Customer Focus Depends On Attitude
Flexible technology holds key to competitiveness
By Jim Lorincz
Contract manufacturers have seen their markets for precision-engineered components change, perhaps as dramatically as at any time in recent memory.
Customer demand for quality is a given and remains the same. What has changed the most are buying patterns of end users in virtually every industry. Their manufacturing is driven by emphasis on lean operations that require just-in-time delivery of components and, increasingly, assemblies.
The new demands are affecting business models throughout the entire supply chain.
For contract manufacturers, the challenge is to have the flexibility to respond with the right amount of product at the right time. If that means taking more than a casual look at the purchasing plans of their customers, then that’s what astute contract manufacturers have to do—on a daily basis.
“All of our customers have computer sites with information about their usage that we look at on a daily basis, not just once a week on Mondays, to make sure that we have enough material and machined components ready to ship when they need them,” explains David R. Knuepfer, president, DuPage Machine Products (Bloomingdale, IL).
“Our manufacturing capability has to be flexible enough to handle production runs that are shorter with setups that are quicker, and still deliver the quality that is expected,” he adds.
Founded in 1969 by Knuepfer’s grandfather, DuPage Machine is a supplier of precision turned parts to the truck (brake and engine components), mobile hydraulics, and power hand tools markets. It numbers among its customers such companies as Eaton, Haldex, Milwaukee Electric Tool, and Parker Hannifin. Annual revenues are about $30 million with about 135 employees.
DuPage Machine is registered to ISO 9001: 2000 Certification and was recertified in 2003.
Knuepfer is the third generation of his family to lead the company. Within the last three years, the company has invested in a new 115,000-ft2 (10,683 m2) facility, in new manufacturing and quality inspection technology, and in the training necessary for his employees to deliver the kind of service it expects to deliver to its customers.
The new facility is climate-controlled throughout with special attention paid to the quality department and the tool room. A newly acquired OGP SmartScope video inspection system has its own special climate-controlled room in the quality department, which itself has climate control. Two Sodick wire EDM machines are housed in an environmentally enclosed room within and separate from the tool room for untended machining of carbide tooling.
A walk through DuPage Machine’s facility involves seeing exactly what one might expect of a job shop that has grown up around technologies that began with Davenports, Wickmans, and New Britains, and then progressed to Euroturn six-spindle and eight-spindle machines that served as workhorses during and through the 1990s.
The newest additions, however, represent the future of the company, and began arriving a year and half ago. They are the Index CNC multispindle machines that Knuepfer believes are positioning the company to respond to the need for quicker changeovers and shorter production runs, especially within families of parts, required to service its customers.
“The greatest strengths of our company are our reputation for quality and the customer-focus and attitude of our employees, but we also need the right technology, and that’s where the Index machines come in,” says Knuepfer.
“Our employees will do what it takes to satisfy the requirements of our customers, even if it means occasionally working a long weekend,” he says. DuPage runs two shifts, 20 hours a day, five days a week, and a six-hour shift on Saturdays.
Putting the right technology in the employees’ hands and training them to use it is the next necessary step. “Our customers order differently and expect delivery according to forecasts that are extremely flexible and manufacturing determined according to lean principles. It puts a lot of pressure on us to fit into their schedules,” Knuepfer says.
Currently, DuPage has two Index CNC multispindle machines, an MS18 and an MS32 model. DuPage will add an MS32P model, which features backworking capability. Machines represent an investment of between $1.5–1.7 million each with tooling costs easily adding another $200,000.
“These machines go far beyond the capabilities of any of our current technology and eliminate the need for secondary operations. We don’t need form tools and can counterbore, turn the ID and OD, cross drill, and offset mill,” says Knuepfer.
The Index CNC multispindles, which are designed for both high volume turned-parts production and economic production of smaller lot sizes, provide the productivity and the economy of multispindle automatics combined with the precision and short setup times of CNC single-spindle automatics.
As with any new technology, DuPage Machine is working its way up the learning curve with the Index machines. “The big thing we have learned is the difference between setup and changeover. The first time you run the part it’s a setup. You’ve got to program it and get it running perfectly, because the next time you run the part you’ll be changing over to the way you were running at the end of the last production run,” he says. “That’s changeover with setup time held to a minimum,” he says.
Training for the Index machines receives the same attention that all training receives at DuPage Machine. The new facility includes a complete training room, which is located on the second floor overlooking the shop floor and adjacent to the lunch room. Both rooms have comfortable views of the outside in the case of the lunch room and of the shop floor from the training area.
Training is done on a continuing basis at DuPage Machine. One of the best examples came in the quality control area and was suggested by one of the company’s customers. It involved training all the company’s machine operators in a charting technique called Target Area Control (TAC) that the customer was using in its honing department.
“The customer not only suggested that we adopt the charting technique but also came in and spent time training all of our machine operators,” says Knuepfer. Target Area Control involves the machine operators in checking parts for two or three key dimensions and recording their findings on a chart that accompanies every part on the shop floor. The chart indicates the frequency of measurements, the measurements, and the upper and lower limits of the tolerance range.
What is truly unique about the TAC charting is that the tolerance band is cut in half. Parts must fall within the 50% tolerance range (a green band). Parts falling in the yellow band are still within tolerance, but action in the form of process adjustment is required if two parts in a row fall within the yellow band.
One part falling in the red band (out of tolerance) requires that all parts in the basket must be segregated and given 100% inspection.
“We have all the necessary measurement devices on the shop floor; micrometers, height gages, comparators, and the like,” says Knuepfer. “We have computer terminals throughout the shop for SPC, and all gages are electronically tied into the system. Dial in a dimension and it automatically goes into the SPC system.”
“Using TAC, the operator can’t just hit a button on the mike and walk away,” Kneupfer explains. “Entering data into the SPC system isn’t as clear to the operator as the TAC charting technique. TAC takes us back to basics. It’s simple and makes it clear to the operator that action has to be taken if the process is outside of half of the tolerance range.”
The quality of parts is only as good as the quality of the tools. About 15 years ago, DuPage Machine put in its own toolroom and produces more than 90% of its own tools for its diverse array of equipment. “We can’t afford to wait even a few days for tools from an outside supplier if a machine is down,” says Knuepfer. “Moreover, we control the quality of our tooling. The better the finish of the tool, the better the part that we will produce.”
The lineup of equipment at DuPage Machine is a challenge to that toolroom. It includes more than 60 multiple spindle 5-6-8-spindle machines with bar capacity to 2 5/8" (66.67 mm), in single-spindle, CNC, and CNC rotary transfer machine configurations. The automatics are equipped with automatic bar loaders and the attachments necessary to complete secondary operations.
Three Hydromat 32/45-16 CNC machines were acquired several years ago to handle some dedicated machining for parts that are used in the value-added assembly service area that DuPage Machine offers.
DuPage’s primary equipment lineup also includes Swiss turning centers, four-axis CNC lathes, honing machines, two bowl-fed broaching machines, and assorted other equipment to keep production going on the shop floor, including centerless grinders.
Six Miyano turning centers can be tended by one operator. In a special case when running one particular part, two operators are needed to handle the six machines for uninterrupted production.
This article was first published in the May 2006 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.