Flexible Machining Makes Flexible Workholding

The Bock Workholding system, which we discussed last month, provides flexible solutions to workholding problems on vertical and horizontal machining centers. The lightweight, hard-coated aluminum sub-plate provides the foundation for Bock's quick-change Twin Vises.

Columns From: 3/1/1999 Modern Machine Shop,

The Bock Workholding system, which we discussed last month, provides flexible solutions to workholding problems on vertical and horizontal machining centers. The lightweight, hard-coated aluminum sub-plate provides the foundation for Bock's quick-change Twin Vises.

When Bock's president Joe Cousins joined forces with Jeff Baur, it was like a very positive chemical reaction. Joe knew design engineering and marketing, while Jeff's expertise was in manufacturing and management. Jeff started his apprenticeship at Carl Strutz Company, a western Pennsylvania machinery builder, right out of high school. "It was a great place to learn," he says. "There were a multitude of different parts, and most of the work was done on Bridgeport knee mills. I enjoyed my work so much that I bought a couple of old, used machines. After cleaning up those antiques, I started working part-time out of my garage on weekends."

J. Baur Machining began operation in 1984 with one employee and a brand new CNC lathe. "That was a major step," Jeff says. "The machine cost more than my house and I didn't know how to operate it. Also, we couldn't afford to stop our regular work to get trained, so we were forced to burn the midnight oil to get our CNC education. Everyone thought we were crazy, but I knew we would need CNC production to be competitive."

By 1995, Jeff began sub-contract work for the Bock products. As the sales steadily increased over the next couple of years, he knew it was time to take the next major step. The business was growing fast and it needed more equipment and plant space.

Enter Harry Hanna and Nick Flaitz of Pittsburgh area distributor Miller Technical Sales. They worked with Joe and Jeff to come up with the manufacturing solution to Bock's growing problem. As Harry puts it, "We could have provided machines to meet the production needs of today, but what Bock really needed was a solution that would continue to grow as their needs grew." But Harry and Nick believed they had a machining solution that would be as efficient and flexible as Bock's vises.

"Many manufacturers—both small shops and the largest plants—are using flexible pre-engineered CNC cells to produce a variety of parts in small lot sizes," says Nick. "Standard modules make up the fully automated cells, allowing the initial installation to be priced modestly and then expanded easily and economically as needed. A single machining center with a pallet changer, a pallet storage-and-retrieval system, and one loading station make up the smallest cells. As production grows you can add pallets and machines to the system. The largest systems can have as many as 100 pallets and 8 machines."

Jeff's manufacturing background and Bock's growing needs allowed them to justify a middle-of-the-road approach. Late last year they installed a three-machine FH-580/40 Palletech system from Mazak with 22 pallets and 2 workstations.

Automated cell manufacturing provides capital savings because the system is a pre-engineered, modular design using standard machines and equipment. Selecting and combining the components is the limit of the application engineering needed. Since setups are done while the machines are working, the reduction in downtime is an obvious benefit. Bock's ability to handle a variety of parts in small lot sizes (sometimes only one piece) gives the company the flexibility to respond to its customers' special requests without jeopardizing its efficiencies.

"The system runs continuously," says Jeff. "We have been able to re-allocate our manpower needs, providing a unit cost savings. Unattended, lights-out operation adds to our efficiency."

One of the definitions of a machine tool is that it is capable of reproducing itself. This story points out that those accessory suppliers who use their own expertise that they provide to our industry will also benefit greatly.

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