by Tim Wilson
Workholding that can’t handle production volumes for niche industrial demand.
A high density, low profile clamp to improve machining efficiencies, cut material waste.
BC bike component manufacturer clamps on to workholding solution
Straitline Components, a sister company to Straitline Precision Industries, is a family-run business in Victoria, BC, that has found a profitable niche designing and manufacturing high end aftermarket bicycle products. Success has come from embracing the latest design and manufacturing technology, finding partners who can keep it in the race, while always enjoying the ride.
“We started in 1996 as a manual machine shop in our garage,” says DJ Paulson, who shares responsibilities for running the ten-person shop with his brother, Dennis. “We now have 10 CNC machines of all types, and continue to be keen on specialty processes such as Swiss machining multi-axis, and mill-turn machining. Our roots lie in the precision contract manufacturing business.”
It was seven years ago that Straitline launched its own brand of high performance downhill mountain bike components. The product line grew quickly, with the company’s pedals, stems, and chain guide devices now distributed worldwide. Growth has led to exposure in the machining world, with vendors, distributors, and customers sitting up and taking notice. One area of ongoing interest is Straitline’s use of Mitee-Bite clamps.
“Mitee-Bite has a low profile clamping system,” says Paulson. “It allows us to make simple fixtures that can hold a high number of parts per fixture. This helps reduce cycle time by decreasing the amount of necessary machine movement between parts, as well as decreasing the amount of required tool changes per cycle, all resulting in less machine wear.”
Given Straitline’s emphasis on high production and quality, having a reliable clamp that increases workholding density can make a
“We’ve been working with DJ Paulson at Straitline Components for a couple years now,” says Andy Arsenault, marketing and sales assistant at Mitee-Bite Products LLC, in Center Ossipee, NH. “Straitline utilizes our Pitbull Clamps for high density applications. They also use our TalonGrip and VersaGrip Vise Jaw systems, and our Mitee-Grip adhesive product line.”
Arsenault adds Mitee-Bite’s aim is to
deliver the highest quality, most productive fixtures possible, all while reducing idle spindle time and, most importantly, increasing customer profitability.
“Before using our clamps Straitline’s operators were running machines evenings and weekends to keep up with their demand,” says Arsenault. “After DJ began utilizing our Pitbull Clamps with his fixtures, operators were able to work eight hour shifts Monday through Friday with the ability to produce the same–if not more – product than before.”
More with less
Straitline is in the midst of a strong push to diversify, particularly into aerospace. The Mitee-Bite clamping system helps make this strategy viable, as it delivers more material for machining. In aerospace, anything that reduces exposure to high cost materials, and to failure, is central to a business’s success.
“We do about one third of our work in aerospace,” says Paulson. “And we are aggressively pursuing our AS9100 designation so that we can feed into OEMs.”
Specifically, in aerospace Straitline is expected to make pre-designed parts of great complexity. Clamping systems must be versatile to hold on to any part–some of them awkwardly shaped. The company has proven that it has a knack for making these parts efficiently, with Mitee-Bite being part of that solution.
“Mitee-Bite makes something for every application, and its products are perhaps even more relevant for our aerospace business,” says Paulson. “In that world material costs are high, and all materials are certified. Our customers only supply us with just enough–there can be no waste.”
Here is where the specifics of a Mitee-Bite clamp can tell the tale. Competing vises often need more space and are harder to apply; a Mitee-Bite Talon or Pitbull Grip can hold on to 1/16th of an in. (1.6 mm), compared to other clamps that might need 1/8th to 1/4 of an in. (3.2 to 6.35 mm).
“The Pitbull clamp is a positive clamping system that can securely grip on to a tiny amount of material,” says Paulson. “In our horizontal machining centre density is the key. It allows us to push through more work than ever before, while utilizing thinner stock to reduce material costs.”
Paulson gives the example of having 100 parts machined conventionally, one at a time, averaging eight tool changes per part. That represents 800 hundred tool changes, as well as 100 times that the operator must tend to the machine–opening the door, reloading the part, closing the door, and pressing cycle start. However, with dense fixturing using Mitee-Bite, the total number of tool changes drops to eight for the complete run of 100 parts. As well, if a pallet could load 200 smaller parts, that would represent a saving of 1600 tool changes, significantly reducing labour and wear on critical machine parts.
Consequently, though Mitee-Bite has taken some of the weight off of shift work, it also complements Straitline’s ability to embrace lights-out manufacturing–of increasing relevance as the company diversifies and scales to higher volumes.
“With horizontal machining we can have each tombstone fully loaded at the end of the day and scheduled to be run after we walk out the door,” says Paulson. “Sometimes, it runs 18 hours unattended and is still running when we come in the next morning. This can represent four to five hundred parts fully finished.”
Pallets are re-loaded while the machine is up and running, allowing DJ and his brother Dennis, who runs the design-side of the business, to focus on innovation.
“We are a small but highly driven company, and we do have our fair share of fun as well,” says Paulson. “The bicycle market has grown really fast lately. It’s becoming one of the world’s more popular outdoor extreme sports.”
This is a huge opportunity, as is aerospace, despite the stiff competition coming from emerging markets in Asia. But Straitline seems to relish the challenge; in fact, the company sells a substantial amount of its products into China, Indonesia, and Japan, with Europe now coming online as an important opportunity.
“By doing lights out manufacturing, and high volume, we can compete with the offshore manufacturers,” says Paulson. “And we have been super-impressed with Mitee-Bite’s highly durable and functional products.”
As Straitline embraces more complex machining processes, it seems likely that Mitee-Bite will continue to be part of the story. So far, it’s been quite a ride, and, as with any business, when things take flight it’s crucial to keep a solid grip.SMT
Tim Wilson is a contributing editor.