Monitoring process inputs, analyzing data, and continuously improving manufacturing processes are keys to increasing productivity and accuracy. Renishaw’s Productive Process Pyramid approach to controlling CNC operations establishes checks and measurements before, during, and immediately after machining to control common-cause and special-cause variation. Simply measuring the output of a manufacturing process using tailgate inspection is typically not enough, and often too late to control all the variability.
The Productive Process Pyramid identifies opportunities to reduce operating and quality costs without investment in more machinery – allowing manufacturers to get the most out of machine tool investments.
To control process variability, precision engineering technol- ogy leader Renishaw offers its systems as a complement to high-productivity machining centers for improved manufacturing capability. A manufacturing cell machines an enclosure housing using measurement data and connectivity to enable highly automated, highly productive, accurate manufacturing. Cell data, measured by the QC20-W wireless ballbar, outlines the effects of machine tool performance on the quality of parts produced.
This technology allows rapid automated tool setting with the Renishaw NC4 and easy workpiece location using the SPRINT™ on-machine scanning system.
Renishaw’s Equator Gaging System uses robot handling and data connectivity to provide automatic tool offset control and point-of-manufacture quality assurance, keeping the machining process centered. When all machining and finishing processes are complete, Renishaw CMM inspection systems verify final part specifications. The machining cell lowers costs by around 64%, eliminating labor costs and increasing good part throughput.
The new Eclipse 12-100 is a ground upre-design of the famous Hydromat concept with all new components. The machine’s 2m-dimater ductile-iron casting, nearly twice as large as the traditional 12-station Hydromat machine, is designed for heavy, extremely accurate tool spindles, each having 3-axis capability as standard. This eliminates the need to change tool spindle sizes for different cutting processes or add 3-axis flanges.
The Eclipse features all-electric servo spindle. No hydraulics are needed for tool spindle motion as in previous Hydromat machines. These new technologies, along with the beefier base, yield better accuracy and repeatability.
The bar-fed collet version of the Eclipse 12-100 has a maximum workpiece diameter of 65mm (2.5"), nearly double the standard Hydromat machine, and features a maximum workpiece length of 180mm (7") with 127mm (5") of material outside the collet. In 2019 the Eclipse will also be available in an Indexing Chuck version that will feature a table with vertical chucks capable of 360° workpiece rotation. This system is ideal for mid- to high-volume precision production of irregular-shaped castings or forgings and is designed with the flexibility to easily accommodate families of parts.
While Hydromat launches the new Eclipse machine, it also continues updating its EPIC line. A modular system, consisting of as many as 16 horizontal and 8 vertical tool spindle units, is rigidly mounted around a precision-cast base for high-precision machining of all critical surfaces. This arrangement can provide tremendous versatility and flexibility in a turnkey machining system. The precision-ground Hirth ring assures table accuracy and reliability to within 0.0002" from station to station. Hydromat’s non-rotating bar stock design provides quiet, vibration-free operation.
Components ideally suited for machining on Hydromats include automotive ABS brake systems and components for high-pressure fuel, electrical, air conditioning, engine, and steering systems.
New EPIC II machines feature the latest in CNC rotary transfer technology. This second iteration of the EPIC platform, using a Bosch CNC/PLC common control, boasts advancements such as enhanced operations, production reporting, downtime analysis, troubleshooting, and preventative maintenance interval scheduling.
These features, among others, will improve part setups, changeovers, process-tooling development, and integrated tool monitoring. An upgraded servo control features absolute positioning, and a more efficient architecture that reduces failure points.
EPIC GEN II, a streamlined version of the plug n’ play control architecture embedded into each tool spindle unit, offers the highest possible degree of performance and flexibility including complex multi-axis operations. The elimination of the previous PMAC EPIC boxes streamlines electronics and features the finest of today’s technology. The result – reduced wiring and machine plugs; common servo valves; and a new, more economical unit motor that saves costs.
Established in Taiwan in 1976, Dees Hydraulic Industrial Co. Ltd. makes hydraulic presses for multiple automakers including Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo. In recent years, it has invested in newer technologies such as deep-drawing presses and hot-forming lines to feed demand for complex parts made from tougher-to-form alloys.
In 2016, the company began a massive expansion of its main factory in Taiwan to further expand its capacities. The following is a conversation with Dees Sales Manager Ale Lee.
Today’s Motor Vehicles (TMV): What does it take to succeed in sheet-metal processing in today’s market?
