Some good ideas are meant to last; some just keep getting better. So it is with the Kates Flow Rate Controller invented in 1957 by Chicago toolmaker Willard Kates. Since then, his original design has enjoyed continual improvement. It is now found in everything from the robotic spray lines used to paint the family car to fluid blending and batching systems, high-pressure hydrogen gas facilities, semiconductor processing equipment, and English muffin-making machinery.
In 1984 Kates sold his valve design and manufacturing company to Frank Taube II, who later moved the operation to its current home in Madison Heights, Mich. Today, the business is owned by son John Taube, vice president, and his wife Susan, president and CEO, who changed the name to Custom Valve Concepts (CVC) in 2005.
While the Kates Flow Control Valve remains a “core product” at this 80-year-old manufacturing firm, CVC and its team of 40-plus machinists, engineers, and support staff provide a range of services, including industrial design and precision machining. The company also is embracing advanced production and software tools to ensure future success.
Manufacturing technology manager Vitaliy Tsisyk, a key member of the CVC team, is quite proud of the self-adjusting Kates valve’s long and successful history. “It’s a unique product,” he noted. “We design them, we manufacture and test them, and we ship them all over the world for use in countless applications. And they work.” Laughing, he added: “We’ve had customers send us units they bought more than 30 years ago, and when we ask them what’s wrong, the answer is: ‘Nothing, we just figured it’s time for some maintenance.’”
Tsisyk is a newcomer to the operation, joining CVC in early 2021, but he has had a quick impact. In an effort to increase growth and plant floor efficiency, Tsisyk soon began introducing advanced technologies. One of these is a software product he successfully pushed for at his previous job with BMT Aerospace USA Inc., a large gearbox manufacturer in nearby Fraser, Mich.
“BMT Aerospace bought VERICUT (Irvine, Calif.-based CGTech’s CNC software simulation) to avoid crashes on a high-accuracy DIXI five-axis horizontal from DMG Mori,” Tsisyk said. “I took one look at that machine and told management we needed to invest in toolpath simulation and optimization software. Its use soon expanded to other machines, though, especially in the five-axis machining area. I quickly learned that no shop should be without it.”
The story is much the same at CVC. The company boasts a similarly impressive equipment lineup, including five-axis systems from Mazak, Okuma, and Hardinge brand mill-turn lathes with Y-axis, Swiss-style turning centers, and other CNC machinery.
Many of the machines are equipped with Renishaw probing systems and glass scales for increased accuracy. This allows CVC to tackle a wide variety of complex parts and an eclectic mix of materials, from Hastelloy and Stellite to Delrin, PVC, and PEEK.
CVC also has taken its first step into the additive world with a 3D printer from Markforged, as part of the company’s involvement in Troy, Mich.-based Automation Alley’s Project DIAMOnD initiative “dedicated to improving manufacturers’ agility and resiliency by helping them scale up their Industry 4.0 activity.”
Tsisyk is all in on anything related to Industry 4.0, although he’s quick to point out that the printer was initially brought in to address the shortage of PPE and ventilator parts during the pandemic. It’s now used for less urgent needs, such as printing fixtures, soft jaws, grippers, and surrogate validation parts.
“This last use might seem like a luxury, but even with a good CAM system, it’s nice to have a physical part in your hand,” Tsisyk said. “It helps you visualize how to process the job, what tools to use, how far they should stick out, and get input from others. It also helps the quality department to plan its workholding and measurement equipment needs.”
VERICUT, however, has had the greatest impact on CVC’s shop floor operations. Shortly after purchasing the software (and well before its widespread use) the company began working on some complex prototype orders. By utilizing conversational programming capabilities, Tsisyk explained, CVC is usually successful in meeting short-run demand, but this time it ran into problems with part quality and tool life while machining a small, deep pocket within the workpiece.
After hours of lost time, CVC sent the program to the machine builder’s application team to no avail. “They tweaked a few things and sent it back to us, but it was no good,” Tsisyk lamented. “The job called for a 0.045” [1.14 mm] end mill, and no matter what we tried, it would gouge the part and break a tool.”
Although VERICUT was not yet fully implemented, Tsisyk and the machinist got together to tackle the challenge. After a quick review of what worked and didn’t, they determined that the cutting parameters chosen by the conversational control were too conservative. As a result, the pair decided to optimize the program via Force, CGTech’s physics-based NC program optimization software module that analyzes and optimizes cutting conditions.
“The results were stunning!” Tsisyk declared. “The part was done and of high quality, the cutting tool was still intact, and there was no more gouging. Like many veteran machinists and programmers, my colleague was skeptical when we first bought VERICUT, but this event made him a believer.”
That attitude is not unusual. It’s always a challenge to introduce new technology, especially with more experienced workers who have significant programming skill, according to Tsisyk. “Everybody has their own ideas on the best way to process a part. And while we’re proud of them and value their contributions, VERICUT catches things that humans can’t,” he added. “Once you show them that, or prevent a crash that might have cost tens of thousands of dollars, the hesitation falls away.”
“During the last seminar with CGTech, they polled the attendees, and I was surprised to see that many weren’t yet using Force,” Tsisyk acknowledged. “From my Force experience, I can tell you that on some jobs, we’re reducing our cycle times by 12 to 25 percent. But even when you only get a few percent improvement, tool life goes up significantly. It makes the process much more stable and predictable.”
While Tsisyk is just getting started on his continuous improvement efforts, he’s already making a difference. “Vitaliy is a very skilled engineer and quickly saw the benefit of VERICUT and Force,” said Mark Benedetti, a CGTech sales engineer. “He was easy to work with because of his understanding of NC manufacturing.”
CVC has installed supply vending machines from MSC Industrial, implemented CNC Software’s Mastercam to augment existing GibbsCAM capabilities, and is looking forward to establishing a tool management and offline presetting strategy.
“VERICUT, a robust CAM system, and offline presetting with barcoding. Bam, that’s it! You now have a closed-loop system,” Tsisyk exclaimed. “That’s our future path, but we haven’t yet pulled the trigger because we’re taking small steps and know that we need to finish one project before jumping into another one. But at the same time, it’s really needed. Tool management is huge. It’s something that companies lose a lot of money on because they don’t know. It’s an unknown factor.”
What’s better known is VERICUT’s impact on CVC’s efficiency. “We look forward to continued growth, but in order to handle that effectively, you need to have robust, repeatable processes,” Tsisyk said, adding that requires confidence in the system.
He concluded: “So yes, there’s still a lot of work left, but for now, I feel comfortable knowing that we have a gouge-free, crash-free programming environment with none of the surprises that plague so many machine shops. That’s what VERICUT delivers.”
For information about Custom Valve Concepts, visit www.customvalveconcepts.com or call 248-597-8999. For information about CGTech, visit www.cgtech.com or call 949-753-1050.
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