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Shop Solutions: Spin Former Carves Out a Niche

A few years ago, Glenn Metalcraft Inc. a Princeton, MN-CNC metal spinner set out to reinvent itself by investing in the newest spin-forming technology to shift its business strategically to production of heavy-gage parts.

The company purchased a new $1.4 million MJC SP-78200-3 Spin Form Lathe capable of spinning an 80" (2032-mm) diam conical shape using a steel blank up to 1 3/8" (34.9-mm) thick. The company actively sought jobs making parts that weighed over 100 lb (45.4 kg). Its goal was to differentiate itself from smaller shops still using hand spinning processes, and to offer production capability, service, and pricing that offshore competitors could not match.

Today, Glenn Metalcraft excels as a CNC metal spinner of heavy-gage steel parts. The 33-person, ISO-certified shop did $7.5 million in business volume last year, grew 30%, and expanded to three shifts, six days a week. Sales are currently outpacing last year by 20%. Its customers include the major OEMs in the agricultural market, including International Harvester and Case New Holland (CNH), and a range of other commercial manufacturers like Heil Trailer.

Nevertheless, success has been hard won, the result of systematically meeting pressing challenges. Joe Glenn, president of Glenn Metalcraft, explains that the new strategy for the business initially led to three problems:

  • Producing small lots of heavy-gage parts to meet customer demand required sophisticated and precise daily scheduling.
  • Business had to increase to offset the shop's investment in capital equipment.
  • Customer demand required flexible JIT delivery more than ever.

Glenn and his team soon realized that the shop required more flexible scheduling, higher visibility of data, and faster turnaround to succeed with the new strategy. The solution was to switch from their inventory-based management software system (one that imposed standard product costing and lacked scheduling tools) to a job-based business management system with robust scheduling.

Glenn Metalcraft chose JobBOSS from Exact Software (Minneapolis), a shop management software developed specifically for contract manufacturers. The system manages workflow—quoting, order processing, scheduling, purchasing, labor tracking, real-time data collection, quality, shipping, job costing, and integrated accounting.

According to Glenn, JobBOSS solved their scheduling problems and more, so the redirection of the shop could proceed. "Scheduling is the heart of the JobBOSS system for what we're doing here," says Glenn. "We've got twelve-month visibility of customers' needs. The system allows us the flexibility to break up our monthly production and delivery for each customer into manageable lots—one month, three lots; the next month, the entire lot. We want to level the load on a particular workcenter. If we're really busy one month, maybe we can't run that entire lot through. We use JobBOSS to break those 1000 pieces up, so we're able to ship JIT."

Glenn says his team took pains to learn JobBOSS scheduling inside and out and put it to work to achieve 98% on-time deliveries in the past year. Employees also became proficient at using the system's electronic whiteboard, Shop-BOSS, to manage change throughout the day to modify the priority list at each of their key workcenters.

Besides improved scheduling, the shop increased visibility of information and speed in several areas. JobBOSS offers state-of-the-art data collection (bar coding) for real-time labor reporting and job status information.

"The system shows us where the job is, where it's going, and when it will be complete," says Glenn. "We recently installed JobBOSS release 8.2 with streamlined data collection, which tells us what jobs employees are working on. They wand in and out right at their workcenters."

With live labor reporting, Glenn says the accuracy of floor reporting has doubled compared to their previous system, leading to better costing and improved estimating on repeat jobs.

Speed to move a higher volume of jobs through the shop swiftly and efficiently was also critical. To that end, Glenn says JobBOSS has allowed them to go paperless on the shop floor. "JobBOSS Data Collection now gives us enough information to totally eliminate paper in the shop. Blueprints are stored online, as well as the work instructions on the job, which are on the workstations out in the shop," says Glenn. "Only a small ID card makes the rounds with parts, showing part number and who material came from and the quantity. We can also view prints online. It saves time."

