High Speed Machining Moves Forward Cavalier Tool & Manufacturing

When times are tough, there’s only one way for manufacturers to come out ahead of the rest: by being aggressive and forward thinking in their business planning and investments. Cavalier Tool & Manufacturing Ltd. of Windsor, Ontario, took this approach by investing in high speed machining capabilities and has reaped the rewards ever since.

Cavalier Tool, established in 1975, is a global manufacturer of mid-sized to large molds for the automotive, commercial, recreational, medical and aerospace industries. It specializes in applications with high glass content including fans, shrouds, radiator intakes, lighting tools, door carrier plates and door panels. Within these applications, the company uses a wide range of materials but primarily works with aluminum, P20 and H13. In fact, Cavalier Tool is the single largest consumer of aluminum in Windsor.

"It’s important to know the capabilities you’re strong at and those where you could use some improvement," says Brian Bendig, president of Cavalier Tool. "For the longest time, high speed machining in hardened material wasn’t our strong suit, and as such we relied heavily on outsourcing. However, once the economy took a turn for the worst, we decided it was time to regain control by investing in high speed machining to ensure quality mold finishing on hardened materials. "

Hard Milling, Easy Choice

The shop that Cavalier Tool was previously using to machine hardened material applications employed a Makino A100 horizontal machining center, and Bendig was impressed with the speeds, accuracy and milling surface finish it achieved. So when it came time to reevaluate Cavalier Tool’s high speed machining capabilities to recapture the hardened work it was outsourcing, Bendig turned his eye toward Makino’s selection of high speed horizontal machining centers.

"We wanted a machine with high-quality milling surface finish capabilities that could manufacture molds quickly, accurately and with high repeatability," he says. "We had a lot of work coming through and had been researching machines for a couple of months. We had a relationship with Makino, as we have a Makino SNC 86 graphite mill and have been happy with the results it produced. Another reason we wanted a Makino was longevity and reliability. We knew a Makino HMC would be able to support our business well into the future. Our oldest Makino has been on the floor for 17 years, and still provides reliable high-quality mold finishing."

In June 2010, Bendig invested in a Makino a92 horizontal machining center based on its similar characteristics to the A100.

The a92’s 10,000-rpm spindle, 1,969 IPM rapid feed rate and 0.4G acceleration/deceleration rates offer Cavalier Tool a whole new level of productivity in its large-part production. Its extra-rigid machine construction reliably provides extremely tight positioning tolerances of ±0.00010 inches, with a repeatability of ±0.00006 inches.

The machine has a 31-inch-by-39-inch pallet and X-, Y- and Z-axis travels of 59 by 49 by 53 inches to handle workpieces up to 59 inches in diameter and height, and weighing up to 4,400 pounds. Its automatic pallet changer allows for a full pallet change in 23 seconds, significantly reducing spindle downtimes that occur during setups on vertical machining centers.

A Welcomed Addition with Immediate Impact

The a92 was a welcome addition, and Cavalier Tool saw an immediate impact as soon as the machine arrived on the shop floor. One of the greatest advantages of the a92 is its speed.

“A lot of times, the orientation of the glass in the mold finishing process is an unknown during tool production,” says Bendig. “As a result, we have to be prepared to handle any engineering changes from the OEM that occur during our production process. This makes it critical for us to be able to set up and tear down parts as quickly as possible without disrupting our overall workflow.”

The a92’s automatic pallet changer, combined with a rear-clamping FCS fixture system, enables Cavalier Tool to quickly and accurately set up several parts on a single tombstone without interrupting the current high speed machining processes or losing positioning accuracy. The rotary B-axis table provides increased flexibility much like that of a 5-axis machining center but without the inherent reduction in accuracy.

“The combination of Makino’s programmable through-spindle coolant technology, 92-capacity automatic tool changer and B-axis rotary table enable us to perform several types of operations with fewer setups,” says Mike McNaughton, Cavalier Tool’s machining supervisor. “This configuration allows us to do drilling, boring, thread milling, tapping, 2-D and 3-D machining without the operator ever touching the part. With jobs we’ve transferred to the a92, we’re typically seeing a 50 percent reduction in the number of setups and up to three times the productivity of previous processing techniques.”

Cavalier Tool reports that, in hardened materials, the Makino a92 completes jobs up to twice as fast as with competitive machines. The shop also tracks spindle utilization through Lemoine’s “Pulse” machine monitoring software.

“All of our machines are monitored day in and day out through our Pulse monitor for performance tracking,” says Bendig. “With this system, we’re able to gather idle times, feed rates, component name, operation type, operation length and more in an organized daily, weekly or monthly report. In each of these reports, the Makino demonstrates exceptional performance with spindle uptimes frequently in the 90 percent range.”

Accuracy Is Key

Speed and uptime are nice, but they are insignificant if the machine isn’t accurate. Of course, the goal of any machine shop is to process at a level of mold finishing quality that no longer warrants secondary machining operations or benching procedures. The Makino a92 provides that capability to Cavalier Tool.

“The rigidity of the a92’s Z-axis has allowed us to significantly reduce the time we spend performing secondary gun-drilling operations,” says Bendig. “With the ability to accurately and reliably drill up to 10 inches deep, we’re able to complete primary gun-drilling operations on the a92, saving us from wasting costly time performing two setups on our gun-drilling machine.”

The a92’s horizontal configuration and coolant management technologies have enabled Cavalier Tool to avoid recutting of chips for the highest level of accuracy and milling surface finish achievable.

“Even the slightest inaccuracy in some of our applications can cause huge problems down the road,” says McNaughton. “If a single blade in one of our fan tools is off by even 0.001 inch, this could cause a slight imbalance in its use that would ultimately reduce the fan’s life span. With the a92, we’re able to dramatically exceed required specifications with tolerances under plus or minus 0.0001 inch for perfect seal-offs and little spotting.”

“The overall milling surface finish produced on the a92 has substantially reduced spotting and benching times as well,” says Bendig. “Every tool coming out of the a92 is pre-tapped, chamfered, engraved and with mold finishing and milling surface finish that require little to no manual labor. Instead of starting at 80-grit benching procedures, we can move straight into 200 grit. And in many cases, it actually takes longer to put the tools in the press than it does to spot them.”

Growing in a Down Economy

Cavalier Tool has proven a shop doesn’t have to be at the mercy of the economy. The company took steps to add capacity in order to acquire more business and regain business it was outsourcing, and the company’s efforts are paying off.

“We’ve acquired a lot of new customers and continue to grow,” says Bendig. “We’ve become successful because of how we machine. We leave the simple stuff to other shops. Everything we do is complex. From high speed machining to milling surface finish capabilities and mold finishing, Makino has helped us deliver.””

How well is the company doing? So far, its best year was 2009. While other companies were laying off staff and closing their doors, Cavalier Tool had its best year ever. The company isn’t satisfied, however. It recently opened a 20,000-square-foot facility in El Paso, Texas, to serve the Mexican market.

“The a92 has added more versatility to our operation,” says McNaughton. “The Makino has reduced our setup time, costs and handwork. It’s helped us increase production even though we removed seven machines from the shop floor.”

Of course, Makino isn’t the only factor in Cavalier Tool’s success. Bendig believes in order to be successful, a shop needs to focus on three things: people, processes and equipment. Cavalier Tool has done just that for 36 years, and it won’t be changing its approach anytime soon.

Cavalier Tool & Manufacturing
Windsor, Ontario
(519) 944-2144