Paul Villemaire, CEO, and Gene Fantozzi, general manager, C&M Machine Products Inc. (Willoughby, Ohio), share a notion that some technologies should begin paying for themselves immediately. This, they affirm, is not a radical notion but one based on research and experience.
In the past, the company had four to six Brown & Sharpes, which were difficult to load. Mr. Fantozzi says he can recall a time when C&M had some singlebar feeders. Adjusting them often meant taking them apart, pulling liners and generally ending up with oil all over the place.
The company has not totally abandoned its Brown & Sharpes. It has about 20 today, and they are still important parts of the business. "They're where we started," Mr. Villemaire says, "and they still let us keep a hand in the highvolume, low tolerance work—around 0.002 inch. The investment we've got in more than 2,000 cams, all made in-house, gives us an advantage over others in quick turnaround. However, the trend toward tighter tolerances and higher volumes is undeniable, and if we're to satisfy our customers' demands, we need to move to faster, more precise technology and ever-increasing amounts of automation."
Mr. Villemaire says that in the past, one man basically ran one machine (at best, two) because of the need to constantly replace bars and keep the machines fed. "If a machine ran out of stock and the operator was loading another machine," he says, "five or ten minutes could go by before the operator realized the machine was idle. It's not that the operators weren't paying attention. It's just that they were busy moving bars around. And those five or ten minutes were just gone, lost. You can't reclaim productivity from a down machine. The most pronounced changes in the market are demands for closer tolerances and higher—and higher—volumes. The solution, Mr. Villemaire says, is to automate and move up to more precise equipment. "So, we purchased a few Citizens, had them equipped with IEMCAs, and we've not been disappointed. You don't tamper with success," Mr. Villemaire goes on to say.
"Today's Citizen lathe," he says, "has faster cycle times and holds closer tolerances than its predecessor of just five years ago. Lathe technology is changing very quickly—greater tooling capacity, greater CNC storage, easier programming. However, a very critical thing on the lathe side of the business is keeping them fed, which is where IEMCA (St. Louis, Missouri) has come in. The IEMCA bar feeders keep the Citizens running virtually around the clock."
Today the company runs a large variety of CNC machines, including Hydromat precision rotary transfer machines and Swissstyle multi-spindle turning machines. "We have 23 Citizens, all equipped with IEMCA automatic bar loaders," Mr. Villemaire says, "and a couple of Eurotechs equipped with IEMCA BOSS 542 automatic bar loaders. The change in C&M has been the result of an investment strategy to meet changing demands and needs of customers and our desire to be more flexible and to position ourselves to take advantage of new market opportunities."
Now, the IEMCA feeders automatically drop another bar in, and the machine keeps running. Plus, he says, instead of one operator tending one machine, he now loads up the machines so that a single operator can tend five machines, significantly increasing productivity while allowing operators to do other things, such as setup, maintenance, or part inspection, which leads to the potential for total machine—and investment—optimization via unattended operation.
"There have been times," Mr. Villemaire says, "when we've had two or three really hot jobs and have had to run unattended, right through a weekend. We'd have someone come in every couple hours to check parts, but the machines basically ran by themselves. You can't do this without bar feeders that are up to it. Keeping the lathes running, producing parts, is how you maximize productivity."
Mr. Villemaire thinks the machines are worth their price, since there is increased uptime, reliability and dependability. "Having a sound investment strategy that involves a strong commitment to staying up with technology—this is the only way to satisfy the changing needs of today's customers while focusing on new market opportunities," he says.