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Shop Solutions: NASCAR Spec Engine Is On Its Mark


NASCAR introduced Wegner Motorsports' spec engine in 2005 for teams in the NASCAR Grand National Division at the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) event in Orlando, FL.

The spec engine represented a concerted effort by NASCAR to reduce the cost of racing in the Grand National Division, which includes the AutoZone Series and Busch East Series. The spec engine package includes a precisely specified set of parts and components designed for performance and durability at a reduced cost, about half the price of most traditional custom-built engines.


For engine builder, Carl Wegner and his company, the challenge was to find a system for identifying parts and components by permanently marking them.

Dan Timm, general manager of Wegner Motorsports, recalls, "When I was at the PRI show, I just walked around the corner from the NASCAR exhibit and saw the Columbia Marking Tools' (Chesterfield, MI) booth, and wandered in to explore the types and level of marking technology that could provide the necessary information and data that we needed to put on our engine components.

"With the new spec engine, we not only needed a mark that would provide information with respect to program prefixes and sequential part numbering, we also needed a system that could instantly validate the part, and also have the ability to remotely read the mark for the purpose of ensuring authenticity and providing useful part history," Timm explains.

"As it turned out, we found that Columbia's newly-patented 2D/UID Square Dot 2D Matrix code marking system had the programmability and the versatility to provide the marking technology that was needed for our cast, machined, and heat-treated components," says Timm. "The types of components we are marking include crankshafts, connecting rods, pistons, blocks, cylinder heads, intake and exhaust manifolds, fuel pumps, and valves—as well as a variety of other pulleys and brackets. We also needed to have the ability to mark hardened 4140 steel parts that had been either nitrided or tuff-nitrided."

The machine that Wegner Motorsports has in production is Columbia's 3 in 1 machine, an extension of the standard Columbia DPS (Dot-Peen-Scribe) programmable marking machine with the addition of laser marking capability. Wegner selected both peen/scribe and laser marking for the 2D Square Dot marks so they had the capability to mark hardened or heat-treated parts.

The model DPS-LR-150 machine has a 4 x 6" (100 x 150-mm) marking window. An optional rotator attachment adds the ability to mark the periphery of round parts. The rotator unit can be mounted directly to the T-slots of the marking machine table. It's equipped with an 80 mm (up to 150-mm) chuck that is driven by an industrial stepper motor. Integration of the rotator axis is controlled through the Columbia marking machine's PC software.

Square Dot refers to the patented process by which Columbia's DPS marking systems make the 2D Matrix code mark. When they are scribing or laser-marking the 2D Matrix code, the marking heads are able to displace material in a manner that leaves a specifically recessed area formed of grooves and surrounded by ridges of displaced material that to the eye, look like round, dot-like indentations. These grooves and ridges form a very reflective multifaceted data cell with extremely high contrast between the grooves and the unscribed or laser marked surface. A vision system (code reader) is able to distinguish where the grooves are, even in the presence of extraneous interfering marks or deposits. By interfacing the highly accurate movement of the scribe head and X-Y axes with CNC control, 2D Matrix codes can be marked at very high speed with Grade A readability, the highest standard rating, equivalent to 1200 reads per second with no variations.

The basic design of the machine utilizes an X-Y-Z-slide arrangement that is driven through precise linear ballscrews that are bellows-protected. The standard machine is all-electric. The peen/scribe and laser-marking head modules are mounted to the slide assembly by two removable bolts. The machine has a high-performance stepper motor drive that gives 0.02-mm repeatability at five characters per second, or for Wegner Motorsports, a 2D Square Dot mark in 3 sec.   

For quiet 2-D marking, the scribe marking head has an extended tool life multifaceted diamond etch stylus. The marking force is electrically actuated. The laser-marking unit utilizes a compact, low-cost 30-W adjustable diode laser with variable power from 0 to 30 W. Retrofitting the laser module to the Columbia DPS unit reportedly takes less than five min. With the Z-axis, automatic pin-to-part distance control can be accommodated. Switching from peen to scribe marking or to laser can be performed by flipping a switch on the machine control.

Additional Columbia 2-D and human-readable UID/ Square Dot and Cognex Vision software is also preloaded. In addition, pcAnywhere software is provided, allowing Columbia Marking Tools to connect directly to the PCS-2000 control via the internet from the service office at Columbia Marking Tools, for fast and secure troubleshooting, programming assistance, software upgrades, and adjusting the cameras used on UID/Square Dot marking machines. This remote management feature allows the user to directly access vital operating system utilities.

