Integration Services Support Pursuit for Perfection
When the annual production volumes of your manufacturing system exceed 1.5 million parts and required takt times are 30 seconds or less, you look for every process advantage.
As a Tier 1 supplier in the automotive industry, Eagle Manufacturing of Florence, Ky., can attest to the unforgiving demands for on-time delivery and consistent quality control. Yet Eagle thrives under the pressure by strategically integrating high-volume automated machining technologies that produce the best quality output at the lowest cost possible.
A subsidiary of Linamar Corporation, Eagle supports the network's manufacturing division by producing engine blocks and cylinder heads for the world's leading automotive manufacturers, including two of the “Big Three” original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in North America. A web of automated production lines that run 24 hours a day, seven days a week cover Eagle's 300,000-square-foot facility in Northern Kentucky.
Eagle's high-volume production capabilities have made it critical to Linamar's corporate goal of reaching $10 billion in sales by 2020. According to Derick Lord, program manager at Linamar, Eagle drives this growth through strategic capital investments and careful selection of its business partners.
“To meet our business objectives, we require the highest level of accountability from our vendors, in terms of technology, service and processes that effectively balance quality and cost,” said Lord. “With robust equipment and experienced automation and integration services, Makino has continually helped us improve the speed, quality, reliability and ease of use of our manufacturing system. Their quick turnarounds and attention to detail during integration projects have enabled us to develop highly competitive proposals for our customers that have led to a 25 percent increase in overall throughput in the last two years.”
SPEED TO SEIZE OPPORTUNITIES
Since 2006, Eagle has integrated Makino horizontal machining centers into eight different production lines with a total of 20 individual cells. The most recent machine integration was an expansion line designed to bypass several other machines undergoing maintenance. The scope of the project included two cells-a cell with two a51nx horizontal machining centers and a cell with three a61 horizontal machining centers-equipped with pedestal robots, conveyor systems and 2-D data matrix tracking. Delivery and integration of the system were completed within a short lead-time of only six months.
“With new opportunities in the market to increase market share, all of the OEMs are calling for rapid expansions in capacity,” said Lord. “This makes the acquisition and machine integration time critical. We can't wait a year and a half to add capacity; if we do, we've likely missed our chance.”
Eagle has integrated Makino horizontal machining centers into eight different production lines with a total of 20 individual cells.
Lord explained that Eagle's typical lead-time requirement for new equipment integration is 30 weeks. However, the company struggled to find machine tool suppliers able to meet this requirement. Many suppliers sell equipment before it's built, resulting in delivery dates of one year or more. These long lead-times can be costly to Eagle and its customers who must react quickly to market opportunities.
Makino's responsiveness in delivery has enabled Eagle to meet shorter lead-times and seize market opportunities. “This level of transparency and reactive communication has been a tremendous benefit to our turnaround on proposals and has enabled us to get new lines and expansions installed and running before our competitors,” said Lord.
In addition to equipment availability, Lord highlighted the advantages of Makino's integration services strategy, which rewards engineers for completing an installation not only correctly but also ahead of schedule. “On multiple occasions, we've ordered equipment from Makino several weeks after alternative suppliers, and yet Makino still installed the system first. This strategy, combined with an unrelenting pursuit of perfection, has been a huge asset for us on short lead-time jobs, allowing us to start making parts sooner.”
AN EYE FOR PERFECTION
When installing a complex, high-volume manufacturing system, the long-term performance, quality and reliability of a production line depend on attention to detail. Even the slightest errors in fixturing or interface design can cause significant delays in productivity, or even worse, scrapping of parts. Perfection is the goal.
“Many machine tool suppliers subcontract their machine integration services, which immediately complicates the process due to their lack of intimate experience with the machines,” explained Lord. “They will get a system running, but over time you'll begin to notice that certain elements aren't working together as cohesively as they should.
“With Makino, we don't have to ask them to pay attention to the details. They just do it. From the moment we deliver a request for quote [RFQ], Makino assigns us with a single point of contact for the entirety of the integration project. Their team of engineers handle all aspects of the process including machine integration, third-party equipment, material handling, application engineering, fixtures, on-time delivery, on-site installation, test runs, training and post-production support. The result is a very tightly integrated system where the cutting process, machine control, fixtures, interfaces and automation systems work together seamlessly.”
According to Lord, a critical component of Makino's integration services is its single source of dedicated project management and site coordination services. From the moment Eagle submits an RFQ, a dedicated representative is assigned to the project. This project leader coordinates with Eagle and Makino's engineering group to establish a comprehensive, cost-effective solution. This detailed understanding of the project is transitioned with the project leader throughout the installation and post-installation phases to ensure all objectives are met according to the original proposal.
“We trust Makino to develop and deliver the best solution for our manufacturing system, including layout, cycle time and total production rates. They have always quoted us accurately and lived up to their guarantees,” said Lord.
Based on the successful integration of several machining cells and Makino's attention to detail, Eagle has turned to Makino for integration services outside of machining operations, such as automation of its leak-test system. Similarly, robots installed by other suppliers have been reprogrammed to match Makino's setup.
“When completing an integration project, we always ask ourselves if we would be willing to work with the system day in and day out, because that's what Eagle has to do,” said David Walton, integration services manager at Makino. “What many suppliers would consider unnecessary procedures during the integration phase can easily become origins for failure later in the system's life span. For example, features designed specifically for durability won't make or break the cell's ability to operate in year one, but it can save operators some headaches down the road. By paying attention to the details, we can ensure that the system as a whole reflects the same level of reliability provided by our machines for years to come.”
ROBUST AND RELIABLE TECHNOLOGY
The most critical component of any manufacturing system is the machining center. If a machine goes down for maintenance, the whole cell goes down, meaning substantial losses in productivity. According to Lord, every RFQ distributed by Eagle includes a requirement for 99 percent machine uptime over a five-year production timeline.
“When dealing with takt times of 30 seconds or less, extended machine downtime is unacceptable. Every second lost is money falling through the cracks,” said Lord. “Our machines have to be tough in order to hold up against the stresses of a 24/7 production schedule. Not every supplier is able to deliver on this level of commitment.”
Lord detailed the frustration incurred by downtime when describing a cell investment made in 2010. The original quote from the supplier projected the machines to last five to eight years; however, just two years into production, Eagle already has to replace some of the equipment.
“It's a tough production environment, but the expectations remain high,” said Lord. “Our Makino investments have proven that machines can be built tough enough to endure rigorous production routines.
“Makino's robust control software also interfaces seamlessly with other automation systems, ensuring the highest level of operational efficiency. And with error reports directly tied to our database, technicians are able to resolve issues quickly and easily, minimizing downtime.”
MONITORING FUTURE PROGRESS
As Eagle continues to seek new opportunities and growth, the company pursues additional plans for optimizing its manufacturing system. One innovation under consideration is the implementation of part-tracking technologies.
“Our Makino investments have proven that machines can be built tough enough to endure rigorous production rountines.”
“Historically, tracking considerations were low on our list of priorities, but as production timelines continue to grow tighter, we are evaluating every possible way to get the most out of our investments,” said Lord. “Additionally, our customers appreciate transparency. To have the ability to track, record and share the manufacturing process of each part will give our customers an added layer of confidence.”
According to Lord, the addition of these capabilities is not without additional challenges. To address those concerns, Eagle continues to rely on its partnership with Makino to ensure perfect integration for long-term reliability.
“Integration services don't end with the completed installation of a cell,” said Walton. “With rapid changes in technology, Makino is continually testing new methods for improving production efficiency. It's yet another way that we guarantee our customers a competitive edge.”
Eagle Manufacturing Division of Linamar Corp.