Large Part Production
Mid-State Machine Products began business as a job shop in 1968 in Winslow, Maine, and quickly established a reputation as one of the premier CNC precision machining organizations in the United States. The company built its reputation on its ability to produce complex components with demanding geometric tolerances, especially in difficult-to-machine alloys.
Mid-State Machine Products is recognized as an organization capable of consistently delivering “Best Value” to its customers, with a demonstrated commitment to high quality and on-time deliveries, backed up by a strong customer service orientation.
In October 2006, building on the strengths of the organization, the company expanded their presence in the precision CNC machining sector, with the addition of a new technologically advanced facility several miles from their original location. This new endeavor was established with the intent of applying their in-depth custom machining expertise to a production environment.
Mid-State Machine is a fully equipped, precision CNC manufacturing company that, with the new facility, includes in excess of 168,000 square feet of modern manufacturing space, equipped with 55 CNC machine tools and more than 220 employees. The company’s facilities are ISO- 9001:2000, AS- 9100A: 2001 and NADCAP (FPI and Welding) certified. The company services a broad range of market sectors including defense, gas and oil exploration and power-generation industries.
New Contract Required Significant Investment
Mid-State’s reputation for quality, delivery and “Best Value” resulted in it securing a contract to manufacture four separate components for a large off-road military vehicle. This opportunity had defined long-term potential and taking advantage of it would require a significant investment by Mid-State that would allow them to effectively and efficiently produce the components. The contract for this new job was signed in August 2006, and Mid-State immediately went to work outfitting and equipping a new 76,000-square-foot production facility to support this program.
As part of increasing the overall productivity on these components, Mid-State invested more than $13 million to outfit and equip the new facility with state-of-the-art CNC machine tools. The new production facility in Waterville, Maine, currently has 14 new CNC machines, including a range of different-sized horizontal milling and turning centers. Seven of the machining centers in the facility are Makino horizontal machining centers, including two a81s, two A100Es and three A99Es, all of which have been equipped with dual 5-axis CNC-controlled rotary tables.
Mid-State Machine’s decision to purchase Makino machines was based primarily on positive recommendations from several sister companies that had been using Makinos in their own machining operations, coupled with Makino’s reputation for reliability, uptime and service.
“We saw how successful these companies were and that they attributed much of their success to the CNC machine tools they were using,” says Kevin Nelson, vice president of operations for Mid-State.
“Within a few weeks, we went from an empty building to full production,” adds Dean Gallagher, Mid-State’s shop floor manager. “We made sure all the equipment we purchased would help simplify our operation, such as dual fifth-axis index tables, which allowed us to eliminate setups, increasing the time that we were able to spend producing the parts.”
“At the new facility, we use hydraulic fixturing and automatic probes to determine the length and diameter of each cutting tool,” says Nelson. “This technology allows us to increase the overall productivity of the operations while reducing the potential for human error.”
The hydraulic fixturing ensures that consistent pressure is applied to the work- piece in the proper sequence, making sure that the required accuracies are achieved. Additionally, the automated tool probing verifies that all tool lengths and diameters are accurately measured and transferred into the CNC control with a high degree of accuracy.
“The older machines and processes were much slower and required a significant level of intervention from skilled machinists,” continues Gallagher. “The new Makino HMCs have resulted in a marked improvement in our overall productivity on these components. They’re much smarter, with options like BTSOMA sensors to detect broken tools and extend tool life, ultimately improving the production process.”
Thanks to the more advanced machines and table-on-table setup, the company has reduced operations on the part from seven to two, dramatic- ally decreasing the machining time for each part.
“The Makino HMCs are also less labor-intensive. We are able to assign one operator for every two machines, compared to our older equipment, which requires a dedicated operator per machine,” says Nelson. “This allows us to get more work done in the course of a day with the same number of people.
