Beat the competition with high-precision

Feb. 12, 2009
Todays machine tool technology can make it happen.

Machine shops need to change their strategies to compete in the global economy.

The jobs that are here and should stay here are high precision, tight tolerance and made of challenging materials. The tools and technologies to handle these jobs are out there, and shops must use them to their advantage.

But just as important, our manufacturing methods have to change and adjust to global competition.

To make shops competitive, the machine tool industry offers such products and technologies as high-precision multispindle and multitasking turning centers. These machines not only turn with high precision, they drill, solid tap, thread mill and pinch turn. They also can put as many as three tools in the cut at one time to greatly reduce cycle times.

Today’s high-precision machining centers provide 5-axis and multipallet capabilities that help to reduce set up times and load/unload times and boost spindle use by as much as 40 percent.

Likewise, milling machines now can provide 3,000-rpm rotating workholding spindles for turning operations. We now have lathes that can mill and mills that can turn. However, manufacturing processes also must change.

Shops can no longer have three to four machines in a line or in a small cell producing one part. That shop setup is manpower intensive, difficult for production control, involves too much work in process and produces high scrap rates.

The better manufacturing process is one that drops a part complete from one machine.

Such processes increase efficiency, raise quality levels, reduce cycle times and use less manpower. There’s no work in process, and the day’s production can be washed, packed and shipped to increase cash flow and reduce raw material costs.

To further maximize profits, shops can achieve lights-out unattended operation using simple automation such as magazine barfeeders, multipallet machines, and robots. Unattended running is much more feasible today because machine tool manufacturers supplement machines with software that provides such features as tool-load monitoring and tool-life management to make for successful lights-out operations.

I believe the answer for the United States is technology. We need to use our American ingenuity and drive to make the country the global competitor it has historically been.

In a simple, real world example, a shop might be currently manufacturing a part through three machines, and the part takes 15 minutes – resulting in four parts per hour and at a shop rate of, say, $70.00 per hour.

The part costs $17.50 to manufacture, but the same part in a multitasking machine takes 6 minutes to make. So at 10 parts per hour, the part cost drops to $7.00.

If the same shop sells the part for the original price of $17.50, it makes $175.00 per hour, covering its $70.00 shop rate and earning an extra $105.00 per hour. With margins like these, how can shops not afford to step up to new technology?

Richard Parenteau, director of applications development and Nakamura-Tome product manager at Methods Machine Tools Inc.