Boosting Aerospace Manufacturing Profitability at Universal Machining Industries
Today’s requirements for aerospace manufacturing demand the highest levels of efficiency. While many job shops have seen the growth and the potential available in the aerospace production market, few understand the level of commitment required to be successful. Steve Trubenbach, owner and general manager of Universal Machining Industries Inc. (UMII), stands out from the crowd.
“Aerospace manufacturers from around the world are highly sensitive to Six Sigma, just-in-time [JIT] and return on investment [ROI],” said Trubenbach. “When potential customers visit your facility and see too much labor, inventory, work-in-progress [WIP] and tool expenditures, they know you won’t be offering the best price possible. They understand that stand-alone machines aren’t efficient, and that automation is the only way to be competitive in today’s global market.”
“Our investments in MMC2 automated manufacturing systems from Makino have provided the capabilities necessary to cut labor from the machining process and work with customer requirements for shorter lead-times, just-in-time delivery and lower-part costs.”
By industry standards, UMII would be considered a mid-sized job shop, but after one tour through the facility, its capacity for production is clearly above and beyond similar job shops of its size.
UMII has positioned itself to be an exemplary production environment for the aerospace market. Over the last decade, the company has made continual investments in aerospace manufacturing technologies, transitioning from primarily stand-alone vertical machining centers to horizontal machining centers in automated cells. Through these investments, UMII has witnessed continual year-over-year growth and a 60 percent increase in total production over just four years.
“The industry as a whole is trending toward a global marketplace, which places us in competition with low-labor-cost countries,” said Trubenbach. “In order to win, American companies must be innovative in ways to remove labor from the processes, and the only way for us to succeed in doing so is through technology.
“Our investments in MMC2 automated manufacturing systems from Makino have provided the capabilities necessary to cut labor from the machining process and work with customer requirements for shorter lead-times, just-in-time delivery and lower-part costs. Not only has customer satisfaction improved, but we’ve also gained better control over our workflow, leaving fewer dollars sitting idly on the shop floor.”
Adjusting the Mindset for Utilization
UMII was established in 1997 with the mission of growing its reputation on the quality of products produced and making the commitment to meet and exceed every customer’s expectations. Through state-of-the-art machine tool technology and a broad depth of experienced personnel, the company strives to foster relationships with customers that will be valued for years.
Approximately 70 percent of UMII’s production is dedicated to the aerospace market; however, the company maintains a healthy balance of orders within the commercial product and oil and gas markets as well. Its product mix is typically composed of aluminum, steel, carbon steel, plastic and some hard metals. UMII’s recent list of achievements include AS9100 Rev. C and ISO9001-2008 certifications, a 24,000-square-foot expansion to its current 57,000-square-foot facility, and an astounding 98.5 percent on-time delivery and 99.8 percent quality acceptance rates.
UMII attributes much of its recent successes and accolades to its transition into automated production in 2009. According to Trubenbach, the transition was a gradual process led first by a focus on machine utilization.
“In the early days, we thought that we were doing well with stand-alone verticals. The quality was good, and we were pushing out what we thought to be a healthy part volume at the time. But that perception was quickly challenged when we purchased our first horizontal and saw the benefits of the pallet changer and gravitational chip evacuation. The utilization rates of the horizontal were more than twice that of the verticals, while using less labor, fewer setups and achieving better part quality. It was an eye-opening experience that became a catalyst for our eventual transition into automation.”
One key benefit that UMII noted during its transition from vertical to horizontal machining centers was the change in labor and product flow. Operators could now manage two machines simultaneously, while inventory and WIP circulated through the facility faster. These observations, combined with continual customer pressures, eventually led UMII to evaluate automation as a solution for JIT delivery and enhanced profitability.
Proving Out Automation
Following extensive market research and ROI calculations, UMII made its first investment in automation with the purchase of a 60-pallet Makino Machining Complex (MMC2) and five Makino a61 horizontal machining centers. This acquisition soon enabled the company to accomplish quick turnaround production that addressed customer demands for shorter lead-times and reduced part costs.
“It was an eye-opening experience that became a catalyst for our eventual transition into automation.”
“Our market research came up with a wide variety of technology options, most of which required the support of separate vendors for the automation system, machines and cell control software,” said Trubenbach. “We favored Makino for its all-inclusive approach to automation. All features of the cell, including the MMC2, a61 machines and cell control software, are sourced, managed and serviced by Makino, simplifying training and maintenance on the system.
“The company’s history of turnkey automation services also provided us with an added confidence in the quality of installation. The a61 machines were installed prior to the arrival of the MMC2, allowing us to run production orders as quickly as possible. During installation of the MMC2, our operators went to Mason, Ohio, for training, minimizing our overall downtime. In total, the full system was installed in under five weeks, and our operators were initiating production runs on day one.”
