Modern HMC helps Ontario manufacturer improve productivity
The Problem: Maintain manufacturing operations in North America
The Solution: Replace outdated machine tools with a modern HMC
“Strong supplier relationship is key in addressing project requirements, machine setup and training, and provides timely service long after the sale.”
That learning comes from Bogdan Markiel, the CEO of DV Systems in Barrie, ON. Co-owners Markiel and Garth Greenough wanted new machines that would modernize their outdated operation, providing additional quality and competitiveness to keep their operations in North America. At the onset of the project, they couldn’t have imagined that supplier relationship would help them rethink their entire machining process. Markiel and Greenough also didn’t realize that replacing three older machines with just one Makino a61nx horizontal machining centre would yield a higher number of quality parts in just 75 per cent of its previous time. But it did.
The company’s motto is “Built Better.” Backing this statement requires extreme confidence in producing parts for its air compressors. To build better, Markiel and Greenough are a testament to the fact that the company must have the right horizontal machining technology in place, with the service behind it, ensuring every part is produced accurately. For manufacturers trying to achieve this balance, it often feels like they are taking a leap of faith to make the changes needed to get there. But change doesn’t have to be uncertain.
“After working with outdated equipment for so long, we knew that an investment in new equipment would be a big step for our business, particularly our operation,” says Markiel. “That is where we have found that relationships matter—the right supplier can help you select reliable equipment with tight tolerances, allowing you to deliver the products customers want. SST-Canada’s support is what led us to confidently replace our outdated equipment to improve our part quality.”
Refining a brand
DV Systems got its start in 1888 in Toledo, OH, when physician Allen DeVilbiss invented the spray atomizer, introducing an easier way to apply medicines to people’s throats. Over the years, the company’s product line expanded. It developed the spray gun and eventually began manufacturing air compressors in Barrie in 1954. The air compressor division became an independent company in 1998, taking on the name of Devair. In 2006, Markiel and Greenough purchased the company and shortly thereafter renamed it DV Systems.
Today the company employs 42 at its headquarters in Barrie. It has a new facility in Mooresville, NC, dedicated to serving a growing customer base in the US, which currently comprises 20 per cent of company sales.
Part of DV Systems’ rebranding and growth strategy includes becoming more competitive. It knew that moving production overseas to be more cost-effective—as many of its competitors were doing—was going to affect the quality of its products. Quality may be its number one concern, but it also places a high value on turnaround time. DV Systems manufactures four types of heavy duty air compressor pumps and 500 different models of air compressors, and it must produce these quickly. It needs the ability to easily change production from one model to another. When it considered product quality and turnaround time in addition to logistics, fuel prices and properly meeting voltage requirements for these compressors, DV Systems knew it had to maintain operations in North America. However, its equipment was severely outdated and unreliable.
“We had been using the same equipment for decades,” says Greenough. “It broke down often, resulting in part shortages. We knew it would take new horizontal machining technology to meet today’s needs. To be competitive, we needed to rework our processes
in a way that would produce the best quality parts while accommodating lean manufacturing. This required finding the right partner to help us plan for and get our employees, who had been working with the same equipment for decades, comfortable with new machine technologies.
“With most of our previous equipment, it would take four to six days to get someone out for service, which meant delayed orders and lost profits. However, when it came to our older LeBlond Makino, SST-Canada would be on site within a day to get the machine up and running again, despite its age. This led us to reach out to them when we needed new equipment. Their responsiveness is what really stood out from the other suppliers we considered.”
Understanding DV Systems’ need for strong support, SST-Canada application engineers engaged the company at a high level right from the beginning to develop a solution. Their approach involved spending several days at DV Systems, evaluating current processes and performing time studies.
“We originally looked at the a71 horizontal machining centre as a solution to upgrade our technology,” says Markiel. “It had a 50 taper spindle, just like our old equipment. We thought we’d retain the fixtures, 500 mm pallet configuration and tooling that we already had. But then Makino released its nx-Series machines, and we realized that our original vision was like putting old tires on a new car. We needed to reconsider what our operation would look like. Despite having a 40 taper spindle, we learned that the a61nx could supply everything we needed. It, too, had a 500 mm pallet and would cut better and stronger using the latest advancements in tooling technology and fixture design, so it became part of our considerations.”
For a year, SST-Canada and DV Systems worked together to develop an implementation plan. In addition to analyzing ship processes, they paid special attention to improving machining methods.
“After studying our current process, SST-Canada had innovative ideas for revamping our operation,” says Greenough. “One of the best parts of my job is getting involved in the early stages of new product design and development. Going through the creative stages of developing a new part, and then seeing it take shape in the factory, is very rewarding. That is exactly what happened here in planning our new process. It was a true partnership that led us to change our vision about how we were producing parts.”
