XYZ 2-OP - Portable productivity

7 mins read

Need additional capacity to complement existing machinery and make best use of labour on the shopfloor? XYZ Machine Tools has just the answer, as Andrew Allcock discovers

Already launched in the US market and with some 100-plus sales notched up there, this month XYZ Machine Tools (01823 674200) will launch the innovative sub-£25,000 XYZ 2-OP machine into the UK market, backed by stock, following the machine's initial showing at the MACH 2014 exhibition held in April. At first glance, it's nothing to get too excited about: it's a compact 30 taper spindle vertical machining centre with toolchanger. But this machine comes with a standard fitment to which no other can lay claim – its pallet trolley jack. Why? Because the XYZ 2-OP's key feature is its portability and what that allows. But to understand the thinking behind the machine, let Rich Leonhard, owner of the machine's maker, US-headquartered Southwestern Industries, tell the story. "We have a metalworking shop, about 1,000 m², and it has machining centres and turning centres, about seven or eight of each. The one thing that always bothered me was that we would have a guy running a machining centre, sometimes two, and he would put a part in, press the green button and wait around for the machine to finish its cycle. Very frustrating. Nobody else in the company gets to do something for two minutes then do nothing for 10 minutes. "Also, it's clear that the most expensive machine we have on our shop is around $225,000 and that machine costs us half as much as the least expensive person per hour. So here we have expensive things, rare and precious things, called people, standing around waiting for inexpensive things, machines. That seemed stupid to me. "We set about making an effective second operation machine, so that we could bring the work and the machine to the operator, if he had spare time that was created by the cycle time of the machine." DESIGN A SOLUTION So, with the reasoning clear, the company started working on developing the machine in 2011, designing it from the ground up, but with manufacture given over to its Taiwanese partner that manufactures its other machinery. In looking at what was in the market first, Leonhard says that there was nothing out there that was small enough to be portable. "Portability and small size were key, as we have limited space and wanted to be able to slip the machines in alongside our primary machines, so that a person can be efficient within that cell." Southwestern operates six TRAK 2-OP machines (machine name in the US) in its machine shop and also has a couple of manual machines – Hardinge Speed lathes and Nichols horizontal mill – on wheels. "So we can reorganise our shop on a job-by-job basis," says Leonhard, adding that it has been operating like that for some 18 months, when Machinery spoke to him in June. As an example, he offers a bearing housing, made from a steel billet that is of 2.5 to 3 in diameter and which is turned on both ends. It will end up with a flange on it, into which is drilled a bolt hole pattern, while three set-screw holes are drilled and tapped around the body. "We used to use two turning centres, front to front, with one operator, then stack the parts up and take them to a machining centre. Now we pull two TRAK 2-OPs next to the lathes, and drill the bolt hole pattern and machine a flat using one of them, and on the second we machine three set-screw holes. So now we have one operator who runs all four machines and, instead of making parts sequentially, they now run in parallel. We have saved 40% in time, and when parts are complete they are 100% complete. It also saves management and supervision time, because it is now one job, not two." Other times, explains Leonhard, the company will run a TRAK 2-OP down to the saw where an operator is cutting parts and ask him to run some components while he is waiting for the saw. "We look for idle labour – idle by the cycle time of the machine, not laziness – and bring work to that guy, so that he is kept busy, not frantically, as is everybody else in the company." Launched in the US in October last year, there are 100-plus machines in the field, with interest "fair", but it is "early adopters" that have taken the machine on board, because, suggests Leonhard, most people are not yet thinking this way; they still think in terms of machine utilisation – keeping machines busy. He explains: "There's logic to that and yesterday, when machines were more expensive than people, there was a lot of logic in that – now that's no longer true. Machines are cheap, and people are expensive and hard to find. So people need to start focusing on 'how do I keep my people busy?', not 'how do I keep a machine busy?'