Lean is and lean does

Dec. 1, 2002
It's no secret that manufacturers that want to survive in the global market must invest in better technology and re-fine their manufacturing processes to stay lean. This is not only true for those using machine tools, but also for machine tool builders. A

The new assembly concept for Nexus involves creating machine components in easy-to-manage units so that one person can assemble a machine in one day.

Brian Papke, president of Mazak's North American operations, believes the company's new machine line, Nexus, will offer job shops high-performance capabilities at reasonable cost.

Next to Mazak's previous, comparable models, the Nexus machines have higher horsepower, faster rapid-traverse rates, and shorter toolchange times.

It's no secret that manufacturers that want to survive in the global market must invest in better technology and re-fine their manufacturing processes to stay lean. This is not only true for those using machine tools, but also for machine tool builders. A case in point is Mazak Corp., Florence, Ky., which has invested in its global manufacturing operations and refined its manufacturing and assembly processes to build its new Nexus line.

Nexus machines are made for job shops that need an affordable, high-performance CNC. Although this is Mazak's target market for the Nexus, the builder doesn't plan on participating in a machine tool price war.

According to Brian Papke, president of Mazak's North American operations, the Nexus machines will be approximately 20% more expensive than bargain-basement CNCs, but Mazak will be offering higher performance and better reliability than is typically seen in that market's price range. To keep costs low on the new higher-performance line, Mazak had to completely revamp its global manufacturing process and update technology in its own plants.

"This machine is being manufactured simultaneously in Kentucky, Japan, the UK, and Singapore," says Papke. "To do that, we needed to have a world engineering concept so the machine can be the same all over and have some components globally sourced."

This standardization of parts and process has helped Mazak keep the cost down — opening up part outsourcing to global markets. Many of the parts are still made locally for each plant's final product, but components made locally have to match competitiveness and quality with component suppliers worldwide.

Machine parts are not the only thing being standardized for the new line. The builder has also globally standardized its manufacturing and assembly process to stay lean.

Papke explains the new concept. "One unit, one process, one person, one day. What that means is that we're building and assembling machine components in units. We've always done this with things like toolchangers and spindle heads, but now, for example, we are using those more advanced concepts with sheetmetal and control assembly. The basic idea is that when you put down the base for a small vertical machining center, one guy should final assemble it in one day."

This unit assembly process is being implemented globally and is 75% in place throughout the world. To pull off its advanced-manufacturing goals, Mazak had to update all of its plants with its own latest technology — with its Kentucky facility upgraded to the tune of $20 million.

"We've put in all new FMS, and we're using our Integrex multitasking machines to more efficiently make the parts that combine turning and machining-center operations. Additional Mazak laser-cutting machines have been installed to work in the FMS environment. We've also put in a powder paint system that's automated," says Papke.

When asked why Mazak invested so much time and money improving processes for the Nexus line, Papke explained that such measures were essential to keep machine quality high and reduce the final cost.

"We were not willing to sacrifice quality or performance on these machines, so we had to be as efficient as possible in our manufacturing to make reasonably priced, high-quality machines that offer performance characteristics that are better than what is available in the market."

According to Papke, reducing the number of parts needed for the new system was one of the highest cost savings rendered from re-engineering the manufacturing process. "It starts at the design level. Thanks to new technology, we enhanced the performance of the machine, while reducing the number of parts that go into the systems. When you can make design simplicity synonymous with reliability and high performance, everyone wins."

The performance on the Nexus line of machines is, in fact, better than Mazak's previous comparable models. On the Nexus 410A VMC, horsepower increased 25%, up from 20 to 25 hp, while the rpm went from 10,000 to 12,000 rpm. Rapid traverse rates are 20% faster, increasing from 1,181 to 1,417 ipm. Toolchanger chip-to-chip time dropped from 4.9 to 2.9 sec, or 41% faster. Axis travel is 22 1620 in., load capacity is 1,100 lb, and table size is 35.4 16.1 in. At the same time, the floorspace savings is 16% compared to its predecessor. Positioning accuracy on the machine is 0.0005 in. in X and Z and 0.0004 in. in Y, and repeatability in X and Z is 0.0003 in. and 0.00024 in. in Y.

The Nexus 510C VMC delivers the same productivity as the 410A with a larger axis travel, 41.3 2020 in., and a larger, 2,640-lb load capacity.

The horsepower on Mazak's smallest turning machine, the Quick Turn Nexus 100, went from 10 to 15 hp and operates at a top spindle speed of 6,000 rpm. Bar capacity on the 6- in. chuck machine is 2-in., and the machine takes up 20% less floorspace than its predecessor.

The second smallest turning system in the Nexus line, the QT 200, has an 8-in. chuck handling 2.5-in. bar. This machine runs at 35 hp with a 5,000- rpm maximum spindle speed, and turret-indexing time is 0.18 sec per position. The Nexus line will be fully supported in the field, with 30 machines already sent to Mazak tech centers and distributors to help with applications and training. Despite the overall economy being slow, business is up in Mazak's Kentucky plant, and the company is confident that the Nexus line will do well worldwide. In fact, Mazak is planning to aggressively release one new Nexus model every month in 2003.

"Our systems will steadily grow in popularity as shops recognize they can get greatly improved performance over what they have for a comparable price. It's like the first time someone buys a car. The first-time buyer gets a cheap, low-priced car but later upgrades to the next level. That's exactly how shops will feel about our Nexus line."

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