The latest machining automation investment is the purchase of five axis machining centres with pallet stocking towers.Click image to enlargeby Mary Scianna

The Problem: Staying competitive

The Solution: Purchasing machining cell automation

 

A BC shop's early adoption of machining automation keeps business strong through economic turbulence

Long before there was any need for five axis machining, automation and machining cells, a mid-sized machine shop in Delta, BC, invested in all of these technologies.

Why?

"If it wasn't for our first piece of automation equipment, a two-pallet stacking shuttle machining centre, we wouldn't have survived the recession in 1991," says Udo Jahn, general manager and owner of Modern Engineering. "We were able to be more productive and we went on to buy four more of these machining cells within five years."

But it didn't end there. In the late 1990s, it purchased its first flexible manufacturing system, consisting of two horizontal machining centres (HMCs) with a 28-pallet delivery system. Within the next three years, it added another HMC and increased to 40 pallets. "This helped us get through the next recession in 2001."

And it didn't end in 2001 either. In 2006, in entered the world of five axis machining automation by purchasing its first MAM72-63V five axis vertical machining centre equipped with a six pallet pool. In 2011, it purchased two MAM72-35V five axis machining centres with 32-pallet stocking towers, then purchased its third such system in 2013.

This spring, Modern Engineering will take delivery of its fifth, five axis 18-pallet machining centre.

All of the five axis machining cells are Matsuura MAM72 (Matsuura Advanced Manufacturing) models purchased from long-time machine tool supplier Elliott-Matsuura Canada Inc., Oakville, ON.

Asked why he has made such significant, multi-million dollar investments in machining automation and Jahn responds with a matter-of-fact statement: "automation is key to Canada's ability to compete on a global scale. We're using productivity and automation to compete globally. You can't become globally competitive with an anvil and a hammer."

Lindsay Harris, the BC regional sales manager for Elliott-Matsuura Canada Inc., Modern Engineering's point man for the machining cells, knew Udo Jahn long before he joined Elliott-Matsuura. During a two-year stint as a productivity consultant, Harris helped Modern Engineering implement machining automation systems, productivity improvement processes and procedures, and the 5S system.

"Udo's philosophy is simple; you always have to stay ahead of the competition and he's doing that by investing in five axis machining automation. His five axis capabilities are the strongest of any manufacturer in Canada. He knew five axis would be the next wave and he has positioned himself to be the strongest in this technology."

Growing pains
The machining cells allow Modern Engineering to operate 24 hours a day, but Jahn says reaching the point of lights out didn't happen overnight.

"It was a long learning curve and it took from six months to about a year to have our systems functioning properly for lights out. We were totally unprepared for what we had to do; fixtures we had to build for five axis automation, tooling we needed to acquire and understanding how to schedule for lights out. We needed to create a good ERP system to plan production and material scheduling."

Jahn adds that help and support from Elliott-Matsuura's service and applications team, including Ken Archer and his predecessor Hans Strohhacker, eased the learning curve for lights out automation.

Modern Engineering's strength in five axis machining automation is attributable to two things: technology and people.

"The engineering staff really understand simultaneous five axis machining," says Lindsay Harris, the BC regional sales manager for Elliott-Matsuura who has helped Modern Engineering on its journey to machining automation. "Modern has staff on board that know how to design workhholding for five axis and they're an innovative group of people."

In addition to making its own fixturing for five axis machining, Modern Engineering also built its own inventory tool management system.

"It's a system our programmers and machinists use," explains Jahn. "We have a toolcrib and access to information online via a server, but tool management and tool monitoring is still a challenge for us in this type of machining automation environment and it's an area we could use more education to improve our processes. SMT

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