companies that has concluded there is a better approach to handling machine tool maintenance. As manufacturers focus on what they do best, they often conclude there are monetary savings and productivity gains in handing off specialized equipment maintenance to the machine tool manufacturer. Sun Hydraulics is a manufacturer of high-performance hydraulic cartridge valves and manifolds. When a new honing machine from Sunnen Products Co. (St. Louis) was brought into service, Sun thought it a logical time to re-evaluate its entire service, repair, and spare part inventory requirements for its group of 12 Sunnen machines. "That evaluation led to our decision to implement a service contract to give us the cost savings we wanted across labor and inventory, as well as the equipment utilization needed on our two shifts," explains Mike Smith, Sun honing team lead. The company turned to Sunnen Products to develop a plan. Sunnen uses a consultative shop-floor-based approach, observing production methods and partmaking first hand to benchmark equipment expectations and project repair frequencies and service requirements. Service contracts can result in significant savings for machine tool owners, accruing from three different areas:

  • Reduced direct labor costs which become the responsibility of the service/support provider;       
  • Discounted parts and service, offered as an integral part of a provider's bundled package pricing;       
  • Familiarity with machines leads to shorter time required for repair and maintenance, reducing average machine downtime and increasing production throughput.


For Sun Hydraulics, during the first year of the contract, parts and service savings amounted to 8–11% while average machine downtime was reduced as much as 12%, and throughput increase more than 15% without additional labor.


This article was first published in the December 2008 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. 

Published Date : 12/1/2008

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