Using JobBOSS, Glenn says, order processing times were reduced nearly 75%. He believes much of that time reduction was due to increased communication. Employees have the ability to email or fax order acknowledgements, purchase orders, and specific reports directly from the system to the customer. He also cites the speed of the quote-to-job function, and integration and linking between the quote and the order providing an accurate picture of estimated versus actual costs for quick turnaround on quotes.

The new system was implemented in 2001. Now with five years of JobBOSS under their belts, the shop has established itself as a reputable and thriving CNC metal spinner of heavy-gage parts. In the end, the investment in job-based software with strong scheduling proved as critical as the purchase of new equipment.

"Most of our OEM customers expect parts JIT," Glenn says. "We're usually shipping multiple deliveries per week. If you miss one shipment, it puts the line down at the customer's plant. That's unacceptable. So we schedule and ship JIT day in, day out, and we couldn't do it without JobBOSS."


A Modular Approach To Clean Air

In the past, facilities that produced airborne pollutants such as welding and cutting smoke or oil mists simply collected and exhausted the dirty air to the outside.

While acceptable to OSHA, this approach is no longer sufficient for those who realize that it sends tons of money up into the blue, in the form of wasted heat, air conditioning, and electric power. At the same time, traditional ventilation approaches often require greater investment in equipment and maintenance, yet may not be completely safe, as indicated by welding fires or a blue haze around the ceiling lights.

"Most companies today don't have the in-house expertise to spec the kind of air collection and filtration systems they need on the line," explains Glen Tuplin, facilities manager at F&P Georgia (Rome, GA), a manufacturer of components for Honda and Nissan.

"Plus, there is a lot of competition for capital within a manufacturing company, and an air system is not the type of equipment where management would look for an ROI. Therefore, if a rooftop exhaust system meets OSHA compliance, it will most likely be okay with the company's production planners," Tuplin says.

F&P Georgia is a manufacturer of subframe and suspension components, and has extensive welding, stamping, and painting operations within its 200,000+ ft2 (18,580 m2) facility. The original F&P plant was built in 2001 with a traditional air-ventilation system. With plant expansion in 2003, Tuplin decided to consider retrofitting a new modular air filtration system from Clean Air America Inc (Rome, GA). That system promised to do a better job of maintaining plant air, while reducing costs at the same time.

In time, the Clean Air system would not only prove to be economically worthwhile, but would provide other benefits that would help make F&P Georgia's plant the benchmark for similar Honda suppliers.

"Heating and air conditioning costs are about $2 per cfm and $4 per cfm, respectively," Tuplin explains. "Our exhaust total air volume was 103,000 ft3. Because the Clean Air America system filtered and returned plant air (rather than exhausting it to the outside), it was simple math to see that we could save $200,000 annually with their system."

Clean Air America's turnkey system is application-specific, consisting of modular hoods for the welding cells, quick-clamp-style ducting, and patented dust collectors to completely filter and return the air to the plant, providing a savings due to the reduction in utility consumption.

Because the system is engineered to capture smoke, dust, and aerosols as near as possible to the source, a cleaner, healthier, and safer plant environment is maintained. Employee morale may also be improved, and the improved environment can enhance product quality due to the diminished smoke and dust in the production area.

"While most of our welding is done inside automated cells, there is some done on the floor outside these enclosures," Tuplin says. "The Clean Air system gives us the flexibility to place air intakes within feet of rework welders, eliminating the smoke that would normally dissipate throughout the plant."

Clean Air America Inc. provides complete filtration systems for robotic integrators as well as integrators of laser-cutting and plasma-cutting tables. The firm uses 3-D CAD software to design, pre-engineer, and engineer a total project, enabling precision drawings and accurate lead times.

Many different plant operations produce dust, aromatics, oil mists, and other flammable substances. In the presence of sparks such as those generated by welding, they are an open invitation to internal fires. Tuplin had Clean Air America include a fire suppression system with F&P Georgia's air filtration system.

