Back to the future
- Published: November 17, 2014
Shop Metalworking Technology revisits manufacturers we've profiled in previous issues to see how they're preparing for the future
Being a smart shop isn't simply about investing in new technologies. It's about how a shop applies these technologies on the shop floor and it's about implementing innovative business strategies to ensure future growth. Since Shop Metalworking Technology launched its premier issue in February 2012, we have published many examples of such shops. We wanted to find out how some of them have fared since being featured in the magazine. So we contacted a select few. Here is an update about the selected companies in 2014 and what they're doing to plan for the future.
Chicopee Manufacturing, Kitchener, ON
Featured in February 2012 "Smart Machining"
Structural aerospace parts manufacturing is a competitive business and to ensure success you have to invest in leading edge technologies. The company then known as Chicopee Manufacturing, part of the Magellan group of companies, recognized this early on and invested in two automated manufacturing cells back in 1998 consisting of six Makino A55 HMCs and three MAG 800 HMCs. In 2011, it took it to the next level introducing robotics into a new machining cell from Makino, known as the Makino Machining Complex with Robot (MMC-R). The system consisted of two a81M horizontal machining centres with fifth axis rotary tables and a Makino robotic fixture plate distribution system, all controlled by a Makino MAS-A5 cell controller.
"Almost everything we do is based on our use of flexible manufacturing systems (FMS), said Chicopee general manager Rick Moes. "With the wide variety of parts and assemblies we produce every day and the small batches that the work demands, our equipment has to be flexible in order to be productive."
Aerospace engineering is a constantly evolving area, noted Dave Quehl, technical director of Chicopee, noted in the article. "To keep ourselves competitive in the marketplace, we have to evolve with it, and that includes developing new expertise in machining advanced materials like titanium, and new expertise in making all our processes more efficient. In many cases, we're finding that efficiency through automation."
In 2013, Chicopee Manufacturing was renamed Magellan Aerospace Kitchener, as part of a corporate rebranding initiative. Dave Quehl, former technical director, is now corporate manager, technical support, and deals with technologies, software and equipment troubleshooting for all of Magellan Aerospace's divisions.
Since installing the Makino MCC-R cell in 2012, the company has expanded the cell with more machines.
"We began with two Makino a81M machining centres and we've now expanded to four machines," says Quehl. We also integrated an older Makino a88E machine so we have a total of five with another a81M machine slated for install late next year. That will be the completion of the cell."
Magellan continues to optimize the system and is currently looking at optimizing robot motions in the cell.
In addition to the machining cells in the 9,290 sq m (100,000 sq ft) the Kitchener plant houses 13 machines, primarily large machining centres and lathes.
"We're expanding and bringing in a new machine, a large mill-turn from DMG MORI, at the beginning of 2015," says Quehl, adding that the reason for the expansion is because of increasing aerospace orders. "The aircraft industry continues to ramp up with the 787, 777 and the F35 models."
Magellan machines structural aerospace components and landing gear from titanium, but also machines aluminum, high strength steels and stainless steels.
Glueckler Metal Inc., Barrie, ON
Featured in April 2012: "A Turn for the Better"
Kinesiology-graduate turned manufacturer Anthony Glueckler, president of GMI Inc., had a clear concept about how to manufacture parts, despite being a novice in the industry: invest in leading edge automation and hire highly skilled people who could support the business.
His foray into manufacturing began with the start of a Barrie, ON, plant, that specializes in high volume brake components, machined primarily on manual equipment. That quickly evolved with the launch of another manufacturing operation in Elmvale, ON, a full CNC machining operation equipped with an automated turning cell Glueckler calls "the GMI Alternator Shaft Flexible Manufacturing Cell."
The $6-million cell consists of 10 Nakamura-Tome WT-150 multi-axis CNC turning centres supplied by long-time distributor Elliott-Matsuura Canada, 10 LNS Sprint automatic bar feeders, a Mitutoyo Mach V CMM with automatic part fixturing and transfer, a vision system, a scrap removal unit and integrated logic and control software. The entire system was developed by GMI and installed by GMI in conjunction with suppliers.
