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High-Performance Production VMC Helps All Axis Excel in Prototype Part Manufacturing
Small-business owners like Tony Chastenay at All Axis Research & Development LLC know that acquiring new orders is crucial to growing the business. It is also part of building a better life for owners and for the employees who devote so much energy and passion to work on a daily basis.
“I know it’s hard to have a career that is stable in this day and age,” said Chastenay. “And I realize that there are also risks in working for a small business. I want to make sure that taking that risk is worthwhile. I want my employees to have a workplace where they feel secure, and that our customers can feel confident they are getting the quality products that they expect, delivered on time. That is what matters most.”
Technology is the company’s competitive weapon to achieving this goal, and Chastenay uses it efficiently for prototype part manufacturing in the electronics, aerospace, glass and industrial printing industries.
“We want to be the best, so we try to buy the best.”
To handle the sheer diversity of materials and parts it works with, All Axis requires flexible and reliable equipment, like its Makino PS95 vertical machining center. This equipment has not only helped All Axis handle this kind of part variety, but it has also reduced cycle times by up to 50 percent over previous equipment, showing customers that the company is committed to completing jobs on time, on budget and with exacting tolerances.
“Prototype part manufacturing is not a cookie-cutter process. Each part has its own challenges,” said Chastenay. “To handle this kind of work, you can’t just have talent. You need modern equipment, too. We want to be the best, so we try to buy the best.”
Ever since high school, Chastenay has enjoyed machining and working jobs where he was able to use his hands. He has always been good at tinkering with cars, trucks and other heavy equipment. A trade class in high school piqued his interest early on and drove him to excel in this type of career.
After high school, Chastenay worked at a few local companies, including an aerospace manufacturer that handled many exotic metals. When a friend recommended an open development position at another company, Chastenay found himself eager for the challenge. He started working as an experimental machinist and gradually moved up to supervisor and then into a management position.
“I stayed for 14 years, and it was there that I learned a lot about engineering and design,” he said. “I enjoyed handling the more challenging projects and overseeing the experimentation, test machining, data collection and feedback.”
When the company decided to discontinue its experimental machine shop, Chastenay saw a new opportunity. There was continuing demand in the market for prototype part manufacturing, and he already had a Bridgeport machine at home for performing side jobs. Chastenay decided to go into business for himself at All Axis. He had the blessing of and encouragement from his former employer, and he qualified Chastenay’s business as a vendor before Chastenay even left the company.
“We are finding that we can get the highest metal-removal rates on the PS95, compared to our other machines.”
“I had a great transition to business owner,” he said. “Today I still work with my former company on new designs.”
At All Axis, Chastenay handles engineering and proves out products. The company creates prototypes for some businesses and often manages bigger runs. The company also makes fixtures for the parts it is designing. The work at All Axis has continued to evolve as Chastenay and his colleagues learn more about the capabilities of their equipment.
With prototype part manufacturing, batch sizes are typically small with quantities of 10 or less. As such, All Axis found itself performing a lot of setups and programming.
“We found that we needed more capacity and better performance from our equipment,” said Chastenay. “We were already stretched thin on our schedules. In fact, we had three of our commodity vertical machining centers already scheduled out for the entire year.”
Running its existing equipment nonstop meant that All Axis didn’t have a moment for downtime. The company was afraid that if it lost a machine, there would be no backup, it could lose a customer, or that the loss in profit would be more than the machine itself. Moreover, it was already experiencing some reliability issues with its previous equipment.
“We decided to invest in infrastructure,” said Chastenay. “We needed equipment that would perform roughing on tough materials. To do that, we needed something extremely rigid with fast spindle speeds. We wanted something that would work well for a lot longer than other machines and that would retain its value.”
Investing in Technology
Chastenay had some familiarity with the Makino name and the machine’s Fanuc-based control. Then, at IMTS 2012, he also saw a demonstration of the PS95 cutting steel.
“The machining demo was impressive,” he said. “And I appreciated that Makino shared extensive details and specific metrics on the machine’s rigidity and build, unlike the other manufacturers who would not disclose to me how their machines are designed.”
While All Axis had never worked with Makino distributor Able Machine Tool Sales before, it had received good recommendations about them from other shops. Chastenay also saw the PS95 in action at one of these businesses.
“A key to producing quality products is machine reliability,” said Chastenay. “We require equipment that will not break down. All of us liked the heavy-duty spindle on the PS95, and we knew the rapids and high feedrates would fit the bill for our requirements. We realized we couldn’t afford not to invest in technology.”