"We use a stamping oil during our stamping operation," Tuplin explains. "When the metal is welded, the aerosols mix with the oxides and are drawn up into the smoke handling units. There is the possibility that this dust can be ignited by an uncontrolled welding spark."

"Fire suppression is a complex and potentially nightmarish issue," explains Bertil Brahm, president of Clean Air America. "Assuming that a stamping operation is using oil, the question is, how are we trying to reduce the possibility for a spark to go where we don't want it? From a technical point of view, we can provide protection with baffling, change of air velocity, and mechanical means of that sort. In our systems we also use a fire-extinguishing agent (Du-Pont FE-25). It's a very quick suppressant like Halon, which is no longer available. FE-25 is a very good Halon replacement."

In the majority of its air filtration installations, including that of F&P Georgia, Clean Air America used advanced variable-frequency drive (VFD) technology to control blowers and help maintain filters.

"The VFD system uses less power because it only draws the current that's necessary to maintain the airflow that you want," says Tuplin. "As far as we are concerned, this technology is saving significant energy and also enabling us to avoid spikes during peak usage periods."

VFDs can also increase filter life, reduce noise levels, and simply manage the filtration system much better. The VFD soft-starts, so it can be programmed to control the maximum amperage.

As time goes by, filters get dirtier, which causes a pressure drop in the equipment, reducing the air flow rate. Clean Air America uses a reverse pulse to clean filters with its patented Down Flow Technology. As the flow goes down because pressure goes up, the speed of the VFD is increased a bit to compensate for the problem with no maintenance to speak of.

The energy and maintenance savings of modular, integrated air filtration systems will have a significant bearing on payback or ROI, depending to a great extent on climate and energy costs. "Still, there is no denying that these air systems fit today's lean paradigm," says Tuplin.

Tuplin adds that, in the automotive sector, plant appearance also makes a difference. "When you're dealing with automakers of the stature and standards of Honda and Nissan, you expect them to be demanding," he says. "When Honda comments that your plant is a benchmark for clean air quality, you know you've done the right thing."


Innovative PVD Coating Tackles Tough Materials

While the lack of machinists in the greater Houston area has some manufacturers wringing their hands in frustration, Sunbelt Machine Works Corp. (Stafford, TX), decided to be innovative rather than frustrated.

In partnership with Houston tool distributor Top Tooling Inc. and Walter USA Inc. (Waukesha, WI), Sunbelt was able to use technology to address the machinist shortage, while saving both time and money.

Sunbelt is a second-generation precision-machining company with a reputation for finding solutions to tough problems. Since 1978, Sunbelt has distinguished itself from the competition by providing machining services on hard-to-build items, difficult-to-machine exotic materials, and workpieces having close critical tolerances.

Headed by Craig Scantlin, owner and president, Sunbelt is one of the largest family-owned machine shops in the Houston area. It serves primarily the oil industry, but has worked with manufacturers in the aerospace, marine, medical, tool and die, and plastic-injection molding industries.

In 1999 Sunbelt underwent a major business plan reinvention, owing to a slowdown in the land and marine industry. Top management determined that to be effective and economically sound, Sunbelt had to turn to major businesses and service their needs. "Our focus may have changed, but our need to deliver the best quality parts on the market has never wavered, even for a moment," Scantlin says.

The oil industry is the current business focus of Sunbelt. The current problem that it shares with many other Houston manufacturers is the lack of skilled machinists throughout the area. "It's a problem, for sure," says Scantlin, "but with the help of Top Tooling and Walter we have been able to address it, and still function at a very high level of performance and efficiency."

The specific issue Sunbelt needed to address was manufacturing parts for downhole drilling operations. The challenge involved the effective use of machine time. Increased speeds became a must, if Sunbelt wanted to remain cost-effective and still deliver parts faster than the competition.

