Little Cars are Big business

June 30, 2005
A manufacturer of parts for radio-controlled cars revs up production to meet the demands of hardcore racers.

Moore's Ideal Products makes aftermarket radio-controlled car parts for hardcore racers. Photo courtesy of

MIP got rid of its conventional lathes and mills in favor of Tsugami Swiss-style turning centers from REM Sales. The company now runs a manned day shift and an unattended second shift.

With Swiss turning, MIP makes parts 30% to 300% faster than it did using its previous turning and milling machines.

Radio-controlled (R/C) cars aren't child's play to Eustace Moore, president of Moore's Ideal Products, Covina, Calif. His company started as a one-man operation making aftermarket hop-up parts for R/C cars and has become a leading producer for that market. MIP also works with aerospace, medical, and military customers. A few years ago, Moore made a move that would make many other shop owners nervous — he ditched his relatively new (and not-quite-paid-for) conventional CNC mills and lathes and replaced them with Swiss-style turning centers.

So what pushes a manufacturer make such a radical change? Moore says it was a combination of factors, including tooling and labor costs, production and delivery times, and quality concerns. "Manufacturers must continually invest in their productivity or they will find themselves out of business," he comments. "This change let us increase production, quality, and yield and reduce cycle times."

The funny thing is that, until recently, Moore wasn't exactly a proponent of Swiss-style turning. "I've kept an eye on Swiss-style machines for years, but the machines were expensive and needed to run perfectly ground material," he says. That extra step raised the cost per part enough that it wasn't practical.

In addition, Moore believed the machines were too light-duty for what MIP needed. "I wanted something that could to rip through metal," he explains. "The machines just weren't designed to quickly take something from a half-inch to 100 thousandths in one pass."

But the technology changed, as did Moore's opinion. "Our new machines have the metal-removal capability to quickly finish products in one setup while maintaining good finishes. Setup and programming are easy. And the automatic barloaders give us lights-out productivity." Special guide bushings also reduce the need to grind barstock.

According to Moore, the switch to Swiss-style turning ensures that MIP has the capacity to bring big production orders in on time and the flexibility to tackle small lots and tight deadlines.

Productivity planning
Shops considering Swiss-style turning should track production data, then take machines out on a test drive, says Moore. He recommends manufacturers start the process by tracking every split second of time it takes to get a part up and running with their existing equipment. "This may be difficult for jobshops that run different parts all the time," he cautions.

Moore spent months tracking MIP's daily production yields. He kept tabs on the consistency of the runs as well. What he found was that workers could run the same job on two different days with different results. "One day, we would run 250 parts, the next 400. We would find that production was impacted by whether or not operators were having a good day or if they had to stop machines to check parts. The inconsistency of our production runs was frustrating, to say the least."

On the accounting side, Moore compared the cost of the machine, tools, and labor. "The cost of labor means someone is there all day, whether it's for breaks or lunch," he comments. "You're not paying operators for the lunch hour, but you're losing production time because those machines aren't running."

Manufacturers shopping for new machines should examine their real costs and compare these to new machine trials. "Obviously, your costs are going to vary if you're doing multiple operations versus doing everything in one setup," explains Moore. "Check to see if quality-control people are handling parts numerous times, and if so, how many." On average, MIP's QC people handled parts anywhere from two to six times.

After compiling all this data into a report that reflected cycle time, production time, and production yields, Moore started machine evaluations. He eventually placed an order for two machines to be proven on MIP's floor. Initial results were such that the company increased its order to three machines. Within a year, it owned seven Tsugami BS20 systems from REM Sales Inc., East Granby, Conn.

On the production floor
Swiss turning affected every aspect of MIP's manufacturing processes. The company no longer needs stationary operators for each machine because one person can now supervise multiple systems. MIP also reduced part cycle time 53% from 60 to 28 sec and slashed tooling costs, labor costs, and QA/QC time.

"For many of our parts, we were doing parts in several operations, which meant handling them two to seven times," recalls Moore. "That created a bottleneck. We also had quality issues. In producing a part that's handled multiple times, we had to go two or three times tighter on tolerances. We rejected a lot of parts because they wouldn't fit properly in a fixture, meaning they weren't good enough for the next process."

In addition to scrap problems, MIP went through a lot of tools. "Before, we were filling up a 5-gallon pail with inserts every six months. Now, we're down to a couple of cups of inserts in that time," says Moore.

With the conventional machine tools, MIP operators traditionally changed drills and taps every 2 hr. With Swiss turning, they can cut 10,000 parts without toolchanges. Tooling costs also fell from $40/day ($10,400/yr) to less than $1. And MIP consistently holds tolerances to spec.

In addition to these benefits, the Swiss machines let MIP economically tackle small lot sized rush orders that it couldn't handle previously. Specialty items that MIP couldn't or wouldn't have manufactured before became standard catalog items.

MIP's Swiss-type machines feature LNS auto-loading barfeeders that let the manufacturer run lights-out. This has led to dramatically increased throughput, and reduced part cost.

"Previously, we had two shifts," says Moore. The engineering people were on the day shift and the second shift continued manufacturing. If the second shift had any major problems, it had to stop because the engineering staff wasn't there.

"This system worked for us, but the cost of those operators was tremendously higher than what we now have," comments Moore. "We had more people but less productivity because we were doing a partial process rather than a complete one. Fortunately, at the time, we had the volume to warrant the system. But the way things are today, the transition has made a big difference."

MIP employed approximately 25 people before moving to Swiss turning. Today, the company employs 10 highly skilled work-ers. "We were absolute geniuses at devising special tools, systems, and techniques for multiple operations and processes," says Moore. "But that required additional personnel, time, and cost. All that technology development is now gone."

The change has freed up the company's engineering capabilities to bridge the gap between design and manufacturing. This, in turn, lets MIP better serve its customers.

Customers are also reaping the reward of quicker turnarounds on orders. "Our deliveries are better because we produce parts complete, so we can begin shipping right away. Before, we needed a week because those parts had to move from operation to operation. Today, we can ship parts the next day."

Fan Appeal

R/C cars are big business, reaching far beyond what's available at any of the large chain stores. Industry insiders estimate that 500,000 consumers own R/C cars, with about 60,000 active racers, and 6,000 hardcore racers. Small nitromethane powered cars debuted in the 1940s, and while capable of speeds in excess of 70 mph, they were unable to do anything but drive around in circles. Radio control, introduced in the 1960s, was the big innovation allowing cars to run independently of the tether necessary for earlier models.

Most of today's cars are powered by either electric or gasoline engines, with serious racers assembling their own cars. Typical electric vehicles can reach speeds of 40 mph, while gaspowered engines can eat asphalt (or dirt) at nearly 60 mph. In fact, the world record for R/C cars is 111 mph and was set by Cliff Lett of Associated Electrics in Irwindale, Calif., on January 13, 2001.

MIP Innovation

In 1991, MIP revolutionized drive axles in the R/C car industry by developing the CVD constant-velocity drive. Since then, MIP CVDs have captured five world championships and are used by top racers such as Brian Kinwald and Mark Pavidas.

All CVDs are manufactured to exacting standards and are available for most 1/10th and 1/8th-scale vehicles. According to MIP's Eustace Moore, "We have continually been refining the CVD over the past nine years to make it the absolute best drive axle on the market. This is why the manufacturers Team Associated, Team Losi, and HPI included original MIP CVDs in their top-ofthe-line car kits."

Recently, MIP also started manufacture of CVDs for animated characters in an international theme park.