What spurred Glueckler to invest in a multi-million dollar automated manufacturing operation was his belief that investing in the right technology will bring offshore work back to Canada. He wanted a system that would "further our technological understanding and still fit within our culture...we put together an automation plan that would accommodate a semi-skilled workforce and durable equipment that would operate 24/7, 365 [days]."
His vision with the manufacturing cell was to secure a bigger piece of what he saw as a shrinking pie in Canada.
"Maintaining zero defects and flexible cell options means we can continue investigating opportunities linked to our core competencies."
GMI has been busy making parts and investing in more manufacturing cells since 2012.
"We've put together two more manufacturing cells in our Elmvale facility," says Anthony Glueckler. "We have another four to six manufacturing cells in the cube at the moment. In our Barrie facility, we've just finished a small measurement cell which uses a small ABB robot and loads part to a 2D vision system to determine good and bad parts."
GMI sees automation as the key to manufacturing success in Canada. "People look at robots and see demons. They see robots taking jobs away and there's no question that they're replacing some labour but we're in a supply chain of zero defects and that's not possible without automation. We produce 30 to 50 million units a year and we have some 300 million dimensions that have to be zero out of spec. Only way to do that is to take a solid process of making a part and measuring to ensure 100 per cent spec; we're doing that."
While the Elmvale facility will be the recipient of most of the new automated manufacturing cells Glueckler has lined up, the Barrie facility will also have some automation, for measurement, as noted earlier, and for the grinding department.
Glueckler says he's proud of his company's self-sufficiency when it comes to automation.
"We build the cells internally. We use proprietary products and have a solid team supporting us."
Gluecker is positive about future growth. His company is exploring the potential of installing what he describes as "fully encapsulated process cell that would take a part into a heat treatment process and then deliver it to a grinding process and then packaging to be delivered to a customer in Germany."
And he sees "momentum" in the reshoring initiative. "I've seen significant amounts of work come back. That doesn't mean it's going to stay forever. One of the problems we face in North America is that as the work comes back, there's not enough of a knowledge base to support that return and we need to create that here."
Precision Design & Manufacturing, Westlock, AB
Featured in May 2012 "Fabricating While Sleeping"
Early in 2012, Ehreth Horinek, owner of Precision Design and Manufacturing in Westlock, AB, decided to give his company the upper edge in technology and invested in a fully automated, lights out laser and punch combination system from Amada.
"The EML runs 24/7, even while I'm home sleeping," said Horinek back in 2012. "It finally gives us the ability to meet our customers' demands."
Horinek has run his own manufacturing business for 30 years. Today he runs his OEM manufacturing business producing truck grilles and accessories with the help of his two sons, Dan and Rob.
Amada's 4 kW hybrid laser and high speed punch combination machine forms and cuts at the same time, which has helped to boost production speeds.
The lights out operation is only one component of the system that gives Precision Design and Manufacturing a competitive edge. The system has the ability to mix long and short runs for more fabricating flexibility. Precision also purchased a fully automated Amada Mars material handling line, which eliminates material handling issues.
"The machine runs itself, there's nothing you have to do." For peace of mind though, Horinek installed an app on his iPhone which lets him view the shop via web cameras and alerts him if the machine stops.
The timing of the machine purchase was good. At the time, Horinek said he expected the business to grow between 10 and 20 per cent that year alone, and had already seen significant increase in demand since installation of the lights out fabrication line.
Precision Design and Manufacturing sells its truck accessories products worldwide to customers in North America, South America, Europe and Asia. Annual earnings are between $5 and $10 million and while the company is in good shape, Horinek says he's always keeping his eyes on potential new products to add to his line of truck accessories.
Business continues to grow at Precision Design and Manufacturing.
"We're growing 10 to 15 per cent every year and it's because of a combination of new products we've developed and the volume for them, and extra volume work for existing products," says Horinek.
As for the Amada lights out operation, "it's still running and it's very good. We run it almost every night because we're very busy. We wouldn't have been able to survive without it and it's the best thing I've ever bought for the business. It was a big expense, but it was worth it. I'd buy another one. In fact, probably in two years I'll buy another lights out system but we need to build a new facility to fit it in. We've already expanded this one and would need more room."