"We were surprised that the machine required no special shrouding for the camera. It only requires LED lighting to be able to read the mark, and that includes recognizing the machine-readable 2-D codes," says Timm. "The machine is quiet. The dBA levels are consistently between 70 and 75. In most cases, parts do not require clamping to apply the 2-D codes."

"One other point," Timm adds. "We had the marking machine up and running, marking parts within four hours of taking it off the truck."   


Flexibility In Plastics Machining

More often than not, contract manufacturing businesses are a natural outgrowth of the founder's experiences selling the very equipment he will end up using in his shop.   

In the 1960s and 1970s, Bill Devine did tours of duty both in Vietnam and working for Excellon Automation (Rancho Dominquez, CA), selling its drilling and routing equipment to PCB manufacturers. In 1973, he set out on his own and founded QC Drilling Inc. in Alston, MA, to provide drilling and routing services to the fast-growing PCB industry.

Given his background, Devine started off with a single Excellon machine that would be followed by the newest technology as it was released by his former employer. As a result, QC Drilling was among the first manufacturers to use Excellon's Concept IV machine and CNC VII controller.   

In an industry where speed and efficiency could make, or lack of them break a small company, Devine saw new technology as a competitive advantage. As operations were streamlined out on the shop floor, Devine also saw that margins on plastic-part jobs that came in occasionally were five times greater than the margins on the PCB jobs that QC was running day in and day out.


With the PCB market becoming increasingly competitive, QC Drilling began to transfer its focus to small, flat plastic parts required by many of the same customers for whom it had run PCBs. By the 1990s, the success of this transition to plastic-part manufacturing resulted in the need for a new facility. A new 10,000 ft2 (929 m2) facility was built in Salem, NH.

In the late 1990s, Bill's son Shawn Devine took charge of the business with a similar forward-thinking view of technology being the key to competitive advantage. Soon, operators were armed with bar-code scanners for tracking jobs as they moved through the production process, and management wielded hand-held PDAs to watch the progress from their offices, or even while they were on the road.

With this real-time view of production and an inventory management system in place, QC Drilling was positioned to deliver on its promise of speed and service. "I can call a customer in New York, have them send a drawing to my PDA one minute, and send them a quote back a few minutes later based on both inventory and workload," explains QC Drilling's Jeff Murray. "This agility wins us business and, in many cases, we produce their parts that same day."

This tracking capability and management technology have enabled QC Drilling to shift from high-volume jobs to low-volume, high-mix projects. "Look, if a manufacturer can wait five weeks for a part, they'll send it to a low-cost facility in Asia or Mexico. But, if time is critical, the job has to be kept regional, so everything we do has to work toward a common goal of speed and efficiency," Shawn Devine explains.   

With the goal of speed in ordering and production in mind, Devine began looking for equipment for the plant floor that could match the agility and efficiency he had achieved with the back-office technology, and that could be integrated with it.

In late 2005, QC Drilling purchased a high-speed machining center from Datron Dynamics Inc. (Milford, NH) to address three-axis jobs and metal machining projects that they had been "no-bidding" due to lack of capability. With the Datron machining center, small-part R&D and low-volume manufacturing jobs could be handled on a single machine.

The Datron machines are designed exclusively for small tooling to mill, drill, cut, rout, engrave, and threadmill. True 3-D probing capability ensures accuracy and quality control. Automatic tool management, a 60,000-rpm spindle, and a spray-mist coolant system provide machining speed and produce quality surface finishes.


Windows-based control software on the Datron machine allowed QC Drilling to quickly integrate the machine into its back-office communications system. "Unlike older machines that require a separate computer in order to enter our job tracking, the Datron has a standard PC with USB ports where the barcode scanner can be plugged in, which brought it online immediately on day one," says Mark Bailey, QC Drilling's general manager.

It wasn't long before the Datron machine was booked with work, running two shifts a day attended and one shift untended. Typical jobs range from metal to a variety of plastics, but all are relatively small volumes of small parts.