Its new processing method would help DV Systems machine all components of an air compressor—an entire set of parts at once—on each fixture, so that each could be assembled complete. With the old method, the company had dedicated fixtures for each part and would machine identical parts on the same fixture, running large volumes at a time before switching fixtures to produce the next set of parts. This process would result in having dozens of parts from different families sitting idle in work-in-process inventory until all part families were complete. With this updated lean method, DV Systems could make products to order and acquired the ability to quickly change from one model of compressor to another. To accomplish this goal, SST-Canada brought in Sandvik Coromant to develop a tooling package, and ABA Machining & Welding to develop new fixtures.
“We knew that we didn’t have the knowledge or expertise in-house for the tooling and fixtures,” says Warren Henley, plant manager at DV Systems. “But through SST-Canada’s recommendations, these three companies developed this new process into a complete solution, ultimately making our vision happen. They truly worked together to get the solution we needed. If we had a meeting with one of these companies, all of them would show up. There were no egos—everyone worked for the common good.
“Sandvik and ABA were also able to confirm the capabilities of the a61nx. The president of SST-Canada also told us that we absolutely would not fail. These strong endorsements helped to seal the deal for this solution. We knew that both the technology and the strong supplier relationships would set us up for success, so in 2013 we purchased the a61nx.”
Knowing it would be using this new horizontal machining centre, DV Systems also began digitizing the machine programming process. It went from drawing parts and programming at the machine to using advanced software to create its intricate fixtures in three dimensional models. Its approach enabled DV Systems to put its part models right into the Makino environment for production.
“With our old process, all our drawings were on paper and we did manual programming,” says Luke Thrush, product engineer at DV Systems. “The paper trail was difficult to navigate when we needed to retrace changes to the latest version. A lot of work went into transitioning from the old technology to new, and the SST-Canada applications team really helped get us here. Now documentation is a snap. Using the a61nx and our new CAM processes, we are able to design quality into our parts right from the beginning. For instance, we can do collision detecting during the design phase and ultimately eliminate machine downtime that we previously spent while proving out parts. This system has truly brought our manufacturing capabilities up to modern standards.”
What has resulted from all of this new technology is DV Systems’ ability to execute its vision of producing a full set of parts complete on the a61nx. It can now produce a new compressor with each completed fixture.
A new level of manufacturing
The new method helps the company reduce work-in-process inventory. In addition, its ability to machine a full set of parts means that if DV Systems receives an order on Monday, it can ship a completed compressor by Friday.
“We never would have been able to do this, had we shipped our production overseas,” said Markiel. “Right from the beginning, we realized that the capabilities of the a61nx were better than we could have ever imagined. It has not only removed our previous stress about downtime but also contributed in achieving a new level of manufacturing.
“At DV Systems, we are serious about both the timing in which our customers get their product from us and the quality of that product. Our new horizontal machining technology has allowed us to make significant improvements to both.
“Because of our new processing, machine capabilities and workflow efficiencies, on one particular product, we have gone from producing four parts per day to eight per day. This type of savings has allowed us to do more manufacturing in-house and has enhanced our profitability year over year. Our horizontal machining technology allows us to not only produce more parts but to design new parts, expanding our product line. And we now have the space on our floor to accommodate that expansion.”
The a61nx replaced three of the company’s previous CNC machines and some manual machines. It also operates using only 75 per cent of the previous shift. No changeover time is required, because each fixture produces all components necessary to assemble a new compressor. This improved efficiency has provided operators with extra time to take on additional roles.
“Part of our new process solution was to create a more flexible team of workers,” says Markiel. “For example, Sean is one of our a61nx operators. Until recently, he worked primarily in our shipping department and had never run a machine. But one of our goals was to make employees more valuable by cross-training them in different roles. The more skills they have, the better pay they receive. Sean works part of the day as an operator, and because the machine does most of the work, he has time to work the other half of the day in shipping. The same applies in engineering—the design engineers can do a variety of tasks, including roles traditionally managed on the shop floor.”
This combination of skilled employees and precision machinery has enabled DV Systems to remain competitive and keep jobs in Barrie. With strong growth in Canada, the company can now focus on US expansion, where it expects to triple sales in the coming years.
“As a result of our new capabilities, we can confidently operate in a lean environment, building the best product possible with the best equipment we could have asked for,” said Markiel.
“In five to 10 years, we know we will be moving even more product out the door. Working with SST has made us realize the value and importance of building strong and trustworthy partnerships with a supplier. This, combined with exceptional technology, has allowed us to do things we’d never even dreamt of before.” SMT