‘Automation’ Any Shop Can Use to Beat the Competition

September 14, 2017 2:58 pm


The biggest single differentiator in production cost between shops is labor. It’s likely that 90 percent of the jobs you lost out on are because the other shop (especially if it’s in low-wage Mexico or Asia) managed to beat you on the labor. The fact is, every time somebody touches the part, it costs money. I believe palletizing an entire production can remove at least 75 percent of handling time; plus, if you’re working towards automated production, a common workholding interface puts you ahead of the game.

Historically, different types of machine tools were delivered with a unique workholding interface. Surface grinders typically came with a magnetic table; lathes received three-jaw or four-jaw chucks or collet systems; milling machines are still based on a T-slot table. But these days, milling, turning and some grinding can be performed in a single machine or several machines grouped in a cell.

Workholding should no longer be considered just another obstacle between cycles. It doesn’t require a well-coordinated NASCAR pit crew to swap setups. And we need to stop thinking that workholding devices can’t add value because they don’t remove material. The way parts are processed has changed…it’s time that machine shops change how they think about workholding too.

Quick, accurate and stable gripping can be done easily, regardless of the workholding form, when the fixture workpiece is transferred in and out of the machine tool with something like the Unilock zero-point clamping system from BIG KAISER. In fact, systems like this provide the best solution for two of manufacturing’s toughest setup problems: repeatability of location from one fixture or workpiece blank to another, and transfer of work from one machine tool to another (more on that in a minute). These kinds of systems aren’t new, but they’ve grown alongside advancing approaches to machining and can now adapt to workpieces of virtually any shape or size.

With this kind of system in place, a workpiece reference location need only be established once. Alignments for the chuck are established from its center line, and that data can be captured electronically and kept in the machine’s CNC program. Work can then be moved from turning center to a grinder or from a milling center to a CMM without having to re-establish the reference point. You can run any fixture at any time.

A clamping system gives a creative machinist a chance to shine by finding ways to machine a part through the second and third steps without ever unclamping the part. Not only is this a faster way of doing things, but feature-to-feature accuracy is improved, it reduces the chances of human error, and the operator doesn’t have to judge how much time is required to take the part out.

Workholding is a form of entry-level automation—the kind of affordable automation that can keep competitors with expensive robots, clouds and software at bay. As for those who aren’t on the automation train at all, you’ll whoop them on the labor line of your estimate every time.

To learn more, click here.


Article From: John Zaya, Product Manager, BIG KAISER Precision Tooling Inc.

Leave a Reply