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Shop Solutions -- Making the Grade: New Solutions Make Precision Products More Competitive


Bruce Palmer of Precision Products tasked one of his suppliers with finding new solutions to help make him more competitive. They passed the test with flying colors, and introduced him to an entirely new insert grade.

Precision Products Inc. had a reputation to uphold. Known for machining a wide variety of quality components in a very efficient manner, the company is successful because it never rests on its laurels. Management continuously searches for new ways to optimize their processes, fine-tune their operation and stay on top of current trends. But after purchasing a new machine and earning a contract for components machined in stainless steel, owner and engineer Bruce Palmer was no longer in his comfort zone and needed external support. He challenged Sandvik Coromant to find ways to help them reduce inventory, improve productivity and lower costs. Solutions included switching their indexable inserts to grade GC4325 for extended tool life and incorporating quick-change tooling and Coromant Capto toolholding systems into their operation. But it was the partnership and support from Sandvik Coromant’s Aaron Fitzgerald that helped Precision Products enter new areas of expertise so that they could maintain the reputation they worked so hard to achieve.

A machine tool and die shop now celebrating its 40th year in business, Precision Products specializes in military and defense components, industrial maintenance, automotive tooling, consumer packaging   automation tooling and contract machining. The facility, located in Greenwood, IN, is a 50,000 ft2 (4645 m2) with 16 lathes covering a wide range of complexity and size. A combined nine vertical milling centers (VMCs) and horizontal milling centers (HMCs), mostly DMG MORI and Samsung, plus a Brother five-axis machine are also housed at this location. One large HMC, a Kuraki, has a 3-m travel and can hold 20,000 pounds (9072 kg) on the table. Because of this machine, Precision Products is well-known as a shop that can handle larger components. The company also has a variety of EDM types, grinders, and a hard milling machine. Most machines are running Solidworks, MasterCAM and Delcam programming.

The new GC 4325 insert grade is loaded into Coromant Capto High Pressure (HP) Cutting Units. Note the dual-station Y-axis static unit.

“Our biggest selling point is quality,” Palmer says. “We’re not the cheapest shop in the area; all of our customers know that, but if a part isn’t right, we’ll make it right. Repeatable, sustained quality is our ultimate goal. We hang our hat on that, and remain as competitive as we can by improving the processes and taking time and other costs out—we’ve had customers for 30 years or more based on that model.”

Precision Products rarely produces single parts at ultra-high volume, so part specifications are constantly changing. Frequent new challenges are prone to have more than one solution and path to a finished, high-quality component. Palmer enjoys finding the shortest distance between the material entering the shop and the finished components leaving it, while minimizing labor and tooling expenses.

Although Precision Products has a very knowledgeable staff and network of engineers, Palmer is also a firm believer of staying on the cutting edge and seeing what else is out there. Palmer uses events like IMTS to approach tooling suppliers, machine builders, shop owners and others that can specifically help him optimize his process and improve his business.

“I try to bypass sales—I look for a guy who can discuss the tough engineering questions,” Palmer says. “There are a lot of good tooling companies out there, and the tooling landscape is competitive because they all keep one-upping each other and making better tools. I can get great tools anywhere, but what good are the best tools if you can’t make them work for you? That’s why when it comes to tooling, I have three S’s in mind: support, support and support.”

New Machine Brings New ChallengesDrew Fites, operator, Precision Products, loading Coromant Capto cutting units with 4325 grade carbide into a Mori Seiki NL 3000 lathe.

After taking the plunge on a new DMG MORI lathe, Palmer found himself in that common CNC situation of having a “Cadillac” of a machine, but with mostly older, stick tooling. He knew he wanted to use quick change tooling, but relied on the experts to determine the best way to optimize the process. His local supplier, ER Industrial, introduced Palmer to Aaron Fitzgerald, productivity engineer at Sandvik Coromant.

One of the first tasks on the new lathe was to machine a stainless steel sensor adaptor destined for the petrochemical industry. It had a large thread, used in chemical refining, and the component securely fit intermittent gaging sensors to the piping.

