Vineburg Machining, Inc. (Sonoma, California) has been making a stainless device—which is part of a watering system primarily for pig farms—for about 25 years for the same customer. "[The device] needs to be stainless to withstand corrosion and the force of use," says Gerd Poppinga, Vineburg chief executive officer. This history does not mean that he can forget about the competition. "In addition to the shrinking margin, our customer faces more competition from outside the country and similar devices made from plastic."
Vineburg is always looking for ways to stay competitive, and the company was facing a steadily declining margin on this product. However, Vineburg likes to keep its prices low in order to pass the savings onto customers. According to Fabian Gutierrez, Vineburg purchasing manager, during a routine sales call, the company learned about a new alloy that was said to be able to increase per part speeds. "We had tried traditional 303 alloy and weren't able to gain an advantage," he says. "In fact, we had tried all sorts of approaches on the animal-watering device." So the company tried this alloy to produce the animal watering devices . . . and was amazed with the results, Mr. Gutierrez adds.
The product Vineburg tried, which improved productivity and had no impact on part quality, was 13/16 inch round 303 UGIMA XL, manufactured by Ugine Stainless & Alloys, Inc. (Colmar, Pennsylvania), the U.S. distribution arm of Ugine-Savoie Imphy, the stainless and nickel alloys long products business unit within the stainless steel division of Arcelor.
"This material is working well for us and we plan to use more," Mr. Poppinga says. "We are always looking for ways to stay competitive and were facing a steadily declining margin on this particular product, which is so price-sensitive, as everything is. One of the things we try to do is to keep our prices low so that we can pass savings on to our customers."
Mr. Poppinga says that Vineburg redid some tooling to optimize running of the new alloy. "Not only did Ugine increase our cycle time, but also gave us a net gain per shift," he says. "That's significant for us. Better machinability and competitive cost per pound—we can all use that." The total increase in per part-speed using the alloy was 4 seconds, or a 25 percent increase over the best available competitive grade the company has been using.
"The new grade works well for us," says Mr. Gutierrez, "especially with deep drilling and threading. Their bars are very accurate. Finish, quality, price and delivery—it's all there."
Michael Walsh, Ugine vice president of sales and marketing, says Ugine's alloy builds upon the company's existing stainless steel machining technology. He noted that this alloy incorporates technological advancements that allow for superior machinability at both low and high speeds for cam-driven or CNC machines using either high-speed steel or carbide tooling. It is also designed to be easily substituted for other materials with little or no adjustment.
"Vineburg and other machine shops using 303 UGIMA XL are experiencing consistent success regardless of machine, operation, tooling or cutting conditions. We've engineered the new alloy the same high lot-to-lot performance every time without surprises," says Mr. Walsh. He added that based on runs among Vineburg and other customers, 303 UGIMA XL should generate higher productivity increases compared to existing Type 303 grades.
Customers can also expect tool life to improve and benefit from this alloy, which is said to offer excellent consistency with much less downtime. Among other product advancements, this alloy has a higher controlled sulfur content than the company's standard 303 grade (0.35 to 0.38 percent versus 0.28 to 0.31 percent).
Vineburg runs Acme multi-spindle and Brown & Sharpe single-spindle machines for most of its parts and uses CNC for more complex components. Stainless is used for about 25 percent of its products, while the shop also runs brass, regular steels and aluminum. "We run millions and millions of parts through here every year. We're a mass producer of machine parts," notes Mr. Poppinga.
Mr. Poppinga founded Vineburg Machining in 1977. It has grown into a $6 million business employing 50 people. It serves numerous clients including OEMs and companies in the building, semiconductor, medical, tooling and cable connector industries.
"I'm a toolmaker by trade. You send me a part and I'll figure out how to make it competitively and cost-efficiently. Materials like the new 303 UGIMA XL help us do that," says Mr. Poppinga.