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ME Channels / Machines & Automation

Soft Support for Manufacturers


Service, parts, training head the list


By Jim Lorincz
Senior Editor 


The manufacturing landscape may have changed dramatically with jobs lost and the skilled labor force shrunken, but the demands of manufacturers have not changed. When they invest in new machines, they still want the kind of support that gets machines up and running, and keeps them running.

Soft support takes many forms, though service, parts, and training head any list. A more comprehensive listing is suggested by the offerings of Maintenance Technologies (Hebron, KY), a business unit of MAG Industrial Automation Systems. It covers just about any combination of capabilities likely to be offered by machine-tool suppliers to support their customers. It includes:

  • Predictive, preventive, routine, and emergency maintenance,
  • Machine monitoring and process optimization software,
  • Maintenance and productivity training,
  • Parts for more than 50 machine tool brands, and
  • Rebuilds, retrofits, and remanufacturing.

"Our mission is to deliver services and technologies that both minimize the customer's total cost of ownership of the machine tool throughout the entire life cycle and provide solutions for optimizing production availability and utilization," explains Bill Horwarth, Maintenance Technologies' president.

To support machine tool users, Maintenance Technologies has moved into a 50,000 ft2 (4645-m2) facility in Hebron and migrated all of its inventory of parts into one central hub location. It provides single-source service and support for all of the 11 brands currently offered by MAG Industrial Automation Systems, plus more than 39 legacy brands, and is adding more all the time.

MAG IAS brand names are familiar in every facet of manufacturing, including aerospace, automotive, agriculture, construction, power generation, mining, energy, through the tiers all the way to job shops. They include Cincinnati Machine, Giddings & Lewis, Cincinnati Automation & Test, Cross Hüller, Ex-Cell-O, Lamb, Hüller Hille, Hessapp, Witzig & Frank, Turmatic Systems, and Fadal Machining Centers.

"We have built up a portfolio of products and services that help reduce the total cost of ownership. Our customers don't have to have the people and capital equipment and tools on-site to perform these services for themselves," Horwarth says. "Some of our services such as preventive maintenance, extend beyond the MAG IAS brands, and that's an area where manufacturers are more likely to outsource their maintenance requirements."

Maintenance Technologies is drawing from a broad base of manufacturers that use the brands of MAG IAS. "The expertise of our services engineers ranges from dealing with the complexity of a composite tape layer or fiber placement machine through multitasking and five-axis machining centers to three-axis VMCs and two-axis lathes," says Horwarth.

Mazak Corp. (Florence, KY) points to the requirements of a changed manufacturing landscape. Customer demands for discounts and improved delivery times continue to increase as the option of relocating manufacturing to low-wage locations intensifies competition. The means of production are changing as well, with the appearance of more automation, robotics, multitasking machine tools and requirements for production to interface with the Internet, CAD/CAM, and other enterprise software.

Machine-tool reliability and support are more critical to manufacturers than ever before to keep operations running and to maximize their investment in advanced technology.

To support production goals of its customers, Mazak is making investments in increased spare-parts supply and shipping efficiency. It has increased capacity for rebuilding essential components, including spindles and headstocks; improved customer training programs; and expanded its network of regional technology centers throughout North America.

Mazak maintains a central inventory of more than $48 million in spare parts and more than 43,000 part numbers in its newly updated National Parts Center in Florence, KY. "This investment expands our parts capacity by 40% while maintaining our 24-hour shipping performance at 97% or higher," says Brian Papke, Mazak president.

An AS/RS system coupled with a palletized automatic picking system for larger components is at the center of the investment. Critical parts such as ballscrews, motors, rebuilt spindles, and linear guides are all stocked as well as smaller items.

Customers can use the Internet in addition to e-mail, fax, or toll-free call center to place their orders. Twelve full-time parts specialists are managing an average 15,000 calls monthly at Mazak's 24-hour call center. Once orders are entered into the database, they are retrieved at the AS/RS, which delivers the correct part tray and a resident computer monitor guides the stock picker to the right component.

Mazak also supports its customers with a spindle exchange program to minimize customer downtime. Spindles are reconditioned to original specifications at its repair and test facility in Florence. The program has been expanded to include index tables, ATC shifters, and milling turrets.

"It is necessary to get more deeply involved with customers and not merely sell machines, but truly develop solutions for customers from an engineering, applications, and service focus," says Papke. "Drawing from our manufacturing experience, Mazak must help our customers integrate more productive equipment to their operations so they too can be competitive and profitable manufacturing in the US," Papke says.

Mazak's customers can receive hands-on training at its National Technology Center in Florence or at any of its seven regional technology centers. An eighth tech center is scheduled to open in Toronto to serve Canadian manufacturers.

To achieve a high rate of same-day repair of a customer's machine, Haas Automation Inc. (Oxnard, CA) depends on keeping its HFO dealer network fully stocked with the right mix of parts, and staffed by an adequate number of service engineers. John Roth, director of customer service, explains that factory analysis of machine reliability and distributor spare parts inventory is an essential ingredient in determining distributor parts inventory levels.