Ale Lee (AL): We try to continuously improve our hydraulic press technology to give us an edge over our competitors. Most of our customers are in the automotive industry, with very stringent quality requirements. During the past two years, for example, we have been focusing our efforts on building presses with higher speeds, reducing oil leakages, and fitting accumulators and servo feeds for energy-saving. We are also developing the capability to produce different molds on the same presses. Most of the press parts are made in Dees factories and every part is monitored by our quality control engineers – including options such as moving bolsters, 180° tilting slide tables, safety devices, servo valves, and servo motors.
Strategically, we want to build our presence globally so that we can provide full service and support to our customers, so we have developed sales partnerships in several key countries and markets such as Russia, Indonesia, Brazil, and Mexico. The U.S., South America, and Europe are important markets and we wish to develop more sales partners/agents in these regions. Our long-term objective is to construct a global distribution service network, find reliable agents, and provide good service to customers in our markets.
We export to almost 80 countries, and you will find us at most of the major sheet metal exhibitions globally, such as EuroBlech in Hanover, Germany and Fabtech in the U.S.
TMV: What challenges are your customers presenting to you, and how are you addressing them?
AL: Many of our customers are turning away from cheaper machine tools and placing their focus on stability and quality. Generally, customers want faster speed, greater control, more accuracy, and higher productivity from their presses. Industry 4.0 and increasing levels of automation are also important issues. Dees has built many tandem lines with full automation as many clients require a complete solution for feeding systems, hydraulic presses, transfer systems, and robotic arms.
Our focus on customer service and support packages are value-adds to customers. User-friendly systems make operation and maintenance easier, while Ethernet link technology in electrical systems enables our technicians to monitor press operation or fix software programs in real-time, shortening downtime.
TMV: What changes are you seeing in the global metal-forming market?
AL: The move to lightweight material production is a very important trend. New car designs require new materials which, in turn, require new stamping and tooling processes. For example, we recently built a new 2,500 metric ton hot forming press for sheet molding compound (SMC), a soft plastic material. I foresee this type of demand for stronger and lighter materials will increase in the future.
Hot forming is an important focus. Key sectors, such as electric car production, have been especially profitable for us. In terms of orders this year, we supplied a 300-metric-ton die-spotting press to a tooling development center in Mexico at the beginning of this year. We also received a repeat order from a customer in Argentina – a third order (they already have 12 presses from us) for 600-metric-ton and 300-metric-ton deep-drawing presses.
TMV: Where do you see the biggest challenges/opportunities?
AL: Competition and price are increasing in markets such as China, India, and Vietnam. Duties and tariffs in some countries can make our products less competitive.
However, in terms of opportunities, more customers are asking for solutions, bringing drawings of a part to show us. More of them want us to plan the entire production process for specific parts and offer entire production solutions for them as a one-stop shop, without other partners. I see this as an important opportunity for us in the future, along with the trend for more lightweight, higher-strength parts in the automotive industry.
With the economy growing, more car enthusiasts are participating in motorsports, leading to big increases in orders for specialty wheels at Forgeline Motorsports in Dayton, Ohio. But the shop that dates back to 1994 had a problem – most of its new orders were from racers who wanted top-of-the-line, one-piece wheels, not sets assembled in pieces.
“We’ve been behind on one-piece wheels. We were getting more one-piece wheel orders than three-piece wheel orders,” says Forgeline President David Schardt. Forgeline employees machine one-piece racecar wheels from a single, strong and stiff aluminum billet.
Three-piece wheels are assembled from – barrels, the main wheel body; lips, the part that holds the hardware; and faces, the outer part that gives the wheel its look and where lug-nuts connect it to the car. They perform well in some race situations, but a one-piece wheel is lighter and stronger.
“We upped the capacity of the one-piece by 25% to 30%, and then we immediately received tons of three-piece orders,” Schardt says, adding that new equipment helped Forgeline attack backlogs for both wheel types. “We’re still getting lots of one-piece orders.”
Fighting the backlog
The Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge Race Series, part of the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), allows race enthusiasts to buy standardized, race-tuned versions of common cars from major manufacturers – providing a level playing field in which every driver is using a nearly identical vehicle. Forgeline is the spec wheel for the Ford Mustang GT4 and the Chevrolet Camaro GT4.
“Everything in those series is being homologated by the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of the cars, so if you want to race a Mustang at the IMSA Continental Series, you have to race Ford’s GT4 Mustang, and you have to buy it from Ford,” Schardt says. “You buy four or five sets [of wheels], so it’s a pretty decent business, and racing right now is just exploding. When the economy’s good, people go racing. It’s an expensive hobby.”