Many of these parts are milled from sheets of flat material. QC Drilling uses Datron's VacuMate technology as its preferred method of workholding. The VacuMate secures flat workpieces, including plastic foils as thin as 0.001" (0.03 mm) or aluminum sheets as thick as 0.250" (6.35 mm), to the machining system's bed . The vacuum table features airflow-optimized parts with recessed chambers for efficient vacuum distribution. A gas-permeable substrate serves as a sacrificial vacuum diffuser, allowing the cutter to machine through the workpiece without cutting into the table.

A vacuum can be used to hold fixturing and blanks, due to the fact that Datron machines are made specifically for high-speed micromachining with spindles that produce less force than conventional CNCs. A "boss-in-cavity" system that centers inserts on the bottom of each segment register is milled by the machine on the machining table.

This "boss-in-cavity" system, in combination with the large 40 x 27" (1016 x 686-mm) work envelope, allows multiple setups for frequent projects or job types, and provides agility to adjust to incoming jobs. If QC Drilling is in the middle of a batch and an unexpected rush project comes in, they just remove one fixture and replace it with the new job. When the rush job is complete, they return the first fixture to its place, and pick up where they left off.

"The ability to quickly adapt to changing needs is the essence of agility, and agility is the very thing that gives QC Drilling a competitive edge," says Devine. Rather than longing for the days of large-production runs, QC Drilling has embraced small runs as a viable and profitable business model, and adopted new technology to fit the role. "We don't get paid for doing quotes, so we have a system to quickly and accurately bid on jobs, bring them in-house, and get them done. We're structured for that, and we do well with them," Devine says.

In fact, QC Drilling is so far beyond the large-run mentality that they don't even blink when the parts that they perfect are then taken to Asia for mass production. These changes allow the company to move on to the next project lined up behind their machines.


Finishing First in Cast-Steel Machining

When a contract manufacturer prides itself on continual improvement to provide 100% customer satisfaction, every machining problem demands its fullest attention. To Ron Rosso, president of Nebraska Machine Products (NMP; Omaha), it's as simple as "not becoming complacent once we get the opportunity to serve our customers."   

Nebraska Machine was founded by Jack Rosso in 1966, and is run today by Ron and his brother Dave. NMP is a specialty screw-machine product manufacturer that produces parts ranging in size from 1/32 to 10" (0.79.254-mm) diam for the electronics and computer industries for the smaller parts, and the hydraulic, agricultural, oil field, and automotive industries for the larger parts. When its full complement of automatic machines are operating to capacity, Nebraska Machine processes 80.100 tons (72.90 t) of material a month.

Since the early 1980s, the company has offered CNC machining capability, as well as processes including crossdrilling, centerless grinding, broaching, silver-soldering, welding, assembly, and vibratory finishing. Materials processed include plastics, brass, aluminum, stainless alloys, and steel alloys.   

Faced with a problem of re-cutting chips in machining a cast-steel valve application, Nebraska Machine turned to Iscar Metals Inc. (Arlington, TX) and machine-tool distributor Productivity Inc. (Omaha) and cutting-tool distributor John Day Co. (Omaha) for help in solving the problem.

The cast-steel application involved machining some 36,000 parts annually on an A-51 HMC from Makino (Mason, OH). Due to the overall length of the part and all the work that needed to be done on the ID, the process was leaving chips that were being re-cut, resulting in catastrophic failure and tool damage.

Other machining problems that had to be addressed included deep-hole drilling to a flat bottom with a 63 µin. (1.6µm) finish and a tight flatness callout that had to be achieved. There was also difficulty in maintaining consistent part finish, in holding tolerances, and in preserving tool life.

Jason Rosso, a tooling specialist from Iscar, along with Dave Atkinson, Iscar milling product manager, evaluated and worked on the applications in collaboration with Dave Nelson from Productivity and Roger Weatherill from John Day.   

The 3" (76-mm) face mill that was being used for facing all the external surfaces was producing large, stringy-type chips that entered the ID of the part and caused its rough bore to fail. Iscar's solution was the F45LN D3.00-09-1.OR-N-15 face mill with the LNMT 150608 ANTN MM IC908 insert running at 800 fpm (244 m/min), 1018 rpm, 0.028 ipr (0.71 mm/rev), and 28.5 ipm (724 mm/min).

Coolant blast was introduced to help remove the chips. The number of parts machined per insert-edge went from 500 with existing tooling to 1200 with the Iscar tooling. The number of parts-per-insert increased from 2000 to 4800.

