Process Insights

Sandy Bay Machine Stays Flexible and Accurate

According to Mohamed Shahin, president of Sandy Bay Machine of Rockport, Mass., it was easy for almost anyone to turn a profit in the machining business prior to 2000. However, today it’s much more difficult. Over the years, he has watched several manufacturers close their doors.

Faced with the same challenges, Sandy Bay Machine began investing heavily in technology, so that whenever the market turns, the company would be better positioned to compete with the shops still standing.

Competing on a Global Stage

Sandy Bay started with one manual Bridgeport in 1978. Today, they have more than 30 CNC machines serving a large, diverse base with companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Motorola, and Raytheon. Recently, Sandy Bay enhanced its standing by joining other leading manufacturers under the TSI Group, allowing them to share ideas with other U.S. manufacturers coast to coast. Under this new ownership, the company is expecting continued growth, with a goal of doubling their revenue in two years.

Sandy Bay is a world-class manufacturer of microelectronic components, often for antenna, microwave, and aerospace applications, working with international customers. In order to compete on the global stage, Sandy Bay requires technically advanced machinery and skilled machinists.

Sandy Bay’s manufactured components are mostly electrical based, so accuracy is especially important. As a result of the complexity of these components and the constant need for short runs, sophisticated manufacturing techniques, and reliable, flexible manufacturing systems are essential. The slightest inaccuracies result in scrapped products, and further adding to the complexity, small lot sizes and fast runs are often required.

With 40 years of experience providing these components, both military and commercial, Sandy Bay is able to provide a higher level of quality to their customers. Their advanced machinery, in combination with their unique manufacturing, enables them to exceed customers’ expectations.

Better Cycle Times, Tolerances

Sandy Bay’s first Makino was a standalone a51 purchased in 2003. Makino said it could outproduce and provide a better finish than the machine the company was using. Intrigued, Shahin asked Makino to prove it.

“Our Makino a51s did exactly what Makino promised,” explains Shahin. “The a51 reduced the cycle time of the part we tested from 25 to 15 minutes. The surface finish visually improved as well. In another instance, it took us two and a half hours to run four parts on our old machine. On the a51, we reduced the cycle time to 40 minutes.”

Several of Shahin’s other legacy machines were not performing to his strict standards. He was impressed with the improved cycle time and the better tolerances the Makino offered, so he made the switch to the a51.

“The Makino machines were the only horizontal machining centers that could hold the 0.0002-inch tolerances we needed in our complex parts,” says Greg Osmond, Sandy Bay’s production manager. “We looked at other machines, but the Makinos were the only ones that could cut accurately in complex parts.”

Finished Parts Checked for Accuracy

Due to the exacting accuracies required by their customers, every product is checked on a CMM, and meticulously examined under a microscope by Sandy Bay’s quality assurance team. Results are provided to the customer along with the finished product.

Among the products manufactured at Sandy Bay Machine is a satellite antenna that holds circuits to divide microwave signals. The part’s 0.00035-inch tolerances require a 3/32 tool with a 16-inch extension, boring two holes in precise locations over 9 inches. The part’s surface flatness has to be matched within 0.001 of an inch.

“We don’t drill often,” says Osmond. “Boring allows for increased surface straightness. As a result, the roundness and concentricity are perfect.”

Filter housings are another part Sandy Bay regularly manufactures. The part measures 15 inches wide by 13 inches long by 1.75 inches thick. The part requires a substantial amount of hog-out work before it reaches the finished size.

“Surface finishes must also be considered,” explains Osmond. “Most parts are coated with silver, gold, or another material in the end to aid in conductivity and sensitivity for the final application, so this must be taken into account when programming. Some parts require a 0.02-inch radius on the corner, which means lots of cutting with a small end mill. Makino’s Super Geometric Intelligence helps eliminate corner chatter, a problem we’ve had in the past. With the Makinos, we can reduce cycle times because the tool doesn’t slow as it enters corners nearly as much as with other machines. And we don’t have tool chatter problems anymore.”

Flexible Manufacturing System Is Now the Center of the Operation

Sandy Bay has 30 CNC machines, including a Makino V55 and several Makino S56s for hardmilling steel, but the center of their manufacturing operation is their pallet handling system, Makino Machining Complex (MMC2). This automated system has two work-setting stations with 24 pallets feeding three Makino a51 horizontal machining centers.

“The Makino Machining Complex gives us the flexibility to run many jobs at once without major operator intervention,” says Osmond. “We can program and set up several jobs and call them up whenever we need them, without having to reprogram and re-setup the machine. This results in more uptime and less setup time on common jobs.”

To further optimize production, Sandy Bay makes their own tombstones.

“The Makinos can machine accurately everywhere in the work zone, even high in Y,” says Shahin. “Confidence in the accuracy no matter where we’re machining allows us to fixture many parts per face of each tombstone, often up to 12 or 16 parts per face on a five-sided tombstone. This reduces out-of-cut time and pallet changes, and allows us to produce parts in specific batch sizes completely based on the customer’s needs.”

The spindle is running 94 percent of the time on the MMC, much more than the vertical machining centers and standalone machines in the shop. Shahin attributes the remaining 6 percent to routine maintenance.

Sandy Bay was worried that part accuracy would suffer without an operator standing in front of each machine, but they quickly found that the MMC produced parts just as accurately as a stand-alone Makino. In fact, the system provides more stability and reliability in the process, reducing the variables for error.

“This technology gives us confidence that we can deliver on the contracts we are bidding on, no matter quantity, accuracy, or delivery requirements,” explains Shahin. “It also helps us attract and retain good employees.”

Shahin says the MMC is a clear sign to employees that Sandy Bay is willing to invest in the company for future success and allows flexibility in how employees work.

“Skilled workers are hard to find,” explains Shahin. “Having a continuously evolving company goes a long way in attracting potential employees. We were able to change from three to two shifts, leaning more on optimized equipment like the MMC to pick up the slack. The third shift was always the hardest to find workers for, and many of those employees were glad to move to the day shift.”

According to Osmond, the Makino Machining Complex has cut setup time by 50 percent. Shahin has also said that he can actually connect to the system via the Internet from a remote location to check on work progress.

Their partners in the TSI Group have experienced similar results with their Makinos.

“Our experience with the MMC is consistent with the Makino experience at Thompson Industries, our sister company,” says Shahin. “We have both improved our businesses with the ability to offer on-time delivery, due to the accuracies and lights-out machining.”

New Goals and Opportunities

“Our investments have inspired us toward new goals and growth opportunities,” says Shahin. “The Makino additions were part of our plan to double our revenue and expand the shop floor, while still retaining our promise of reduced prices and increasing quality to our customers.”

The successful implementation of the Makino a51 MMC has encouraged Sandy Bay to continue down the path of automation. While the company currently has a two-level-high pallet stocker MMC system, Shahin plans on a new MMC that will be a three-level-high system and encourage the other companies in their new ownership group to look at automated cells as a means for faster, more flexible production.

“We are showing the success of our MMC to the other companies in the TSI Group every day and have become an example of how productive a flexible, automated production system can be,” says Shahin. “This investment will allow us to come out of tough times stronger and more competitive instead of closing up shop like so many others.”

For more information on the topics covered in this article, view these webinars: Equipment ROI: Cells and Management Systems, Machine Features that Reduce Part Variability in Production Operations.

Sandy Bay Machine
Rockport, MA
(978) 546-1331