Small Shop Automation

Small shops can reap significant benefits in flexibility and production throughput with the same automation system, according to Mazak Corp. Combined with advances in metalworking technology, such as high-speed 5-axis machining, material-handling automation systems deliver significant payoffs in increased productivity, improved part quality and reduced process times for small shops with low-volumes and high-variability of parts. Mazak also believes that automation is the key to becoming locally and globally competitive because it minimizes labor content within shop operations.

K-M-S Industries of Middleburg Heights, Oh., is one shop that can attest to the benefits of automation. The contract machining shop, which specializes in precision parts for various industries such as performance racing, energy, transportation and aerospace, purchased a Mazak Variaxis 630 high-speed multiple-face vertical machining center with an integral tilting rotary table. To get the most throughput out of the machine as possible, K-M-S opted for a Mazak Palletech manufacturing cell sporting 16 pallets that can be pre-loaded and queued while the machine keeps cutting parts. In fact, K-M-S was the first U.S. shop to couple the Palletech system to a Variaxis machine.

Palletech palletized machining systems are pre-engineered automation that serves one machining center with a few pallets or up to eight machines with 100 pallets. And shops can add machines, pallets and load/unload stations as they need them to pace capital investment with business growth. The system benefits both lowvolume and high-volume production requirements.

Including a simple, yet effective scheduler, the Palletech system lets shops queue and prioritize for lightsout operations. However, prototype or emergency jobs can be given top priority in the schedule without having to re-organize other work.

Sixteen pallets of pre-fixtured parts on tombstones feed K-M-S’s 5-axis, 30-hp, 12,000-rpm Variaxis 630 for eight hours of unattended operation without interruption. The shop can re-sequence pallets after fixturing to adapt to customerdriven scheduling, and with single setups and the ability to run unattended, it gains much more flexibility to move to a build-toorder system, running what it needs when it needs it.

K-M-S machinists are now freed up to prep upcoming projects or run other machines. But most importantly, part fixturing time does not subtract from machining time to increase throughput. The machinists also handle parts less because they are often completed on the Variaxis without having to re-fixture.

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