Between 2016 and 2017, Forgeline bought three Haas vertical machining centers (VMCs), two VF-5s and a VF-6, to boost capacity for one-piece wheels. The machines feature Haas’ Next Generation Control (NGC), built on a Linux platform, with 1GB of program memory and Ethernet standard, making it easier to upload and run large programs.
Product Engineer Todd LaRue estimates the machines are 20% faster than older VMCs at the shop, so between the three new machines (bringing Forgeline to 11 Haas CNC machine tools overall) and the speed increases, machinists have been able to get one-piece order times down to about three weeks – six weeks for 3-piece wheels.
“The machines are significantly faster. We didn’t have Ethernet before, and we were uploading and downloading a lot of huge programs,” LaRue explains. “With Ethernet, it’s super-fast. It saves us 10, 15 minutes per program.”
The one-piece wheels arrive at Forgeline as aluminum billets. Machinists put them through two lathe operations to machine the front and back.
“Then [billets] go under the mills and gets all the spokes,” LaRue says. “The holes in the back, the spokes in the top side, the lug patterns, center bore, it’s all done there. Then it goes to grind, wash, powder coat, and assembly.”
Schardt says milling times can vary from 40 minutes to more than 3 hours, depending on the complexity of the design. Some ornate race wheels have tall spokes and complex, 3D shapes on their faces, requiring as many as six milling passes per side. Because the wheels require significantly more milling than turning, the VMCs were the bottleneck in production. A single lathe can handle the shop’s needs, he adds.
LaRue says machinists save time by basing their designs on using common tooling to avoid changeovers. Between wheel diameters and widths, the company has about 128 basic designs and several cosmetic variations on each, so managing complexity is a constant challenge. Nearly 700 lathe profiles are programmed for various designs; machinists design and test parts using Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks software and program with Mastercam computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software from CNC Software Inc.
“The combinations get crazy,” LaRue says. “It’s exponential. When you design one design, it’s hundreds of programs.”
The complex programming and design tools are a far cry from Forgeline’s origins. Dayton Wheel started making car wheels in 1916. Schardt’s family bought the company in 1970.
“My brother Steve and I grew up working in the wheel factory, lacing wire wheels and doing whatever other jobs were needed, so we’ve been in the wheel industry our entire lives,” Schardt says. He adds that his father owned Dayton wheel from 1970 until about 2000.
In the early 1990s, David Schardt was running The Wheel Source, a business that sold racing wheels and custom wheels from other manufacturers. He and his family members saw a market for better, customized racing wheels, so his father and brother started Forgeline in 1993.
“It took off in racing right away, because there weren’t very many wheels with custom offsets,” Schardt explains. “It was a two-part wheel. We were buying the forging in a [5-spoke] shape, and all we were doing was drilling in the lug bolts, doing the center bore, and milling the pad on the back side. We’d weld that center wherever we needed to in the barrel to get the offset, and we could buy all the barrels.”
He and his family members made those early wheels on a Tree milling machine, an open system that would spray coolant and chips all over the shop, Schardt recalls.
“As cars got heavier, and faster, and more downforce, and tires got stickier, we were having problems with the barrels cracking right at the weld,” Schardt explains. “The three-piece wheels were starting to get popular, where you bought components and you bolted them together.”
In 1998, the company bought a 1996 Haas VF-3, its first VMC and first enclosed system, for $25,000.
“We got our money’s worth out of that one,” Schardt says. He adds that one-piece wheels started becoming popular about 10 years ago, and Forgeline added its lineup in 2012.
Since those early garage days, Forgeline has expanded into 30,000ft2 of space and employs 27 people. About half of the company’s business comes from street wheels and half from racing enthusiasts.
Usually, when innovative materials technologies work their way from one transportation sector into the motor vehicle world, the approach focuses on how an automaker adapted a low-volume, finicky aerospace process to mass-production scale. But when trailer maker Wabash National wanted to completely reimagine the structure of its refrigerated trailers (reefers), inspiration came from the water.
“About five years ago, my boss at the time who’s now our CEO Brent Yeagy, told us to go out and really build some breakthrough customer value,” says Robert Lane, vice president, engineering for commercial trailer products at Wabash. “Everybody in the refrigerated trailer market basically makes the same product with the same materials, using the same manufacturing processes. It’s hard to really differentiate yourself.”
Given a Moon Shot-like mandate, Lane and his team initially looked to the skies, envisioning a carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) trailer body that would weigh a fraction of the wooden, steel, and aluminum structures in use by Wabash and its competitors. But the value proposition just didn’t work. CFRP material costs were 10x to 20x higher than metals and wood, so the finished trailer wouldn’t appeal to anyone, despite thousands of pounds in weight savings.
