Machining case study: Ahead of the Curve
- May 15, 2017
Calgary job shop realizes big benefits from its investment in advanced machine tools
THE PROBLEM: Holding close geometric tolerances on complex oil and gas parts
THE SOLUTION: Invest in advanced mill-turn multi-tasking machinery
The 2016 Capital Spending Survey by Gardner Business Media says an “overwhelming majority” of shops invest in new machine tools to increase productivity, and that the lion’s share of the world’s $6.5 billion annual equipment spend goes toward horizontal and vertical machining centres, which together make up more than half of all machine tool orders. Less than 15 per cent of shops buy a new machine due to tighter quality standards, and only 20 per cent do so for increased process flexibility. Based on these figures, it looks like Doru Gorzo, president of Elite Machining Ltd., is in the minority of machine tool buyers. And he’s just fine with that.
Against the wind
One look at Gorzo’s shop and you’ll know that he cares nothing for the status quo; indeed, going in unorthodox directions is one of the key ingredients of his success. A native of Romania, Gorzo packed up his extensive machining experience and emigrated to Calgary in 1982, right into one of the worst recessions in Canada’s history. Again, that didn’t matter much to Gorzo. Within four years he went into business for himself, pursuing oil and gas machining work for the Western provinces. He’s since grown the company to 2,300 sq m (25,000 sq ft) and 30 employees, and this ISO-9001 registered shop is known for its ability to machine extremely complex parts from Stellite, MP35N, ToughMet, glass-filled PEEK, and similar difficult materials, many of which are for the aerospace, medical, and automotive industries.
Elite still produces oil and gas parts. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why Elite underwent somewhat of a transformation five years ago, right on the heels of another economic slowdown. “We had the opportunity to take on some very complex work, but soon found it was not practical due to the multiple setups and fixturing required when using conventional machine tools,” Gorzo says. “There was no way to maintain the GD&T (Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing) requirements. We needed a way to complete parts in fewer operations.”
He’d been moving in that direction for some time. Elite has had four axis live tool lathes for the past decade or so, and was already familiar with the benefits of reduced part handling offered by such machines. But he needed to further eliminate setups while increasing his ability to deliver even the most complicated parts quickly. After canvassing the available machine tool options, he decided on a CTX beta 1250 TC turn-mill universal machine from DMG MORI, has since added two more, and is currently researching a fourth.
Elite’s CTX multi-tasking machines are capable of five axis simultaneous milling, have sub-spindle capabilities and up to 10 controllable axes. Gorzo says the chain magazine tool changer, capable of holding 120 tools, allows him to make virtually any part that fits within the machine’s working envelope quickly, something that makes his customers happy. “If a company calls up and says, ‘hey, I need these five parts next week,’ it’s not a problem, because I don’t have to move things around to different machines, or waste time building fixtures. Most of the setup is already in the machine.”
Elite’s machining efficiency is also improved by the “technology cycles” available on the CTX and similar DMG MORI equipment. John Baresic, product sales manager for DMG MORI Canada Inc., says the company offers 24 such cycles, including gear hobbing and skiving, eccentric machining, broken tool detection, and vibration monitoring, each designed to simplify a complex machining need.
“Technology cycles allow you to take full advantage of the powerful controller on these machines,” he says. “They make it easier to synchronize the spindles, for example, or use the lower turret as a steady rest. That’s an important distinction for the CTX. They are very configurable, and there are few limits on what you can do with one, so having a simple way to program and operate the machines is an important consideration.”
Gorzo agrees. “Let’s say I have to machine a hole at a compound angle. The technology cycles simplify this type of operation. They also give me greater control over cycle times, cutting parameters, and anything related to material removal. I looked at other lines of equipment before I bought the first CTX, and this is just one example of the advanced engineering that sets DMG MORI apart.”
The next level
Technology cycles are only part of the machine tool programming puzzle. The CTX controls are equipped with onboard ShopTurn CAD/CAM software from Siemens, allowing the operator to program quick jobs directly at the machine, or take more complex work offline.
And while many of the parts coming off the CTX multi-taskers go directly to the shipping department, not everything does. Elite also boasts AgieCharmilles wire and sinker EDM capabilities, which Gorzo says are used to cut shapes and profiles the other machines can’t. Elite’s equipment list also includes machining centres, twin spindle lathes, and CNC gun drilling machines. “We have very high end equipment and capabilities here,” he says.
It’s the CTX machines that have had the greatest impact, however, especially during a recent slowdown: though much of the shop was idle, the multi-taskers were kept busy round the clock. “The last couple of years have been very tough,” he says. “The flexibility and advanced capabilities of the CTX machines allowed me to quote on work I otherwise never could have. Without that, I’m sure it would have been far more difficult to get through the latest recession.”
Despite this happy situation, Gorzo says the shop’s current mastery of “extremely complex machining” hasn’t been easy to achieve. It took a couple years for his team to get completely up to speed on the new technology, and even now, requires a level of commitment that some shops might struggle with. Not Elite.
“When you’re machining parts that might take 40 hours or more to complete, and sell for tens of thousands of dollars, you have to be extremely organized,” he says. You have to control the data very well, and have good support systems in place in order to machine to these tolerances and level of complexity. This includes the cleanliness of the shop. You won’t find any metal chips or coolant on our floor. Everything is well documented, we have tool management in place—without all this in place, it would be very difficult to manage these machines. I consider it the next level of machining, and you really have to change your shop’s mentality to get there. But the CTX machines are incredibly well-suited to this type of work. That’s a big help.”
DMG MORI’s Baresic says Elite Machining is a shining example of what shops should strive for. “They do some really wonderful work over there. It’s a very well-organized shop, and Doru is definitely ahead of the curve on technology. He was able to survive through the tough times, even thrive, when so many others have failed. He’s one of a kind.” SMT