"We study our customers' needs and machine performance on several fronts, including bringing all of our warranty parts back into the factory for analysis," Roth says. "On the service side, we look at every machine repair in the first 90 days. Everyone at Haas with an e-mail address gets the results.

In addition, we break down all part failures into categories of parts, rather than simply part numbers, and look at them during several different time intervals—weekly, monthly, or annually—to get a better picture of what's happening and why." The results provide Haas with information that affects everything from parts design to manufacturing and assembly. Equally important, the information helps Haas make sure that its dealers have the correct, latest specification, spare parts on hand.

Roth cites coolant pumps as a good example. "There are 20 or so different coolant-pump assemblies numbers using the same pump motor. When we studied failures as a category, we found that the start contactor was breaking a lot. Categorizing all coolant system failures together helped make this particular problem with the coolant pump motor stand out. The problem was easily fixed once it was identified.

"Recently, we have started looking at historical trends more closely. It's a process, not a task," says Roth. "We are looking more closely at the composition of the parts stock. We want the HFOs to have the right parts in stock, not just a large inventory of parts, because the machine composition is changing pretty radically with new products being introduced all the time. We introduce about 10% new products every year. We do a pretty good job of using common parts in those products, but there are a lot of non-common parts, too. We try to stay ahead of that."

Historically, Haas has put a lot of parts in the field. Haas stocks millions of dollars worth of spare parts at its HFOs globally. "There is a great deal of trust between us [Haas] and the distributor. If the distributor says it's a warranty item, we honor it—period," Roth says.

"We own a lot of machine tools here in our own manufacturing facility, and I've seen it work differently with other builders. Globally we are unique. Whatever happens in Charlotte or Shanghai, the failure analysis process is the same," says Roth. "And everyone who owns, or will own, Haas products benefits."

Agie Charmilles Corp.(Lincolnshire, IL) has merged its sales and service departments of Agie, Charmilles, and Mikron HSM in North America effective November 1. The single sales channel will enable the company to streamline service and application support, achieving higher levels of performance.

The company will cross-train more than 100 service engineers in more than 30 states across North America allowing more customers to benefit from local service. All three brands will be represented at its seven demo centers across the country.

The new sales-service channel configuration follows the former pattern of Charmilles' successful integration of service for Charmilles EDMs and Mikron HSMs. "We decentralize our service departments in five regions where we have regional service managers to take responsibility for their customers," explains Gisbert Ledvon. "When it comes to customers needing help, we can troubleshoot over the phone and schedule service through our central services group here. We can see who is closest to the customer so the customer can get somebody very quickly."

Typical problems that Charmilles customers encounter are addressed on its website with FAQs (frequently asked questions) that cover a wide range of commonly asked questions about topics like wire breakage, absence of minimum flushing, and power contacts that wear out.

All newer Charmilles EDMs have parts information directly on the machine in the control with the part number to call up. For older Charmilles EDMs, parts information is available on line or on a parts CD with 4000 parts described with part number and a photograph. Customers can send an order directly through the website to the service department.

To emphasize its focus on customer service, Hardinge Inc. (Elmira, NY) has established its Customer Support Services as a business group, explains Gene Monks, customer support services manager. The group is staffed with its own order-entry people, planners, technical support on the phone, field service personnel, a totally separate stock room of parts, and its own machine shop.

"We break up our business into pre-shipment and post-shipment groups. Once the machine has left the dock, it becomes the support group's responsibility. We don't care what the problem is. All the customer has to do is call our 800 number and we'll deliver the necessary support, parts, training, or programming. Whatever it takes," says Monks.

"Think about the challenge to a company that has been around for almost 120 years," says Monks. "Every day, every week, we ship parts for machines that haven't been in production for years. We aren't measuring ourselves against current products only. We measure our performance against our ability to deliver parts for all of the machines, some of which haven't been in production for a long time. That's where our machine shop comes in. We can grab a print, take it down to the machine shop, produce it, and ship it out for a rebuild or for a machine that is down."

Bringing the Bridgeport machines, parts and service, on board has progressed to the point where service for each brand, Bridgeport and Hardinge, is totally integrated. That is no mean feat, either, as there are some 300,000 Bridgeport machines in the field and another 200,000 plus Hardinge machines. Services support is also provided by Hardinge for its Kellenberger, Tripet, and Tschudin brand grinding machines installed in North America.

Hardinge is proactive when it comes to measuring the reliability and performance of its machines once they are installed. "After we install a machine, we track every service call made on the machine, by category, courtesy call, down time call. Each week we pull records on activity of machines for the prior week and analyze performance. Once down time on a machine is identified, a service alert is sent to a reliability committee of sales, engineering, and manufacturing people who meet for the sole purpose of reviewing service alerts."

The service alert system is closed loop. "Once a resolution of the problem is determined, information about it is sent back through the system to the initiator. Often the customer may have already resolved the problem, but they are always appreciative of our follow up. All updated closed service alerts are sent out to service technicians in the field," Monks concludes.


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

Published Date : 12/1/2006

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