By Michael C. Anderson
As with every other part of the supply chain in 2012, the companies in this pavilion are adapting to ever-higher demands in productivity, reliability, and sustainability in an era of cut-throat competition and a still-uncertain economy.
After the Low-Hanging Fruit is Gone
Mike Hill, VP of PRAB Inc. (Kalamazoo, MI), observes that most companies have already implemented changes in their operations or equipment to capitalize on technology, energy, and speed of manufacturing cost savings that generated short payback and cost reductions: "Today, companies performing machining and stamping operations are still seeking efficiencies, but have already removed waste streams from obvious points in the production process and are now seeking cost savings on a more incremental scale." He cites as an example a load-out shuttle system for stamping scrap that his company recently designed. The automated rotating load-out system, called the Orbital Shuttle, uses bin and level sensors programmed to a PLC coupled with an engineered rotating conveyor. The built-in sensors control the conveyor rotation and the dispersion of material. "The system increased the number of bins filled in a given time frame while also filling each bin more effectively, he says. "This process was evaluated and implemented because it added value to the scrap while also improving operational efficiency."
Consequences of Higher Speeds, Feeds and Tolerances
Jorgensen Conveyors Inc. (Mequon, WI) Co-Principal John D’Amico notes several trends driving change in the effective removal of chip scrap and fines from the coolant in the machining process. "There is more high-speed machining with high pressure," he says, which "demands that the system filters fine particulate to a much higher efficiency. We also see more machines running untended, often times in a 24/7 operating system, driving the need for reliable systems that stay up and running.
"So often in these kinds of high-demand applications today, the conveyor just fails to pass the chips and stringers through to the discharge point and these chips jam up at the lower transition and elevating sections," D’Amico continues. "These hard jams of the conveyor result in costly machine downtime and often take a good amount of manual intervention to resolve." The company’s new MunchMan hinged steel belt conveyor, which will be shown at IMTS, is designed specifically to handle heavy chip loads and large stringy chips and balls of chips generated in milling and turning applications where high workpiece stock removal rates exist.
The consequences of faster machining speeds are also a consideration at Hennig (Machesney Park, IL), maker of custom machine protection and chip/coolant management products for machine tools. Greg Champion notes that "As speeds and feeds of machine tools have increased in recent years, the practice of using an X/Y face shield made from fabric with a tension spring for the recoil is outdated." The company is addressing the need for something better, he notes. "Hennig has developed an X/Y face shield incorporating GS-20, a rigid interlocking aluminum extrusion that in a flat condition can be optimally cleaned with a wiper. The X/Y face shield can handle accelerations of 1.5 g and speeds of 150 m/min."
Along with higher speeds and feeds, demand for higher tolerances is also having an effect on suppliers, says John Easley, group marketing manager for machine-tool spindle maker Fischer Precise USA (Racine, WI). "There is higher demand in our market for spindles that can machine at extremely high tolerances, such as what is seen in medical and aerospace applications, as less demanding work is going overseas." Industries such as medical and aerospace insist on "high-precision machine tool spindles that can operate 24/7 in demanding environments," he says, noting that at IMTS, his company will display spindles that meet these stringent requirements.
From Centralized to Cellular
Another trend to come out of the drive for lean process improvements is the move to the flexibility of decentralized manufacturing cells. In automotive component manufacturing, the historical model for chip processing and fluid filtration was done through a centralized system, explains PRAB Managing Director Tim Hanna: "Large machining areas could span several hundred square feet of plant-floor space and house 20 or more operations. Gantries would move the large parts up and down the various ops stations. The chips and spent coolant also traveled long distances along steel belt conveyors. The destination for the scrap was a central galley where as many as 10 settling systems were housed. The systems would separate large chips from the coolant as an initial part of the recycling process. The galley could also hold as many as 10 vacuum filters, responsible for filtering fine particulate and recycling coolant."
But that was then: "The industry has shifted to cellular manufacturing where chip and fluid processing systems are regionalized within the plant," Hanna notes. "Cellular or ‘mod’ manufacturing localizes the part machining and the chip processing. The conveyors, in-floor trough, pump-back stations and other ancillary equipment needed for chip and fluid processing are reduced in number and size. Processing of chips and fluid are handled more effectively on a smaller scale," resulting in cost reduction and increased revenue streams, he says. His company has developed equipment and systems to meet the demands of this cellular manufacturing process, he says.
Jim Timler, Stoelting (Kiel, WI) Cleaning Equipment Division sales and marketing manager, acknowledges the move to lean, cellular manufacturing; his company’s product lines are designed to be flexible enough to work in a variety of setups. They can be constructed for belt conveyor, monorail, dip-tank and individual workcell applications, he says: "We have incorporated multiple cleaning technologies in a small footprint while meeting tight cleanliness specifications right in the individual workcells."
More Metals, in More Sizes
The size of parts being machined and the range of materials used to make the parts have also been expanding, says Jorgensen Conveyer’s D’Amico. "Technology has enabled machining of hardened workpieces which previously would not have been possible. The machining of exotic materials in equipment, such as titanium and nickel alloys, can present a much more abrasive chip to the conveyor system," he points out. "Also, multitasking machine tools do more cutting on the workpiece in a single setup, thus presenting greater chip volumes to the conveyor system. And growth in oil and energy and larger parts machining and turning will drive the requirement to handle large volumes of large, long stringy chips," he says.
"Companies have already removed waste streams from obvious points in the production process and are now seeking cost savings on a more incremental scale."
In the automotive sector, greater use of aluminum for lightweighting purposes has complicated scrap-handling. "While handling aluminum is nothing new, the difference in today’s manufacturing operations is that the same press is used for multiple materials; steel and aluminum for example," explains PRAB engineering VP Carl Baker. "Scrap handling conveyors thus become more complex with redirections and ranging load variations, yet are required to fit in existing pits or floor space." For these reasons, Baker notes, "partnering with end customers and OEMs early in the project design process is becoming increasingly more important for the customer to get what they need. While we still see detailed specs from customers, the broader majority of project inquiries start with an existing relationship to collaborate on a material handling challenge."
Making it Easier To Be Green
Most companies believe that the move toward more-sustaining systems and processes will not abate any time soon. As D’Amico of Jorgensen Conveyors puts it, "The global ‘green and sustainability’ push will have a continued real impact in the machine tool chip removal and coolant circuit. Energy-efficient systems; clean, oil-free chip scrap; and extended coolant life will continue to grow in importance."
3nine USA Inc. (Catoosa, OK) Director of Sales Cliff Betty concurs. "For many years now, companies within all industries have looked at ways at becoming ‘greener’ in their day-to-day operations. The socio-economic benefits to do so are numerous. Within the metalworking industry there’s been an increasing awareness given to solutions that offer the shop staff a safe and healthier working environment.
"One of the ongoing challenges in the shop environment is the oil mist created by machine tools and a cost-effective way of dealing with it. For the shop staff, the lungs and skin—including nose and eyes—are the organs of first contact for most environmental exposures," Betty notes. The company’s air-purifying Green Line oil mist separators will be shown at IMTS 2012. ME
This article was first published in the August 2012 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.