All shops, large and small alike, are fascinating and have lessons to teach (and learn). Perhaps the most fascinating are the shops transitioning to new projects and therefore new business. Paraphrasing Albert Einstein, who said “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them,” shops in the position to add new capabilities and master them are creating improved platforms that open new doors to previously unavailable growth opportunities.
M-1 Tool Works Inc. is one such shop. Located in McHenry, Illinois, northwest of Chicago, the shop was started by race car driver Martin Ryba in 1984 to produce racing parts and components. The shop built a reputation for high-quality, high-precision parts built on multi-axis milling and turning equipment but was not set up to be a high-volume production operation. “We’re now at 50 machines with about 40 employees located in two buildings, but I would say 80 percent of our business consists of orders for 10 parts or less,” said Rusty Thielsen, M-1 project manager.
As M-1 slowly expanded, it started getting the attention of aerospace contractors. One was Northrup Grumman Corp.
In early 2003, Northrop Grumman’s Integrated Systems sector and M-1 Tool Works signed an agreement to work together under a mentoring arrangement. M-1 Tool Works’ then-current projects were primarily for commercial markets, but the company was a subcontractor to Hamilton Sundstrand, a Northrop Grumman supplier for the U.S. Navy’s F/A-18 Super Hornet strike fighter. Northrop Grumman is principal subcontractor to Boeing on the F/A-18 program.
“This mentoring program gives Northrop Grumman an opportunity to share our expertise with a small supplier who will use the knowledge to develop an infrastructure compatible with providing high-quality products for national defense,” said Thomas E. Vice, sector vice president of operations for Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems. “M-1 Tool Works is highly capable and has the potential to become a valued member of the Northrop Grumman supplier team.”
Under the agreement, M-1 began acquiring the equipment and expertise to meet DoD specs for producing complex aerospace and defense components and assemblies. Part of those requirements meant having network and cybersecurity protocols compliant with FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulation), DFARS (Defense Acquisition Regulations System) and NIST SP 800-171, governing controlled unclassified information. With 14 seats of Mastercam CAD/CAM software, M-1 machinists program their own parts at their own machines. What was desired was the capability to send programs to any machine in M-1’s two buildings. “At a time when programs were getting larger and more complex, this meant downloading programs onto flash drives and hand-delivering them to the machines available to work on them,” Thielsen explained.
Looking to improve, M-1 became aware of Cimco, a CNC communication and networking software supplier with world headquarters in Copenhagen and Midwest U.S. headquarters in Elgin, Illinois. Providing CNC editors, manufacturing data collection, and manufacturing data management software, Cimco also provides DNC MAX networking software, which M-1 installed through local Cimco distributor ShopWare Inc., also based in Elgin.
“M-1 was in the sweet spot for benefiting from a DNC (distributed numerical control) software system,” said Ryan Mermall, senior applications engineer and service coordinator at ShopWare. “The ideal target would be any customer with CNC machines that needs to find a solution on how to transfer programs to the machine while having a system to back up and organize them. Cimco supports customers that have 1-4,000 machines.”
Typically, customers can automate the way programs are transferred to CNC equipment, Mermall explained. In addition, users have tighter control of program revisions and user permissions on who can do what with the main program in the software. Other features include dynamic feed rate and spindle speed adjustment, parameter offsets, and advanced logging and backup/versioning.
Set up as a client-server solution, DNC-MAX Server handles all communication and calculations capabilities. It can be run as an application or as a service in the background per customer preference. The DNC-MAX Client is the PC interface for managing local or remote file transfers, monitoring machine ports, and performing network configuration and administration of multiple servers from a single point.
“Now our programmers can write programs and get them to any machine in both of our buildings and manage them from a central server,” Thielsen said. “Programs get into the machines faster and the programs themselves are much more reliable. It makes us a better and much more efficient shop.”
Every time M-1 adds new equipment, the company adds it to its Cimco network. Cimco supports numerous controls including FANUC, Haas, Mazak, Fagor, and more. Combined with RS-232 communications hardware (“Moxa boxes”), M-1 has hooked up its legacy equipment to Cimco as well. “We are managing larger and more complex programs much faster and more efficiently,” Thielsen said. “Any program changes or adjustments sent back to DNC-MAX can be automatically raised in version or stored in a quarantine area. This keeps a much tighter lid on tracking changes or reverting to previous versions if necessary. Our internal non-conformance is much lower as a result.”
Tighter process control has helped drive M-1 Tool Works’ capabilities in aerospace and defense, and the company has been recognized for advanced energy work as well.
For example, M-1 is part of the team supplying components and assemblies for the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) project at the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL). M-1 machined components are used on the focusing operation on the light beams that create ultra-bright, ultra-short X-ray pulses from a high-energy electron beam. These X-ray pulses are a billion times brighter than the most powerful known light source and are used to capture images of molecules and detail their actions within an atomic structure.
Machining of the metals involved five-axis milling, drilling, amd wire and sinker EDMing. The tight tolerances, all in the range of 0.0005″ (0.0127 mm) or less, were validated in the M-1 quality department using CMMs and other metrology devices. CAD files were supplied to M-1 by the designers at ANL. Particularly difficult machining operations required precise matching and line-up of milled, wire EDMed and sinker EDMed features.
According to M-1, it is one of the few shops that had the machinery, people, expertise and experience to do this job to the required specifications. Improved network proficiency and CNC program control contributed to M-1’s entire LCLS work project being produced in just three months, much faster than the normal timeline for such projects, according to the company. In comments made during a recognition presentation, ANL scientists noted the entire system was aligned and successfully fired on just the second effort, thanks to the high quality of M-1’s machined parts.
With an in-house client-server network for its equipment, all M-1 CNC programs are in a database that never leaves the company’s two buildings. G-code, dynamic toolpaths, and management software are more secure as a result, making M-1 FAR, DFARS and NIST SP 800-171 compliant.
From its origins as a race shop to its current standing as an aerospace/defense and advanced energy supplier, M-1 shows that improved networking can make a small shop the equal of larger competitors.
For more information from Cimco Americas LLC, go to www.cimco.com or phone 704 644 3587. For more information from M-1 Tool Works Inc., go to www.m1toolworks.com or phone (815) 344-1275. For more information from ShopWare Inc., go to www.shopwareinc.com or phone 888-222-7126.