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New Automation, Machines Revive Manufacturer

 

Linear pallet pool expands Senga's production portfolio



By Jim Lorincz
Senior Editor


In 2005 connector manufacturing wasn’t what it had been. In a flurry of outsourcing, US shops were steadily losing business to China and India, and economy-wide financial turbulence lay just around the corner.

Rather than wallow in the impending doom and gloom, Senga Engineering (Santa Ana, CA) had another plan. Senga is a veteran-owned small business that is ISO 9001:2008, AS9100C, and ITAR certified. It began looking for a shift in strategy that it hoped would ensure success for years to come. Taking a proactive approach to its future viability, the company held focus groups with representatives of major machine tool builders and distributors to determine its next move.

"We asked them all where they saw US manufacturing going and what markets would be strong in the next several years," said Mike Irion, business development manager at Senga. "Everyone mentioned aftermarket automotive, aerospace and medical. Medical, in particular, we found was on a steady upward climb. You don’t see the dips you see in other industries."
New market opportunities were opened to Senga Engineering for medical and aerospace manufacturing, as well as smaller run machining.
In the years since, Senga has made a concerted effort to expand into medical-device and aerospace manufacturing while significantly downsizing its focus on connector production. "When I started in 2000, about 90% of our business was in connectors," Irion said. "That’s gone down to about 45%, with 30% being medical and the remainder in aerospace and aftermarket automotive."

In the years since, Senga has made a concerted effort to expand into medical-device and aerospace manufacturing while significantly downsizing its focus on connector production. "When I started in 2000, about 90% of our business was in connectors," Irion said. "That’s gone down to about 45%, with 30% being medical and the remainder in aerospace and aftermarket automotive."

But change didn’t happen overnight, and it required a serious investment in advanced machining technologies.

  

 

Tighter Tolerances, Better Machines


Having purchased its first Mori Seiki machine in 2000—a SV500 VMC—Senga had confidence in and familiarity with the brand’s quality and capabilities.

"Mori Seiki machines were ideal for the markets we began to address—medical and aerospace—and we needed them for the tolerances we were holding," said Irion. "The SV500 was a good machine, and we knew the others would be as well."

Between 2005 and 2009, Senga installed four NH4000 HMCs and one NMV5000 DCG universal milling machine for five-sided/five-axis machining. The operators welcomed them with open arms.

"I like the Mori Seiki machines the best," said Trung Lee, who runs the mill department at Senga. "The control is very easy to use—even for those who aren’t as familiar with it."

The precision of the NH4000 machines is something that Senga couldn’t do without.

"The machines themselves are top-notch, so as long as we have good setup guys, we can get the machine to do what we need it to do," said Irion. "They’re capable of holding the tolerances that we’re looking at."

A rigorous examination process further ensures quality, starting with a first-article inspection on every setup at Senga. An in-process inspection qualifies every fifth or tenth part, for example, followed by a final inspection. Frequency of the part inspections is determined based on the size of the run.

"If one part isn’t up to par, we have to do a 100% inspection on the entire lot," said Irion. "It can take a long time. The repeatability of the machines helps ensure that we don’t have to do this as often."

 

Automation Is the Answer

Despite the reliability of the new machines, management saw an opportunity to take things up a notch in 2011.

In an effort to reduce setup and inspection time and ensure the highest possible level of machining accuracy, Senga brought in a 24-pallet Mori Seiki Linear Pallet Pool (LPP) system. The LPP is connected to two of the shop’s NH4000 machines, each of which is equipped with a 280-station toolchanger. The combination created what the company calls "a productivity powerhouse" that allows machinists to store multiple setups for faster, more efficient production.Mori Seiki’s NMV 5000 DCG (right foreground) universal milling machine provides precision capability for five-sided/five-axis machining 

Such a powerful system required some training, so Senga representatives visited Mori Seiki’s Digital Technology Laboratory (DTL) twice to get the guidance they needed to make the most of it.

"The service we get from Ellison Technologies is great, but they were a little new to the system as well, so I went to DTL to get help with some of my more technical questions, and that was very helpful," said Lee.

"The advantage of the LPP is that when you set up a part, you can store the setup, and the next time you run, just call it back," said Irion. "Or you can run multiple setups at the same time. The more we run repeat jobs, the more time we save with the LPP."

