Cast Technologies Transforms Their Business with Makino Automation
When Cast Technologies, a Peoria, Ill. foundry and machine shop, opened their doors over 120 years ago, they were in the business of making various brass plumbing products. Currently working on their fifth generation as a family-owned-and-operated business, Cast Technologies has repeatedly found ways to stay on top.
Since the beginning of the business, machining has always been part of Cast Technologies’ manufacturing process. Starting their operations with just two steam-powered vertical machining centers (VMC) and later one computer numerical controlled (CNC) machine, Cast Technologies has significantly expanded their operations over the years. Now, primarily machining aluminum and brass diesel engine, transmission and earth-moving components such as air-intake elbows, turbos, bearing carriers, oil pans and housings for a wide variety of industries including construction and agricultural equipment, the company employs approximately 150 and remains successful by continually adapting to market and customer demands.
The most recent strategic move they made was to incorporate mixed part-type automation into their machining process by installing an enhanced pallet management system, the Makino Machining Complex (MMC2), with three a61 horizontal machining centers (HMC). Capable of running multiple jobs concurrently and doing the work of six stand-alone HMCs, this move has given Cast Technologies a competitive edge, providing them with a financial, service and quality advantage. With a significant decrease in inventory and an increase in overall efficiency, productivity, flexibility, reliability and control capabilities, Cast Technologies is truly transforming their business.
Time for a Change
As the economy took a turn for the worse a few years ago, the operators and owners of Cast Technologies were feeling the pressure more than ever. With increasing demands for better productivity, quality and flexibility, shorter lead-times and competitive part costs, the management at Cast Technologies knew they would need to do something to stay competitive. And as they watched the pool of skilled machine operators dwindle over time, they turned to technology for a solution.
“As we started to look for ways to improve our business, one equipment innovation in particular caught our eye,” says Tim Sommer, machine shop plant manager, Cast Technologies. “The philosophy behind machining automation seemed to be a great option for what we were looking to accomplish.”
“We certainly did our homework, running simulation after simulation. In the end, we simply could not argue with the cost versus benefit of the system,” explains Clay Canterbury, president, Cast Technologies.
Sold on the word-of-mouth recommendations, live demonstrations, quality, reliability and economic savings associated with Makino’s offering as well as their service and support structure, Cast Technologies decided in 2008 to purchase an MMC2. The machining cell consists of 40 pallets and three Makino a61 HMCs, ideal for automated and cellular manufacturing applications that require maximum throughput and reliability.
“Automated systems inherently work harder than stand-alones, and therefore undergo additional stresses. If an automated system were to go down, it would be the equivalent of six stand-alones going down at the same time, and this is simply not an option for us,” explains Canterbury. “Given the nature of these systems and the need for little to no downtime, it was critical to choose the right machine manufacturer. Our vigilant research resulted in great confidence that Makino is the right partner for our business.”
Their Business Transformation
“The initial investment involved in a project like this is intimidating to some, but once you have the machine installed in your shop, it is definitely a no-brainer,” says Sommer. “You quickly see the payback.”
As a result of Cast Technologies’ investment in the MMC2, they have seen firsthand the many benefits of automated systems, including reduced manufacturing costs and manual intervention, quality and flexibility improvements and increased throughput. And, with expanded capacity and the economic advantages afforded by the flexible pallet automation system, they have chosen to use this fast, efficient system to quote new business and win new additional business.
“With the MMC2, we have been able to go from 12 operators down to eight, which has minimized cost and stream-lined our process,” adds Sommer. “We were also able to then redeploy and reutilize the additional manpower, training them in our other important machining areas and increasing our overall success as a company.”
All in all, Cast Technologies has been able to reduce cost and inventory and enhance efficiency, productivity, quality and flexibility with the MMC2. With a 33 percent reduction in labor, combined with the flexibility of smaller batch sizes resulting in reduced work in progress (WIP) and scrap, the benefits of the system affect the business on multiple levels.
One primary area of growth can be found in their spindle and equipment utilization. Cast Technologies has seen a 25 percent to 30 percent improvement in spindle utilization rates compared to their stand-alones, and they are expecting this rate to increase as they ramp up production rates and focus more heavily on their cellular technology.
A key component to their increase in equipment utilization has been their ability to virtually eliminate setup time and increase efficiency by reducing part load/unload times and part and tool changeover time. And with approximately 40 percent of a typical machine shop’s equipment utilization time spent on machine setup time and non-cut time, this improvement has had a significant impact on Cast Technologies’ business.
“Our entire system was disrupted when we would start and stop a job on the stand-alones, sometimes taking a few hours to make changes,” says Sommer. “This is not the case with the MMC2. Its setup takes only a few minutes, ultimately enhancing our process efficiencies.”
The operators at Cast Technologies can now load the castings, pull up the appropriate program for the job and let the automated system take it from there. Makino’s MAS-A5 Cell Controller is at the helm and works dynamically using priorities set for pallets, part programs, process sequences and production orders, maximizing the utilization of the shop’s investment.
