Grinding Shop Emphasizes Processes, Not Products

June 30, 2011
Sandray Precision Grinding fights through the downturn with skills that cant today be found elsewhere
The Studer S151 CNC allows easy access for quick and easy setups and fast throughput.
Pictogramming software allows the operator to string the individual grinding cycles together while the Fanuc 21i-TB control generates the ISO code. StuderGRIND is a programing software for special applications like form and thread grinding, and profiling the grinding wheel for complex workpiece forms.
Programming on the hand-held pendant makes making final adjustments a breeze.

Manufacturing matters significantly to U.S. prosperity: it accounts for 12 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, and manufacturing firms represent 11 percent of the private-sector workforce. But, is it possible for a manufacturer to achieve competitiveness by not producing? That may seem irrational, given the disorder in domestic manufacturing — in the past 10 years multinational corporations have cut 2.9 million U.S. jobs while hiring 2.4 million workers outside the US; and manufactured goods continually shift across global markets, defying clear definitions of "domestic goods." Maybe it makes sense to emphasize processes over production.

Marc Gouker, president of Sandray Precision Grinding Inc., agrees that American manufacturing matters. He runs the largest grinding operation in Illinois, has been in business since 1961 and has 48 employees working in two side-by-side plants totaling 34,000 sq. ft of production space. Sandray runs two shifts, 6:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and 4:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m., Monday through Friday, basically 18 hours per day.

“We do every kind of grinding possible,” Gouker said. “We do centerless, OD/ID, surface grinding, flash grinding, double disk grinding — you name it and we do it. We process steel, al-loys, aluminum, plastic, and powdered metal. Our markets are aerospace, automotive, and off-road equipment. Multinational manufacturers we service include John Deere, Caterpillar and Cummins Engine — companies who may initially have looked overseas for cheap labor but are now concentrating on those areas in order to be closer to their markets today.”

Focus on unique services
Gouker emphasized that there are no Sandray products. That’s simply not Sandray’s strategy. Rather, the approach is to take from its customers parts that require multiple, complex secon-dary operations, skill sets that can’t today be found offshore or elsewhere, as well as advanced technologies, such as CNC grinders, and the skilled talent to operate sophisticated equipment.

“Our customers send us parts that need to be morphed into something else to be complete,” Gouker said. “About 99 percent of everything we do requires several operations. For example, we’ll do a centerless OD job where we actually chuck off the ID — jobs where we’ll stack as many operations into a single setup as possible.

“We’re pushing hard, especially on our CNC equipment,” he continued. “We may run 200 or fewer parts on a particular order, but we’ll load up as many operations in a single setup as we think we can (sometimes we take the CNC beyond its purported capability), and run the job. A single setup, less skilled labor involvement, faster throughput, closer tolerance and finish con-sistencies, repeatably perfect part characteristics: these are customer expectations.”

Gouker is guardedly proud of being a highly successful “service provider,” and he knows that to remain so Sandray must stay ahead of (not even with) the competition. To do this, he has to invest in the latest advanced technology and always remain tuned to ways to make serv-ices unique, which usually involves more advanced technology investment and constantly re-thinking the ways jobs can be done. With 40 some grinders in house — some domestic models, most from the Far East; many manual machines, and an increasing population of CNC ma-chines — Sandray Precision has equipped itself to meet just about any grinding challenge.

“Regarding new advanced technology,” Gouker said, “we’ve bought 13 or 14 CNC ma-chines over the past four to five years. I firmly believe in investing in the latest and best. It’s what keeps us ahead of the competition. The trick is we’ve got to keep investing, keep learning, and keep advancing. Our position is to continuously buy new technology that allows us to do what our customers require and our competitors can’t quite do. Our motto at Sandray is ‘to meet or exceed customer expectations,’ which we do by emphasizing quality through the elimi-nation of human involvement and variabilities by the use of advanced technology. If we don’t keep an eye on the future — if we take a break from the competitive battle — the future will blow by us with a vengeance.”

The lone Studer
One of Gouker’s latest investments is a Studer S151, a powerful CNC internal cylindrical grinder for individual and small series production, from United Grinding Technologies.

Gouker elected to go with the Studer 151 for many reasons, he explained. He’d heard about the Studer speed, accuracy, and flexibility from other grinding shops and from customers. He also heard about the value of investing in Studer from Integrated Machinery Systems (IMS), the machine tool distributor that sold the machine to Sandray in September 2010. He’d also heard about their cost.

