|A wax sprue die, the largest die Apollo Products has designed and built to date. |
Apollo Products Inc. operates under a simple business principle that has kept the Willoughby, Oh., shop successful as a designer and manufacturer of gages, fixtures, specialty tooling and dies. That principle is to manufacture highquality products and deliver them on time, always.
While pricing can be a driving force, the shop’s customers, most of whom are in the aerospace industry, always expect quality. Apollo Products ensures quality and on-time deliveries by doing as much part production as possible on its CNC machines – sometimes sacrificing cycle times for quality – and through extensive in-process inspection.
Jobs at Apollo Products involve low volumes and a high mix of highly complex parts with machining cycle times that can range from 15 min. to days. About 80 percent of the shop’s work involves gages and fixtures, while the remaining portion is die work. It manufacturers between one and two dies monthly, and often those dies are part of complete packages that include gages, fixturing and tooling. Dies measure anywhere from 12 by 12 by 18 in. to 24 by 30 by 40 in., the largest the shop has built to date.
“We do everything we possibly can on our seven CNC machines. We work to a schedule, and parts move from one department within the shop to the next. Each department may be working on as many as six different jobs simultaneously, while about 20 jobs can be circulating through the entire shop at any time. We arranged our departments according to processes such as roughing and squaring, milling, CNC machining, and assembly,” explained Jesse Baden, co-owner along with Mike Scanlon of Apollo Products.
According to Chris Scanlon, one of the shop’s CNC programmers, Apollo Products uses a lot of in-process inspection because the assembly stage is not the time to discover a part was machined wrong. At that stage of the game, the shop has invested a lot of time and money into a part, and he pointed out that when dealing with only one or two of each part, they tend to get quite expensive by the time they reach the final production stages.
In the CNC department, the shop does a lot of changeovers, and to keep production moving in that type of environment, Apollo Products relies heavily on the skills of its CNC machinists. They generally use vises/ multiple vises for job setups, and will often fixture multiple parts and jobs on every machine.
“The guys in our CNC department are the best we’ve ever had, especially when it comes to changing over setups for different jobs. These guys will set up one machine and get it running, then move to another machine, change over its setup, and get it running. By the time the second machine is working, it’s time to move back to the first machine and change over its setup. There are setups involved every time our machinists move to a different machine, and we don’t have one guy stationed at one machine,” said Scanlon.
To reduce machining cycle times and increase machine flexibility, the CNC department constantly reevaluates tooling, takes advantage of some new programming software and uses fourth-axis machining. After one tooling upgrade, for example, the department boosted the production it got out of a tool by four to five times that of the old tooling it was using. And the new tooling generated better surface finishes, which reduced required benchwork.
“Cutters make all the difference,” said Scanlon. “We like to really rip aluminum hard, but we don’t beat up our machine tools. Specific tooling allows us to do this, such as an inserted indexable milling cutter called a Saber Mill from Utra- Dex. With that cutter, we can take 0.060-in. depths of cut at 30 ipm and 2,600 rpm and cut at the high end of the machine’s low gear.” He added that the cutter both roughs and finishes, and allows machinists to “hear” when it needs indexing and before it actually “blows apart.”
|Fourth-axis capability on a vertical machining center helps reduce machining cycle times and increase machine flexibility at Apollo Products. |
Apollo Products mounted its fourth axis on a MAG Fadal 6030 vertical machining center. With it, the CNC department quickly and accurately machines complex angled components. It can do simultaneous 4-axis movements, but the parts really don’t require it. Scanlon said they use it more for pre-positioning.
He added that the biggest challenge is translating part information from program to the fourth axis. To make this process easier, the shop recently updated its programming software from a basic 2D/3D software to a CamWorks 2.5D/3D solids-based software, instead of a wire-frame based program, and Scanlon pointed out that the new software gives them many more options for programming parts.
At the start of a job, a customer’s electronic design file enters the Apollo Products design department, where component tooling such as runners, sprues and gates are determined. Or, the shop’s designers will work from a customer’s actual wax pattern model, or mock up.
Apollo Products does not make wax dies that make parts; it produces the wax dies that make everything else needed to “shoot” or cast the part with metal. It also produces fixtures for machining the cast part and gage tooling for measuring the finished cast part.
To be more of a one-stop-shop for all its customers’ part tooling needs, Apollo Products recently purchased Trucast Inc., a neighboring shop that produces wax part models, the same type used by Apollo Products designers. The acquisition will allow Apollo Products, under the umbrella of all its companies – including sister company Api Pattern Works Inc., a shop that runs injections for customers – not only to expand into new markets, such as medical, but also to be a full-service supplier.