Birth Of A Pallet System

This story will surely bring a smile to the face of readers who have ever worked with their fathers. And all parents who have worked with their children in our business will understand the pride of Mike Cayley, Sr.

Columns From: 10/1/1998 Modern Machine Shop,

This story will surely bring a smile to the face of readers who have ever worked with their fathers. And all parents who have worked with their children in our business will understand the pride of Mike Cayley, Sr., when he discusses the changes at Midaco Corporation (Elk Grove Village, Illinois) brought about because of his son's ideas.

Mike, Jr., hasn't always held his current title of vice president of manufacturing. In fact, like most children of small job shop owners, Mike and his sister had the opportunity to learn the business from the ground up. Cutting grass, washing windows and emptying the trash were all part of the job before Mike was old enough to work in the shop.

By 1989 Mike had worked at all the various tasks in the 15 man shop—shipping and receiving, milling, turning, inspection—and was well trained to assume the responsibilities of production management. That year Midaco received a government contract to produce 10,000 parts per month. The profiling job on these 4 × 2 × 1.5-inch, 4140, pre-hardened workpieces took about three minutes each to complete. The initial setup change consisted of bolting 10 parts at a time onto a sub-plate in the machine and running them all in a single cycle. The total machine runtime for the batch was 30 minutes.

Even though the machine cycle time was improved by the ganging method that Mike used, he was not satisfied with what he thought was excessive downtime. "It took 10 minutes to remove the finished parts, clean the table and reload the raw material for the next cycle," he says. In effect, the 10 minutes of parts handling changed the machine cycle time to 40 minutes. By the end of a three-shift day the machine would have sat idle for a total of 6 hours. That's 120 hours of lost time per month, 1440 hours per year.

"My solution was simple," Mike says. "I needed a way to recapture the time I was losing and increase the productivity of the machine. So I designed a lift-off pallet system that allowed the operator to remove the entire setup from the machine table. He could then remove the finished parts and reload the new material outside the machine while it continued to run on an alternate pallet.

"With the new process the operator could change parts over in 15 seconds. This made the machine more productive and allowed me to recapture most of that lost 6 hours."

The immediate results of Mike's improved process were a more productive operation and a better profit on the job. The long-term effects have been even more remarkable. After using the new units in-house for a couple of years, Midaco decided to market the pallet system to other shops. That resulted in the Micro Pallet System in which 40-pound cast iron receivers are used to mechanically lock aluminum pallets to a machine table or tombstone.

A little later, a pneumatic lift-off system was developed, then a pallet transfer cart, then a side-by-side shuttle pallet system, and then finally a fully automatic pallet system. The latest version integrates with a machine's CNC and is activated with M-codes in a part program to provide fully automatic operation.

Continuing to improve the process has changed this former 15-man job shop into a multi-facility manufacturer of products that help make other shops more efficient and productive.

If there is a process improvement in your organization that has had an impact on your company or our industry, let us know. We would like to share the ideas that will make all of us more productive. Remember, knowledge is a wonderful asset, but it can only become truly powerful when it is shared.

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