“I told Aaron, ‘Here’s the part, here’s a print, I’m not telling you what I’m currently doing, but tell me what you think you can accomplish,’” Palmer says. “I needed to improve speed, feed and cycle time on this material and still arrive at a product of a certain quality.”

Fitzgerald methodically analyzed the processes, which led to applying stainless steel grades and ISO S HRSA grades to reduce cycle times. Fitzgerald suggested they employ Coromant Capto toolholders to add rigidity and lessen the chance for any play which could lower the quality of the finish. Coromant Capto also allowed them to use their limited turret positions more efficiently and effectively with less tooling to reduce their inventory. To start, speeds were around 500 sfm (152.4 m) and Fitzgerald was able to increase that figure to about 800 sfm (244 m/min). This increased tool life by 30% with the use of high pressure (HP) coolant with HP Coromant Capto cutting heads.

“He said that if I were to decide to jump on board, he would be here to help implement and do any necessary tweaking,” Palmer said. “He said, ‘Call me when the tooling is in, and if you don’t like it, I’ll take the tooling back,’ so I took him up on it. When he delivered results that reduced the cycle time by 50%, needless to say, the tools weren’t going back. We hadn’t experienced a guy who said it would work, followed up with it and made it work. We were like-minded problem solvers, and I was impressed.”

Palmer next wanted to improve the process for a three-dimensional forging die in H13. This required contour milling and turning on a single machine, so he threw Sandvik Coromant another problem to solve.  Fitzgerald was again up to the challenge and suggested that by switching to the Coromant Capto-driven CoroChuck™ 930, Palmer would be able to machine the complete, contour-milled part on a lathe in one setup, including milling and drilling, saving him a considerable amount of time. In addition to the CoroChuck 930, Fitzgerald suggested the new GC4325 grade inserts for P25 steel, the toughest turning grade inserts on the market to date.

This timing was perfect for the new insert grade, as Precision Products was just awarded a new contract for stainless steel parts. To test the GC4325, Palmer decided to submit all of his P25 processes to a 4-week audit knowing that A2, D3 and M3, and other high-alloyed steels for automotive die components are difficult to machine. The results amazed Palmer. Not only did Fitzgerald’s H13 steel feed-and-speed results increase to 700 sfm (213.4 m/min), representing a 20% increase in surface footage over their current solution, the tool life was extended to between two and five times the length of the incumbent tooling from another company.

Aaron Fitzgerald, productivity engineer, Sandvik Coromant, explains the merits of the Coromant Capto coupling, namely rigidity and reduced setup time, to Bruce Palmer, owner, Precision Products.

The change to GC4325 for this steel turning operation also reduced downtime and operator interference in the machining process. Palmer and Fitzgerald also analyzed tool-change time in the shop and discovered that about 10 minutes of production time was lost for each insert change—the longer lasting insert quickly recouped much of that time.  And as a result, Precision Products now uses GC4325 carbide inserts from Sandvik Coromant for every P25 turning operation.

“At this point it’s becoming fun, because I’m here challenging Aaron to do it again, improve another process for us,” Palmer says. “I need to take my toughest marginal projects and make them work better so we get a better return. Every challenge that I’ve thrown his way, he’s nailed it.”

The greatest value Palmer sees in using GC4325 is the ability to greatly improve margin on a job for which he has already provided specifics and a quote. Given what he now knows about Fitzgerald’s problem solving and number crunching abilities, Palmer invites him to help quote all of his new business so he can become more competitive on price and hopefully win more contracts.

“That’s a great value because everyone gets tunnel vision once in a while and it’s easy to get into a rut. I go to IMTS and try to stay on top of things, but you need a fresh perspective,” Palmer says. “He is teaching my guys and I’m able to quote more competitively. It’s a great partnership, based on Aaron being able to solve problems and find solutions, like the new grade and more.”

Precision Products has carefully crafted its image as a quality component producer for four decades. In order to protect the shop’s reputation while addressing new, difficult materials and challenges, Palmer enlisted his partners at Sandvik Coromant to help breathe some fresh, competitive life into the shop. And through reducing inventory, adding new efficiencies, and upgrading their carbide all around, Fitzgerald and Palmer were able to work together to achieve just that. ME

Published Date : 7/9/2014

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