 Iscar then turned its attention to the rough-boring application, replacing existing tooling utilizing a BHR MB25-25 x 50 bore head, STI MB 25 x 6.39 shank, ISHR/IHCR rough-boring insert holder with Iscar's CCMT-2.1 IC 907. While running at 550 fpm (168 m/min), 1573 rpm, 0.0055 ipr (0.14 mm/rev) and 8.65 ipm (219 mm/min), the number of parts-perinsert went from 120 to 280. There was an approximate 50% cost savings with the new tooling versus the existing tooling.   

Chip formation and evacuation were the most important issues. The DZ drill with a WOLH 2.5-1 insert performed the next sequence in completing the parts. A 1.312 DZ drill was used to rough out the bottom for the Iscar Multi-Master to finish and hold flatness to 0.002" (0.05 mm) with a 63µin. finish. Existing tooling was able to drill 180 holes while the Iscar DZ drill made 300 holes, an increase of 40% more holes with a cost savings to NMP of more than 28%.

Success of the Iscar tooling was measured in terms of chip control and the predictability of tool life. The Iscar ITS bore IHRF with CCGT inserts were used to finish the bore due to the tight tolerances. The CCGT inserts doubled metal removal rates, while producing 200 parts-per-edge compared with 45 with the existing tooling. The new tooling resulted in a 50% cost savings to Nebraska Machine on this application.

In finishing the part, Iscar recommended using the Multi-Master eight-flute end-mill head. This head has a 30° helix with a 0.030" (0.76-mm) radius running in this application at 550 fpm, 3361 rpm, 0.007 ipr (0.18 mm/rev), and 23.5 ipm (597 mm). The number of parts per insert went from 300 to 4000, resulting in a 74% cost savings to NMP on this application.

Using Iscar's Multi-Master family of tools with interchangeable carbide heads, Nebraska Machine is able to hold tighter tolerances on product dimensions and increase tool life.        

In Memoriam Dave Atkinson

Iscar would like to dedicate the completion of this story to Dave Atkinson, Iscar milling product manager who passed away in June 2007.

Dave worked with Jason Rosso in finding a resolution to Nebraska Machine Products' machining problem and "was an absolute pleasure to work with. We know those of you in the industry that have had the pleasure of working with him know what kind of man he was. He was a devoted colleague and a loving father and husband. He will be greatly missed by all of us." Rod Zimmerman, Iscar Metals Inc.    


Jig Grinding Up From The Farm

You don't necessarily expect a tool and die company that starts on a farm to grow into a hundred-million-dollar operation employing more than 700 in its workforce.   

The cattle farm still exists, but the company, Penn United Technologies Inc., has moved down the road to Saxonburg, PA, where it has 11 different sites, seven on the main campus and the rest within a five-mile radius. The company works in tool steel, stainless, carbide, cast iron, aluminum, and brass for a customer base in electronics, automotive, medical, aerospace, and fluid handling, among others.

"If you look over our equipment list, you can see why we are considered a precision manufacturer," says Bill Jones, president. "Each facet of our business—die, stamping, plating, assembly, and even our production work (about 25% of annual business volume) is very high end. We excel at working with the closest tolerances. I say this without exaggeration, because we've always bought leadingedge technology.not necessarily targeted at a particular job, but because of what we might learn from acquiring it, and how that might enhance our strategy in one or more of our existing areas of expertise."   

One of the company's latest acquisitions is a Hauser S35-400 jig grinder from Kellenberger, a Hardinge company (Elmira, NY). Jones says that it wasn't too long ago that Hauser prices were on the high side, "especially if you were buying the machine for a specific application." According to Jones, there are just too many other jig grinders for single application work. And he would know, because Penn United has nearly 300 grinders, of which nearly 30 are jig grinders.

"Not too long ago we felt a Hauser cost too much, but that has all changed. Hauser has kept its technology moving forward very rapidly, becoming more advanced and easier to use without raising prices. So, at IMTS 06 we bought one," Jones says.

The Hauser S35-400 is the only jig grinder at Penn United that uses the Hi-Cut system—grinding with oil as a lubricant/coolant. Jones points out that you really can't grind carbide with a water-based coolant, because the water leaches the cobalt out of the carbide. The other choice, which is the main choice of lubricant in jig grinding at Penn United, is air. Generally, when grinding carbide in a dry application (using air as the lubricant), the wheel is the weakest link. If the wheel holds up, the airturbine spindle can become a problem. But with the Hi-Cut system, which is an oil chiller/fire suppression oil-coolant system, you don't have to worry about wheel or spindle failure.

