When it comes to optimizing a customer’s production process, Miltera tests with only the best machines, workholding and tooling. PHOTO courtesy REGO FIX Miltera.
Mike Blackburn refers to his 20-person shop as an “enabler.” That’s because he and his team at Miltera Machining Research Corp. in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada, develop and prove out manufacturing processes, and then provide turnkey production solutions that enable customers to overcome their most demanding and ultra-precision part-making challenges. In doing so, Miltera optimizes every aspect, from programming and part setups to actual machining operations – and, in particular, toolholding – all of which customers can then replicate on their own shop floors.
This more-than-manufacturing business model has been Miltera’s strategy since the shop’s inception 15 years ago. “Early on,” said Blackburn, “we realized that there was a real need for a manufacturing company that could provide more than just part machining, and as of now, we are a bit of everything. While we focus on rapid prototyping and short-run production, we do so with the vision of moving that production into our customers’ facilities.”
The process usually starts when customers engage Miltera to develop prototypes. Once that happens, customers test the prototypes, then have Miltera make any necessary changes and run the initial production.
Projects span all industries but often involve the aerospace, medical, motorsports and consumer electronics sectors. More than 15 specialists work at the highly automated Miltera facility, which encompasses over 30,000 square feet, with capabilities that include 5-axis machining, multi-axis turning, EDM, grinding and sub-micron inspection capability.
Customer projects, according to Blackburn, typically have one or more of these key aspects. First, they involve very complex part geometries, such as complex free-form contoured surfaces requiring full 5-axis milling. Second, they require very tight tolerances that push the limits of machines and tooling, and require high-end metrology equipment for validation. Third, they use challenging part materials that can include everything from high-temp alloys to difficult-to-cut aluminums to other exotic materials.
When it comes to optimizing a customer’s production process, Miltera tests with only the best machines, workholding and tooling. “Although some machine tool OEMs and tooling vendors also offer such part process development,” said Blackburn, “it’s tough for them to run small-lot production over an extended period of time to prove out the process completely and provide the inspection reports to substantiate it. They will do so on a customer’s shop floor, but the problem is that the customer now has all the added time and cost to troubleshoot the system and work out all the kinks. We, on the other hand, are positioned to produce the parts until a customer is ready to implement the process, meaning they have all the machines and systems in place and can be up and running with a proven process right away.”
For customers with requirements for dual sourcing, Miltera is their back-up supplier because the shop initially developed the part process. This eliminates any lost production if a customer’s line is down for maintenance or any other reason, and provides extra capacity to meet an increase in demand.
“‘You know how to make our parts, and we need you to make some more,’ is usually the requests we get,” said Blackburn. “And we can do so just to hold them over until their operations are back to normal.”
Miltera constantly pushes the limits in terms of its manufacturing processes, and that requires high-end machines and tooling. “If we use subpar machines or tooling, we’ll never be able to solve our customers’ problems,” he explained. “That’s because any weak link in the production equipment chain will jeopardize an entire project. When it comes to the tooling link, we rely on the REGO-FIX powRgrip tool holding system, not only for its precision but also for its ease of use.”
Unlike other clamping systems that rely on heat or hydraulics, powRgrip uses the mechanical properties of the holder material to generate tremendous gripping force, with TIR of less than 0.0001″ (≤3 µm) and length adjustment repeatability of less than 0.0004″ (10 µm). Tools are ready to use immediately, with no wait time, loss of accuracy or shortened tool life.
“We can’t have toolholders running out and causing vibration, especially when we’re machining at high spindle speeds,” said Blackburn. “Time and time again, we’ve seen that using and/or recommending the absolute best tooling proves to be more cost effective for our customers in the long run. This usually means a bit higher initial cost, but they avoid all the problems and shortcomings of lower-quality tooling and get a longer working life out of their holders.”
More often than not, high-speed machining provides the solution to customer part-manufacturing challenges, and Miltera has five high-speed milling machines with spindle speeds ranging from 20,000 rpm and 36,000 rpm to 42,000 rpm. To date, according to Blackburn, the shop has yet to replace a machine tool spindle. He attributes that not only to the quality of the machines they use but also to the precision and exceptional balance of their powRgrip tool holders.
“The higher the spindle rpm, the more it magnifies even the slightest flaws or inaccuracies in a toolholder,” said Blackburn. “That’s not the case with powRgrip. We’ve done a lot of testing with other holder brands, and it’s surprising how many of them experience serious runout as well as inconsistent performance, especially at the higher spindle speeds. powRgrip holder performance is consistent and repeatable from holder to holder.”
Additionally, he said that the shop benefits from the flexibility of powRgrip holders. One holder allows for a range of cutter diameters to reduce tooling inventory. Plus, the holders give him the option of running with or without coolant-through capability, or they can run coolant flush on the outside of a tool.
“On the machine tool side, customers will often decide on type and brand. But when it comes to all the other aspects, such as toolholding, that is completely in our control,” said Blackburn. “We will dictate exactly what types and brands they definitely need to use for process success, and powRgrip is that system.”
Blackburn sees the shop continuing to face new customers, projects and markets. Existing customers continue to want more, and the shop will grow to provide needed high-end solutions. And as it does so, it further builds its knowledge base, putting it leaps and bounds beyond any of its competitors, according to Blackburn.
“Customers look to us for recommendations, and time and time again for every application we’ve done and will do, powRgrip has and will provide the highest accuracy, performance and tool life for our customers.”