Large-Parts Manufacturer Wins Big with Vertical Bridge Mill

Napoleon Machine required new equipment to compete in large-parts machining. Toyoda’s LB63324M vertical bridge mill with right-angle head increased quoted job wins from 6 to 52 percent. 

Sometimes, remaking an old job shop into a success requires starting from scratch. Keven Febrey learned this firsthand when he took over Napoleon Machine. The shop was not winning the large-part work for which it had capacity, so Mr. Febrey established new systems for the way it did its business. However, to win more of the jobs it wanted, the shop also needed to replace its old equipment. An LB63324M vertical bridge mill with right-angle head from Toyoda Americas Corp. (Arlington Heights, Illinois) enabled the shop to increase the percentage of large-part jobs it quoted and won from 6 percent to 52 percent, offering features and capabilities to reduce setup time, speed cycle time and improve accuracy.

Napoleon Machine now has 22 employees and 14 large-capacity machines, but when Paul Schlatter established the shop in 2010, the 65,000-square-foot facility in Napoleon, Ohio, and 13 large-part machines he leased had not been used in years. It was filled with rusted boring mills and manual lathes, and none of the machines had been updated since 1996. In May 2011, Mr. Schlatter brought on current president and owner Keven Febrey to lead shopfloor operations and strategic planning for the company. At that point, “there really was no infrastructure,” Mr. Febrey says. “We needed to put a business system in place, get professional management, obtain a maintenance person to revitalize the equipment, establish quality machining and build a new customer base.”

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Once Mr. Febrey had established a system for reliable, repeatable and accurate machining and processes for internal quality control, he turned to the main challenge facing the shop. “The biggest hurdle was the equipment itself,” he explains. The facility’s size gave it the possibility of large-parts machining, but the outdated equipment was holding it back. The shop was functioning without through-spindle coolant, an automatic toolchanger, and adequate speeds and feeds.

Mr. Febrey realized that, although Napoleon saw itself as a boring-mill shop, 80 percent of its jobs were not boring-mill jobs. And although it had the space and potential to produce large parts, it was only winning between 6 and 14 percent of the large-part jobs it quoted. Another problem the shop faced was that for the large-part jobs it did win, setup times were between four and eight hours.

With this information, Napoleon invested in a Toyoda LB63324M mill with a vertical bridge, right-angle head, through-tool coolant and a 60-tool-capacity ATC. The bridge mill, which has the largest work envelope Toyoda offers in the United States, is suited for loads ranging to 45,000 pounds. Mr. Febrey equipped it with shrink-fit tooling from Haimer USA, Tecnomagnete workholding magnets and a modular fixture system with subtables for increased repeatability and reduced setup costs.

When the shop began machining on the new mill in August 2015, Mr. Febrey says, “we hit the road running. The Toyoda made a solid impact on our shop floor.” Napoleon uses it for a variety of jobs, including platens, bolsters and die risers made from cast iron and A36 plate.

The right-angle head reduced setup times and improved part quality by increasing machining capabilities. Maintaining accurate machining geometry reduced the number of setups per process, saving time and reducing the potential for error. “With the right-angle-head capability, we can now get to five sides of a square part in one setup,” Mr. Febrey says. “We are able to maintain squareness and parallelism a lot tighter than we would by picking up the part, changing the setup, rotating and indicating.”

Another benefit of the machine is its ability to run repeat parts and processes. This helped improve overall cash flow and enabled operations to be run around the clock. Mr. Febrey had hoped that the bridge mill would be able to achieve three shifts by May 2016, a goal it reached by that March.

The bridge mill has also reduced the shop’s run time per machined component by 49 percent on large-part projects. In the most drastic case, a job that required 224 hours on the shop’s old boring mill was reduced to 105 hours.

These factors have led Napoleon to win more large-part jobs. Before acquiring the Toyoda bridge mill, the shop was winning between 6 and 14 percent of the large-part jobs it quoted in a year. Now, according to Mr. Febrey, “we are winning 52 percent of the work quoted on our Toyoda bridge mill.”

The new machine has also enabled the shop to make bigger changes. “Our goal was not only to become more competitive with technology in terms of five-sided machining, a tool magazine, through-spindle coolant, faster speeds and feeds, featuring and tooling, but also to begin a transition in the type of work or the mix of work we can do,” Mr. Febrey says.

Shortly after adding the bridge mill, Nelson Trailer approached Napoleon to work as a
Tier-Two manufacturer on two separate projects for Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grummond. Napoleon cut an upender out of Weldox 700, a material that is tougher and allows lower surface footage than the materials it typically uses. The unit was then used for assembling and testing satellites. “It was a pretty cool concept we were involved in,” Mr. Febrey says, and the machine played a key role in the project. “We used our boring mills and the Toyoda LB63324M bridge mill with 60 percent of the work,” he says.

Napoleon expects to see a continuous increase in its large-part work over the next two years and has plans to add a second Toyoda bridge mill. “(The machine) is putting us on the path that will help us grow, be more competitive and really provide a high-end product,” Mr. Febrey says. “Customers know they can not only trust us with integrity, but they are going to get good, accurate, functioning products on time.”

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