Horinek says he'd recommend a lights out automated system to manufacturers who want to gain a competitive edge, but he admits there is a steep learning curve, made even more challenging because of the lack of skilled workers. "Your staff has to be in tune with how to set up a lights out operation and understand how the machine works and how to set programs. If you have inexperienced people you can create programs that simply won't run right. You need to nest parts in the right way if you want to run lights out through the night. For us, the system runs beautifully; we're run virtually problem-free and where we have run into minor issues, Amada has looked after it for us."
The company continues to grow its line of OEM truck accessories, such as stainless steel truck grille inserts and mud flaps. Horinek says what keeps him competitive alongside his fabricating technology, is his employees' abilities to create unique, high quality products.
"Our [fabricating] technology has helped us stay price competitive with our truck accessories but we also work hard to make products better. We get input from our distributors who tell us what customers want and we're always working on making products better."
SKL Aluminum, Jonquiere, QC
Featured in June 2012 "Small is Big"
Back in 2011-2012, SKL Aluminum was trying to figure how out to maximize production efficiencies for its small-lot runs to meet the tight delivery demands of its customers.
SKL Aluminum designs and builds heat exchangers of all types, sizes and capacities to cool water, oil or air. Ghislain Larouche, a 40-year manufacturing veteran in the cooling products industry, who is founder and managing director of the company, said he saw a gap in the market for smaller orders that the larger companies didn't want.
His production efficiency problem was compounded by concerns about outsourced cutting and press brake work and the shortage of skilled labour. "It was taking more time to sub-contract the work and they were not fully in control of the quality," recalls Patrick Michaud, engineer with LVD Strippit. The solution for the manufacturer of aluminum cooling products for the off-road equipment industry based in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, QC, was fabricating automation in the form of a sophisticated CNC press brake and the Orion hybrid laser cutting system from LVD Strippit.
Larouche selected LVD Strippit's Easy-Form 320/40 servo-controlled press brake in part becuase of the level of automation it offered. Larouche was having trouble finding skilled workers and the technology on the press brake would allow him to produce high quality parts without the presence of experienced fabricators.
Larouche was surprised by how easy the machine was to use. Despite the sophisticated programming, SKL was able to keep its staff requirements to a minimum, hiring a draftsman to input part designs into the control and an operator to work on the machine.
"It's a reliable machine," says Larouche, adding that he liked the machine's low maintenance and little support requirements.
"When you work for customers like ours, the job has to be on time. You can't afford to be waiting for somebody else."
SKL Aluminum continues to grow, says Larouche.
"We'll grow about 30 per cent this year and we're finding new customers too because we've started to make a new product, condensers for air conditioning units. We have a new customer in the military area."
SKL's existing 26,000 sq ft is busy, so busy that Larouche says he's looking to add another 10,000 sq ft to his operation and purchase more equipment. He's also hired more people. In 2012 he employed 16 and today he has 22 people working at the company.
"We're looking at another laser and another press brake. We were in the US looking at fiber laser technology because of the advancements with it. I'm seriously considering the purchase of a fiber. We've been looking at it for six months and it seems like very good technology."
Laourche attributes his company's continued success to manufacturing quality.
"We make strongly built heat exchangers. They're heavy duty products. It's a niche market and one in which we've built a good reputation for the quality of products that we produce. We sell our products across Canada, from Newfoundland to BC and we're starting to sell products into the US. We have several customers now and next year we'll have more in the US."
Like many manufacturers, his biggest concern is finding the right skill set to operate the new machines and technologies he hopes to purchase in the near future.
"Laser technology can be complex and no where do they offer courses on how to run a laser machine. We have to teach people to operate them. It is hard to find good people to run the machines."
Despite the challenges, Larouche is satisfied with how his business is growing. "We're happy with the business and know we will grow with the new products we're introducing."
AVT Beckett Elevator, Pickering, ON
Featured in August 2012 "Elevating Fabrication"
Darren Sullivan and Barb Buchanan's venture into metal fabricating had a rocky start when they purchased AVT Beckett Elevator Ltd. in 2008, but they quickly surmounted the issues, invested in new fabricating technologies and turned the business around into a vibrant operation.