Greg Murphy, Sunbelt's tool crib manager, explains: "We are always looking to tooling manufacturers to improve our processes so we can deliver our products more quickly to our customers. This has become a difficult task given the lack of available machinists in the Houston area, combined with the increase in work we do for the energy sector."

Top Tooling's Bruce McCown and Walter's John Friend worked together to find a solution to the demands on Sunbelt's capacity. The challenge was clear. "Sunbelt needed to free up time to change out the tool, increase tool life, and provide easy programming of the tool for all applications while reducing the time required for roughing, as well as speeding up parts output," McCown explains.

At Sunbelt, the applications involved oil-field parts:

  • One part is composed of Nitronic 50, a hard-to-machine, nonmagnetic, corrosion-resistant stainless steel. This particular part is machined on an Excel 810 machine.
  • Another part material being milled is 17-4 stainless steel. The part being made is used in downhole drilling, and the machining is done on a Mori-Seiki MV-65.

Messrs. McCown and Friend determined that the Walter Tiger-Tec WSP-45 milling insert was the answer. "The WSP-45 milling grade is the first of its kind in the world," Friend claims. "Walter was able to develop the world's first aluminum-oxide coating for carbide inserts, which is applied using the PVD-coating method," he explains.

"Not only do we get the great thermal and chemical benefits of the aluminum oxide coating, but we also get to maintain a sharp cutting edge," Friend says. "This is a great advantage when milling nickel-based alloys. All of this makes the new milling insert grades ideal for oil-field-related milling applications."

Shop floor results yielded the following results demonstrating the WSP-45's effectiveness in machining 1200 parts machined from Nitronic-50 material:

  • Feed rates tripled achieved through higher feed rates, which reduced cutting time and costs per component.
  • Less change-out time for each tool—from 60 change-outs per year to 24—was required.
  • Additional machining capacity of 44 hours per year was freed up.
  • Total savings amounted to $3400.

Scantlin smiles when asked what this all added up to. "We increased throughput 16.6% by reducing our cycle time by 60% in one operation. Needless to say, the faster delivery time has really pleased our customers."

The machining results were similarly impressive for machining 600 parts from 17-4 PH stainless steel with the WSP-45 milling insert;

  • Annual cutting tool costs were reduced based on reduced insert usage.
  • Machine costs were cut based upon increased cutting speeds/feeds, reduction in cutting times, and reduced tool change-out costs.
  • Speed and feed rates nearly tripled, and cutting time was reduced by 60%.
  • Machining capacity increased by 611 hr.
  • Overall cost savings amounted to more than $49,000 on this single application alone.

News about the performance of the WSP-45 milling insert spread quickly throughout the company. Heip Nguyen, a programmer on the shop floor, says the new milling insert will be used for many program applications. "The process has become much simpler, which makes it substantially easier for the machinists on the floor," he says.

Scantlin admits he's excited about the outcome, and proud of the partners who helped make it all happen. "Our main job at Sunbelt is to meet with all tooling manufacturers to determine how we can constantly generate faster delivery lead times, better economies, and faster metal removal rates—all while producing quality parts," Scantlin explains.

"We asked several suppliers to come in and investigate how to increase our output while avoiding cost increases. Walter was the only proactive company who brought us the solution to decrease our lead times. In two years, Walter is the single manufacturer who delivered innovative solutions."

And as far as Scantlin is concerned, it's only the beginning. "With the success of this insert grade, you can be sure we will be looking for more places in the shop to use it. It's been quite an achievement all around."


Presetting Expands Toolroom Capacity

Heinz Kaiser AG (Rümlang, Switzerland), for more than 50 years an international manufacturer of high-precision boring tool systems, has been in the business of developing and producing high-precision modular tooling systems for boring, drilling, milling and tapping applications.

The company has more than 100 employees and a business that has been constantly growing serving its customers in the automotive, aerospace, machine tool, mold and tool, and job shop industries.

