Cutting Tool Manufacturer Helps Growing Shop Improve Efficiency

While nearly always desirable, growth can bring its own set of challenges. A case in point is Tri-K Machining, a shop that is seemingly on the fast track to success. Business has increased by more than 300 percent during the past 12 months. However, management soon realized that keeping up with this added work

Case Study From: 7/27/2008 Modern Machine Shop

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aluminum oxide coating

Walter’s inserts feature the company’s custom “Tiger Tec” aluminum oxide coating, which is said to prolong tool life at high feed rates.

Helical gear blank

Helical gear blanks like the one shown here are used for heavy industrial applications.

WPP10-grade inserts

The shop now uses WPP10-grade inserts to rough turn helical gear blanks. These inserts last longer than the shop’s previous tooling and enable significantly faster feeds and cycle times.

While nearly always desirable, growth can bring its own set of challenges. A case in point is Tri-K Machining, a shop that is seemingly on the fast track to success. Business has increased by more than 300 percent during the past 12 months. However, management soon realized that keeping up with this added work would require improved output and reduced costs.

Searching for a way to increase efficiency, plant manager Ernie Smith pinpointed cutting tools as one specific area that needed improvement. Equipped with an aluminum oxide coating designed to prolong tool life, Walter USA’s turning inserts, milling cutters and drills performed admirably in a series of tests and were soon incorporated into the shop. Since then, reductions in tool costs and cycle times have enabled the company to cope with its increased workload.

Walter’s technical support capabilities also played a role in the shop’s decision. “We needed partners who can educate us about technology that is changing practically every day,” says company President Gary Caulk. “Understanding overall tool management systems only added to their credibility.”

Specializing in rough and finish turning, milling, drilling and boring, Tri-K manufactures machine components for the agricultural, automotive and commercial tool markets. When Mr. Caulk bought the company in 1999, it had a 10,000-square-foot facility, four employees and three machines. Since then, the shop has grown to include 40,000 square feet of floor space, 53 employees and 18 machines.

Mr. Caulk says the shop’s rapid growth is a result of finding a niche in small-quantity part orders. While large-quantity orders are often shipped overseas, he explains, smaller orders often remain in the United States. Filling the gap left by companies pursuing large orders allows Tri-K to save on shipping costs, control part quality and offer timely delivery. “It just makes more sense to do that work here in our country,” he adds.

The shop tested cutting tools from three separate suppliers before settling on Walter. In one test, a Mazak Dual Turn 20 machine was fitted with Walter’s WPP10 insert grade. Processes included rough turning the face as well as rough and finish turning the OD of a helical gear blank in 8620 steel. According to the manufacturer, a key feature of the insert is its aluminum oxide “Tiger-Tec” coating, which is designed to provide long tool life at high surface footages.

Compared with the tool the shop had previously used for this application, the results were “phenomenal,” Mr. Smith says. In addition to a 45-percent reduction in cycle time, the shop realized a 25-percent increase in feed rate, and cutting speed increased from 750 to 1,050 surface feet per minute. Chip control improved, and tool life more than doubled. Machine cost per workpiece decreased from $1.44 to 81 cents, and overall machine cost savings for yearly production of 5,000 pieces amounted to $3,140. Total cost savings for the application amounted to $3,247.

Mr. Caulk says the inserts helped Tri-K achieve its two primary objectives: freeing up machine time to cope with the constantly increasing workload and lowering tool-change costs. In fact, after integrating the inserts, the company realized a 50-percent decrease in actual change-outs per tool.

“We can deliver the product 30 percent faster, and we can free up machine time by 200 hours a week,” Mr. Caulk says. “When you are working like we are, that can make an enormous difference in productivity.”

However, Mr. Caulk emphasizes that Walter provides more than just cutting tools. “We also needed a company that could educate our shop people about using the right turning inserts, milling cutters and drills for each application to increase efficiencies,” he says. “Walter has helped us stay focused on keeping our machines running continually. They understand tool management, and they can help educate our staff about how to use the technology for optimum performance.”

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