Small Changes Yield Big Results


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When working day-to-day with the same machines and complex parts, often the little things are overlooked. The big picture and making money is the focus, as it should be. However, taking a detailed look at what’s going on behind the scenes at the small processes that aren’t quite optimized, the little glitches in the system can ultimately become one of your biggest assets—if you know what to do with them.

That’s what Lakeshore Fittings discovered when they made three small changes and had one big result—increased productivity and efficiency.

Looking at its processes, and soliciting help from Core Powered Inc., Lakeshore Fittings successfully integrated a major OEM customer’s move to aluminum. By improving efficiencies from 60 to 120 percent, while decreasing the downtime of a key Hydromat rotary transfer machine by 21 percent, the company improved its roll stamp capability and enhanced its external threading performance, increasing part production by 11 percent.

Lakeshore Fittings, located in Grand Haven, Mich., is a rotary transfer technology specialist with 13 Hydromat machines, many multi-spindle screw machines, CNC equipment and secondary operations. For more than 32 years they have been machining brass, aluminum and stainless steel for the plumbing, petroleum distribution, hydraulic, gas distribution and lawn and garden industries.

“We have more than 70 employees and run tens of millions of parts every year, with more than 1,000 independent part numbers,” says Scott Reus, general manager for Lakeshore Fittings. “We were running a very successful custom OEM shop and distribution catalog, but we also knew we needed to move in a different direction. Moving to much more complex, high quality precision parts and differentiated parts would give us a bigger, more recognizable share in the marketplace.”

It’s All in the Settings

In 2011, Lakeshore Fittings produced a part that changed from brass to aluminum. Although the company had been working with custom and standard parts primarily in brass, company staff was less familiar with running the aluminum.

“When we first started working with aluminum we were struggling to make a consistent quality part,” says Matt Ardell, production engineer. Without the experience or the capacity to keep up with its new OEM customers’ needs, the company needed to look at alternatives.

“Core Powered helped us to better understand, giving us more insight on how the material moves around in the machine,” says Mr. Ardell. “The company’s insights helped us to understand how our tooling was affecting the cutting of the material and how we needed to change our process to better mold the material.”

After looking at how the machine was running, Charles Ruecker, president of Core Powered Inc., applied the Core Powered “Manufacturing Solution” and determined that the changes needed were in the approach to the speeds and feeds required to effectively manage the new chip condition, not in the tooling design.

The Manufacturing Solution is based on three key components. First, “Human Engineering,” which focuses on the thought process behind the job, asking the right questions and accurately determining what the project or problem really is. Next, “System Design” formulates the “Process,” creating the blueprints for success based on what is determined through the Human Engineering component. Finally, the last step is applying the Process and “Manufacturing” the parts themselves. Normally, these components are separate. However, with the Manufacturing Solution, these services are combined into one, making it very easy for companies to cost-effectively solve the right problem.

“Core Powered helps customers simplify by acting at once as a process advisor, consultant and parts manufacturer,” Mr. Ruecker says. By melding the three services into one, Core Powered provides customers an experienced team that can assess, process and produce to meet demanding customer requirements.

New Threading Possibilities

Last year, Lakeshore Fittings started running a new part on its Hydromat that required long external threads. It had originally used regular knob opening solid die heads, but were having problems with thread quality, tool life and increased downtime because of chip build-up in the die head.

“When we looked at the H&G insert toolholder, which is normally an off-the-shelf item when connecting with the Hydromat, we quickly realized that we needed to adapt the holder by running coolant through it to keep it clean and decrease the amount of chips,” Mr. Ruecker says. “This was a relatively easy addition to the interchangeable shank design we were making for Lakeshore’s threading operations done on the Hydromat.”

Todd Brown, Hydromat supervisor, says, “The block and chaser system that Mr. Ruecker designed is made with a bronze ring that connects with the die head. This allows us to put pressurized coolant through the holder,” “This system has increased our tooling life; we now have longer chaser life and a better looking finish.”

This small change resulted in improved productivity of the Hydromat, increasing part production by 19 percent, with more efficient tool changes, better quality parts and decreased downtime by 21 percent.

Rolling to a Different Drum

Lakeshore Fittings was running into difficulties with their existing roll stamp. It was breaking down regularly, frequently binding up and overall it was unreliable. It was not an issue affecting parts production in a measurable way, but was clearly becoming something they needed to fix.

“There are all kinds of roll stamps out there, including designs that are readily available for the Hydromat, but Lakeshore wanted something that was a lot more robust than they could buy off the shelf,” Mr. Ruecker says. “We understood how their machine worked and designed a roll stamp specifically for them, and one that fits their existing stamps.”

The new design incorporated sealed bearings and cover plates that eliminate chip particles that get into the bearings and moving parts, and because it is designed to fully use the length of the recess head dovetail, it is more stable and less likely to break down, stick or bind up.

“It’s so much easier to set up now. We have less downtime to repair worn out and sticking bearings and make a better looking stamp, because of the more stable binding system,” Mr. Ardell says. “We used to run into the problem of the stamp being heavy at the bottom and light at the top, and now it is a more evenly distributed stamp, higher quality and more legible.”

All of this is without having to buy new stamps, enabling the reuse of existing roll stamps.

What’s Next?

Lakeshore Fittings has a part they want to run on the Hydromat, but aren’t sure how to best hold it. A combination of length, different diameters and features make this part difficult to hold using conventional collet or step collet workholding. Mr. Brown presented this challenge to Mr. Ruecker at Core Powered to see if he could help. “This is an easy part to run with a sleeve collet design, and there are a few design options that help to meet tooling cost and functionality requirements,” Mr. Ruecker says.

With this new information, Mr. Brown says, “The sleeve collet would be the most probable solution to running this part on the Hydromat because of the increased clamping depth that can be achieved on both sides of the invert station. This would give us the stability we need to turn the length of the part without major part deflection and/or chatter caused by how much of the part is hanging out of the collet.”

A Year of Growth

Despite a tumultuous economy, Lakeshore Fittings has grown more than 25 percent in the last year.

“As a result of some of the small changes we’ve made, we’ve been able to capture a new share of the marketplace and are more efficient internally in many ways,” Mr. Reus says. “Our operators are doing a great job at problem solving and looking at how to improve things. We’ve experimented successfully with different materials and continue to wring out efficiencies in all of our production models.

“We expect to see continued growth,” he continues. “And working with Core Powered will help contribute to our ongoing success. Mr. Ruecker and Core Powered help us work with our existing capabilities, incorporating a tooling, machining and workholding perspective and give alternative, creative solutions that take into consideration our current, future and ongoing investment.”  

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