Quebec shop earns respect and long-term customers one machine at a time
Usinage R.A. Inc.’s (URA) customers are loyal. Upwards of 90 per cent of the shop’s work is repeat business, and some customers have been with URA since its founding, according to co-owner Daniel Vachon. In fact, the majority of the Drummondville, QC, shop’s customers have been with URA for at least 10 years, including several who have worked with the shop for more than 30 years, a remarkable loyalty that the team at URA attributes to its fast turnaround and high quality.
URA’s wide ranging machining capabilities, long time loyalty of its customers and its strong reliance on its machine tool suppliers and employees has enabled the shop to grow and thrive over the past three decades. URA handles low volume/high mix jobs that require rapid turnaround. Job lot sizes vary, but the majority are very small, usually only one or two pieces, and rarely exceed 100. But every once in a while, the shop receives an order for 2,000 pieces or more.
For acquiring the machines and equipment to handle its production requirements, URA has maintained a long-standing relationship with A.W. Miller Equipment Technique, Inc., a St-Laurent, QC, distributor for Mazak machine tools as well as other metalworking equipment and products. URA bought its first CNC machine, a Mazak VTC-200B vertical machining centre in 2000.
Over the past seven years, URA’s major area of concentration has become the manufacture of compression moulds for large components. Unlike injection moulding, compression moulding starts with a plastic or rubber preform or powder that is placed in a mould. After the mould is clamped shut it is heated until the plastic melts and fills the mould contours.
URA produces the moulds with 3D machining techniques on a recently acquired Mazak Variaxis i-700T vertical machining centre. The machine combines multiple surface, five axis milling with advanced turning capability to process complex parts in a single setup. A rotary/tilt table provides high positioning accuracy and the machine features a Capto C6, 40 hp, 18,000 rpm spindle along with a 150˚ tilting A axis and a 360˚ rotating C axis with a direct drive motor capable of 1,100 rpm for turning. The machine handles parts up to 850 mm (33.46 in.) in diameter and 500 mm (19.69 in.) high with X, Y and Z axis travels measuring 630, 1,100 and 500 mm (24.8, 43.3 and 23.6 in.), respectively. URA added productivity enhancing options that include high pressure coolant, expanded tool magazine, chip conveyor and in-machine probing.
A.W. Miller representative Sebastien Bapst explains what makes the Variaxis i-700T unique is its turning capability. Before the shop acquired the machine, some moulds had to be turned on a large manual lathe, then milled in up to seven setups on three axis machines.
“We needed the turning for our round parts and moldmaking,” Vachon says. “Everything was a new setup on a three axis machine. With the Variaxis, the table just flips and keeps working.”
When equipped with a small diameter ball end mill, the machine’s 18,000 rpm spindle produces high quality mould finishes. While URA still outsources some post-machining polishing, Vachon said the company saves money because its polishing needs are less. URA saves time because the surface finish is much better after the machining process. “It takes the supplier who does our polishing half the time it did prior,” he adds.
In addition to the VTC-200B and the Variaxis i-700T machining centres, URA has seven Mazak machines with a diverse set of capabilities, including an Integrex 300-IV S multi-tasking machining centre with a machining length of 1,524 mm (60 in.) and integrated turning capabilities with a second spindle as well as full five axis milling capabilities for complete “Done In One” part processing. Also on the shop’s floor are a Quick Turn 250 turning centre, VCN-410A and VCN-410B vertical machining centres, and a VTC-300C vertical traveling column machining centre. The shop does not purchase a machine to fulfill a specific contract, but will instead acquire equipment first, then secure work for it.
“URA has a diverse set of machines and capabilities,” says A.W. Miller general manager Jean Seguin. “Considering the variety of the work the shop does, and that they want to turn it around quickly, we looked at equipment that would provide more capabilities and require less setup time. They are active in all kinds of different industries, which requires a lot of flexibility.”
The ease of use of the Mazatrol programming system on the Mazak machines was an important consideration during the initial purchase of each of the machines.
“At the time of our first machine, programming was not our strong suit,” says Yanick Auger, co-owner of Usinage R.A. Inc. “There was practically no learning curve, and our machinists can seamlessly move from running one Mazak to the next. Now our machinists are comfortable working with Mazatrol. The software has definitely evolved, but it’s still just as user friendly, if not more.”
Some of URA’s compression moulds are used to form large, highly contoured snowmobile skis from ultra high molecular weight (UHMW) polyethylene, a tough, abrasion resistant polymer. One of the shop’s long time customers produces a selection of UHMW parts such as skis and track kits for ATVs, as well as some rubber parts like tracks for tank treads.
In its mouldmaking operations, URA works primarily with steels, although it also machines aluminum, bronze, cast iron and a variety of plastics. Tolerances generally are in the range of ±0.0005 in. In fact, “half a thousandth is easy for us to maintain, with consistent repeatability,” Vachon says.
Founded in 1989 by René Auger, URA is now owned by his son Yanick together with Vachon. URA has 13 employees total, including management, and works two shifts a day. Capabilities include CNC and conventional milling, MIG and TIG welding and gear making.
“We specialize in big parts but don’t want to have a big shop with 50 or 60 employees,” said Auger.
URA managers work closely with employees to involve them in operational decisions. The majority of those working at URA are loyal, long time employees.
As Auger puts it, “our team greatly contributes to improving plant productivity. They are as critical to our success as is the high capability and versatility we get from our Mazak machines.” SMT