Bringing Automation to a Job Shop

A father-daughter team hopes to see big gains from the combination of a new HMC and a pallet-handling system to be installed later this year.

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Mike Wagner and his daughter Courtney Wagner, second and third generation in the Wagner Machine business, respectively, are bringing automation into this Ohio job shop. A pallet handling system soon will be installed in the empty floor space on the left side of this photo to service the new HMC in the background.

Automation is typically associated with high-volume production runs, but that doesn’t have to be the case. There’s also an argument to be made for the automation of low-volume, high-mix parts in a job shop environment. It’s the argument that Wagner Machine is making, with its recent purchase of a 10-pallet Fastems pallet handling system.

That pallet system is yet to be installed. It will fill the empty space on the left side of the photo above, next to the shop’s newest machining center, an Okuma MA600 HII horizontal machining center supplied by Gosiger. Once the pallet handling system is on-site and integrated with the HMC, this will be Wagner’s first foray into automation and potentially lights-out production.

Located in Norton, Ohio, the company was founded by former president and current CEO Mike Wagner’s father. Mr. Wagner’s daughter, Courtney Wagner, is now the president. With 33 employees and lot sizes typically in the “three to 300” range, the shop might not be an obvious candidate for automating, Ms. Wagner says.

“But we’ve thought about it for a while and it’s something we feel we need to do to remain competitive,” she says. “We have the facilities, we have the people. Now we need to improve the processes.”

That improvement means having the ability to not only automate jobs, but to change between them without human interference. Once the pallet handling system is installed, the HMC will be able to run jobs unattended or even overnight, with 10 pallets and a 171-station wine-rack-style toolchanger to enable flexible change-over. Potential gains from adding this automation include maintaining competitive prices as costs increase, improving production speeds, reducing machine downtime and freeing employees for more cross-training opportunities.

Future expansion of this automated system might mean installing more tool trees in the toolchanger, adding more pallets to the Fastems system, or even adding additional machines to be served by the same pallet changer, Mr. Wagner says. For now, the shop is just waiting to get started. 

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