Among the rolling hills between Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, lies the small town of Fredericktown. Founded in 1807, the town retains much of its historical center and rural charm. In fact, the main source of income revenue for its citizens remains the family-owned farm, with some of them being handed down for generations over the past 100 years. Fredericktown managed to stay off the radar until 1994 when auto component supplier to Honda Motor Co., Tanaka Seimitsu Kogyo Co., Ltd., decided to set up shop. The American segment of the company, FT Precision Inc., takes its name from the “F” of Fredericktown, the town in which the company resides, and the “T” from Tanaka, the last name of the company’s founder Giichiro Tanaka, and Precision which is derived from the Japanese word seimitsu, meaning precision.
The 376,500 ft2 (34,978 m2) facility began mass producing rocker arm assemblies for the four and six cylinder engines exclusively for Honda of America in 1996, just two years after its founding. Located just north of Columbus, FTP is within one to two hours of Honda’s engine and assembly plants in central Ohio, making it well-positioned as a Tier One supplier to the automaker’s U.S. production centers. Engineer Matt Kline has worked in the manufacturing operation at FTP for the past eight years. He has seen a lot of growth since then.
When Kline arrived, there were multiple CNC machine lines, die casting machines, and assembly machines on the shop floor. As FTP continued to expand, Kline consulted with management about the equipment he needed to increase component part production. He requested a couple CNC machines for maintenance and prototyping parts, including a Haas TL15 dual-spindle lathe with live tooling, and a Haas VF3 CNC vertical milling machine. In 2016, Kline pursued the idea of producing his own aluminum die casting die components and purchased the first of two Mazak Variaxis i-600 5-axis vertical machining centers. To keep all of his machines running smoothly, he needed a robust CAD/CAM software program that could handle the roughing power and delicate finishing cycles that allow him to customize his production processes.
“I recommended purchasing Mastercam because of its availability and the features I saw at trade shows,” Kline said, referring to the software from CNC Software Inc., Tolland, Conn. He worked with Mastercam Reseller FASTech, Inc., Findlay, Ohio, to get up and running and to learn the different features of the software. Soon, he was able to manufacture replacement die cast parts in-house with a substantial payback and return on investment.
“I am able to produce a lot of the parts I am making at an amazing rate. What used to take us months to get from overseas, I can usually produce within weeks. The software has really improved our production on this,” Kline said.
In the past, die insert manufacturing was outsourced—it took four to six months before shipments arrived and they cost about $2,000 per piece. Kline is making them for nearly one-third of the cost by bringing production in-house. “Having the ability to produce in-house is definitely a game changer,” Kline said. So, how are they doing it?
Kline is the sole CNC programmer and operator of the Mazak machines. He used trial and error to figure out how to best manufacture the die inserts in-house. He began by creating his own fixtures in the software and pushing the machine as hard as it would go. When creating these fixtures, he used Mastercam Simulator to identify any crash or collision points, improving manufacturing capabilities.
In addition to the right fixtures, high speed machining requires a toolholder that can withstand the strong vibration within the machine. Kline favors the REGO-FIX powRgrip tool holder.
“I’ve learned that whenever you insert a tool into the REGO-FIX, the runout is within a couple of microns. If you use a solid, expandable collet or hydraulic endmill holder, the total indicator reading can produce tool run out,” he said. “To produce a correct cavity or insert within Mastercam without the correct tooling to run it, you will have a difficult time holding finish and tolerances.” The die inserts are made from a Japanese matrix tool steel chosen to handle the constant abuse in aluminum die casting.
Kline first produced the die inserts by programing traditional contour milling toolpaths. The FASTech team recommended changing his programming strategy to Dynamic OptiRough toolpaths. The toolpaths make use of the entire flute length of the tool, but only a small percentage of the tool’s diameter on the first cut, followed by several successive shorter cuts that bring the part into the net shape desired.
These toolpaths focus solely on removing the material specified. Like their 2D Dynamic Milling counterparts, OptiRough toolpaths provide constant chip loading due to proprietary algorithms in the software that detect changes in the material before it is cut, allowing the tool to remain constantly engaged with the material, minimizing stepovers and saving the life of the tool.
Kline roughs the part down to within 250 μm by implementing the OptiRest strategy and programming OptiRough toolpaths. The former allows the tool to rough a second time with the same tool automatically, identifying and removing only the material that could not have been removed by the OptiRough toolpath.
“I use my roughing tool for the speed and accuracy to leave minimal stock for the finishing tool. It allows for longer tool life and fewer tool changes,” he explained. When asked about how he determined the shrink and expansion rates for Japanese steel, Kline said he figured them out by trial and error.
“Aluminum die casting is extremely difficult; it’s more than just machining,” Kline said. “FT Precision has spent a lot of time and money in developing this type of precision casting to reduce machining steps.”
Additional finishing processes also took some trial and error. Kline tried different heat treating, nitride, and PVD coating vendors, finally locating one in nearby Indiana with the correct technologies in place to help eliminate some of the extra finishing process at FTP.
Once the fixturing was in place and the programming complete, Kline said he was able to run a one and done complete part—including the finish—on the Mazaks. By programming OptiRough toolpaths, he reduced production time from eight hours per part to 1.5 hours per part. Typically, he can produce six inserts per day.
However, milling inserts, end mills, and drills were failing. Kline reached out to Sandvik Coromant, who helped work through multiple issues including which tools to use, the right feeds and speeds, and depth of cuts. “The biggest accomplishment was roughing with the OptiRough strategy and Sandvik Coromant’s CoroMill Plura HD Endmill,” said Kline. He can turn out about 20 pieces per endmill. This saves tool change time and, according to Kline, that more than pays for the cost of the tool.
FTP’s normal production processes, die cast, machining, and assembly operations typically experience equipment wear and tear and unexpected breakdowns. “If a component breaks, we typically only receive a 2D drawing and will need to create a solid model in the CAM software. By using the CAM software, the design-to-manufacture process is seamless and quick. Turnaround time is roughly two hours and then it goes back onto the manufacturing floor,” said Kline.
A high-precision, ISO-certified environment demands a paper trail of sorts for quality confirmations and inspections. To help ease this process, Kline uses a Mastercam Add-on called Productivity+ for part aligning to gather data for inspection sheets and quality checks. The Add-on gives him the ability to run a Renishaw measuring probe on the machine tool to update fixture offsets, tooling offsets, program orientation, and report on critical dimensions and tolerances. He is able to program and simulate the probe to improve process control and reporting of the machine tool’s performance, as well. Additionally, when Kline confirms the trial parts are ready for mass production, he uses the Add-on to simplify component set up and verification of critical features. He worked closely with FASTech’s Kevin Richardson to learn the measurement Add-on. “Kevin worked with me to get it up and running. It was a challenge at first, but now it’s flawless. It does everything I want it to do.” Kline says the best feature is the ability to pick points for inspection from the solid model.
FTP’s casting group produces nearly 75,000 parts per day, running 24 hours per day, five days per week. Kline emphasized that his challenge to localize the die component manufacturing to the U.S. would not have been possible without the support of his manufacturing suppliers.
Edited by Special Report Editor Bill Koenig from information supplied by Mastercam.
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