“The payback on it, in our industry, is just not there. If you look at how often a trailer weighs out before it cubes out [hits its weight max. before it runs out of cubic feet of available space], it’s very small, somewhere between 2% and 10% of the time,” Lane says. “If I give you back 2,000 lb in weight, the only thing you’re saving is fuel, and that’s only about a 1% fuel savings.”
Foam boat construction
Lane invited several materials companies to discuss options with Wabash engineers, hoping to find a way to lower CFRP costs or find other materials that could drastically lower trailer weights. One of those companies was Structural Composites, a technology company that had developed a composite preform material for boats.
Structural Composites President Scott Lewit says he thought his company’s Prisma Preforms, reinforcing fabrics cast into shape with expanding foam, could be a starting point for materials for trailers. However, the technology had been developed for low-volume marine production, and he knew little about the challenges the reefer market was facing.
Prisma uses a pultrusion-like manufacturing process – layers of fabric are formed into a shape then filled with expanding foam – creating a low-cost, lightweight building block for composites. Once laminated to a structure, it offers the design freedom of plastics with the strength of aluminum, at a lower weight.
“Most commercial pultrusion operations run at 6"-to-12" per minute. We’re making some pre-formed elements at 16ft per minute,” Lewit says. “With what Robert [Lane] has done, they’ve scaled it much faster. That was a really important development – the technology had to be able to scale to their market.”
Getting production speeds higher, however, was just the start of the multi-year engineering challenge to develop the materials and processes for what Wabash calls molded structural composite (MSC).
With boats, composites withstand odd bending stresses coming at hulls from various sizes of waves, corrosion from salt, and infiltration from water. With trailers, the challenges are much more dynamic.
“There will be times that a trailer has 48,000 lb in it, and it will be going over roads that aren’t always in the best shape, so it takes a beating when it’s going down the road,” Lane explains. “Then, when it’s loading or unloading, that’s where a trailer takes a lot of abuse. They get dinged into each other. When you load a trailer using a fork truck, you’re really beating the walls of the trailer up. That’s what our unknown was. How do you design for that with a material that’s not steel or aluminum?”
He adds trailers suffer a lot of damage from fork trucks. Fleet managers fear drivers taking a bad angle with loaders, sending forks through the side of insulated trailers.
“Drivers often use the trailer as a guard rail,” Lane says. “You have to load that trailer 100% full, so when they bring the fork truck in, they’ll put it up against the side wall, and they’ll run it all the way down the side. That’s intense abuse.”
Lewit says the breakthrough to providing the strength needed to withstand that treatment came from advanced coatings for the composite material. Working with Interplastic Corp. and BASF, researchers discovered ways of reinforcing the material’s strength and increasing toughness.
“CoCure technology was a discovery we made. Taking inexpensive polyester resins, we can inject a urethane component into it and upgrade the performance characteristics of the resin,” Lewit says.
The updated CoCure coatings replace traditional gel coats, improving crack resistance and weathering performance, allowing engineers to tune performance characteristics for the MSC material.
The first fleet of Wabash Cold Chain reefers with MSC bodies are being tested now by fleet owners. Lane says he wants those companies to abuse their trailers to figure out ways to improve the models once full production begins. The company bought a former boat plant in Little Falls, Minnesota (along the Mississippi River, north of St. Cloud) to build the trailers.
“The amount of insulation we use, and how we use it, is pretty close to the same. The composites give us the ability to design the trailer to maximize space for insulation,” Lane says. “We’ve seen up to 30% improvement in thermal efficiency on a trailer that provides the same amount of usable cargo space.”
In the future, Wabash will be able to offer customers options – maintain existing thermal performance with more interior space or maximize thermal performance without reducing space.
“For some customers, that will be very important, if you tell them they can have 2" more height,” Lane says. “Most carriers are going to respond to the thermal performance and expected longevity. We’re going to be able to design a trailer that will last longer and hold its insulative properties better.”
Lewit says the trailer’s release is already having a massive impact on the composites market.
“The marine market is about 68% penetrated with composites. So, there’s a 32% opportunity,” Lewit explains. “When you look at the transportation market, it’s at 4% composites penetration. And, that 4% is 5x the size of the marine market.”
Lane adds that once Wabash is more comfortable with the material in the reefer market, he hopes to apply lessons learned to dry vans, a much larger portion of the trailer market.
“Most of the people in the industry, Wabash included, have a tremendous amount of capital invested in the way we do things today. So, to say we’re going to develop something that doesn’t use the equipment that we have in our manufacturing facilities, that takes a lot,” Lane says. “It takes vision from our executive team and our board of directors to give us this flexibility.”