Since installation, UMII has reported consistent utilization rates of more than 90 percent from its a61 machines. In applications transferred from the stand-alone machines to the automated cell, the company is able to produce an average of 30 percent more parts in the same time frame while removing more material. Much of these gains come as a result of the a61 machine design, which emphasizes reduced out-of-cut time through faster rapid moves, acceleration/deceleration rates and tool changes. In some applications requiring substantial out-of-cut processes, cycle times on the a61 machines are up to 20 percent faster than previous technologies.
The design of the a61 machines has also enabled UMII to significantly reduce manual-labor requirements. Its fourth-axis table, tombstone fixtures and rigid cutting capabilities along axis extremities have enabled operators to fixture more parts per face with multi-face cutting access. As a result, parts require fewer setups and are produced with higher quality and consistency.
“Automation has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on our operators, creating a team atmosphere where each person shares in the success of the system,” said Trubenbach. “Running the cell only requires the attention of six operators per workday and can continue lights-out operation over holidays and weekends. Its tool-monitoring capabilities provide us with an extra degree of quality assurance. The only difficulty in owning and operating the cell has been maintaining a continuous flow of raw materials.”
Since installation, UMII has reported consistent utilization rates of more than 90 percent from its a61 machines.
After realizing the full benefits and rapid ROI of automation, UMII expanded its capabilities with a second automated system in 2012.
The new cell features a similar design with an MMC2 pallet-handling system; however, this time around, the company opted for a 54-pallet system with five of Makino’s larger a61nx horizontal machining centers. Containing optional, extended Y-axis travel and advanced technologies, the a61nx machines provide UMII with greater work-zone capacity and up to 10 percent faster cycle times compared to previous models.
“With two MMC2 cells available, we’re able to run larger lot sizes on the a61nx cell and smaller lots on the a61 cell,” said Trubenbach. “A secondary benefit is the interchangeability of pallets between cells. So in the event that schedules were to change dramatically, we have the flexibility to rapidly exchange orders between cells to meet these demands.”
While advancements in speed and production capacity have certainly led to improved customer satisfaction, UMII sees its biggest competitive advantages in improved workflow management and just-in-time delivery.
Since investing in automated capabilities, the company has also reported a decrease in raw material inventory of approximately 25 percent and about a 30 percent drop in WIP.
“With stand-alone machining centers, there’s very little flexibility in production scheduling. The time and cost associated with machine and part setups force manufacturers to focus on large batch production, which also causes high volumes of idle inventory and work in progress. In many cases, a full return on these orders won’t be seen until months after the initial production run. This type of situation can skew a company’s balance sheets, making it difficult to accurately reinvest that money into the business. It also challenges a company’s ability to react more quickly to small batch orders that might follow after the initial large production run.”
UMII’s transition into automation has eliminated much of these scheduling and inventory concerns by letting the company focus on smaller batch production. A critical component to this capability has been the MMC2’s MAS-A5 cell control software, which enables operators to easily store program, fixture and tooling data for each part order into the cell’s database and retrieve them on the fly when needed.
By producing smaller batches for immediate sale, UMII has gained access to more immediate funds that it can reinvest into the company through additional manpower, training and technology. Since investing in automated capabilities, the company has also reported a decrease in raw material inventory of approximately 25 percent and about a 30 percent drop in WIP.
Another cost-saving factor for UMII has been improved tool management. Where tool inspection was once the responsibility of an operator, the MMC2 systems can now automatically monitor tool degradation to help control tool costs and part quality.
“These investments in automated capabilities have demonstrated our commitment to offering customers the quickest turnarounds and lowest possible cost,” said Trubenbach. “Several customers who are dealing with prototype parts have stated that these capabilities have played a crucial role in their time to market and overall market share. This is exactly the type of impression we hope to leave with our customers and build a relationship off of for the future.”
Hard Work and Dedication
While UMII recognizes and appreciates the importance of technology in its manufacturing operations, Trubenbach also emphasized the significance and demand for dedicated and skilled labor.
“Automation was an intimidating investment at first, but after spending several years learning and adapting, I can confidently say that it’s our future.”
“There’s a human factor to this industry that is too often underestimated and underappreciated. For many, manufacturing is more than just a career—it’s their passion and livelihood. Our employees come into the shop every day and work tirelessly to ensure that our customers are happy with the product we deliver. They truly put their heart into the job. We strive to be as competitive as possible so that each and every one of us can come back the next day and do what we enjoy. It is in large part through the hard work and dedication of our employees that we have been able to grow and expand at the rate we have, while continuing to offer the level of quality that our customers have come to expect from UMII.”
The future of UMII looks bright as it aspires to grow its Tier 1 customer base within the aerospace market. By maintaining a commitment to industry-leading delivery and part cost, the company believes it has established a competitive edge in the global market.
“Automation was an intimidating investment at first, but after spending several years learning and adapting, I can confidently say that it’s our future,” said Trubenbach. “To succeed, you have to have the right tools and people. At Universal Machining Industries, we have both.”
Universal Machining Industries Inc.