Irion cited a recent example of a program that required one 60-part monthly shipment—each containing six different part numbers. "We’ve had this program for about four months now, and each part setup takes about nine hours," said Irion. "With the six part numbers, that’s 54 hours of setup each month. In other words, we would have spent 216 hours in setup over the four months without the LPP. With the automation, we only set up each part once, no matter how many times the part repeats over the months or years.

"This example doesn’t count the time saved on inspection, Irion said. "We might spend a couple of hours on a first-article inspection, for example. With the LPP, we only have to do that once—the first time we set up the part. Because the setups and tools stay the same in the system, we know nothing has changed," Irion said.

Senga’s NMV5000 DCG universal milling machine is credited with being another major time saver. The machine’s five-axis capabilities have allowed machinists to consolidate processes, so what might have taken three operations and three time-consuming setups and first-article inspections now takes only one.

In addition to the productivity enhancements, eliminating setups with the LPP and NMV5000 DCG has done wonders for precision. Operator error has been reduced and the inevitable micron-level inaccuracies that result from manual setup changes have been eliminated.

"Many of the sensor parts we’re making go into surgical equipment. You can’t have any ‘oops’ factors when you’re performing surgery," said Irion. "So that’s the idea of automating the mill department. Our goal is to automate as much as possible, using what we feel is one of the finest machine tools on the market."

 

Just-In-Time Works for Small Runs

Another benefit of the LPP is the flexibility that it has given Senga to take on smaller runs. Historically a production shop, Senga has now successfully ventured into the uncharted territory of smaller lot sizes. "We’re still a production shop, but with the machines and the LPP, it’s feasible for us to take on really stringent, low-volume aerospace work," said Irion. "We’re used to doing 900 parts—these jobs might be as little as nine."Smaller runs make more financial sense for Senga now because of the installation of the LPP, but Irion said that it required a change in mentality. "As long as we bid jobs properly we can make money. If we’re going to address some of these programs, we have to expect that the volumes may not be there. And maybe it’s a matter of setting up a prototype or smaller-run cell," said Irion.

 Eliminating setups with the LPP and the NMV5000 DCG has reduced the chance for operator error and eliminated the inevitable micron-level inaccuracies that result from manual setup changes.Irion knows all too well that in the medical and aerospace industries prototypes are expected and nothing is guaranteed. "Obviously, we try to focus on parts that are going to repeat, but, sometimes, to compete we have to run the early stages of a program that may not get FDA approval," Irion said. "We take that with a grain of salt, try to qualify and hope that it does repeat. We understand that going in."

FDA approval or not, Senga has impressed new customers enough to get a foot in the door for the platforms that do progress. Since the installation of the LPP, on-time deliveries are the norm rather than the exception.

"Before the LPP system, if we got a 1000-piece run and the customer wanted 100 parts a month, we’d have to run at least half the lot at the beginning in order to make the most of our setup," said Irion. "Then, typically, we would miss the first delivery. Now, when we get a job like this, we set it up, run the first shipment and then store it. We can recall it in a timely manner so we’re able to address multiple part numbers on a monthly basis. I think with the LPP we’ve been 100% early."

 Today, Senga’s push toward improved operations continues, and Irion and his team appreciate the role Mori Seiki equipment plays in that endeavor. "By going with Mori Seiki, we’re hoping to bring an advantage to our customers. because we think it’s the best," said Irion. "Quality has to be the utmost. Our customers expect that, and they deserve that."

Expansion is also a definite possibility with Senga acquiring another machine and growing the LPP to 36 pallets. One candidate machine would be the NHX4000 HMC manufactured in the new Mori Seiki factory in nearby Davis, CA (see sidebar).

In the meantime, Senga’s spindles rarely stop. "We run lights out with the LPP for most of the night about 21 hours each day. It has allowed us to grow without adding additional labor. And that’s the goal—to run while you’re sleeping, right?" Irion said. ME

For information from DMG / Mori Seiki, go to www.dmgmoriseikiusa.com, or phone 847-593-5400, from Senga Engineering, go to www.senga-eng.com, or phone 877-878-8159.

 


This article was first published in the December 2012 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.  Click here for PDF

 


Published Date : 12/1/2012

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