. Quite frankly, people need more machines in their shop; they don't cost you anything, if you're not running them. It's like a car; if you don't drive, you don't wear it out. But an idle person does cost you." Outside of Southwestern Industries, one company in the US using the TRAK 2-OP is Cal-Draulics, a maker of hydraulic components for aerospace applications since 1950. Today located in Corona, California, the company has many high-spec CNC machine tools from the likes of Gildemeister (DMG Mori), Spinner and Hardinge, but it has recently added two TRAK 2-OP units. Owner Doug Johnson explains: "You can accomplish the same thing with a more expensive lathe with live tooling and sub-spindles. We have one out there, it costs over $250,000. With the TRAK 2-OP, I can utilise a basic high quality turning centre and the TRAK 2-OP to do the same thing for under $100,000. If we were running 2,000 parts at a time, there are more effective machines but, in aerospace, we typically run 35-100, so it works out perfectly." On hearing about the TRAK 2-OP, Johnson visited Southwestern to see a machine. "We [Doug Johnson and wife Jeannette] went to their facility in Dominguez Hills and they showed us everything, including their own production facility where they were using several TRAK 2-OP machines." After talking to the operators and programmers, they saw how the machine would fit into their operations. Most things made at Cal-Draulics are turned, usually in the first op, with milling work required afterwards and which was seeing a growing backlog. Running in a lean manufacturing environment requires cells in close proximity to each other to maximise production, says the company, and the TRAK 2-OP fitted the bill. "It really is portable. I could move it twice a day, if I wanted to. Instead, we loved it so much that we bought another one a few months later." Here in the UK, XYZ Machine Tools' managing director, Nigel Atherton, not surprisingly offers similar justification for the XYZ 2-OP to that given by Rich Leonhard. Says Atherton: "Having the ability to locate a machine where you need it, when you need it, freeing up spindle time on more expensive machines, while making full use of the available skills and manpower, is a major advantage in the competitive world of subcontract machining. MORE SPINDLES PER PERSON: BOOST PROFITABILITY "If you amortise the cost of a typical machine tool over seven years, the hourly rate for that machine is probably in the region of £4-£6 per hour; an operator, on the other hand, will be costing £24 per hour typically, with all the costs of employing him taken into account. Therefore, spreading the operator's costs over more spindles dramatically reduces the labour content per component and, additionally, has an immediate impact on the profitability of his employer. "A second benefit of this strategy is that fewer machinists are required for any given level of work – a major factor, given the shortage of quality skilled people. Thirdly, by freeing up availability of more expensive machine tools, there is less pressure to add similar capacity, reducing capital expenditure along the way." Offering an example, he says: "If a turned component has six minutes' turning and four minutes' milling, you could use a live tool lathe and produce six components per hour. If you did the milling on the XYZ 2-OP, you could produce 10 components per hour. Also, many 5-axis components need to either have a single side machined prior to the job being done (dovetail machining, for example, to hold the job), or, after machining five sides, the sixth side needs facing off or chamfering." The first batch of 18 machines is now available, but the MACH exhibition held earlier this year attractied 100 enquiries, while the first two Open Days at XYZ Machine Tools' Devon headquarters generated three orders and more interest, including a strong interest in the machine with indexer option. Further Open Days at XYZ's other UK?showrooms are to follow. Box 1 XYZ 2-OP specification in brief Supplied with its own pallet truck, the XYZ 2-OP has a footprint of 1,219 by 762 mm and weighs 1,100 kg. The machine is equipped with a 6,000 rpm, 3 hp spindle, has an 8-position toolchanger and axis travels of 355 by 305 by 431 mm in X, Y and Z, respectively, with feed rates up to 15 m/min. Control is via a ProtoTRAK TMX CNC unit that provides simultaneous 3-axis movement. For offline programming mimicking the EMX control, there's a £320 package, while CADCAM system output can also be used. Workpieces and fixtures can be held in place via the Jergens Ball Lock system, which supports fast repeat set-ups, or by means of the four tee slots. Single or 3-phase supply can drive the machine. If you're thinking that a small, mobile lathe might be a suitable partner machine, well Rich Leonhard has already hinted at that, but the first machine needs to be established ahead of that. Box 2 Southwestern Industries – a short history Founded in 1951, for the first 15 years Southwestern Industries, located in Southern California, was a designer of aerospace products. In the mid-60s, the company invented the Trav-a-dial, a mechanical, analogue readout unit to measure the movement of a table or carriage on a machine tool. Then it developed one of the first digital readout systems and sold that through the mid-80s. This was followed by the ProtoTRAK, a CNC system that was designed and organised for toolroom applications – all CNC was then targeted at production. Southwestern then started to produce its own machine tools, in partnership with a Taiwanese firm, for the toolroom environment in 1990, fitted with US-made ProtoTRAK controls. Since then, the company has sold about 60,000 controls and 45,000 machines. XYZ Machine Tools, now owned by Southwestern Industries, has been supplying ProtoTRAK controls and machines fitted with the controls since the early 1990s and has supplied more than 14,500 ProtoTRAK-fitted mills and lathes since then to over 4,000 companies.