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Toolholder System Empowers Workers, Boosts Productivity

Jim Lorincz
By Jim Lorincz Contributing Editor, SME Media
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Unlike mechanical holders, the Haimer shrink-fit system uses thermal energy to expand holders to clamp the tool in the chuck. Since there are no set screws, collets, nuts, or wearable parts, balance and runout accuracy are highly repeatable.

How do you boost productivity in a highly competitive industry segment while improving the quality of life for your workforce? That’s the story of Skills Inc. (Auburn, WA), a company that is so unique it has two bottom lines—one financial and one social.

Skills Inc. is exceptional within the manufacturing world in that it is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit company that is 100% self-funded through its four lines of business—aerospace manufacturing, aerospace finishing, technical services and business solutions. Despite the intense competition in its industry segment, the company successfully operates in an open market and receives no government subsidies.

Although nearly 60% of its 700 employees have a self-identified disability, Skills Inc. employs and serves a very diverse population of adults and youths across the organization. It provides essential industry, technical and workplace readiness training that is greatly needed but sorely lacking in today’s marketplace. The company has been in business since 1966 and operates three plants in Auburn and Seattle.

When Dan Olson joined Skills Inc. as plant manager of manufacturing in 2012, the company was using a hodge-podge of extended length tools held by milling chucks, collet chucks, and side-lock toolholders. The skilled operators were turning out a quality product, but it was slow, took a lot of effort and produced a lot of chatter and scrapped pieces. Dan knew the only way to get rid of the chatter and pick up some speed was to make a change in toolholders.

One of the reasons Skills Inc. is so successful is its willingness to invest in new technology. In fact, due to its nonprofit status, most of its earnings must be reinvested in the company. So when an opportunity to improve productivity comes along through the use of a superior product, implementation is rapid.

Within two weeks of arriving, Dan had removed the old toolholding systems from 24 machines (a mixture of vertical machining centers and toolroom mills) and standardized the entire manufacturing plant with Haimer’s shrink-fit toolholders and Power Clamp Economic Plus shrink-fit machines.

Having used Haimer shrink-fit toolholding systems for years in a former position,Dan knew firsthand that they were easy to use, allowed for fast tool changes and had excellent balancing capabilities.

After a demonstration in the Haimer product van and the installation of a sample on-site, the operators were more than happy to abandon the collection of side-locks and collets they had been using and switch over to shrink-fit.

The operators soon found out for themselves that the Haimer shrink-fit system was easy to use and had great repeatability. It is the only high-torque toolholder system that is so simple that tools can be changed with one hand. Other mechanical formats take two hands and lots of muscle to tighten the clamping mechanism.

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Dan Olson, plant manager of manufacturing, brought Haimer products to Skills Inc. to reduce chatter and pick up productivity on the line.

Unlike mechanical holders, the shrink-fit system uses heating and cooling cycles that clamp the tool in the holder with incredible rigidity. Since the shrink-fit system is thermal, there is a huge reduction in complexity and the resulting need for muscle and dexterity to achieve a tight fit.

According to Dan, “An operator previously using a side-lock holder had to first grind the Weldon flat on the tool, and then assemble both through a process of touch and feel. Now operators are able to quickly learn the Haimer shrink-fit system and replace the tool exactly the same every time, in just seconds.”

Haimer states that the shrink-fit holders have a precision bore which results in less than 0.00012″ (0.003-mm) runout. Since there are no set screws, collets or nuts, balance is highly repeatable, resulting in increased tool life and surface finish. It has the highest gripping torque of any holder and will shrink both carbide and HSS cutting tools with changes of less than five seconds on average. The tapered design provides the ultimate in rigidity and since there are no moving parts, the toolholder clamps the same way each time.

At Skills Inc. the transformation to the shrink-fit system was fast since the Haimer product was significantly easier to learn and put into operation than previous toolholding systems. Setscrews, torque wrenches for collet chucks, grinding for setscrews and whistle notches and the time-consuming training were all eliminated overnight. Without the complexity and number of steps to be implemented, more employees were able to move into the operator position with great success, which helps to satisfy the social bottom line. This was just the beginning of the benefits Skills Inc. enjoyed with the Haimer products.

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Using the Haimer shrink-fit system, Skills Inc. saw a 30% increase in metal removal rate (MRR) and a decrease in the scrap rate from 7% to less than 3%.

On the financial side, a reduction in tool overhang produced a 30% increase in metal removal rate (MRR). Cutting tools that once had to be replaced after machining one part now lasted for four—4× increase in tool life. More than 1½ hours of benching and manual reworking per part were saved due to the elimination of tool-related chatter. This step alone created approximately $2700 in savings for every 20 parts. Additional savings in time and material was achieved when the scrap rate dropped from 7% to less than 3%.

Not only did the increased reach capabilities remove the chatter, jobs previously done on a four-axis CNC machine were able to be moved to a five-axis, reducing the cycle time from 15 to 2.5 hours and from eight operations to two. The resulting time savings allowed Skills Inc. to eliminate excessive machining and handling at a tremendous cost savings (roughly $38,000 annually on this specific job) and reduce the daily wear on all 24 pieces of equipment.

Despite competing on the open market with no government subsidies, the company has enjoyed double-digit growth for each of the last four years. According to Dan, some of the credit goes to the addition of Haimer products, plus having quality, skilled and adaptable machine operators, who Dan said he would put up against any other shop out there.

For more information from Haimer USA, go to www.haimer-usa.com, or phone 630-833-1500.

Edited by Senior Editor Jim Lorincz.

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