Mighty milling

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Gas turbine maker stays competitive with full service support and technology investments 

The problem: Improve machining productivity for large complex parts

The solution: Full five axis machining with new $1.2 million universal milling machine

by Mary Scianna

When River Associates Investments was looking at acquisitions in Canada, it turned its eye on KK Precision, a privately held custom manufacturer in Toronto.

The Chattanooga, TN, company knew a good investment when it saw it. KK Precision specializes in a niche market—precision manufacturing of complex components for gas turbines used in the aerospace, defense, energy, marine and general industrial markets. Last fall, River Associates acquired KK Precision.

Machining gas turbine components is a challenging business that requires engineering and manufacturing expertise. It’s a niche market that has helped set KK Precision apart from standard custom job shops in Canada, says George Koulakian, vice president.

“It’s what differentiates us from others in the market. Because of the type of precision work we do, we work directly with our OEM customers to manufacture parts. So even before the drawings are generated, our engineers will meet with our customers’ engineers to discuss how the part will be made. It’s a good partnership because our customers are good in designing a part and we are good in knowing how best to manufacture it.”

At the heart of KK Precision’s business is its manufacturing shop, a 28, 000 sq ft facility in North Toronto that houses 22 CNC machines—vertical lathes, horizontal boring mills and five and six axis milling machines, grinding machines, and machining centres. The latest member of the family is a full five axis universal milling machine from DMG, the DMU 160 P duoBlock installed in 2010. The new high speed machine has helped the company improve productivity by reducing set up times and machining cycle times.

The shop can accommodate a variety of large sizes. Tables for all of the machines range in diameter and include 1 m, 1.6 m, 2 m, 3 m and 4 m tables.

The custom manufacturing business is a competitive one, even when you’re working in a niche market such as gas turbine component manufacturing. KK Precision has positioned itself as leader in the field by focusing on the value-added engineering support and service—manufacturing know-how—and by providing component assembly of precision modules. The latter service means having a supply chain management program overseen by a supply chain manager.

“In the past a customer would go to a number of different suppliers to machine and assemble different components for a part. We approached our customers and said to them ‘let us handle the assembly of the parts we’re machining for you.’ So now we purchase the components that we don’t machine and assemble them onto the parts we do machine to provide better value-added service to our customers.”

An example of this is a fuel shut-off value. It has more than 25 components that need to be assembled. KK Precision machines only three to four of these components, purchases the remaining ones, and assembles them into a part for its customer.

KK Precision is well-positioned to expand in its niche market. It employs 40 machinists and 25 support staff all involved in what Koulakian describes as the company’s “complete solution” for gas turbine OEMs.

“We’ve developed expertise in machining for this niche market and it’s not something that everyone can do. We’ve differentiated ourselves from others by providing a complete solution for a specialized market—purchasing component materials, machining high temperature alloys, providing engineering knowledge and component assembly.”

The Equipment
DMG Canada, Mississauga, ON, installed the DMU 160 P duoBlock universal milling machine in KK Precision’s shop in 2010. What sets the machine apart from other five axis machines in the company’s shop is the full, simultaneous five axis machining capability that has reduced set up times and improved machining cycle times on some parts by 20 per cent, estimates George Koulakian, KK Precision’s vice president.

“We used to buy Japanese machines and this is the first German-made machine we have purchased. It has made a good impact. Our other machines are good, but they are older models and the DMG machine has the latest technologies, so we expected it to perform better. It’s a high speed machine and it’s very accurate,” notes Koulakian. 

“This milling machine has provided us with the opportunity to be more competitive because we’ve been challenged with costs. We are more productive with it because of its full five axis capability, which allows us to machine on all sides of the part, even far reaching areas that we can’t machine on our other CNC machines. Set up is also faster because we only have to set up once to do an entire part whereas with our other machines we may have to do more than one setup and that means idle time on the machine, which costs us money.”

And when you’re dealing with a $1.2 million machine tool investment, you want to minimize machine down as much as possible. Koulakian says he expects a five-year ROI in the investment.

The DMG milling machine’s performance is partly attributed to its design and construction, which features the machine tool builder’s patented duoBlock construction on a solid three-point support machine bed for higher machining precision and accuracies. The 12,000 rpm machine is designed with X, Y and Z work areas measuring 60.0 in. x 49.2 in. x 43. 3 in. (1.5 m x 1.2 m x 1.1 m) respectively. The machine can handle table loads up to 8, 818.5 lb (4,000 kg).

Part of KK Precision’s success in the gas turbine manufacturing market is its focus on technology. 

“As we move into new technologies [with gas turbine component machining] we are looking at milling machines with turning capabilities. This is something that we are looking at for the future and I know that DMG and others have mill turn machining centres that could meet future needs. While cutting tools are important in the machining process, for us, it is the machine tool that makes the difference in our ability to precision machine the parts we make.” SMT

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