Heinz Kaiser enjoys licensing agreements with BIG Daishowa Seiki Co. Ltd. (Osaka, Japan). Under one licensing agreement, Heinz Kaiser manufactures the BIG-PLUS tool holding system. Under another licensing agreement, BIG Daishowa Seiki manufactures Heinz Kaiser's precision boring tools for the Asian market.

With its business growing, Heinz Kaiser's team of engineers and operators began looking for ways to increase the company's toolroom capacity. Knowing the importance of tool-presetting and the impact it has on setup time, the company, which had been presetting its tooling for more than 40 years, began looking for the newest and most accurate technology to complement its existing presetting system.

The evaluation of tool presetting and measuring equipment was spearheaded by Heinz Kaiser's Peter Feller, plant manager, and Thomas Terstiege, production manager. Their objective was to identify and incorporate a system that would work with the company's existing tooling and could easily communicate with its existing Benz TDM tool management software.

The company purchased a tool presetter and measuring system from Speroni S.p.A. (Pavia, Italy). The system selected was a fully-automatic Esperia STP 46 CNC system with ProVision software that promised the level of accuracy and repeatability required to meet critical tolerances, delivered with user-friendly, simple programming software.

"We worked with Heinz Kaiser to deliver a system that would meet their needs and could be integrated into their existing setup," explains Speroni's international product manager, Michael Müller.

The new unit offers both manual and fully-automatic operation. Manual mode allows tool measurements to be made quickly and easily on single tools during prototyping. Automatic mode can be used for all tools that are set up in the database.

Another advantage of the automatic CNC/vision system is that no matter which operator is using the system to measure whichever tool, the results are always the same. This leads to an improvement of tool life and part finish due to the accuracy and consistency of the tool measurement.

On manual units with projectors, focusing is set by the operator, leaving more room for variation and errors. Because the Speroni Esperia STP 46 unit has automatic focusing, the possibility of human error is removed from the measurement process, and repeatability and accuracy are improved.

Heinz Kaiser, Benz TDM, and Speroni supplied the required input for the installation and Speroni and Benz TDM made the necessary adjustments to their systems to integrate the presetter system into the Heinz Kaiser facility.

"Integrating the Speroni software with our system was a shared effort," comments Andy Kolb from Benz TDM. "The software was very accessible for me to program the interface and exchange the data." Similar ventures with other companies usually are more complicated and take much longer, he adds.

The collaboration of the companies helped achieve clear communication between the two systems. Now, tools in the database require no additional definition once they are entered, and they can be measured right after being selected from the tool list. Furthermore, if a more complicated tool contour is defined with the Speroni software, the data are shared with Benz TDM software for future measurements.

The Speroni's high-precision spindle with quick-change adapter allows Heinz Kaiser to switch easily between adapter systems (like ISO, HSK, VDI and Capto). When an operator goes through 100 tools per shift, this feature allows for a quick switch, while maintaining precision and repeatability between adapters. Additionally, because the system can store 999 adapters or zero points, it's simple to add a new one at any time and adjust its zero point to any machine tool on the floor.

The ProVision software allows operators to navigate between screens without losing any data. This flexibility is convenient if, for example, a single tool needs to be preset in the midst of a setup sheet or tool kit.

The click and drag function allows operators to modify existing icons from the database and store them as customized measuring icons. This makes current and future tool crib work much easier, enabling Heinz Kaiser to automate even very complicated tasks.

ProVision's user management feature allows all operators to have access to the system, but with different authorization levels. This allows Heinz Kaiser to provide the necessary access to certain employees, while safeguarding against unauthorized usage.

Since the installation, the new STP 46 with ProVision software has exceeded the Heinz Kaiser team's expectations for the presetting/measuring system. Its integration into the company's manufacturing process has helped speed production, increase accuracy and repeatability, and improve tool life.


This article was first published in the November 2006 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. 

Published Date : 11/1/2006

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