Back in 2012, the company operated out of two facilities, totaling 38,000 sq ft and employing 39 people. Sullivan and his engineering team wanted to improve manufacturing productivity and reduce scrap by investing in new equipment. He and six of his employees attended the Canadian Manufacturing Technology Show (CMTS) in 2011 in Toronto and zeroed in on a 2D laser cutting machine from Prima Power, the Platino. New to the laser cutting process, the team relied on Prima Power for training and support The investment achieved what Sullivan wanted: AVT Beckett reduced scrap by 70 per cent and increased production by 30 to 40 per cent.
"We were at our capacity prior to purchasing the Platino. We would not have been able to meet our current production without it."
He said at the time the laser cutting machine offered more flexibility in the way his workers produced sheet metal.
"This has allowed us to design many more products. It has allowed our R&D side not to be limited. Even taking some material out, like slots in plate to eliminate weight, is important. In our industry, weight reduction is huge."
Since launching into the elevator manufacturing business back in 2008, Darren Sullivan and his wife Barb Buchanan, owners of AVT Becket Elevators, have never looked back. The company moved into a new 62,000 sq ft facility in September, amalgamating two separate production facilities into one to improve manufacturing efficiencies.
The company has been experiencing 30 per cent growth annually since 2008 and Sullivan expects business to continue to grow.
Both attribute the company's success to its focus on product innovation and its metal fabricating efficiencies.
Sullivan, who worked in the elevator repair and maintenance industry before launching into elevator manufacturing, has introduced a number of innovative features for elevators that he says focuses on them being "field friendly, rather than manufacturing friendly." Which means elevators are easier and quick to install in the field. For example, AVT Beckett was one of the first elevator manufacturers in North America to use aluminum instead of steel to produce lighter weight elevators.
And the company has continued to focus on improving fabricating efficiencies. It recently took delivery of a new Durma press and Sullivan says he's in the process of introducing some automation into the manufacturing process.
"We're designing an overhead trolley system for material handling and it will move from the Prima laser to the turret or the shear. We used to handle material with forklifts, but the overhead trolley system will improve material handling."
Two years ago, it expanded with an office in Ottawa to sell more into Quebec and Eastern Canada. West coast manufacturing expansion is a possibility because of the cost of shipping elevators to that end of the country but Sullivan and Buchanan have ruled out taking manufacturing out of the country.
"We're Canadian-proud and we'd rather keep it all here and work through issues. We need to tell the government though how they can help us in manufacturing," says Buchanan.
As for the fabrication shop, Sullivan says the Prima laser cutting machine has been very good for the business. In addition to the new Durma press brake, the company has also invested in new 3D CAD software, Inventor, from Autodesk.
"Having a laser is one thing, but you need the CAD software to create new products. We've created innovative stuff on the laser using our CAD software. We produce better drawings than a photo in CAD and we can create backgrounds; we've even done movies with it."
Metal Bernard, St-Lambert-de-Lauzon, QC
Featured in May 2013 "Nesting Harmony"
Louis Veilleux and Mario Ferland are owners of the Mundial Group, an industrial manufacturing outsourcing business based in Quebec. Two of the businesses in the group are sheet metal fabrication operations, Metal Bernard and Normandin. The owners are big believers in lean manufacturing, so when its newest acquisition, Metal Bernard, adopted Lean principles the two set out to standardize fabricating processes in both operations.
One key focus was nesting software. The company wanted to standardize nesting software for laser and punching machines "between the two companies so one programmer from one plant could help in the second plant."
They invested in SigmaNEST Version 9.1 software. At the time, Veilleux said he liked how the software worked seamlessly with the company's ERP system and how well it fit into Lean practices. Veilleux estimates the shop had cut waste by 50 per cent "because we're reusing remnants to make parts. At the end of each month we audit our inventory and we have 100 per cent score in our audit on traceability of our materials. Using SigmaTEK software helped us achieve that."
Much has changed at Metal Bernard and its parent company Mundial Group, since being featured in the May 2013 issue.
For one thing, Veilleux and Ferland sold part of their share in the fabricating businesses, Metal Bernard and Normandine, to a management team of employees.
"We want to share more with our team because we think we can build a stronger business with a team than just one or two individuals with vested interests."
Lean practices continue to be a strong focus and the two fabricating businesses have standardized processes, including nesting software, but it's still a work in progress, says Veilleux. "We're working on the last 10 per cent of the standardization we'd like to see in the sheet metal operations."
