Best machining practices meet global challenge

Best machining practices meet global challenge

U.S. parts makers gain a powerful analytic tool

With the U.S. manufacturing base under attack from aggressive suppliers in low-cost regions such as China, Southeast Asia, and Mexico, forward-thinking manufacturers know that they have to constantly evaluate their operations, capitalize on their proximity to their OEM customers, and find new ways to streamline their machining processes to remain competitive.

“The simple fact is that as more manufacturing jobs slip away, so does a skilled and experienced workforce and the legacy knowledge that it represents,” explains Rob Eleveld, president and CEO of Vykor, Renton, WA. Vykor has developed a set of processes and software tools to capture, quantify, and optimize manufacturing processes to help component suppliers reduce cost, become significantly more efficient, and make the cost structure and cycle time transparent to both the OEM and the supplier.

Vykor’s approach is to provide “best-in-class” solutions developed working with industry-leading technology companies. Strategic partnerships and alliances include the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining, major cutting tool manufacturers, and other advanced manufacturing technology companies that are interested in advancing technology leading to improved machining efficiencies in the aerospace and other industries.

At the vanguard of the Vykor approach to re-defining the parameters of machining competitiveness for U.S. parts makers is the Vykor Affiliate Network. VAN is a consortium of component manufacturers, working with Vykor, that are dedicated to investigating, validating, and adopting bestproven manufacturing methods. Their experience with leading cutting tool companies, for example, is leveraged in Vykor’s Manufacturing Technology Validation Service, which confirms the benefits and return on investment of the latest production technologies available to U.S. manufacturers.

Customer requirements arc changing for both large sub-contractors and small components manufacturers alike as OEMs are trending toward larger contracts with a reduced number of suppliers.

The pressure on small component manufacturers is increasing as OEMs OLitsource manufacturing to remove capital-intensive assets from their balance sheets and focus on their core competencies.

“To remain strong, competitive, and profitable, manufacturing businesses have no choice but to become more innovative, flexible, and responsive to customer needs, and be willing to work with their customers in a new and more collaborative way that will help them be more competitive,” says Eleveld.

In addition to global competition, manufacturers are faced with outside suppliers setting up shop in their regions and the challenge of investing in capital equipment to keep pace with the demands of new technologies, such as machining new alloys and materials.

Modeling the process

“If you talk to people in the industry, most know that processes could be significantly improved by performing a direct optimization analysis and applying the latest industry approaches and technologies,” says Eleveld. “What Vykor brings is a methodology and a suite of software tools to identify and quantify exactly where the opportunities arc the greatest and how they can be achieved in the shortest possible time,” he says.

Through testing and evaluation, Vykor, working with its industry-leading partners, determines “best-in-class” processes and tools. This knowledge is integrated into a detailed manufacturing process model to create a digital “manufacturing recipe,” which is captured in Vykor’s Global Production Format (GPF) structure. Once modeled, different technologies can be quickly evaluated and opportunities for improvement quantified in terms of both time and cost.

“Utilizing our optimization process, we have been able to help component suppliers achieve an average reduction in machine time of more than 60 percent across a broad range of complex parts,” says Eleveld. “This reduction is typically achieved on the same machine and fixturing and occurs when processes and technologies such as cutting tools and toolpath are optimized,” he explains.

For Royell Manufacturing, an Everett, WA-based manufacturer of precision-machined components and assemblies for the aerospace and commercial industries, Vykor was able to turn a bid that was too high into a winner. “It’s always easier to make a business decision when you have good data,” says Jamie Yelle, president and GM of Royell Mfg.

After winning a bid to produce titanium struts based on a 12-hour cycle time on a Hitachi-Seiki four-axis horizontal machining center, Royell discovered that the actual machining time was 18 hours and the part cost the company 35 percent more to make than it could charge the customer.

