Pallet Systems Help Deliver

For this shop, a pallet system becomes a smart way not only to get more cutting time out of the machine, but as a quick way to pay back the investment in their machine.

Case Study From: 6/15/2000 Modern Machine Shop

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Ernesto Alavardo

Ernesto Alavardo, of ICON Metalcraft, can load and unload parts while an alternate pallet is in the machine.

ICON Metalcraft (Bensonville, Illinois) was founded in 1972 as a manufacturer and supplier of sheet metal products and fabrication services. It set up a machine shop with several manual Bridgeports, and eight years later invested in its first CNC machine centers. About 80 to 90 percent of the material ICON machines is 6061 T6 aluminum, while the rest is copper and cold rolled steel.

As it grew, ICON was having trouble meeting vendors' delivery expectations, says Dean Reid, machining supervisor for ICON. "For example, they would want three to four different jobs at the same time, which we were unable to give them because we could only deal with one setup at a time," he says. "Another problem was that when we were setting up for a new job and doing the first article inspection operations, we would have downtime on that machine; sometimes an hour, sometimes three to four hours, depending on how busy our inspection department was. So, we were also looking for ways to eliminate this costly machine idle time while waiting until we had a first part inspected." ICON decided to look at buying a machining center and pallet system in addition to its current Mazak vertical machining center.

ICON looked at Haas for a machining center. The Haas distributor, Arthur Machinery (Elk Grove Village, Illinois), strongly recommended the Midaco pallet system from Midaco Corporation (Elk Grove Village, Illinois) as a smart way not only to get more cutting time out of the machine, but as a quick way to pay back the investment in the machine. As Mark MacVicar of Arthur Machinery puts it, "If your spindle ain't turning, you ain't earning." So ICON bought a Haas VF4 VMC with Midaco's M4020FL (40-inch by 20-inch) pallet system. It improved things quickly for the company.

ICON was running a job for one of its customers that had a 300-piece order and each part had a 45-minute run time, a job that was going to be in the machine for quite some time. A customer called, and all the other machines were tied up at the time. So ICON put that new part onto the pallet next to the part that already was running. "We were able to set it up on one pallet and continue to run the other job while we got the new job set up," Mr. Reid says. "Once set up, we were able to put it in the machine and do a first article run, checking it in inspection. Then we merged the two programs together and were able to run those parts side by side at the same time."

Six months after ICON purchased its first Haas machining center with a Midaco 40-inch by 20-inch manual pallet system, the company added two additional pallets so it could dedicate its vises to each and leave them indicated in. The changeover time used to be two to three hours, from taking vises off and reindicating when going from a fixture to a vise. It now only takes minutes due to the fact that all that has to be done is swap out the pallets. ICON also has an empty plain pallet used for miscellaneous fixtures. ICON has since added two more Haas machining centers, one with a Midaco manual pallet system and the other with a servodrive automatic pallet system.

Initially, ICON began with the VF4 vertical machining center, which was purchased for a specific long running job. Once that job was complete, it was determined that the job ran significantly more profitable than was quoted. Since it ran for almost six months, the company nearly paid for the whole machining center as well as the Midaco pallet system on that job alone. On the VF3 vertical machining center, the company does the shorter run jobs and a lot of changeover with pallets that have dedicated fixtures mounted to them. "We have several jobs that are 30minute cycle times and 10 minutes of clamping time. Now with the pallet system, we eliminate about 30 percent of the total cycle time per part," says Mr. Reid.

Midaco has given ICON Metalcraft manufacturing flexibility, according to Mr. Reid. "We have located the receivers in a known place on all three machines so we can interchange any of eight pallets at any time in any machine. No matter which pallet we are using, we get ±0.0001-inch repeatability accuracy in X, Y and Z axis. We are planning all of our future machining centers to be set up with Midaco Pallet Systems so then we can interchange between those machines as well."

ICON also saw savings by reducing scrap parts. Before, when the company did a part that had six operations, there were problems where it would do two setups of three operations each. It would have to run 100 pieces of three operations to find out there was a problem with a hole busting through. "Now, with the Midacos in use, when that part comes out of the second pallet, it is a finished product," says Mr. Reid. "We can catch any problems early, saving ourselves quite a bit of money because scrap parts are virtually eliminated. No longer do we find out after the fact that something is wrong."

Much has improved at ICON lately. "Our production activity and the amount of new jobs we have received has increased 150 percent," says Mr. Reid. The machining business has increased from 2 percent of ICON's volume to 25 to 30 percent of its revenue, and it still is growing. MMS

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