The company has continued to implement Lean tools, such as TPM (Total Productive Maintenance) and 5S to reduce waste and optimize productivity in the fabrication processes.
"Our daily management system has continued to improve. We were a very visual shop and we're even more visual now in how we've laid out the equipment on our shop floor. We've organized manufacturing processes and our team in a way so that we don't run into any bottlenecks to ensure we can meet increasing production needs. This year alone, we've increased production by 30 per cent."
Veilleux says he and Ferland's biggest goal in the next few years is to revisit all the areas in which they've implemented changes "and try to simplify our processes to make them faster. We'd like every team member to have only three tasks at a time to think about to get work done faster."
Changes in the metal fabricating businesses are also being implemented in the other divisions too, including CDMB, a machining and welding operation located in the same building as Metal Bernard. The division recently took delivery of a new large Mazak CNC milling machine.
"We're feeling a lot better about the economy. We had put things on hold for a while and like many, we didn't invest in equipment but focused on our Lean implementation. Now we're looking at new equipment. We've seen impressive growth in 2014 with most of our divisions. We're planning an addition to Metal Bernard's operations, and we're planning for more growth in 2015, of at least $4 to $6 million more in sales."
Veilleux says an ongoing challenge is finding good people for the shop floor.
"We're having trouble hiring in Quebec right now. We just hired a machinist from Switzerland and we've brought people in from Europe and Africa who speak French. It's easier to find skilled people who speak English, but we have had a challenge finding people with skills who speak French."
Triumph Processing, Nisku, AB
Featured in August 2013 "A Metals Processing Drive-Through"
Chris Albert and Mick Auty had a grand idea back in 2012: to build the world's first metals processing business.
Albert is president of Triumph Processing and Auty is vice president. Their vision was to create a steel processing facility that operates 365 days a year in Alberta without any interruption from ice and snow from cold winter mornings and 70 km winds.
The plan was to have steel enter one of two enclosed and insulated yards at Triumph Processing, which sits on a 11,000 sq m (36,000 sq ft) facility in Nisku, AB, and houses the largest span indoor crane in the province, 36 m (118 ft). Steel would get unloaded in minutes, set on a conveyor and transfer system at which point the automated line would take over, moving the steel through varied processes. The truck driver would then drive his trailer to the other side of the facility into another enclosed yard and within 30 minutes, have processed steel loaded back onto the truck and have the order on hits way to a customer's facility for final finishing and welding.
At the time of publication in August 2013, Albert and Auty were about two thirds into the completion of the project.
"This concept doesn't exist anywhere else in the world. We're processing mass tonnage in small spaces with few faces," said Auty.
When Albert and Auty took the idea to industry, they faced a lot of skepticism.
"People thought we were crazy when we told them we were going to build a 36,000 sq ft facility, employ six people and process hundreds of tons of steel weekly," recalled Auty.
The multi-million dollar investment was an ambitious plan, but both Albert and Auty said it was a necessary idea in a world of shrinking skilled trades.
"We have the perfect storm in Alberta. We have demand for work in what is still a booming oil and gas industry, and we have a declining skill set among our skilled trades. The only way to move forward is through automation," said Albert.
The automated metal processing operation consists of three lines: a plate line, an angle line, a high speed mark/cut/drill line and a mark/cut/drill and cope line. The primary equipment supplier was Peddinghaus and nesting software provider was Shop Data Systems, but Albert and Auty said every piece of equipment and software was re-engineered by Triumph's team to meet the company's unique needs.
"All of our lines are complete," says Chris Albert, vice president of Triumph Processing. "On our mark/cut/drill/cope line we now have a PLC system that allows one individual to move steel through the entire facility with a simple touchscreen system. It's like using an iPad to move steel and you handle it once to move it off the truck and then your beam travels automatically more than 300 ft from one line to the next and move material back and fourth."
Albert and partner Mick Auty's vision was to create a sophisticated, automated, yet user friendly operation operated by minimal staff and the company has achieved that with its operation.
