Meeting Our Metalcutting Challenges

Companies in the United States are changing their approach to metalcutting production to meet the challenges presented by Asian competition.

Companies in the United States are changing their approach to metalcutting production to meet the challenges presented by Asian competition. The economic slow down after 9/11 and the price pressure of foreign manufactured products imported into the United States is forcing companies to reduce their manufacturing and production costs. This is the only way to face the high pressure from the Asian market, which has much lower labor and overhead costs. Only companies that restructure their manufacturing facilities will be successful and will be capable of competing in the national and worldwide markets.

Purchasing departments increasingly started to look into alternative part sources and tried the offshore production during the economic slowdown to reduce part costs.

This turned out to be more problematic than expected, and the logistics involved were complex. Rising oil prices increased the freight cost, and shipping times and delays required the need for inventory on both sides of the pacific, which added cost to each part. Last but not least, the quality received has not been as expected, which has created assembly problems and even the need for rework, which further increases the workpiece price.

During my visits to manufacturing and production companies, I still see many manual machine lines being used, and several operators carry the part from one machine to the next. This is a production method that makes it very difficult to maintain the quality of a part, and the necessary labor cost is very high.

I also see machine cells of two to three machines where one operator is running all the machines and is carrying the part from the first to the last machine. This production method is very receptive to quality problems as well, and it is not cost-effective.
In both of these methods, many single machines are needed if the volumes are high.

Both methods were used in the 1990s, when the price pressure was not present yet, and the economy was booming. The term “Lean” became known and has been brought into the manufacturing world to replace old, cam-driven, non-CNC dedicated transfer and rotary transfer lines with machines as mentioned earlier. Companies are starting to realize that the cost per part kept rising with the increasing labor cost, since a lot of labor was needed for these production methods.

The new generation of rotary transfer and transfer lines are now as flexible as standard CNC machines with the implementation of CNC technology. Companies like Giuliani, a division of Bucci Industries USA Inc. (Charlotte, North Carolina), did not stop there, however. The company developed the modular, fully flexible rotary transfer machine with a pallet changer. Each of the modules is a three-axis CNC unit. Up to eight modules can be mounted around the table with six clamping stations that rotate and tilt and are CNC controlled as well. Each module also is equipped with an automatic toolchanger, and the module can be mounted both horizontally and vertically.

This new technology will give production facilities the flexibility to be able to run any part or family of different parts in the low-, mid- and high-volume range. The capital investment is lower than it would be with standard CNC machines, and the required manpower is less, which is the most expensive factor in a manufacturing process.

Engineers throughout the metalcutting production industry will now start to see the benefit of the new generation rotary transfer machines. Not only is the machine very flexible, it allows them to machine many different parts with virtually no retooling costs. They also see that the cost per part is now much lower and can relate to an engineer’s words, “Finally I can compete again and won’t lose one job after another.”

The new generation rotary transfer machine will allow companies to become competitive again and bring work back into their facilities, which will create workplaces and make U.S. manufactured products competitive in the world market.