Brought in to assess the situation and find a solution, the Vykor team collected data and used its software technology to create alternative part-production strategies, such as removing tools from the process, combining operations, and recommending higher performance carbide tooling. The tool was more expensive, but it improved performance. Vykor was able to shave 11 hours off the machine cycle time, enabling Royell to make a profit.

The extra time saved also enabled the company to pick up another contract and add new business. “What we liked more than anything about the whole process was that it was scientifically based. It was very easy for me to make decisions that could increase our throughput on this spindle significantly through the cycle time reduction and increase our margin of profit,” says Yelle.

Rocking the boat

Vykor’s Elveld believes that suppliers have to get over their conservatism and the “don’t-rock-the-boat” attitude that seems to be rewarded on the shop floor. “Just because a part gets cut and delivered on-time doesn’t necessarily mean that the job was done efficiently and cost-effectively,” says Eleveld. “You could be losing valuable machine cycle time (and added business) if the overall manufacturing approach tolerates inefficiencies that lead to lost revenue opportunity.”

Three main questions need to be answered, to his way of thinking, to determine if a manufacturing process is effective:

* Did the manufacturing approach produce a part that meets specifications?

* Was the delivery of non-recurring elements (e.g. NC programs) on schedule?

* Was the manufacturing approach the most efficient and cost effective?

The first two questions can be easily answered. But most manufacturers are at a disadvantage because they can’t measure the third-the true effectiveness of their machine tooling process-unless the component is produced in a very high volume for a long period of time.

Because efficiency is difficult to measure, NC programmers and shop personnel are not rewarded for “taking risks” or implementing unknown technologies. Eleveld explains that if they are successful, they will receive little credit (because the efficiency is difficult to measure), but if problems occur, they are blamed (because delivery and quality are measurable).

Vykor’s “best practice” solutions draw upon the knowledge of an experienced staff of engineering and software experts as well as leveraging its relationship with customers through its Vykor Affiliate Network (VAN) Partners. Joining VAN is free to suppliers who benefit from Vykor technology reviews of best manufacturing practices and are able to promote their capabilities to procurement organizations across multiple heavy manufacturing industries through the Vykor Supplier Profile service.

Raising the bar

According to Rich Briggs, Director of F/A-22 Lean Enterprise at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, Vykor has raised the bar and the productivity level of its engineered components suppliers. Lockheed Martin Aeronautics is building the F/A-22 Raptor, the front-line stealth jet fighter that is replacing the aging F-15 Eagle fleet starting in 2005 in the U.S. Air Force. The F/A-22, the country’s most advanced fighter, is a complex aircraft made from parts and subsystems provided by about 700 subcontractors-50 of which concentrate on the metal structure of the airplane.

Cost overruns on military aircraft pose an ever-present threat of reduced airplane deliveries or even cancellation of programs. When Briggs was tasked to find ways to bring down costs on this important, but very expensive, component of the U.S. military, he focused on the sub-contractor supply base, which accounts for more than 60 percent of the Raptor’s cost structure. Briggs targeted the many machined part suppliers as companies to work with to reduce costs. Although the total work package is a significant cost to LM Aero, many of the suppliers were producing parts at a loss.

Briggs began to work with the Vykor team and invested in the company’s combination of software and services. Vykor executives worked one-on-one with Briggs and developed a strategy for Lockheed to 1) reduce the price they paid for the F/A-22 metallic structure; 2) increase the overall productivity of the supply base; and 3) gain better visibility into the costs and schedules of mission-critical parts as the company prepares to ramp up to full production.

One of the Raptor’s suppliers, Acromil, City of Industry, CA, was also seeking a solution to financial woes that partially stemmed from an early miscalculation in the estimation process-a common problem-and not updating programs to newer methods. “When we acquired Acromil, we immediately recognized some inefficiencies and started to look for improvements as quickly as possible,” explains Jon M. Konheim, Acromil vice president and COO. LM Aero invited Acromil to participate in its initiative with Vykor and they accepted.