"Over the course of the summer we have had five people involved in the business and they've been more than able to keep up with production. They maintain the equipment, they look after material management and they are involved in every aspect of the operation. We've cross-trained people so that everyone is comfortable with the different lines, the machines and equipment capabilities," says Albert.
During a standard week, Triumph can process 100 tons, "and that's easy for this facility to do," says Albert.
At the time of publication in August 2013, Triumph's operation was not complete and Albert and Auty had plans to further automate the lines with robotics. Today, offices are fully furnished and drafting and engineering departments, located on a second level are operational. A network links engineers to equipment on the shop floor for instant feedback. "We encourage our engineering and drafting employees to see the process first hand because it helps them to better understand our processes and also come up with innovative, engineered solutions for customers," explains Albert.
Robotics have not been installed, but Albert says they're still part of future plans for the operation.
Triumph Processing's drive-through concept has come full circle. Today, drivers pull in their loads into an enclosed yard, enjoy complimentary coffee while waiting for their steel loads to be processed.
"What we're doing is unique. We've had people from around the world come to visit our shop and the last group was from Australia and New Zealand."
Many of the people who have come to see Triumph's operation are potential customers, but some are entrepreneurs who are interested in duplicating the concept in their respective countries, an idea Albert and Auty said was part of the vision for the concept.
"We're looking to franchise this process because it can easily be customized to meet the needs of an area or a market. If someone wanted to set up a facility to process plate, with the technology integrated into this system, drafting and nesting is universal and easy to transport over email. Equipment is built with webcams allowing customers to speak to operators in live time and solve problems over the telephone," explains Albert.
He adds that the concept makes sense for any part of the world. "When you look at manufacturing around the world, many countries are facing the same labour shortage and this concept can help. Having facilities like ours in other parts of the world is very much in our future."
Mann Machines and Hydraulics Inc., Mississauga, ON
Featured in October 2013 "Go Big or Go Home"
Early in 2013 Kuldip Mann, owner and president of Mann Machines and Hydraulics Ltd., in Brampton, ON, decided to refocus his business on the potentially lucrative aerospace market. To do that, he invested $1.7 million in an Okuma double column, five sided machining centre, to concentrate on large part machining.
"There is so much competition in small part machining. There's a saying 'go big or go home' so I bought the large Okuma with boring mill capacity, and I think I'm the only jobbing shop with this big capacity."
In addition to the Okuma 5-Center MCR-A5C double column machining centre, he purchased a new Mitutoyo CMM and said he was considering additional machine tool investments.
Soon after we published our story on Mann Machines & Hydraulics, Kuldip Mann did indeed purchase another Okuma machine from its supplier, EMEC Machine Tools, the BH1000, five axis machining centre equipped with a 1 m table for large part machining.
The company is now also approved for the aerospace standard, AS9100, and registered with the Federal government's Controlled Goods Program (CGP) to work with the Canadian and US defence market.
"We've invested a lot of money in machinery and to get the approvals for aerospace and for working with the Canadian and US military," says Mann. "It's a lot of work but we have to do it to get more business."
The company's foray into the aerospace market is starting to grow, but Mann admits it's been a challenge.
"We're continuing to pursue aerospace and we have customers from Europe but I'm doing the sales myself. My customers also help with sales because if I do a good job they tell others about it and that builds business, but it is a challenge."
The company has completed some work in the landing gear area and hopes to grow this business but Mann recognizes the challenge of breaking into an already competitive market and has his sights on other markets, such as mining.
To gear up more to compete, Mann is already looking at more machines.
"We have room for one more machine and we're looking at a vertical lathe with a 2 m table and a mill-turn multi-tasking type machine."
He's also added three more people to the machine shop, but like many in the industry, he's finding it challenging to find skilled machinists.
While he is committed to Canada (he has heard about incentives some US states are offering to bring manufacturers into that country), he is frustrated with how small job shops like his are treated by the government when it comes to support for skilled trades.
"If you're a Messier Dowty or a Chrysler, you get lots of funding to support your business and to train people. The government bends over backwards to help these companies because they provide a lot of jobs, but corporations can move and when they do they take all the work and the jobs with them. The government needs to understand that without small businesses, this country will not have much. Last year I was very frustrated because I contacted the government twice so see about support for training people and the government had no support for my business to support training we did in the shop."