All Axis purchased the PS95 in December 2013. The machine has since exceeded the company’s requirements for productivity, quality and efficiency.
“We used to shovel enough to fill a 55-gallon drum on each part. With the PS95, we are not shoveling chips. We are instead making chips.”
“After installation, we found that all the details that Makino and Able Machine Tool Sales had provided us about the machine prior to installation were 100 percent accurate,” Chastenay said. “I believe that you get what you pay for. The machine is very efficient and user-friendly.
“We have transitioned much of our heavy hogging and hard material applications to the PS95, based on the rigidity, accuracy and overall efficiency of the machine. We machine a lot of 45 HRc parts and produce some that are 41/40 heat-treated. We are finding that we can get the highest metal-removal rates on the PS95, compared to our other machines.”
All Axis appreciates the through-spindle coolant and the chip conveyor features that it didn’t have on previous machines, all of which comes standard on the PS95 machine.
“We find it very efficient to not have to remove chips from the machine,” said Chastenay. “We used to shovel enough to fill a 55-gallon drum on each part. With the PS95, we are not shoveling chips. We are instead making chips. Features like the through-spindle coolant speeds up cycle times on milling, drilling and plunging. On pecking operations, we can now complete these features in one clean Z-axis plunge. The PS95 is the fastest machine in the shop. Machine utilization is up, and we’re able to be more competitive.
“We transferred a part comprised of A2 tool steel from our previous machine to the PS95. Cycle time used to be 40 minutes per part, but on the PS95 it was cut in half—to 20 minutes. On average, in parts transferred to this machine, we have seen 20 percent cycle-time reductions without adjusting processes. We did not anticipate that much of a decrease. We knew the numbers would be better, but this was really eye-opening.”
“On average, in parts transferred to this machine, we have seen 20 percent cycle-time reductions without adjusting processes.”
Another area where the company is saving time is by consolidating setups by using progressive fixturing. In addition, the larger work envelope and travel of the machine compared to the previous machine have enabled All Axis to take on larger part applications and to perform multiple operations in a single load for faster completion of parts. All Axis also appreciates that the PS95 follows the geometry it is programmed to, with less tool deflection and better blends.
“We get higher resolution and adjustability with the Makino controls compared to our other vertical machining centers,” said Chastenay. “In fact, we get one full decimal point better.”
The company is also now able to use more advanced tooling. “We can drill through six inches of aluminum with a quarter-inch drill in just seconds instead of minutes,” said Chastenay. “With its speed, rigidity and through-spindle coolant, this machine just blasts chips out of the hole.”
All Axis is also pleased with the quality coming off the PS95.
“We can handle tight-tolerance holes and slots at plus or minus 0.0002 inches with great repeatability,” said Chastenay. “With the PS95 we don’t have to spend valuable time making constant adjustments. Our other equipment we could get to this result, but it would take much longer, due to more machining passes and slower feedrates.”
The results seen on the PS95 have brought in more orders. The machine has also made the company more competitive, which is reflected in its part costs.
“On parts transferred to the PS95, we have had a 10 percent decrease in cost. We are now bidding on jobs that we couldn’t previously, and customers who once passed on our services are now coming back to us.”
Chastenay explained, “By reducing our cycle times and achieving better quality, we are able to pass along savings gained from those efficiencies to the customer. In fact, on parts transferred to the PS95, we have had a 10 percent decrease in cost. We are now bidding on jobs that we couldn’t previously, and customers who once passed on our services are now coming back to us.
“We have learned that if you don’t invest, you will lose bid after bid on jobs you quote. With the new efficiencies gained from the PS95, we know that All Axis as a whole will be stronger.”
Excelling Beyond Expectation
All Axis sees high-performance technology as the future of the company and has plans to continue to replace older equipment with another PS95. It is also considering an expansion of its capabilities with the addition of a 4th- or 5th-axis table.
“We believe that technology puts us on top,” said Chastenay. “This equipment arms us with the recipe to be the best. We want our existing customers to know that their business is important to us. We are demonstrating that by building a reliable business where people feel confident when working with us. We take our customers seriously and aim to serve them well, delivering what they ask for and more.
“We all know that there are no guarantees in life. That is why I typically set goals beyond my reach. It allows me to excel in what I do so that I can exceed the expectations of my family and customers. This high-performance equipment helps All Axis to achieve that.”
All Axis Research & Development LLC
Claremont, New Hampshire