Process Insights

5-Axis Horizontal Machining Center Provides Advantage at Arnold Engineering

Arnold Engineering of Corona, Calif., thrives on technology. Since its founding in 1971, it has grown to become a world-class supplier for some of the most prominent OEMs in aerospace manufacturing. It has done so through a steadfast determination to deliver the highest quality products and service in its field, facilitated by a willingness to invest substantial resources—both financial and professional—in advanced aerospace structural part machining technology.

“The only way for us to compete successfully is to use our skills and facilities at the highest levels,” said Walt Stender, the company’s president and CEO. “That means investing in advanced equipment and in the knowledge and expertise it takes to get maximum value from that equipment. One of our core values is that we use technology to gain a sustainable competitive advantage. And the Makino MAG3 5-axis horizontal machining center is an excellent example of how we’re putting that value into action. It has enabled us to process more parts faster. It has improved our quality. It has opened our minds to new ways of thinking about aluminum machining. And it’s creating new opportunities for us to succeed and grow.”

Arnold Engineering

Arnold Engineering (AE) was established in 1971 by Bob Arnold, an aerospace manufacturing veteran who prided himself on maintaining quality as his utmost priority. The company has expanded steadily over the past 40 years, outgrowing three different locations. Today, operating in a 113,500-square-foot facility in Corona, AE is a world-class producer of machined and assembled aerospace structural parts for both the defense and commercial markets. It is a Tier 1 supplier for brands such as Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, Gulfstream, Honda (light jets), Spirit and Vought, with 2010 sales in excess of $30 million.

Arnold retired in 2009. His son Jason now serves as the company’s executive vice president. Day-to-day management of the business and its 115 employees is headed by Stender, who joined AE in 2010.

“We think of ourselves as the Nordstrom of our aerospace manufacturing,” Stender said of AE’s business philosophy, referring to the upscale department store’s reputation for outstanding customer service. “We’re the source manufacturers know they can turn to when they want the best—the best components, the best service, the best people. To be the best, we know we have to invest in advanced aerospace structural part machining technology, and we believe that investment approach sets us apart from many of our competitors.”

Stender explained that for some companies, the up front cost of an advanced machining center, plus the cost of training engineers and operators to use a new center to its full potential, can act as deterrents to investing in new technology until it is required to meet the needs of a specific customer or contract.

“It’s a point of view I can understand,” he said. “But it’s never been the way we do business. We firmly believe that being the best means recognizing the opportunity that advanced aerospace structural part machining technology can provide, then going out and creating that opportunity ourselves by investing in the equipment and the expertise up front, then going out and selling it to our customers and prospects.”

The 5-Axis Horizontal Machining Center Advantage

Jason Jolly, AE’s vice president of engineering, described the limitations the shop faced in aluminum machining of large, complex parts before the decision to acquire the MAG3 5-axis horizontal machining center.

“We have several 5-axis vertical machining centers that we were using for aerospace structural part machining,” he said. “They are capable of ‘high-speed’ machining, but the complexity of the parts [dozens of cavities and substantial material to be removed from many angles] typically required multiple, time-consuming setups and long processing time. For example, a structural component for a Boeing 747 required about three hours to process.”

Due to the long processing times, Jolly explained, AE had to use multiple aluminum machining centers to process identical parts. Each center used slightly different tooling and required its own programming, and consequently “identical” parts processed on one center were slightly different from those processed on other centers.

“The parts were all well within the customer’s specs,” he said, “but the consistency wasn’t up to the standards we want to maintain, and we knew we weren’t getting the efficiency and throughput we wanted.”

Like any shop, AE is always looking for greater spindle utilization (reducing the downtime necessitated by multiple setups, for example) and the ability to process more parts with less machinery and fewer man-hours. The Makino MAG3 seemed to present a solution that met these needs.

A 5-axis horizontal machining center, the MAG3 is specifically designed for high-productivity aluminum machining of complex monolithic parts for aerospace. It has X-, Y- and Z-travels of 118.1 by 59.1 by 39.4 inches and can handle a payload up to 6,600 pounds. It is designed with the C-axis behind an A-axis rotating head, enabling the tool to orient itself toward any position within a hemisphere. The ±110-degree movement of the A-axis is enhanced by the infinite degree of movement capability of the C-axis, providing for exceptional machining flexibility. AE’s system also includes a three-position automatic pallet changer to facilitate setup and maximize spindle utilization.

“The MAG3’s specs seemed to offer the efficiency we needed, including the capacity for us to produce large orders on a single machining center, rather than on several,” Jolly said. “That would enable us to produce more consistent parts, and to do it more efficiently. Our ROI projections made sense, especially when we considered the new center would add substantially to our overall capacity and increase our business. Our company has never been afraid to invest up front in advanced equipment and training. We were confident we’d be able to support our investment by selling the new capabilities the MAG3 would bring us.”

Almost as soon as the decision to purchase was made, AE realized it was getting a lot more than a new piece of equipment from Makino. “The MAG3 was the first Makino machine we’d ever bought, and right from the start we were impressed with the level of service that came with it,” Jolly said.

Prior to installation, Makino sent a training team to AE to prepare its engineers and operators to get the most possible productivity from the MAG3. And technicians remained at the facility after installation to fine-tune the actual machining parameters for optimum results.

“Makino brought—and continues to bring—a tremendous amount of advanced processing knowledge to us,” Jolly said. “It has contributed substantially to what we consider to be a very successful operation, right from the start.”

Faster Processing, Better Quality and “A New Way of Thinking”

The results delivered by the MAG3 have more than met AE’s expectations. “The full 5-axis contouring motion and spindle speed alone make a substantial difference,” Jolly explained. “We’ve run tests comparing the MAG3 with our older vertical machining centers, and the MAG3 reduced the machining time by 30 percent without even changing the old programming. In actual practice, with specific programming designed to take full advantage of the MAG3’s aluminum machining capabilities, we’re now consistently producing parts 60 percent to 70 percent faster than we could before. It’s given us a new understanding of what ‘high-speed machining’ really means.

“The 5-axis horizontal machining center platform simplifies operation, too. More chips fall away from the workpiece, rather than accumulating around it, so operation can continue with fewer interruptions. For most parts, we can position the billet on the pallet just one time, rather than the multiple setups our VMCs required. And the pallet changer means that while one part is being processed, there’s always another blank ready to be moved into the machine and a third pallet in position for easy loading or unloading.”

Jolly noted that in addition to eliminating the variations in parts caused by processing on different aluminum machining centers, the MAG3 produces parts with visibly better finish and consistency. “The part quality is simply better than we were able to produce before,” he said.

Possibly even more important for AE’s future is the processing knowledge Makino continues to bring to the shop. “The knowledge Makino shares has definitely made the MAG3 much more valuable to us,” Jolly said. “Their expertise and insight have opened our minds to a new way of thinking about machining. The techniques we’ve learned in programming, pre-staging and every aspect of part processing have helped us become much more efficient in all areas of the shop. When their people first started working with us, we probably took 90 percent of their advice. In hindsight, I’d say we should have taken 100 percent. That’s how valuable Makino has been to us.”

Arnold Engineering continues to grow, with plans to eventually expand to a $100 million business. “Our goal is always to produce more top-quality parts more efficiently,” explained Stender. “As the aerospace manufacturing industry and our customers continue to advance, we’re planning to advance with them—into processing titanium and composites, and into making greater use of aerospace structural part machining technologies. Makino has definitely helped us get to where we are today, and it’s going to help take us forward into the future.”

Arnold Engineering
Corona, California
(951) 898-0999