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Alberta cooling systems maker improves productivity with metalworking fluid

Cooling systems manufacturer Flexxaire has had a successful 30-year run because of one simple strategy: its ongoing investment in new manufacturing technologies.

Founded in Edmonton, AB 1994, the company produces high velocity cooling systems for heavy equipment diesel engines in the forestry, agriculture, mining, construction, recycling, power generation and waste handling industries. Now transitioning into its third decade of operation, Flexxaire’s engineers are innovating state-of-the-art, intelligent engine cooling systems for the future.

Producing cooling systems from its 1,672 sq m (18,000 sq ft) manufacturing and testing facility, utilizing the latest advances in technology for CNC machining centres and robotics, Flexxaire strives to innovate and improve products for customers and ensure its products help to improve the environment by being fuel efficient.

Flexxaire’s Total Air Flow (TAC) fan and control systems adjusts blade pitch automatically, from 0° to 40°, to regulate engine fluid temperatures within a narrow operating range. This system offers infinite variable blade pitch based on input from a control system that is continuously monitoring engine fluid temperatures. This ensures the cooling system, which is the largest contributor to parasitic loss, never draws more power than ambient conditions dictate. The end result from a more efficient cooling system is longer equipment uptime and reduced fuel consumption, thus money saved.

An example of the fan engines Flexxaire manufactures in its Edmonton, AB, facility.Production manager Chris Nieuwendyk is always looking for ways to improve Flexxaire’s productivity and throughput. Managing a production floor consisting of nine multi-axis machining centres as well as assembly can be a daunting task. The material Flexxaire machines varies from a wide range of metals consisting of 6061-T6 Aluminum, 4140, 4340, DuraBar and 1045 steel. Machining operations range from milling to turning, as well as drilling and threading.

“When automating the shop floor, all aspects need to be taken into consideration including fluid selection and management.” says Nieuwendyk. “When we looked at going into automation, the right metalworking fluid was a paramount decision for us. That’s when I contacted our tooling partner, Ivan Royer at Thomas Skinner to see what coolant options they could provide.”

Thomas Skinner, which distributes Blaser Swisslube metalworking fluids to customers in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia, brought in Errol Barr, area manager for Blaser Swisslube Inc. to consult and make recommendations on this project. Some of the machining issues Flexxaire was experiencing, which they contributed to their current metalworking fluid, included inconsistency machining process due to tap breakage, marginal surface finish, and poor sump life as the sumps were spoiling every three to four months. High fluid disposal costs and high fluid consumption due to fluid drag out were also issues that needed to be addressed.

After analyzing the situation, in addition to Flexxaire’s overall goals of automation taken into consideration, the company selected Blasocut BC 940 SW for testing. The metalworking fluid is formulated for high cutting performance and long tool life in exotic alloys and is designed for use in heavy duty machining applications over a wide range of materials. It has excellent washing action, low drag out and low misting properties, providing machine shop cleanliness. Blasocut emulsions provide excellent bio-chemical stability and long sump life. Blaser Swisslube accomplishes this without the use of bactericides, while maintaining environmental health and safety.

Initial testing occurred in a recently purchased DMG MORI NZ2000 turning centre with a fully automated six axis Fanuc M-710iC robot. This machining cell would demonstrate if the Blasocut BC 940 SW would improve machining consistency and uptime. “Balancing tool life with consistent productivity is important in automation,” says Nieuwendyk. “Sometimes pushing the process to the limit isn’t conducive to machining reliability and performance, the key is finding the right balance and we were hopeful that the BC 940 SW would improve our process”.

One of the major problems Flexxaire was experiencing was tap breakage on various roll form taps. Because of this, machining process was inconsistent. “We felt the tap breakage problem was due to poor lubricity of the current coolant in use,” says Nieuwendyk. “We couldn’t get repeatability as our tap life was anywhere from three to four parts per tap. Also, we had to stop the machines to add tapping fluid to each hole prior to the tapping operation; obviously this is counterproductive when trying to fully automate a machining cell”.

He adds that Flexxaire in now getting a consistent seven parts per tap using the Blaser Swisslube metalworking fluid, “which equates to a 75 per cent increase in productivity, and tapping fluid is no longer needed as the BC 940 SW alone is adequate. We now have predictable tool life management and the cell can now run fully automated. Also with the coolant having a lot more lubricity we are finding we don’t get built up edge on our inserts from machining aluminum, which was causing poor surface finishes on critical part surfaces”.

In addition to improving machining consistency, tapping performance and surface finish, the company witnessed a dramatic reduction in coolant concentrate consumption. “We were topping up the machines at two to three percent on a regular basis”, states Nieuwendyk. “We are now on average topping up at one to one and half per cent and have seen our coolant purchases reduced by more than half. This alone has saved the company a large sum of money, but another impressive benefit of the BC 940 SW is the sump life. I have noticed a huge difference with regards to the smell of the shop. We had the machines sit for about a week and a half over the Christmas break and when we came back to work there was no smell of the coolant”.

Flexxaire has now switched over the entire facility to BC 940 SW and further cost savings will be forthcoming as cutting tools are optimized for higher metal removal rates, surely a positive outcome for both parties. SMT

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