Machining Supplier Responds To Rapidly Changing Market With Built-In Flexibility

Responding rapidly to changing customer requirements is essential in today's auto industry.

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Responding rapidly to changing customer requirements is essential in today's auto industry. It's also a formidable challenge for automotive suppliers, who are frequently called on to adapt their expensive production systems to new products and do it more quickly than ever before.

Tool North Inc. (Traverse City, Michigan), designers and builders of assembly and production systems, has found a cost effective way of enabling their automotive and other customers to thrive in this new environment: CNC Wing Units from Cellular Concepts (Detroit, Michigan). "We have used Cell Con's CNC Wing Units extensively in a number of machining systems we've designed and built," says Kenneth Berg, president of Tool North. "The value to the customer is that the Cell Con Wing Units are a completely flexible CNC module that the user can easily reuse or retool for new applications."

H-15W CNC Wing Units are described by the manufacturer as a horizontal spindle machining unit designed for simple installation as well as easy changeover, whether through retooling or repositioning the unit, or reprogramming its GE/Fanuc 32-bit CNC. They can be deployed as wing bases on a dial index machine, arranged as stations on an in-line transfer line, or grouped into a cell for flexible batch production.

"When a supplier is confronted with major part changes," says Mr. Berg, "he can pull the Wing Units off the system, redesign fixtures, and integrate them back into a machining system that will work for his new parts. A machining system is a major capital investment, and this kind of flexibility ensures the supplier that when he is faced with major changes, he won't lose as much of his initial investment as he would with fixed or dedicated equipment."

Tool North began using Cell Con Wing Units approximately two years ago explains John Avis, manager of engineering for the Traverse City firm. "We were building a dial index machine for a customer to handle a particular part," he explains, "and we realized that some of the operations on this part could benefit from the flexibility of CNC. That's when we employed our first Cell Con Wing Unitas a station on the dial index machine in conjunction with dedicated equipment."

Since then, Wing Units have found a place in numerous Tool North systems, benefiting both user and builder. "The fact that a Wing Unit can be integrated into a special machining application immediately you basically just mount it to the base and plug it insaves us and the customer considerable time and expense," observes Mr. Avis. "We don't have to design the units, we don't have to purchase components and build the unit, and do not need to spend a lot of time on software development because Cell Con offers standard software packages." He stresses this latter point, noting that time spent developing software can often rival or exceed the time spent creating the hardware.

According to Mr. Berg, the flexibility of the Cell Con units can be an advantage in handling existing applications, as well as adapting to new ones. As an example, he cites a system which Tool North is currently constructing. "For part of this system, we're using four Wing Units integrated with a dial indexer, as well as dedicated equipment. We needed the flexibility of CNC for some of the operations, but beyond that, it gives the user some protection.

"For instance, let's say that upstream from the Wing Units we have three or four dedicated stations, and at one of them an eight-spindle drill head drills eight holes in the part. If there was a failure at that station, the user would have the option of reprogramming a Cell Con unit to make a tool change and drill those eight holes individually. Even though that would take considerably more time than doing it with the eight-spindle drill head, it would give the end user some protection. He would know that if the drill head fails or something else goes wrong at that dedicated station, the line wouldn't go down. He could continue producing parts while making repairs."

"The Cell Con Wing Units allow us to be a little more competitive," Mr. Berg adds. "They are priced right, and they provide our customers with the flexibility to address future needs. That gives added value to systems that would otherwise be dedicated, and that's a good selling point for Tool North."

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