A Tour Through Partners In THINC

Leading technology companies have gathered under one roof to provide one source for creative manufacturing solutions. (Sponsored content)


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Those who walk through the doors of the Partners in THINC facility have a world of manufacturing opportunities open before their eyes. Located in Charlotte, North Carolina, the 57,000-square-foot facility is a breeding ground for collaborative ideas and applied solutions supported by the latest Okuma America Corporation CNC machines equipped with the open-architecture THINC-OSP Control.

“When you walk into Partners in THINC, you’ll feel like a kid in a candy store,” says Jeff Estes, Partners in THINC director. “No where else do you have the opportunity to see and talk to representatives of 25 distinctive companies whose prime focus is to create and offer solutions to manufacturers.”

From ABB to Zoller, the 25 industry-leading partners share office space under one roof. Nine resident partners are onsite full-time and all 25 have committed sales and engineering resources a minimum of three times a week. True partners in this endeavor, each of their company logos shares equal billing on the outer wall at the facility’s entrance, Okuma among them.

Okuma realized it could not be everything to every customer. Its machine tools provide one piece of the manufacturing puzzle, but it takes all areas of manufacturing to come together, including tooling, workholding, software and systems integration, to create a complete solution. Okuma had the good intentions, but it didn’t have the resources. It did, however, have the right industry contacts, which allowed it to proceed with building the partnerships that exist today. In breaking new ground with the Partners in THINC concept, the intellectual powers now collected under one roof can more efficiently provide innovative solutions for the manufacturing industry.

“We share ideas and concepts between Partner and Partner, building relationships by using talents, skills and products while bringing otherwise competitor companies together for the sake of the manufacturer,” Mr. Estes says.

These “competitors” come together in one location to share information about their products and technologies that is then applied to the Partners in THINC shop floor and the customer’s facility. The THINC-OSP control is the conduit for sharing this information. The Partners openly discuss customer issues to determine how best they can develop an integrated solution using the open-architecture THINC-OSP control as their common interface. The THINC-OSP control allows various types of equipment to seamlessly exchange data in real time via an Ethernet connection. It also enables plug-and-play integration of new equipment. Users benefit by gaining systems and processes that are not only easier to use, but result in increased productivity and decreased manufacturing costs.

Partners in THINC is not just a research and development facility per se. It’s also a fully functional production facility. The “secret” to development is that real needs and real ideas have to be economically feasible and marketable to a wide range of customers that use Okuma equipment. This is why the shop floor is producing customer parts that are being purchased while the manufacturing solutions are proven out.

At any given time in the facility there are eight to twelve machines in operation on the shop floor producing parts for actual customers. These machines are representative of what Okuma customers are using every day in their facilities. In fact, customers can send part specifications and workpiece samples to the facility to allow Partners in THINC to help develop an efficient manufacturing process. Customers can then visit the facility to see the results or just experience new technology they can implement. After a process is optimized, it can be integrated into a customer’s production scheme in a minimal amount of time.

RCR’s Impressions

Richard Childress Racing (RCR) has been an Okuma customer and technology partner since 2001. Rick Grimes, RCR manufacturing manager, and his co-workers, Bobby Hutchens, vice president of research & development, Spenny Clendenen, business manager for RCR Engines, and Rod Bryant, manufacturing supervisor, were some of the many visitors to Partners in THINC after its launch in April 2007. The men spent the better part of a day touring the facility and watching their engine and chassis parts being produced on the machines. They were impressed with the experience and the results of the Partners in THINC collaborations.

“Okuma and the Partners in THINC have enabled our company, and can enable other companies, to see and purchase a manufacturing system designed and conditioned specifically for their product by the component suppliers,” Mr. Grimes says. “Typically companies like ours have to research, purchase and integrate the separate components themselves. I have not come across anyone else in the marketplace that offers such a one-stop-shop-type scenario.”

Mr. Grimes believes that other industries may create such partnerships but, historically, it hasn’t happened with machine tools. “In this industry you have machine tool and auxiliary equipment companies who partner with specific vendors for components,” Mr. Grimes explains. “At the Partners in THINC facility, they all come together under one roof.”

The representatives of RCR were especially impressed with how the Zoller presetter and Kennametal ToolBoss tool crib/inventory management system communicate directly with the Okuma machine through the THINC-OSP control. “We are taking the necessary steps to incorporate this technology into our manufacturing facility,” Mr. Grimes says. “Such a capability will allow us to reduce setup time, which will increase machine up-time and positively impact our ability to turn product quickly. For our business, quick turnaround is a must.”

A Place To Share Ideas And Create Solutions

The Partners in THINC facility includes a high-tech auditorium with stadium-style seating and premium audio/video equipment for presentations. However, the biggest plus in having this auditorium is that it provides an environment where the Partners can sit, listen and talk directly with customers. Mr. Estes says it’s all about communication and partnerships, not sales pitches.

“The Partners in THINC facility is not here to push or make sales, but the Partners do assist in the sales process by offering more data and thoroughly explaining applications to the customers,” says Mr. Estes. “We want the customers to feel comfortable about asking questions–what did they see and what do they need—so that we can tailor solutions that are effective and affordable for them.”

Within a transition area between the facility’s demo room and lobby, visitors can see the four stages of the manufacturing process—pre-planning, machining, metrology and service. This area also displays featured Partner products and technologies as well as explanations about how they fit within the Partners in THINC concept. There are also interesting sample parts, graphic displays and a complete RCR engine.

“We have a different strategy than most companies,” Mr. Estes says. “We see Okuma machines as company assets. They are well-suited for multiple applications and have the flexibility to move and change based on customers’ changing needs. Partners see value in a machine tool company that offers a true open-architecture control and an application programming interface (API) to share data and communicate with other equipment, and Okuma did it.

“Partners interface with us, allowing us to provide complete solutions and offer lower costs so manufacturers can be competitive with countries all over the world,” Mr. Estes continues. “We can only do that by partnering with other technology leaders and together creating a huge engineering staff to bring the solutions to our customers.”

Partners in THINC is more than just a facility, it’s a concept for the present and future of manufacturing. As customers and Partners alike experience the capabilities of the THINC-OSP control, the possibilities for plug-and-play application solutions become virtually endless. This facility finally brings customers closer to a “total” solution on their factory floor than any other place in the world. This allows them to be more competitive both locally and globally.