“This is one case where you really do get what you pay for,” Gouker said, “and more. We knew about the Studer S151‘s flexibility. What we didn’t know is how to define this flexibility. We’re doing things on the machine that no one told us we could do.”

The pictogramming software allows an operator to string together the individual grinding cycles while the Fanuc 21i-TB control generates the ISO code. StuderGRIND is a programming software for special applications, such as form and thread grinding, and profiling the grinding wheel for complex workpiece forms. The program is created on the PC and transferred directly to the machine control.

“I don’t do programming,” Gouker sys, “but when the S151 hit the floor, I had the program-ming down in less than a half day. The flexibility is really astonishing. If you can imagine a part, the shapes and geometries, the S151 will produce the part.”

Other Studer S151 advantages include a swing of 360 mm, a grinding diameter of 300 mm, a grinding depth of 200 mm for internal grinding and 100 mm for external grinding. Spindle speeds: internal grinding, 6,000 – 60 000 min-; and external grinding, 6000 min-. Workpiece weight including chuck: max. 150 kg / 250 kg.

As an option, an automatically swiveling grinding spindle turret head with Hirth serration can be fitted to the cross-slide unit to accommodate up to four high-frequency (HF) grinding spin-dles. This means that even very complex machining on internal and external diameters can be performed with high precision and with suitable machining parameters. And, all this is possible with minimal downtimes and high precision.

Jobs run on the S151 change daily, but Gouker described a tractor component for John Deere made out of 8620, heat treated to 53 RC. “We’ll grind an ID, come out of the hole, move over and put an indicting line on the OD, all in one setup,” he said.

A second part running on the Studer S151 requires two concentric circles — a 3-in. diame-ter hole followed by a 0.5-in. diameter hole. “We use the first spindle, which is usually slower, to grind the larger diameter, then the machine automatically indexes the grinding spindle turret head 180 deg, to the second wheel head which then grinds the small hole in the bottom of the larger hole at a much higher rpm.”

Another example: “We’re doing a job now on the Studer that is not set up to do OD grind-ing,” said Gouker. “In the middle of the of the cycle, I stop the chuck, spin it backwards and move out and grind the OD. It’s like grinding an ID but from the outside.”

Superior service
“Honestly, I get impeccable service from IMS,” said Gouker. “I have the IMS service guy’s phone number right on the machine. I can call him anytime from 6:00 AM when I get in until 5:00 PM. He’ll either pick up the phone on the first ring or he’ll call me back in five to six minutes. It’s absolutely full support, which is hugely important when you run as many different jobs as we do, and deadlines get shorter and shorter.”

Gouker noted that the Studer S151 is the only Swiss grinder in the house, and it’s the only machine IMS supports at Sandray Precision; most of the other grinders are from Asian machine builders.

“Right now the machine is still new to us,” he said, “and we’ll get error messages, or some-thing like that where we don’t really know what we’re doing. All I have to do is get IMS on the phone, explain the error message or problem, and they can walk me through the situation right on the phone. If that doesn’t work, they send someone out right away. Service like that in this day and age is a real blessing; having someone at your side who knows your machine inside and out and is available to you almost at any given moment.”

Gouker acknowledged there were many shops that did not survive the recent recession, and observed that some weren’t positioned to survive, not strategically diversified. Many had relied producing a standard series of parts for one or two long-time customers doing basic parts — parts their long-time customers found they could outsource to cheaper labor. This left those shops with few options: Buy new advanced technology to make them more diversified and open to more complex jobs; or, sell the business, or merge with another company; or just shut the doors. This applied to shops that made products, too: raw material going in one side of the plant and finished parts coming out the other.

“We have centered ourselves on diversification, actually from the beginning,” said Gouker. “We believe the path to success lies in the investment in advance technology and its creative use. We intend to buy more Studers, over time, to replace older, manual machines, and to be-come more attractive to customers who have the need of multiple operations that we can do in a single setup.”

Gouker expressed some sympathy for those shops that have not survived, but is committed to investing in the very best technology and slugging it out with the competition.

“Grinding has always been a very competitive business,” said Gouker. “Even before the recession. However, for those determined to find it there is always a way through. Position yourself so you can do something your competitors cannot, which involves technology and imagination. Then fight, fight like it’s October 2007.”

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