by Mary Scianna
Metals supply business invests in technology to better service customers
When a market you serve undergoes significant changes, the only way to succeed is to respond to those changes. Such is the case with Bohler Uddeholm, a metals supply business that has been in operation in Canada since 1953.
“Like many industries flexing up and down the supply chain, we’re offering more services so companies that get our products receive them in semi-finished condition,” explains Jamie McIntosh, director of strategic development. “This allows them to turn their products into finished goods in a relatively short period of time.”
To achieve this, Bohler Uddeholm has made significant investments in technology and Lean manufacturing practices at its main facility in Mississauga, ON, a 5,574 sq m (60,000 sq ft) plant that houses production, warehousing and offices.
The most recent investments are two Chevalier surface grinders and a Dah Lih VMC purchased from the company’s long-time supplier, machine tool distributor Heinman Machinery, based in Mississauga, ON.
Designed for service
At the core of Bohler Uddeholm’s business is supplying metals to the manufacturing industry. Like its customers, the company recognizes that to remain competitive and to secure future growth, it must provide value-added services, says McIntosh.
Providing that value-added service is what spurred the investment in new technologies for surface grinding, face milling, saw cutting and deep hole drilling.
“For many industries we service and support, we don’t just sell them pounds of steel. When required, we add more value by providing machining services. Many of our customers just require saw cut material, but a growing portion of them are asking for the material to be machined.”
With plate, for example, Bohler Uddeholm can machine the six sides to bring the plate into flatness and squareness. “So when a customer puts that plate into his machine to do finish machining, it is ready to go.”
Machinery for service and growth
The recent machinery purchases from Heinman Machinery fit in with a key driving force that McIntosh describes as a company pillar: to speed up the process from when the company gets the order to when it goes out to the customer. McIntosh cites the new Dah Lih VMC as an example.
“One of the improvements in technology over the older machine is the power of this machine and the material removal rate. The machine can remove material faster while maintaining the tolerances our customers require.”
“When we were looking for a new VMC, one of the shortlist of manufacturers was Dah Lih because of our experience with them but also because of our experience with Heinman. Heinman is a local dealer just down the road from us and very well known in the industry. We knew from our past experience that it could provide us with the level of support that we needed to get the machine set up and running.”
The new Dah Lih VMC, the MCV-1350, has a working surface measuring 1,702 x 681 mm (67 x 26.8 in.) and a maximum table load capacity of 1,497 kg (3,300). Z, Y and Z axis travels are 1,346, 635 and 701 mm (53, 25 and 27.6 in.) respectively.
The Chevalier surface grinders also fit into Bohler Uddeholm’s strategy to get products to customers faster, adds McIntosh.
“The surface grinders are the only two we have in the facility. So if we have an issue with one it cuts our capacity in half and we can’t afford to be in that position. It’s all about being fast and when our machines aren’t performing up to the level they need to, we need support quickly to correct the situation and that’s why we have a bias towards working with local suppliers like Heinman.”
The Chevalier surface grinders, the FSG-4060DC and the FSG-4080 DC, are double column bridge type grinders. McIntosh says Bohler Uddeholm selected the bridge type grinders because they’re more stable and allow the metals supplier to achieve consistent tight tolerances required by its customers. The 4060DC is equipped with a 1,000 x 1,500 mm (39.3 x 59 in.) table while the 4080DC’s table measures 1,000 x 2,000 mm (39.3 x 79 in.). Both are built and designed for grinding large, heavy workpieces. The machine base and table are made from Meehanite cast iron. Four square slideways ensure rigidity, while the spindle head on the Y axis moves on four hardened, ground and wide guideways. The machines are equipped with a user friendly CNC controller, the PC-based Chevalier Smart, that uses conversational programming.
Support for success
McIntosh attributes Bohler Uddeholm’s success in the Canadian market to its investments in technology, but also to support from its Austrian parent company, voestalpine.
“Our parent company believes strongly in the Canadian market and has been supporting us through investments. There’s more we can do to support local industry. We’re aligning ourselves so our customers can benefit from a strong supply network.”
Being part of a global company network benefits Bohler Uddeholm in other ways too. One example is product traceability. Bohler has the ability to trace a product from the initial melt through to the finished product that is heat treated, coated and ready for production, “so if any issue comes up we have process controls and systems in place,” says McIntosh. “It allows us to approach any issues with confidence because we can trace the product back to ensure it met specifications. Then we can help the customer by looking at where failure may have occurred, such as how the material was run in production or the design of the mould, and we can offer advice to our customers and address specific issues.”
The recent investments in machinery have helped Bohler Uddeholm improve its service to customers. More importantly, it has helped to improve production efficiencies and get products out the door more quickly.
“We have probably doubled our production going out the door since the investments we’ve made in the new machinery. We were at a conference recently and one of the repeating themes was that time is the new currency. That rings true with our business. Getting products faster to our customers is a major lever to be competitive in the industry.” SMT