"We were roughing carbide recently, and it was so hard that we couldn't see what was going on inside the machine with all the smoke and mist," Jones recalls. "I got worried and called Hardinge and told them of my concern with the smoke. They told me to relax, that there was nothing to be concerned about. In fact, if it weren't smoking then we weren't doing something right. Our guys are starting to adjust to this way of removing a lot of metal, and the Hauser is proving a great performer in removing really hard, tough material."

Tool life and finishes are two of the Hauser's biggest advantages. "Tool life is better because we're using fewer tools—a single wheel to rough and finish. Before, we had to use a low-grit wheel for roughing, and a high-grit wheel for finishing. Now we can use a high-grit roughing wheel and go start-to-finish with one wheel, an apparent savings in this case of 60 to 70%," Jones says.

Another area where Jones is seeing a distinct advantage is in cycle-time reduction. As an overall average, he's seeing reductions of 30 to 35%, "and we know we're not doing everything to full efficiency," he says. "We've still a long way to go learning all of what the Hauser can do, but to see these initial cycle-time reductions is remarkable."   

The Hauser is primarily being used to grind carbide and steel. On the carbide side, Penn United is grinding cutting punches for knives, roughed and finished right on the Hauser. "In the past," Jones says, "these parts would go to a wire EDM, and the form would be finished there. Not now with the Hauser. There have been more than just a handful of jobs that used to be done via EDM, but no more. The Hauser has moved those jobs out of the EDM picture."

Each technology—grinding, EDM, or high-speed milling—has its place, Jones says. "It's not a case of one technology being superior. The question isn't which technology is better than the other; the question is which one is the right one for the application."

 "The machine has a 12-station ATC, a probe system and an electric spindle that's a breed of technology that we'd never seen in jig grinding until the Hauser," Jones says. Penn United is working on having enough toolholders to have wheels already mounted so they just place them in position—less than five minutes per tool. The probe, which sits in one of the 12 pockets of the toolchanger, allows them to reduce time by half on basic setups.   

"I've been working with Hauser on a few applications involving the probe in toolchanging where we actually pick up the part with the probe," says Jones. "This would result in 50 to 75% faster setups."

The spindle on the Hauser is something they've not seen on any other jig grinder. "The others have air-operated spindles. To go from 8000 rpm to 60,000 rpm you'd need to use three different workheads. The electric spindle will go from 7000 to 70,000 rpm—with a single head. What's nice is that at 7000 rpm you have the same torque as you have at 70,000 rpm. When grinding carbide with the electric spindle, the workhead is no longer a variable factor."

So far, Jones says, they've proven they can hold 0.000040" (0.001-mm) positional accuracy—that involved positioning seven holes precisely 0.000040" from each other. Jones adds, "We have very good inspection equipment. Once you take the part off and inspect it, you've got to be certain that your inspection equipment is capable of seeing differences that small. If your machine is that good, which the Hauser is, but your inspection tools are not, you can be out of tolerance by a very small amount very quickly."

Jones says that one test for precision is in tool and die work. "We work for some razor companies that make components, and we're trimming materials that are 0.0008" [0.02-mm] thick. When we get down to materials that thin, our punch-to-die clearance may be less than 0.0001" [0.003 mm]. If you want your die clearance to be 0.0001" [0.003 mm] or less, then you need your positional tolerance to be 0.000040" [0.0010 mm] or 0.000050" [0.0013 mm].

"When we get into materials that thin, we manufacture the components to the closest tolerance we can to make sure that the dies have perfect alignment and will run well once put together. If you don't have the alignment just right, you either have chipping or premature wearing. In the die business, alignment is extremely crucial."

In a short time, the Hauser has changed how Penn United does things in the department and in a few of the related departments. "We were talking about some of the wire EDMs, and we've changed some of the EDM jobs to the Hauser. It has changed many of our presumptions about grinding, EDM, and other technologies. And we also know that we have a great deal of learning yet to do. There's just so much to know, about the machine, about how best to use it. I know we're more and more impressed every day. If you really want an assessment, I'd say get back to me in a year or so," he concludes.


This article was first published in the October 2007 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. 

Published Date : 10/1/2007

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