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Shop Solutions: Aerospace Contract Shop Grows with Automation

Triad Tool Co. (Branchburg, NJ) has grown from its roots as a traditional tool and die shop to become an advanced contract manufacturer to the military and commercial aerospace industries. It has forged its niche by adopting the latest horizontal machining center technology and acquiring the automation needed for untended manufacturing. Its most recent automation addition from Fastems LLC (West Chester, OH) involved retrofitting a FPC-750 container system to its Doosan 4000 horizontal machining center with 279-tool ATC. Retrofitting automation of this type is a story in itself, but first let’s go back to the beginning of this fourth-generation family-owned company’s commitment to automation.

“Twenty-five years ago we made a conscious decision to grow the business through advanced technology to capture valuable legacy machining information and transition from vertical machining to horizontal machining centers,” said Eric Wichelhaus, the third-generation president of the company. “A significant portion of this process grew out of the principles of  progressive dies that my grandfather designed and built, which emphasizes single-piece workflow rather than batch processing,” said Wichelhaus.

Third and fourth generations of family leadership at Triad Tool (from left to right): Gordon Hurley, Eric Wichelhaus, Jesse Wichelhaus, Jim Wichelhaus, and Margaret Hurley.

Triad Tool’s core competency is primarily in aircraft components for commercial and military aviation. “Typical parts are complex and prismatically shaped parts which require machining of multiple surfaces. They are demanding to machine and require advanced fixturing, allowing access to the workpiece from various positions and angles, with the intent of minimizing the number of workholding fixtures,” said Wichelhaus.

“Very talented dedicated people at various levels in our shop have allowed Triad to implement continuous advanced technology over the last 30 years. It became clear to me that as productive as the horizontal machines were, we had to develop untended capability/capacity, which would increase the daily/weekly throughput,” said Wichelhaus. Triad Tool’s first acquisition was a KIWA 400-mm pallet pool machine. “We bought our first multipallet machine 10 years ago or so, with the intention of using it not for production, but rather to run multiple jobs simultaneously,” said Wichelhaus.

“We found immediate success in that first machine, so within less than a year we ordered a twin to it. From there we went larger in size and bought a four-axis Okuma 630-mm horizontal machining center with a 210-tool magazine CAT-50 taper. That gave us the ability to run larger parts and/or a higher density package of mixed jobs running simultaneously. The increased work envelope and large tombstones worked out well in expanding our capabilities, as well as exposure to larger hog-outs and castings,” said Wichelhaus.

Shortly thereafter, Triad acquired the assets from a company that was going out of business, one of which was a Mitsui Seiki HU 80, an 800-mm six-pallet pool machine with a 250-tool magazine. “The machine was like new with many advanced options, but had no broken tool detection. The machine was certainly configured to run untended, but without broken tool detection, we would not even consider the thought,” said Wichelhaus. “If the wrong tool fails, we could be looking at a train wreck in the morning.” Triad upgraded the HU80 with a Renishaw laser broken tool detection immediately, just as it had done in configuring all the other stand-alone horizontals with broken tool detection.”

FPC-750 container system with 12 pallets from Fastems LLC (West Chester, OH) was retrofitted to a Doosan 4000 HMC with a 279-tool ATC at Triad Tool.

Most of Triad’s jobs have relatively long cycle times. Triad is basically a one-shift operation, running from 6 am to 4:30 pm. A skeleton crew of three machinists who come in at 3 pm, work until 2 in the morning. “The second shift will run the stand-alone machines supporting hot jobs and don’t have anything to do with the FMCs,” said Wichelhaus.

“We typically achieve 60–100 hours of untended production every night from our six cells, as well as the stand-alone two pallet HMCs, which have the capability to run lights-out,” said Wichelhaus.

“Three years ago, we acquired a Mazak Palletech Variaxis 630 five-axis cell with a 288-tool ATC and (12) 500-mm pallet system. This expanded our technology from pallet pool configurations to a linear FMS. Mixed batches of complicated jobs run on these multipallet machines, which can stress the tool storage capacity. On occasion we have to get creative with tool utilization, even with 288 tools, since we were running so many jobs simultaneously. Within a year of having the Mazak FMC operating, we placed an order to expand the system with a second Variaxis 730. It’s a CAT 50-taper machine, with a 270-tool ATC, and expanded the Palletech system from 12 to 28 pallets.”
The Fastems MMS cell controller is positioned close to the load station and machine tool for easy access to manage a high mix of low-volume products for untended machining at Triad Tool.
By now, it’s apparent that Triad is deeply committed to multiple pallet machines. “Our aerospace customers demand high-volume unit pricing held for multiple years. This becomes a challenge to manage, because of how the aircraft industry wants to trickle out deliveries in small lots,” said Wichelhaus. “Due to the complexity of our parts, running small multiple batches is not cost effective. In utilizing the multipallet machines, we can manage these jobs by producing a controlled amount of parts to meet our customer’s JIT delivery requirements." 

The latest addition to Triad’s automated machining stable is a Doosan 4000 HMC with 279-tool ATC, which was automated by retrofitting a FPC-750 container system (12 pallets) from Fastems LLC (West Chester, OH). Fastems said they would be on our floor for only two-and-a-half days and they were— which included training. The only additional investment was purchasing the pallets from Doosan for the Fastems Container.

“Interfacing the Fastem’s container system with the Doosan has provided us with another high-output, flexible cell which can run around the clock. Our intention is to put another Doosan HMC in line and increase the Fastems system to 24 pallets,” said Wichelhaus.

“Triad’s business model has been based on developing a small select customer base, through which we have grown and strengthened strategic relationships with them. This strategy has been, and continues to be effective; the expansion of our building is underway and adding another machine to the Fastems FPC cell is in the near future,” said Wichelhaus. ME

For more information from Fastems LLC, go to, or phone 513-779-4614.


This article was first published in the January 2014 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.  Click here for PDF

Published Date : 1/1/2014

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