Process Insights

Omega Tool Corp. Takes Back What’s Theirs

Omega Tool Corporation of Windsor, Ontario, has seen a lot of changes in the past 10 years, but the heart of the company has always remained the same. Founded in 1980, Omega Tool was a privately owned family business until 2005. In 2005 the company was sold to a Japanese multi-national, making it a “global player” instantaneously.

“This business has a lot of meaning to my family, and by family I mean everyone in our 180-member workforce,” says Dave Cecchin, CEO of Omega Tool Corp. (now back in the hands of original ownership).

About 75 percent of Omega Tool’s workload is typically comprised of large automotive components such as fascias, door panels and consoles. And while the company has always been widely known for its large tool manufacturing capabilities, it decided to apply those skills toward small to mid-sized work as well.

“If the market is shrinking, you need to be rationalizing and preserving your internal capacity,” says Cecchin. “We already knew the ins and outs of moldmaking from some of the toughest large mold applications around. It was time to apply that knowledge to a new market segment and expand our opportunities for growth.”

The War on Time

According to Cecchin, Omega Tool doesn’t compete with other machine shops. Time is its main competitor. He understands taking too long to produce a mold, moving it from machine to machine and spending hours on handwork can mean the difference between taking a loss, breaking even and making a profit.

However, time is a tough competitor, and Cecchin knows a shop like his needs the right tools to compete. Omega Tool faced two significant challenges over the past several years. First, many of the shop’s large components required multiple setups on different machines in order to fully complete the job.

“Each operation, whether it was 2-D, 3-D, drilling or high-quality surface machining, required its own unique machining center,” says Brad Tomlin, Omega Tool’s machining manager. “This resulted in huge disruptions to workflow that obstructed the completion of other projects in our pipeline. It also required extended hours of manual labor for setups, maintenance, benching and spotting.”

The second challenge Omega Tool faced was the need to increase the production capacity of its small to medium-sized applications. Under its current machining capabilities, the company was forced to outsource several jobs to keep up with production deadlines.

“With a reputation as one of North America’s premier fascia shops, these inefficiencies were intolerable,” says Cecchin. “In order to overcome these issues, we needed to invest in high-performance machining capabilities that could meet our production goals for small to medium-sized applications, and reduce our secondary machining operations in larger applications.”

Small-Part, Large-Volume Productivity

“One of the biggest bottlenecks in our facility at the time was in the production of small mold components, such as flange slides,” says Tomlin. “Our process consisted of three dual-spindle vertical machining centers, which were slow and manual labor intensive. The setup times and finishing labor alone were costing us an arm and a leg in operator overtime.”

In 2007, Omega Tool began researching the performance capabilities of horizontal machining centers in moldmaking. While the price tags for horizontals were higher across the board, the production capabilities were substantially higher as well. As a result, the company invested in a Makino a81 horizontal machining center with a fourth-axis rotary table.

“One a81 spindle has provided greater productivity than six of our previous spindles combined, for an overall increase in productivity of over 30 percent,” says Tomlin. “Its quick tool changes, fast acceleration and deceleration times, and automatic pallet changer enable us to always keep spindle utilization over 85 percent and frequently above 90 percent. And by using large tombstone fixtures, we’re able to accommodate several jobs in a single setup. In one flange slide application, we’ve reduced overall machining time from 75 to 50 hours.”

The a81 has also shown dramatic improvements in accuracy and surface finish quality. By using a fixture coordinate system (FCS) with Makino’s control software, Omega Tool is able to ensure improved accuracy during setup operations. Because the FCS’s previously measured coordinates can be recalled instantaneously by the machine’s control software, operators are no longer required to manually indicate the workpiece, eliminating the potential for human error and significantly reducing setup times. The rigidity of the machine and automatic tool-length measurement system provide continued accuracy and perfect tool blends throughout the machining process.

“With the a81, we’re achieving tolerances of plus or minus 0.0001 inch with repeatability within plus or minus 0.00005 inch,” says Tomlin. “This significant improvement in quality has enabled us to reduce our manual labor activities, including setups, benching and spotting, by over 20 percent.”

Large Machine Provides Even Larger Payoff

Omega Tool then decided to add capabilities for its mid-sized to large applications. Because these tools sometimes require six days of processing time, the company needed a flexible machine with the reliability necessary for lights-out operation. In 2008, Omega Tool invested in a Makino A100E horizontal machining center.

“When we first started looking at the A100E, we really wanted a larger version of the a81,” says Cecchin. “The a81 helped us recapture some of the work we outsourced, but we were still outsourcing much of our mid-sized jobs. This was costing us over $100 an hour. We asked ourselves why we were outsourcing hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of work when we could integrate it in-house with the proper equipment.”

The A100E’s compact spindle design, B-axis rotary table and 132-capacity automatic tool changer have enabled Omega Tool to perform several different operations on a single machine for significant reductions in secondary machine operations. Its 12,000-rpm spindle frequently produces finishes that reduce EDM and benching operations by over 20 percent.

Similar to the a81, the machine’s automatic pallet changer provides spindle utilization of over 90 percent. Omega Tool estimates that the A100E offers an overall 30 percent increase in speed compared to the company’s traditional machining approach.

“The A100E has provided us with huge advantages in uptime and reliability,” says Cecchin. “Prior to this investment, we were typically performing four or five setups before completing an application. Given the size of these molds, this wasn’t a quick and easy task. With the A100E’s ability to access all sides of the mold through the fourth-axis rotary table, we’re now able to machine nearly all applications in two setups or less.”

“From a machinist’s perspective, using equipment like the A100E really allows you to see what you’re capable of,” says Tomlin. “We’re continually adjusting our programming and setup conditions to see how far the machine will let us go. So far, the machine has taken everything we’ve thrown at it, and performance continues to improve.”

The A100E’s fourth-axis table and FCS fixturing system provide precise fixturing and produce plus or minus 0.0001-inch variation in step-over blends.

“The workpieces that come off the machine require very little handwork and very little benching or spotting,” says Cecchin. “Since we’re getting these results, we’ve significantly increased our profitability by cutting down on hours.”

Looking Ahead

Omega Tool might have had an unpredictable past, but its future path is anything but. Cecchin is focused on proliferating the Omega Tool brand worldwide and is investigating additional geographic markets in which to expand.

“We know what we have to do, and we know we’ll face several challenges,” says Cecchin. “How do we find the skills we need? How do we maintain the same level of quality with respect to our product, our employees and our management?”

Cecchin isn’t naïve about the challenges his company might face, but challenges are nothing new to Omega Tool. Cecchin hasn’t backed away from them yet and doesn’t intend to do so in the future.

Omega Tool Corp.
Windsor, Ontario
(519) 737-1201