“There is no lag time as a result of loading a fixture. If the door is closed, the spindle is spinning. These machines help us deliver higher- quality parts faster than ever before. As a matter of fact, our primary bottleneck over the past year has been related to waiting for raw materials to arrive at our facility.”
Makino HMCs Simplify a Complex Part
One of the parts, an air diffuser, is made from 17-4 PH stainless steel. Using indexable carbide tools, the first operation of roughing and finishing takes approximately two hours on a Makino A99E horizontal machining center.
Next, the part is sent to a vertical turning center for several additional hours of machining and then is routed back to another A99E for boring, face work, periphery work and thread milling.
Finally, the part is deburred and inspected on a coordinate measuring machine (CMM) to verify the dimensional features. Deburring is a critical step, since the parts require a 32 RMS finish in many of the holes and facets, and a 63 RMS over the remainder of the surfaces. Once deburred, the parts are sent to assembly.
The new setup has allowed Mid-State to eliminate one CNC machine operation and a manual operation. Prior to the addition, operators were required to manually drill six holes with a jig to complete the features on the air diffuser.
Additionally, Mid-State was able to eliminate the peripheral milling operation as the fifth-axis indexers integrated on the Makinos rotate the part to the proper attitude, allowing the spindle to access it for a critical operation. Hand polishing, previously required to clean up the surface, has also been eliminated, letting the part move to assembly directly out of the machine.
“To give you an idea of the complexity we’re dealing with here, one of the parts has 800 distinguishable features, which requires a wide range of custom tools and sizes,” says Nelson. “The laser probe integrated on each of the Makinos allows us to automatically verify the length, diameter and tool geometry after each tool change with a high degree of accuracy.”
The Makino’s through-spindle coolant also allows for more efficient cutting by reducing chip recutting, which permits the machine to go from boring to reaming with no human interaction required and further ensures improved drilling results are achieved on a consistent basis.
With the addition of this equipment, Mid-State Machine is able to routinely produce hundreds of these components on a monthly basis.
Taking all the operations eliminated with the new Makinos, Mid-State Machine reports cycle-time reductions that range from 35 to 60.
Springboard for the Future
When Mid-State opened its new state-of-the-art facility, the company saw it as an opportunity to prepare for the future.
“Finding qualified employees has always been difficult for us,” says Nelson. “We knew we needed to expand, but we also knew that to support the expansion would require a significant increase in the number of people who were able to do the work in this new, high-tech production environment.”
Early on in the process, Mid-State began working with a local school, Kennebec Valley Community College, to develop a class curriculum and co-op program to train local students on high-tech production machining.
“It’s a win-win,” explains Nelson. “Students learn cutting-edge machining techniques and get to work with some of the most advanced manufacturing technology available while we receive a steady flow of well-trained workers.”
Many graduates of the program have become full-time employees of Mid-State, and some have even progressed to the point where they have moved to Mid-State’s custom job shop to further develop their machining skills.
“It’s a fantastic way to help those in the community interested in machining,” continues Nelson. “Our company is able to benefit from students’ knowledge, passion to learn and natural abilities, while in return the students are able to benefit by establishing a new career path for themselves with great earning potential and a secure future. Overall, this training program has and will continue to serve as an incubator for skilled workers at Mid-State for many years to come.” Mid-State has hired 25 graduates from the three classes that have been completed to date, with plans to hire additional people in 2008.
Positioned for Success
Armed with a technologically advanced facility and ready access to skilled labor, Mid-State Machine Products has positioned itself for success. The company is looking toward the future with plans to utilize high-performance production technologies and continue to upgrade its equipment to compete in the global marketplace.
The company has now turned its sights to the aerospace sector and is actively seeking long-term customers who are an appropriate fit for its capabilities. Whether it’s producing complex, challenging parts from difficult-to-machine alloys at its production facility or manufacturing custom components at its original job shop, Mid-State Machine Products is ready for its next challenge.
Mid-State Machine Products, Inc.