“We had heard about Vykor through word of mouth. When LM Aero brought them on board to propose realistic cost-cutting measures, getting involved was a pretty easy decision for us,” says Konheim. After implementing Vykor’s solutions, Acromil’s production cost was reduced by 33 percent, enabling them to pass along a lower cost to Lockheed Martin Aeronautics while still maintaining an acceptable profit.

“OEMs have an opportunity to significantly lower the cost of parts they buy from manufacturers,” says Konheim, “and manufacturers can lower the price they charge OEMs and shorten the time the parts occupy on their machines, thereby increasing their capacity. Of course, there will be some suppliers who see this as something that cuts into their margins, especially in spots where they may have been taking major profits. However in today’s climate, suppliers need to build accurate models, or lose the business to someone else.”

LM Aero’s Briggs takes it one step further: “Over the long term, this is the kind of service and software solution that can make U.S. metallic part suppliers more competitive against the world’s manufacturing base.”

As a result of the success of its initial project, LM Aero has started another initiative with Vykor, and Acromil has joined the Vykor Affiliate Network.

Asking what ifs…

The Vykor digital process record, called Global Product Format (GPF), includes software applications that help develop and capture an optimized strategy for getting a part from its raw state to a finished product in the fastest and least expensive way possible, Suppliers have had limited access to these kinds of tools for scenario planning up to this point.

The GPF Advisor is a process-mapping application that captures detailed project information and part definition, such as type of end mill, cut depth, spindle speed, feed rate, flute length, finishes, and the like and analyzes what is needed to optimize production of the finished part. The program manages a hierarchical process strategy that can quantify the most efficient setups, machines, cutting tools actions, features, and manual post operations to use. All the manufacturing and process steps of a job are managed and controlled in this one place.

The entire manufacturing process is configured and optimized in the GPF environment, independent of CAD or CAM systems, allowing suppliers and OEMs to capture an independent record of their manufacturing knowledge and best practices, says Eleveld.

Vykor says that the key to understanding GPF’s success is the program’s flexibility and ability to quickly process a change in any number of variables, and analyze how it impacts the output. For example, what if the part were machined on a 5-axis machine instead of a 3-axis machine? Would using a different number of flutes reduce cutting time? Would using a slightly more expensive mill coating actually save money over the course of the project? Would a different tool change sequence save time? Would a different fixturing approach reduce setup time and machine cycle times while maintaining quality?

The secret of the GPF Advisor tool is the ability it gives Vykor to manipulate a lot of parameters and automatically calculate how long a machine will run to obtain optimum efficiency in terms of time, money, and product quality. Users can tailor the process for a shop’s specific machine tools and processes. A Cutting Conditions Calculator enables the user to maximize machine rates using a feed and speed optimizer function. The user can determine how much a cutter is wearing out and pose alternatives. Perhaps a cutter made from a different material would be more cost effective. How many regrinds are needed? What should the coating be? All these factors are important in determining the true cost of the cutter.

A web-based application, Vykor Velocity, manages information, knowledge, and data, among other factors and calculates the “should manufacture cost” of a job from the variables by computing the time associated with each operation and multiplying that by industry standard shop rates or selected shop rates. It is created by combining the GPF with standard costing rates compiled from a regional cost index and passing the result through a series of algorithms that emulate the manufacturing process. It provides non-recurring and recurring costs breakdowns. The cost of each action per minute is calculated and can be adjusted. By manipulating the variables, the user can evaluate multiple production scenarios.

Velocity produces a “digital trail” of information for process evaluation and planning. Trade Studies enable manufacturing engineers to manipulate the “what ifs” to find the best fit. Cost Reports give both the procurement organization and the supplier transparency to the cost structure of each part. Detailed Strategy Reports serve as blueprints for shop management and NC programmers in executing manufacturing solutions. Vykor Inc.,

Copyright Nelson Publishing Mar 2004

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