Tooling Supplier Advances Shop's Processes

Article in Manufacturing Engineers Magazine - May 2010

For small-to-medium job shops, constant process improvement can prove to be an exhausting and time-consuming endeavor. Equipment manufacturers are constantly innovating, and thousands of new products arrive every year, each promising increased productivity and better performance. Increasingly, smaller manufacturers are calling for suppliers to take on a more prominent role in this area. Allied Technologies International Inc. (Tualatin, OR), a manufacturer of high-precision components, has adopted this strategy, and, since its inception, worked closely with tooling manufacturer Sandvik Coromant Co. (Fair Lawn, NJ) to optimize its machining processes.

Founded in 1993, Allied Technologies resulted from the desire of two fab-shop employees, Bob Porter and Tom Jackson, to have greater control over their own success. Messrs. Porter and Jackson established Allied Technologies in a small rented space that contained only 1500 ft2 (139 m2), of which 600 ft2 (56 m2) was office space. Initially the men envisioned the shop as providing fabrication, machining, and tube-bending operations, but they quickly discovered an aptitude for high-precision machining that would come to define the shop's capabilities.

Today, Allied Technologies serves a variety of customers and industries. The largest segments of its business involve producing components for the hydraulic valve, communications, and aerospace industries. The company takes on jobs ranging in scope from a single prototype to lot sizes up to 25,000 parts.

When the shop purchased its first machine, it decided upon a new Miyano turning center that had previously been equipped with Sandvik Coromant tools. "When we purchased the Miyano, the local Sandvik Coromant rep contacted us to see if he could provide assistance in helping us tool the machine up for our operations," says Porter. "We had him in and were happy with how everything was set up, so it was the start of what would become a long-term partnership."

Over the years, Allied Technologies has contacted the tooling supplier whenever it has run up against a challenging application. In early 2009, such an occasion arose with the production of a small L-shaped component manufactured for a customer in the hydraulic-valve industry.

"We were having a pretty serious issue with tool life," says Eric Porter, floor manager at Allied Technologies and Bob Porter's son. "We had just invested in a Hanwha XD20H Swissstyle turning center and weren't getting the performance we knew the machine could deliver."

Measuring 0.5 x 0.5 x 0.25" (12.7 x 12.7 x 6.35 mm), the L-shaped part was being cut from 303 stainless. Allied Technologies was using a 0.5" (12.7-mm) end mill with a diameter formed by three tangentially-held inserts. Running at 3500 rpm with a feed rate of 15.4 ipm (391 mm/min), the tool was only producing about 400 components before requiring the inserts be changed. Each insert was held by its own individual screw, so it would take approximately 4 min for every change. With the job running in lots of 4000–6000, a significant amount of time had to be set aside for tool changes.

"The part was being produced by cutting a notch out of 0.25 x 0.5" [6.35 x 12.7-mm] bar stock," says Greg Pope, Allied Technologies' local Sandvik Coromant rep. "Looking at the issues they were facing, I felt that the new CoroMill 316 could provide a real benefit in reducing toolchange and cycle times, along with offering increased tool life."

The CoroMill 316 features an interface between an exchangeable cutting-tool top and shank. This allows the cutting head to be changed without removing the tool shank from the machine or having to undergo another presetting of the cutting edge. As expected, toolchange times dropped immediately, from 4 min to approximately 30 sec.

The four-flute, 0.5" CoroMill 316 achieved higher tool life. On its first run, the tool produced over 3000 parts, and optimization of the cutting data pushed tool life to 4500 parts. To get maximum performance from the tool, spindle speed was reduced to 3000 rpm, while the feed rate was increased to 26.4 ipm (670.6 mm). Depth of cut and working engagement were left at the same levels as with the previous tool.

In addition to improving tool life and toolchange times, the CoroMill 316 was able to shrink cutting time for the process from 29.4 to 16.8 sec, a reduction of approximately 42%. Combined with other improvements in efficiency, the switch to the CoroMill 316 eliminated 164 hr of annual production time, resulting in a substantial cost savings.

"Our customers place a lot of value on our ability to integrate new technologies to improve quality, cut costs, and reduce throughput time," says Eric Porter. "Working closely with our suppliers is a key part of our strategy for delivering the best performance to the companies we serve. In a typical year, we might have Sandvik Coromant come in a dozen times to review and help us improve our processes, and their efforts really help us be the best company we can be."

While the economy has been a challenge for nearly all manufacturers during the past year, Allied Technologies has weathered the downturn very well. The company expanded its facility this year, using a 5000 ft2 (464 m2) addition to bring its total floor space to 11,000 ft2 (1022 m2). By relying on the expertise of its suppliers when possible, Allied Technologies continues to experience substantial success in growing and satisfying its customer base.

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