With the MMC2, Cast Technologies has also been able to increase their overall productivity, shortening their produc-tion lead-times and improving their competitive position in the marketplace. As customers begin to demand shorter lead-times, Cast Technologies is fully equipped to keep up with the changes.
“In the past, we would receive eight-week lead-times. But in today’s manufacturing environment, our average lead-times are typically down to four weeks or even less,” explains Sommer. “The operational consolidation afforded by machining automation allows us to make quicker deliveries and meet these expedited customer needs.”
They are also reporting faster cut times, machine tool efficiency and production increases, and a significant reduction in cycle times compared to their stand-alone machines.
“Without optimizing any programs, we have already seen a drastic reduction in cycle times since installing the MMC2,” explains Jeff Peters, supervisor, Cast Technologies. “And by taking advantage of the full performance of Makino’s a61, we will be able to reduce our cycle times even further.”
Cast Technologies has also significantly reduced their supply of WIP and finished goods inventory. In the past, Cast Technologies would run large economic order quantities, machine in advance for their customers and house a substantial finished goods inventory. If the specs of a part changed, the inventory would be rendered useless, creating a loss for their business. The previous approach also caused them to invest a large amount of time and money in surplus inventory that wasn’t needed yet, resulting in non-value-added machining time.
“For years, we had been stockpiling inventory to keep up with customer demands and shortened lead-times,” explains Sommer. “But building inventory has a number of pitfalls and was costing us a significant amount of money. In using the MMC2, we quickly realized that there is a more efficient way to successfully manage shorter lead-times.”
Cast Technologies now engages in just-in-time (JIT) machining to better maintain inventory levels. They also have daily trucks going to the customer.
“With the new reliable, robust machining process that the Makino provides, we can now choose when and how often we want to run the castings through the machining process,” adds Sommer. “If we want to machine two days in advance, we can do that and still meet our customers’ requirements.”
All in all, the MMC2 has also afforded Cast Technologies additional flexibility in their operations, giving them the ability to instantaneously produce parts. Being able to implement dynamic scheduling with the automated system’s MAS-A5 cell control software enables them to easily produce fast-priority changeovers by simply loading the raw stock, calling up the program and then running the exact parts required. With each a61 housing a 219-tool magazine (averaging 10 tools used per part), they are currently running 100 different part numbers across their system. This ability to have a mix of product helps them to increase capacity and adapt quickly to customers’ order requirements and changes in part volume.
“If a customer calls because they have additional part needs the same day, we can establish a priority job in the system, verify that the tools needed are available in the program, run the part, and send it over to the customer in about an hour or two. Without the MMC2, we would have to tear down one of the stand-alone HMCs, go through setup for the job and run multiple pieces, creating additional inventory and disrupting production of other jobs,” says Sommer. “Now we can produce the parts in the same day.”
Cast Technologies has also benefited from the additional control and timely information management capabilities that the a61 tool monitoring and Makino MAS A5 software provide. With the Makino software, they are able to manage their machines, tools, fixtures, production schedule requirements, programs and program changes. Its tool resource management feature notifies the operator when required tools have exceeded their estimated life and its tool-life monitoring function informs the operator of how many spare tools are required to finish the current project. The software also offers efficient, single-point operation of multiple machines, orders, products and maintenance requirements and provides system monitoring as well as historical data, trending, analysis and tracking. With this software, Cast Technologies has been able to cut back on fixture upkeep and machine maintenance, all while saving on costs.
“The software takes the guesswork out of tool and insert-change timing, helps to enhance our quality and ensures that our operations are running smoothly,” says Sommer. “All in all, we have seen a financial, time, maintenance and resource savings.”
Quality and Reliability
“Customer demands for quality continue to increase,” explains Peters. “The MMC2 has given us additional reliability in our machining process, allowing us to increase our production of first part, right part, and affording us the ease of repeatability.”
Makino’s MAS A5 software has the ability to implement the same work programs and offsets, following the job no matter which machine it goes to, allowing for identically produced parts on each machine without discrepancies.
“Repeatability is extremely important to our business,” says Sommer. “We don’t want our parts to run from one end of the spectrum to the other. We want them to be right down the middle each and every time, and the MMC2 and a61s help us to do that.”
Today’s manufacturers must reduce costs to compete, and automatic pallet-handling systems offer the economic advantages needed to minimize expenses, generate revenue and successfully run a business. Cast Technologies has experienced firsthand the quantifiable results that follow, including decreased lead-times and inventory, and improved productivity, flexibility, quality, control and equipment utilization. And by making all of these results work together, they have been able to significantly transform their business.
As Cast Technologies looks ahead, they are competitively positioned for any job that comes through their door. They are even hoping to grow their machining automation capabilities by eventually purchasing additional pallets, machines and another MMC.
“With additional high-performance machines and machining automation capabilities, we can further enhance our cost-effectiveness and continue to increase our profits,” says Peters. “Makino was definitely the right way to go. They continue to respond to, meet and exceed our needs.”
Cast Technologies Inc.
Phone: (309) 676-2157